Firelight Media, FRONTLINE and WORLD Channel Present “Death Is Our Business” Examining COVID-19’s Impact in New Orleans
New Short Film From Jacqueline Olive was Developed as Part of FRONTLINE/Firelight Investigative Journalism Fellowship
Firelight Media, FRONTLINE and WORLD Channel today announced a co-production, the short film, Death Is Our Business, that examines in intimate and moving detail how Black funeral homes in New Orleans have had to adapt to the devastating impact of COVID-19 in their community.
Debuting on FRONTLINE on Tuesday, March 23, the short documentary comes from award-winning filmmaker and Firelight Media Documentary Lab alum Jacqueline Olive (Always in Season). The film will also air on WORLD Channel on Wednesday, March 24.
In Death Is Our Business, Olive shines a light on how the virus has rocked the Black community’s cherished cultural practices in New Orleans — a city that is no stranger to loss and grief.
“New Orleans is this very complex combination of suffering and joy. Katrina forced us to think a lot about what it means to heal,” Dr. Denese Shervington says in the film. “I think we’re having a similar experience with COVID and this pandemic. How do individuals come back from extreme loss, loss of family members, loss of what was normal? How do you find your way back?”
While revealing the racial disparities of the virus’ toll, the film goes inside two of the oldest Black-owned funeral homes in the city, offering an intimate look at rituals that are specific to how many Black Americans funeralize their loved ones and the troubling ways that the pandemic has impacted them — forcing once in-person church services, packed and overflowing, into virtual Zoom, Skype, and Facebook Live spaces.
Olive also spotlights the community’s widely esteemed tradition of jubilant jazz funerals held by many local families to commemorate the passage of loved ones, honoring their memory with music and dancing through the streets.
“Death Is Our Business is a memorial to the people who have died from coronavirus,” says filmmaker Jacqueline Olive. “The film has been a vital way for me to also explore the compounded injuries of racial inequity faced by so many who survive in New Orleans, as in many cities across the country. I am honored by the support of people in New Orleans, Firelight Media, FRONTLINE, and WORLD Channel with creating a film that captures both beauty and tragedy, propelled by powerful Black cultural practices that provide affirmation and healing in egregiously impacted communities.”
Death Is Our Business is Olive’s first FRONTLINE documentary and is a part of her FRONTLINE/Firelight Investigative Journalism Fellowship — a Fellowship that was created to support independent filmmakers of color interested in journalistic documentary filmmaking. The fellowship aims to address the need for more diverse voices, perspectives, and experiences within that field.
“We are proud to share Jackie’s important and poignant reporting with our PBS audiences, and to document both the physical and emotional toll that the pandemic has had on the Black community,” says FRONTLINE Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath. “We are grateful to our partners at Firelight Media and WORLD Channel for their help amplifying Jackie’s storytelling.”
“At World Channel, we strive to bring our audiences real stories from around the world, often shining a spotlight on communities that are underrepresented in today’ s media environment,” said Chris Hastings, Executive Producer for WORLD Channel at GBH in Boston. “Death Is Our Business’ is an important film which highlights the economic and racial disparities of COVID and its effect on the Black community of New Orleans. We are pleased to work closely with both Firelight Media and FRONTLINE to bring this story to a wider audience.”
“It was an honor to work with Jackie on Always in Season and now again on Death Is Our Business, another beautiful film examining how Black communities reckon with unspeakable tragedy and injustice,” said Loira Limbal, Senior Vice President of Programs for Firelight Media. “The devastating toll of the pandemic continues to reverberate through communities of color and it is vital that storytellers continue to document this complex topic through personal stories like this one. We are so pleased that this story will get national exposure thanks to our partners FRONTLINE and WORLD Channel.”
Death Is Our Business premieres Tues., March 23 on PBS stations (check local listings). The film will broadcast nationwide on WORLD Channel on Wed., March 24.
FRONTLINE Production with Tell It Media in association with Firelight Media and WORLD Channel. The producer and director is Jacqueline Olive. The senior producers are Frank Koughan and Carla Borrás. The supervising producer is Monika Navarro and the consulting producer is Chloë Walters-Wallace. Executive producers are Raney Aronson-Rath for FRONTLINE, Chris Hastings for WORLD Channel and Stanley Nelson, Marcia Smith and Loira Limbal for Firelight Media.
Firelight is a premier destination for non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight produces documentary films, supports emerging filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. Firelight films have garnered multiple Primetime Emmys, Peabodys, and Sundance awards. Among them, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and Freedom Riders. Firelight’s programs include the Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship that supports emerging filmmakers of color; and Groundwork, which supports early stage filmmakers in the American south, midwest, and U.S. Territories. In addition to a focus on excellence in filmmaking, Firelight develops strategies, partnerships and materials to reach and engage diverse audiences and maximize the impact of documentary films.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 95 Emmy Awards and 24 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced at GBH in Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation; Park Foundation; the Heising-Simons Foundation; the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.
About WORLD Channel
WORLD shares the best of public media in news, documentaries and programming. WORLD’s original series examine the issues and amplify the voices of those often ignored by mainstream media. The multicast 24/7 channel helps audiences understand conflicts, movements and cultures from around the globe. Its original work has won a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, a National News and Documentary Emmy Award and many others honoring diversity of content and makers. WORLD is carried by 176 member stations in markets representing over 70% of US TV households. Funding for WORLD Channel is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Wyncote Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and Artworks. WORLD is produced by GBH in partnership with WNET and is distributed by American Public Television (APT). Find out more at WORLDChannel.org.