On Sunday, May 1 at 8 p.m. ET, the Smithsonian Channel will air a new, insightful docufilm titled The Color of Care. Produced in conjunction with Oprah’s Harpo Productions and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Yance Ford, who also directed the project, the movie highlights how the pandemic laid bare the discrepancies in healthcare treatment based on race in America. The film will also be the jump-start of a yearlong campaign, which involves a series of conversations and partnerships meant to tackle the issue head-on.
“The COVID crisis has exposed gross inequalities in our healthcare system which, if left unaddressed, will again disproportionately impact people of color during the next health emergency,” said James Blue, Head of the Smithsonian Channel. “This campaign will work to address these inequalities.”
In the trailer, Oprah shares that the story of 56-year-old Detroit, MI patriarch Gary Fowler, triggered her. It made her wonder what role race plays in whose complaints get taken seriously and why, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keith Gambrell, Fowler’s stepson, told the Detroit Free Press that Fowler began suffering from flu-like symptoms, fever, and shortness at the start of the pandemic, and he visited three different hospitals for coronavirus testing: Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit Receiving Hospital, and the Beaumont Hospital. But all three reportedly turned Fowler away, even after revealing that his own father, 76-year-old David Fowler, was confirmed to have been infected.
“My dad passed at home, and no one tried to help him,” Gambrell told the publication in April 2020. “He asked for help, and they sent him away. They turned him away… I told him I love him, and that I’ll see him again one day, and that I’m sorry we couldn’t even have a funeral for him. I just felt so bad because he was begging for his life, and medical professionals did nothing for him.”
Gary Fowler succumbed to COVID-19 only hours after his father David died from the infection, too.
Even tennis great Serena Williams learned firsthand that she wasn’t immune to disregard from medical professionals, either. The 23-time Grand Slam champion suffered a pulmonary embolism in 2018 after the birth of her firstborn. Williams only knew the symptoms of the life-threatening condition because she’d suffered from one seven years earlier.
In the essay she penned for Elle titled “How Serena Williams Saved Her Own Life,” Williams reveals how she had to lean on her cachet and demand attention for a long time before professionals were willing to administer the appropriate testing, which only confirmed what Williams already knew.
“Doctors aren’t listening to us, just to be quite frank,” she told BBC in 2018. “I was in a really fortunate situation where I know my body well, and I am who I am, and I told the doctor: ‘I don’t feel right, something’s wrong.’ She immediately listened,” she added. “She was great. I had a wonderful, wonderful doctor. Unfortunately, a lot of African-Americans and black people don’t have the same experience that I’ve had.”
Oprah asks one simple question in the promo clip for The Color of Care: “What if I told you the biggest indicator of how long you’re going to live is your zip code?”
More than a half dozen partners will be involved in the 12-month venture, and some of them include:
- Paramount, whose Content for Change Initiative “seeks to transform the entire creative ecosystem by supporting inclusive creators and content”;
- TikTok, which has teamed up with the Smithsonian Channel for an exclusive livestream event with MTV News for docufilm. It will air on TikTok’s Smithsonian Channel on Wednesday, April 27th, at 7 pm ET, hosted by Nessa. The livestream will feature a panel of physicians and health policy experts speaking about the disparities and what citizens can do to address the problem as well;
- PBS Newshour Classroom, who will construct lesson plans “about the history of racism in medical care in the United States” targeted at the middle and high school levels; and
- Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is one of the parties officially funding the Color of Care campaign through its Greenwood Initiative.
Tune in to the Smithsonian Channel on Sunday, May 1 at 8 p.m. ET to watch The Color of Care. And if you want to share your thoughts about the film or learn more about how you can be a part of the campaign, make sure to use the hashtag #TheColorOfCare.