Themes of racial and social injustice, war, the current world and even an upside-down one are key in the winners of the 2020 Peabody Awards, which on Wednesday unveiled its annual list of the 30 most compelling and empowering stories released in broadcasting and digital media in 2019.
PBS with its documentary series POV and Indepenedent Lens led the way placing seven shows on the list, and also saw its Frontline, along with Fox’s The Simpsons, take this year’s Institutional Awards. HBO and Netflix scored four wins each. First-time winners include Apple TV+ for Dickinson and OWN for Tarell Alvin McCraney’s David Makes Man.
The Peabody Awards are based at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. In addition to its annual winners, the group said today it is partnering with PBS on a roundtable program with all 10 directors of this year’s winning documentaries, set to air June 23.
Below the full list of winners with the descriptions from 19 jurors, culled from nearly 1,300 entries submitted from TV, radio/podcasts, and the web across entertainment, news, documentary, children’s and public service programming.
An unforgettable account of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster shows what happens when science is censored to the detriment of people’s lives and offers a bold testament to the humanity, courage, and suffering of ordinary citizens in extraordinary circumstances. HBO Miniseries and SKY in association with Sister, The Mighty Mint, and Word Games (HBO)
“David Makes Man”
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s visually stunning coming-of-age drama contemplates identity as fluid, plural, restrictive, and powerful, immersing viewers in the heart-wrenching world of a gifted 14-year-old African American boy growing up in the South Florida projects. Page Fright and Outlier Productions in association with Warner Horizon Scripted Television (OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)
Creator Alena Smith lovingly and playfully embraces anachronism, bringing a contemporary sense, sensibility, and soundtrack to 19th century New England and the world of poet Emily Dickinson. Hailee Steinfeld offers a standout performance in a show that excels at being fun while crackling with energy and wild originality. Apple / wiip / Anonymous Content / Tuning Fork Productions / Sugar 23 Productions (Apple TV+)
The enchanting show from Phoebe Waller-Bridge about a woman struggling with the death of a friend and her attraction to a hot priest pushed the creative bar to new heights in its second season, maintaining a nearly unmatched ability to be playful and devastating, hilarious and poignant, at the same time. All3Media International Limited and Amazon Studios (Prime Video)
Ramy Youssef writes and stars in this touching, thoughtful, and very funny sitcom focusing on a first-generation American Muslim and his family in New Jersey. Tracing its origins back to his stand-up routine, and also starring Hiam Abbass, Amr Waked, Laith Nakli, Mo Amer and May Calamawy, the groundbreaking series is masterful in its weaponization of the tension between faith and secularism, East and West, and men and women. Hulu, A24 Television (Hulu)
Writer-producers Matt and Ross Duffer perform yet another masterful act of chemistry, mixing homages to a cavalcade of 1980s media to create a show that bubbles over with original fun and inclusiveness in its third season. Part science fiction, part horror, part government conspiracy drama, it fleet-footedly veers between modes and expectations, keeping viewers on their toes and the edge of their seats. Monkey Massacre Productions & 21 Laps Entertainment (Netflix)
Jesse Armstrong’s gleeful, brainy send-up of New York City media conglomerates and one percenters revels in the dysfunction of the Roy family and its members’ outlandish antics to control the clan’s empire. Brian Cox has established himself as one of TV’s most delicious villains of all time and standouts Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook and Jeremy Strong give equally rich and complex performances. HBO Entertainment in association with Project Zeus, Hyperobject Industries, and Gary Sanchez Productions (HBO)
Drawing from a true story, Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon expertly pen a rape investigation for the #MeToo era, showing not just what police work should look like, but
what a mediated account of rape should entail. With standout performances from Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever, the series serves as a model for how storytellers can implore society to believe women but also how to shift the ways we talk about rape. Timberman-Beverly Productions, Sage Lane Productions, Escapist Fare, Katie Couric Media, and CBS Television Studios for Netflix (Netflix)
Damon Lindelof’s revolutionary series provides new answers to classic comic book genre questions about what it means to mask one’s identity and who gets to be a superhero. More than that, it offers a frank, provocative reflection on contemporary racialized violence, the role of police, and how Americans understand their place in the world after a large-scale disaster. HBO in association with White Rabbit, Paramount, Warner Bros Television and DC (HBO)
“When They See Us”
Devastating and commanding, Ava DuVernay’s powerful miniseries about the Central Park Five case and the lives it ruined is a touchstone for its historical moment, and a powerful registry of the inhuman practices and degrading effects of 20th-century racial injustice and state violence. Participant Media, Tribeca Productions, Harpo Films, Array Filmworks for Netflix (Netflix)
