Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

FRONTLINE: Death Is Our Business/ Love, Life & The Virus

Funeral at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans. August 2020.
Courtesy of L. Kasimu Harris / FRONTLINE (PBS)
Funeral at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans. August 2020.

Stream or tune in Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, March 25 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2

FRONTLINE “Death Is Our Business” 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. The short documentary comes from award-winning filmmaker Jacqueline Olive ("Always in Season"). The film will also air on WORLD Channel on Wednesday, March 24. 

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 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.”

Second Line for FiYiYi Big Queen Kim Boutte, New Orleans. August 2020.
Courtesy of L. Kasimu Harris / FRONTLINE (PBS)
Second Line for FiYiYi Big Queen Kim Boutte, New Orleans. August 2020.

“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.

Filmmaker Quotes:

“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 Jacqueline’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.”

Watch On Your Schedule:

“Death Is Our Business” premieres Tuesday, March 23 on KPBS TV. The film will broadcast nationwide on WORLD Channel on Wednessday, March 24. The program will be available to stream on PBS, at pbs.org/frontline, on YouTube, and the PBS Video App.

Join The Conversation:

FRONTLINE is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter. #frontlinePBS

Credits:

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.