New PBS documentary shows who’s ‘Boss’

Georgetown professor Marcia Chatelain helps trace
‘The Black Experience in Business’

Marcia Chatelain of ‘Boss: The Black Experience in Business’ Tuesday on PBS (check local listings).

Q: Being an associate professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University, what is a major point that you want to help “Boss: The Black Experience in Business” emphasize?

A: Something to keep in mind is that this film really captures the long historical trajectory of communities using business as not only a means of wealth production, but in order to articulate themselves as citizens.

We do have a robust tradition of state resources going into investing in African American businesses, but we also have to keep in mind that African Americans’ access to wealth in terms of lending ability — to pass on generational wealth — is still a challenge that’s shaped by race.

Q: What do you believe history has to say to present-day entrepreneurs?

A: I think that history’s really important, because for many African Americans who enter business, they are coming from a perspective of learning about the great black businesses that are no longer. And I think that definitely has an impression on how people strategize how they’re going to do their own business.

For a lot of African American consumers, “buying black” is something that is very present in the minds of black consumers who want to support their communities and reinvest. Throughout history, it’s not only cyclical, I think it is one of the features of racism in which communities take a step forward, and then there’s backlash and there’s resistance … and they have to strategize new ways of achieving their goals.

Q: Oprah Winfrey has been one of the most successful business people of modern times. What lessons can be taken from her story?

A: Oprah is significant because her entry into entertainment was about institution-building. And in that process, it’s about opening opportunity. I think that this is what this film captures — the incredible pressure as well as incredible opportunity that African American entrepreneurs (face) to not just make dollars, but to stretch the dollars across the various needs of their communities.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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