‘The 1619 Project’ is ‘The Story of America,’ Said Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones in 'The 1619 Project'
Nikole Hannah-Jones in Hulu’s ‘The 1619 Project.’ (Image credit: Patti Perret/Hulu)

The 1619 Project, an extension of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s New York Times Magazine journalism initiative about Black America, debuts on Hulu January 26. An Onyx Collective series, there are six episodes. 

Hannah-Jones hosts the docuseries. The episodes are adapted from essays from The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and examine how the legacy of slavery shapes different aspects of contemporary American life.

Episodes are titled “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear” and “Justice.” Oprah Winfrey is an executive producer. Shoshana Guy is showrunner and executive producer. 

At the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour earlier this month, Hannah-Jones spoke about the backlash against The 1619 Project, including President Trump calling its findings “toxic propaganda.” 

“Part of the backlash, I think, is people are just really surprised by what we argue in the project and there are certain Americans who think, if this were true, certainly I would have heard about it before,” she said. “And so I think there is a backlash that comes from the skepticism or being kind of thrown off kilter by learning a history that you hadn't been taught. And then, of course, there's the backlash that is strictly political, which is, this project exposes power, exposes hierarchy, exposes that we were founded on lofty ideals of democracy and freedom and also the practice of slavery and what does that mean for the country that we live in today.”

Part of Disney, Onyx Collective’s mission is to empower underrepresented artists and storytellers of color. Hannah-Jones said she was drawn to the “unparalleled reach” of the Disney brand, and the backing of Bob Iger. “It was clear that he had a strong belief in the project and we were going to get the resources that we needed to produce the work that we wanted to produce,” she said. 

The project’s title refers to a slave ship arriving in Virginia in 1619. Hannah-Jones called The 1619 Project “the story of America. You can’t understand the story of America without understanding the story of slavery and Black Americans.”

An investigative journalist, Hannah-Jones was at ProPublica and The Oregonian before landing at The New York Times Magazine

The 1619 Project is a Lionsgate production in association with One Story Up Productions, Harpo Films and The New York Times. It is executive produced by Hannah-Jones, Roger Ross Williams, Caitlin Roper, Kathleen Lingo, Guy and Winfrey. 

The 1619 Project also exists in book form. “It's not often that you produce a work and you get a second and third and fourth bite at the apple,” said Hannah-Jones of the project’s different iterations. “You get all of these different ways to tell the story. I'm not a TV reporter. I'm not a TV journalist. It was never my desire growing up.  But I certainly understand the power of the medium.” ■

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.