Comprised entirely, and masterfully, of archival materials, “Apollo 11” is a reminder of a time when America celebrated scientific accomplishment and engineers, test pilots, human “computers,” and government agencies collaborated to pull something off that had never been done before. With previously unreleased 70mm film footage and audio files, reproduced here without talking heads or authoritative narration, this compelling documentary makes NASA’s first moon landing present and visceral for a new generation. CNN Films (CNN)
In the painful and poetic testament that is “For Sama,” Waad al-Kateab wrestles with why she and her husband remain in besieged Aleppo to help run a hospital, as the choice to flee is much more wrenching than one might imagine and the choice to stay is equally confounding, yet understandable. We have all seen the war in Syria in countless news reports, but we have not seen it like this. FRONTLINE PBS, Channel 4 News, ITN Productions, Channel 4 (PBS)
“Independent Lens: HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING”
In this intimate exploration of the everyday lives of African Americans in rural Alabama through artistically rendered vignettes, director RaMell Ross captures the feel, atmosphere, fiber and culture of a community rarely seen on film. A production of Idiom Film, LLC and Louverture Films, in association with Field of Vision (PBS)
“POV: Inventing Tomorrow”
Laura Nix’s inspiring profile of six amazing teenage scientists from around the world serves not only as a celebration of science, of knowledge, and of sheer ingenuity, but as a celebration of young people working to solve the problems gifted to them by prior generations. Fishbowl Films, Motto Pictures, 19340 Productions, Shark Island Institute, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, IQ190 Productions, American Documentary | POV (PBS)
“POV: Midnight Traveler”
Filmed on phones by Hassan Fazili, this autobiographical account of his refugee family’s journey from Afghanistan to Hungary is an arresting and deeply moving testament to the power of parenting through trauma. It offers a remarkably rare and valuable humanizing picture of the everyday life of a refugee family, while also stopping at points to consider the ethics of filming such a story. Old Chilly Pictures LLC, American Documentary | POV, Independent Television Service (PBS)
“POV: The Distant Barking of Dogs”
Simon Lereng Wilmont’s beautiful, moving, and nuanced documentary chronicles life in a war zone through the eyes of a child. The story of an Eastern Ukrainian boy and his fiercely devoted grandmother pits the harsh realities of war against the innocence of childhood in a gracefully edited collection of cinéma vérité moments. Final Cut for Real, Mouka Filmi, STORY, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE, American Documentary | POV (PBS)
“POV: The Silence of Others”
Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar offer a stunning reflection on fascism, memory and forgetting by documenting the struggle of victims seeking legal redress for torture and other human rights abuses committed during Spain’s General Franco’s dictatorial reign. The film serves as a cautionary tale of fascism, its enduring wounds, and enduring presence. Semilla Verde Productions, Lucernam Films, American Documentary | POV, Independent Television Service, Latino Public Broadcasting, El Deseo (PBS)
“Surviving R. Kelly”
This explosive six-part series, based on interviews with women who survived alleged sexual abuse from R&B superstar R. Kelly, chronicles the complicity of a music industry and fans who turned a blind eye to multiple allegations as the singer rose to staggering heights of fame. The result is a powerful exploration of celebrity, the double standard of justice around gender and race, and how speaking truth can effect change. Bunim/Murray Productions and Kreativ Inc. for Lifetime (Lifetime)
“The Edge of Democracy”
Telling the epic tragedy of what happened in Brazil, from Lula to Bolsonaro, this film from director Petra Costa commandingly and chillingly shows how precarious a democracy can be. A Busca Vida Filmes Production in association with Violet Films for Netflix (Netflix)
“True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality”
A profile of attorney Bryan Stevenson and his work at the Equal Justice Initiative seeking justice for the incarcerated poor and death row inmates in Alabama and the South, the film offers a searing indictment of the court system, and helps viewers see how the U.S. Supreme Court is historically and directly accountable for sustaining racial violence, white supremacy, and the exploitation of black people through the trajectory of decisions that leads from enslavement to lynching to the death penalty. HBO Documentary Films and Kunhardt Films (HBO)
“Dolly Parton’s America”
During one of the most divisive periods in American history, Dolly Parton is the “great unifier” whose music speaks to people of diverse backgrounds and ideological perspectives. In this long-form multilayered podcast, host Jad Abumrad and producer Shima Oliaee explore Parton’s relationship to feminism, her faith, and her country roots, as well as the perpetuation of certain myths about Southern identity. Osm Audio and WNYC Studios (WNYC)
“Have You Heard George’s Podcast?”
