news Hulu’s ‘The 1619 Project’ Is Critical History Now Movingly Presented as True Crime

In her scorching book of essays “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote that “White Americans desire to be free of a past they do not want to remember, while Black Americans remain bound to a past they can never forget.”

That’s the underlying thesis of Hannah-Jones’ essay collection, of the companion New York Times podcast, and of the six-part docuseries now airing on Hulu (all named after the year that the first enslaved Africans were brought to American soil). The show chronicles the impact of slavery on modern America right up to the present day, in tandem with Black Americans’ incontrovertible stamp on arts and culture. And though it feels like a historical documentary, make no mistake: This is true crime, and it should galvanize viewers as strongly. It is a miscarriage of justice starting centuries ago, at the top, and can’t be rectified without mass movement.

“The 1619 Project” is as dense as its source material and the grueling history it seeks to illuminate, but the documentary format is a natural fit. Weekly episodic releases mean viewers can sit with anecdotes and lessons, do further research and reading and truly sit with the material. All of that makes this series sound like a class, but in a very real sense it is; Hannah-Jones introduces critical race theory for the uninitiated and clearly lays out the current challenges of even sharing the histories in “1619.” She cites dozens of state-wide attempts to block “The 1619 Project” and critical race theory from being taught in schools, sanitizing American history because the truth is too horrific, too violent, too unconscionable to explain to a child — yet it remains true. For those following the United States’ ongoing racial turmoil, a lot of this is a refresher, but presenting “1619” in a new format invites a new audience. With the threat of silence looming so heavy over its teachings, presenting the series accessibly on streaming is yet another quiet and crucial act of resistance.

A young black boy with an American flag draped over his back like a cape; poster for The 1619 Project on Hulu.

“The 1619 Project”


Hannah-Jones hosts and expands upon her writings, with new interviews, clips, and context from headlines as recent as 2022. Hannah-Jones serves as executive producer along with Oprah Winfrey, Roger Ross-Williams, Shoshana Guy, Kathleen Lingo, and Caitlin Roper. Guy, Ross-Williams, Naimah Jabali-Nash, Christine Turner, Kamilah Forbes, Phil Bertelsen, and Jonathan Clasberry direct.

Like the essays, each episode is framed around a specific topic: “Democracy” recounts the history of voting rights and restrictions, “Race” dives into the arbitrary construction of Black and white, “Music” into the footprint of Black artistry on music, “Capitalism” into labor exploitation and unions. “Fear” looks at the state of modern policing, and “Justice” looks forward, tough and hopeful. The stories of “1619” are as personal as it gets; Hannah-Jones interviews experts and academics, but she also speaks to Black Americans directly affected by every topic, occasionally weaving in her own family history. Every interview is compelling in its own way, whether it’s a professor clarifying American history or an everyday American recounting emotional struggles with bureaucracy.

Because Black contributions are so often overlooked or outright erased, Hannah-Jones recounts chapters of history that should be common knowledge but remain sanctified (and not taught in schools). There’s the early example of Abraham Lincoln, praised for emancipating the slaves, who held a meeting with Abolitionists during the Civil War and did everything he could to encourage them to leave the U.S. altogether. Despite the atrocities committed against Black people, they stood firm because it was their country as much as anyone else’s. “1619” is strongest when it dares the viewer to unlearn on the spot. Unlike historical documentaries, it is firmly rooted in the present — repeatedly reminding the audience that none of this is as distant as it seems.

And in the end as the beginning, it all comes back to slavery, to the crime so unbearable that even white Americans wish to be free of its legacy — but they cannot. It’s why Black students can’t always do a project on where they’re families emigrated from, why the Department of Justice sued the state of Georgia in 2021 over voter suppression. While many will comfortably claim slavery as part of a bygone past, Hannah-Jones and a growing segment of the population know that it seeped far and wide into the fabric of the nation — a stain that will not clear without rigorous work. Fighting against unfair wages, healthcare inequality, incarceration, and more is essential to moving the entire nation forward. “The 1619 Project” draws those threads clearly for the viewer, from highlighting specific legislation (some still in effect) to current practices that repackage the slave era’s ideology and actions. It spotlights how deeply this country’s history still affects and harms individual people, and it dares you to fight back.

The first two episodes of “The 1619 Project” are now streaming on Hulu, with new episodes weekly.