American Race – Review

American Race premieres May 11, 9pm on TNT.

Spoiler Alert: The issue of racial inequality is not solved by Charles Barkley.

In reading the synopsis of American Race, it’s difficult to take TNT’s approach seriously because of having Charles Barkley at the helm of this show, however, to his credit, Barkley does a decent job of going to locations that have been severely affected by racial inequality and asking tough questions to people who have been directly affected and involved with such issues.

Airing over two nights – Thursday May 11, and Friday, May 12, American Race enters into Baltimore, MD and discusses police brutality and deaths due to gun violence within a community that knows nothing but pain. Having Barkley be the torchbearer for this show is a double-edged sword, he is able to go into most homes immediately based on his likeability and easiness as well as his prior career in basketball in order to ask tougher questions than that of a journalist, but the negative is that from the very beginning, you know he will only get so “deep” with the actual issue being discussed. The access he’s granted is part of what’s fascinating with this show but ultimately succumbs to the weight of heavy handed editing on TNT’s part.

The main issue with American Race is not its intent, direction, message or even execution. It’s time. Knowing the initial runtime of just one of the four episodes (45 minutes), you immediately know that not every angle will be fairly and accurately covered and that some information will have to be shortened in order to give way to more dramatic moments. This is extremely evident during a town hall meeting in which Barkley is sitting in front of 100+ community members that all want to be heard. To heighten tension between an increasingly hostile crowd and Barkley, the editing is cutting back and forth from Barkley to the audience re-using some of the same shots multiple times to give the impression that there is mounting unrest to then be cut down to a very brief and calm resolution due to time.

I must give credit to the direction of the show because they do attempt to cover as many unsung angles of racial inequality as possible and one of my favorite episodes came from Barkley’s trip to Irving, TX, a hotspot for Muslim persecution by white supremacists, where Barkley shows a side of the Muslim faith through the eyes of a mostly American born family that loves this country. It is truly remarkable, but yet again falls short due to its brief runtime.

I found myself torn on American Race. While its message was sound and coming from a well-intended place, at times, it was hard to take Charles Barkley seriously on his quest to create a dialogue about race in America. However, to his credit (and probably some producers), Barkley & Co. do make a genuine effort to show America the faces and names of those people who have been continually hurt and directly affected by racial inequality. This is a show that I think would be an interesting watch, but not serving enough to truly satisfy anyone that is genuinely interested in this issue. It scratches the right surface, but ultimately doesn’t go deep enough to make a true statement.

I give American Race a B.

Charles Barkley at Jimmy's Burger