'Biography' subject worthy of profile

Thursday, February 20, 2003

At last, someone worthy of a "Biography" (7 p.m., A&E). Like many viewers, I am tired of seeing this once-proud franchise fritter away its prestige with "Batman" retrospectives and life stories of professional wrestlers. Tonight, Danny Glover narrates an hourlong profile of writer James Baldwin, an important force in 20th century literature and race relations. Thank you "Biography" for acknowledging the fact that some of us actually read!

Baldwin would base his first novel, "Go Tell It On the Mountain," on his experience as a Harlem preacher. By the early 1950s, he was praised for taking black literature out of the ghetto and making the "Negro" experience accessible to a wider (and whiter) audience.

But Baldwin resisted easy categorization as a "black writer." His second, groundbreaking novel, "Giovanni's Room," about a homosexual love affair, has no black characters and takes place in Paris. Baldwin's essay collections, including "Notes of a Native Son" and "The Fire Next Time," were required reading during the civil rights era.

This intelligent "Biography" entry features archival footage and interviews with Baldwin (who died in 1987), poet Nikki Giovanni, novelist Toni Morrison, writer and actor Ossie Davis and members of Baldwin's family.

On a related note, Powell discusses Iraq, terrorism and the international scourge of AIDS before a town-hall meeting of high school students on "Open Mic" (7 p.m., BET). Ed Bradley ("60 Minutes") is host of this discussion.

Tonight's other highlights