Williams made headlines in June when he delivered a powerful speech in accepting the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards for his efforts to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, “A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
Granatstein, whose career includes working in news operations at ABC, CBS and NBC, said he hoped the series has some impact, but insisted he does not believe in advocacy journalism.
“For one thing, having people who are actors and entertainers on camera brings a certain amount of attraction” for an audience that “might not otherwise be attracted to news content.” Additionally, using celebs “allows you to get more subjective.” But he called advocacy journalism “an oxymoron.”
Norman Lear, who reports on housing inequality in New York City, said “as somebody who is fairly sophisticated, I thought I understood the difficulties of housing in New York. But after spending few days working with Solly and his team, I was horrified at how little I knew” which, he explained, is “that someone making a reasonable living, a doctor or lawyer with two kids he or she would like to sent to college, can no longer afford to live in New York City. Until I got involved with this project I had no idea how true that was.”
Lear said he also learned, “I’m a really great reporter.”
“I learned, if I learned anything, that reporting starts with being deeply interested. I think a reporter is probably not doing his or her best if that person isn’t highly interested. I was extremely interested in what we were dealing with. It’s no surprise to me that my interest showed and I think that’s what people react to.”
In the run-up to the presidential election, Epix’s five-part America Divided (debuting September 30) explores inequality in education, housing, healthcare, labor, criminal justice and the political system. The show follows celebrities as they explore aspects of inequality the creators say are related to their own biographies. In addition to Norman Lear reporting on the housing crisis in New York, Common returns to his hometown of Chicago — ground zero for disparities in the criminal justice system. America Ferrera travels to Texas to witness battles pertaining to voting rights and Peter Sarsgaard explores the addiction crisis ravaging a heartland beset by unemployment and the shuttering of America’s factories. Other celebrity correspondents include Rosario Dawson, Amy Poehher and Jesse Williams.