Through poetry, spoken word, music, and speculative fiction, George Mpanga, known as “George the Poet,” pushes the boundaries of language and wordplay to explore issues of trauma, intimacy, work, art and creativity, belonging, attachment, and meaning in Black Atlantic worlds. From the sonic and creative cultures and histories of black people in West Africa, England, the Caribbean, and the U.S., George the Poet constructs a rich and provocative 21st-century cosmos in this podcast. BBC Sounds/George the Poet Ltd. (BBC Sounds)
“In the Dark: The Path Home”
In the second season of this story, Madeleine Baran and Samara Freemark once again set the benchmark for what truly superb true crime podcasts can and should be, expertly revealing a pattern of discriminatory jury selection in the troubling case of Curtis Flowers. Their reporting tells the bigger story of race and the criminal justice system while just as adeptly engaging in the more local story of the lives affected. American Public Media (APM Reports)
“Threshold: The Refuge”
Host Amy Martin reveals the tangle of traditional culture, economic aspirations, spiritual practices, protest movements, and political deal-making that shape current environmental policies in this five-part series on the battle over the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A superb account of environmental activism, Alaska Native rights, and the politics of oil and gas exploration features indigenous voices discussing their own futures. (Auricle Productions)
“A Different Kind of Force: Policing Mental Illness”
This poignant documentation of how local law enforcement in Texas are adapting to handle people with mental illness with empathy rather than weapons provides background on how the deinstitutionalization of the mental health system and lack of resources created a societal problem. The report carefully gives voice to people with mental illness and their families, and offers strategies to address the issue. (NBC News)
Richard Engel’s reports on the U.S. decision to abandon their allies the Kurds through war footage and interviews with Kurdish soldiers, a school teacher, and foreign policy experts masterfully attend to both the big picture and to the humans trapped in that picture. Offering a nuanced historical primer, Engel’s work interrogates policy as much as it features the human costs of rash policy. NBC News, Engel Unit (NBC/MSNBC)
“Long Island Divided”
This three-year-long investigation of housing discrimination and its impact on Long Island’s suburban towns and communities is local investigative journalism at its best. Through compelling documentary, data journalism, and hidden cameras, “Long Island Divided” shows the personal toll and collective impact on individuals and families subjected to the everyday practices of racial discrimination institutionalized by the real estate industry. Newsday
“The Hidden Workforce: Undocumented in America”
This revealing look at undocumented workers in the United States takes the focus away from the border and places us instead in the American Midwest to show how vital immigrants have become to the heartland—humanizing them and their contributions to the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the nation. (CNN)
Investigative reporter Dave Savini spent a year reporting on botched police raids in the Chicago area that left behind traumatized families and trashed homes. Through exhaustive interviews, surveillance video, and hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests, Savini uncovered police behavior that ranges from careless to callous. The reports resulted in Illinois legislation that instructs police departments to train officers on how to de-escalate force if children are present during a raid. (WBBM-TV)
CHILDREN’S & YOUTH
“Molly of Denali”
While American media depicts indigenous characters almost entirely in historical settings, the charming story of Molly Mabray, an Alaska Native girl who helps her parents run the Denali Trading Post, represents these traditions as a living culture with much to offer at the current moment—from environmental consciousness to community belonging to creative expression. WGBH Educational Foundation, Atomic Cartoons (PBS Kids)
PBS’s flagship investigative documentary series “FRONTLINE” was launched in 1983 by
executive producer David Fanning, quickly establishing itself as the preeminent home for hard-hitting, thoughtful, and consequential journalism on television. Since then, “FRONTLINE” has won 20 Peabody Awards—including programs as varied as “Crisis in Central America” (1985), a series examining the history of U.S. involvement in Central America; “Waco: The Inside Story” (1995), a gripping account of the tragic siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Texas; and “The Facebook Dilemma” (2018), exploring how the world’s largest social media platform’s push for profits allowed for violations of user privacy, electoral interference in U.S. elections, and the spread of disinformation and hate speech worldwide.
But “FRONTLINE” has not rested on its laurels. Under the leadership of Raney Aronson-Rath,
the organization has not only thrived by continuing its robust output of films (with even greater diversity of filmmakers), but also expanded its reporting and distribution channels by venturing boldly into the digital era. It has embraced new forms of investigative journalism, developing virtual reality and web-based stories (winning two Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Awards for digital storytelling), and launching “THE FRONTLINE DISPATCH,” an investigative podcast series.
At a time when trust in the media is challenged, when journalists are casually cast as the “enemy of the people,” and when fact-based reporting is often overshadowed by opinion and ideology masquerading as truth, Peabody honors the consistent, stalwart, and excellent journalism “FRONTLINE” offers the American public and the world.
On December 17, 1989, the clouds parted in the now-iconic opening sequence of “The Simpsons,” inviting the world into the town of Springfield for the first time. Already well known to fans of “The Tracey Ullman Show”—which ran a series of animated shorts by creator Matt Groening starting in 1987—Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie would soon rocket to international fame. “The Simpsons,” with nearly 700 full episodes to date, is now the longest-running scripted primetime series in American television history, and likely the most globally recognized program in history.
Following a decade of earnest family sitcoms, the brash yellow splash of “The Simpsons” on TV cleared the way for a more satiric-parodic, deeply ironic mode of comedy. From the outset, the program was eager to question and rib not just the medium its viewers grew up on, but the beliefs upon which they were structured. Decades later, the effect of its witty humor and
willingness to question authority is evident in similarly important comedies that followed in
Homer’s four-toed path. “The Simpsons” expanded notions of what the sitcom could be. It gifted us a wonderful family caught between the poles of father Homer’s delightful ignorance and daughter Lisa’s endearing brilliance, a family that would fumble, fight, and fail, and yet who loved each other in spite of it all. It boldly and inventively ushered animation back into primetime. And it has found ways to remain funny, fresh, and insightful while trusting and respecting its audience’s intelligence. In one episode, Homer thumps his television angrily, demanding that it “be more funny.” Peabody commends “The Simpsons” writers, animators, and cast for answering Homer’s call for 30 years.