The Peabody Awards finished announcing its 82nd class of winners this morning and you could argue it saved the best for last. Joining previous winners “Hacks,” “Dopesick,” “Sort Of” and “Reservation Dogs” were Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad,” the celebrated Netflix special “Bo Burnham: Inside” and the Oscar-winning documentary “Summer of Soul,” among others. Intriguingly, in its third year of virtual presentations, it was somewhat odd that Bo Burnham did not participate.
Of the 30 winners this year, PBS led with six, followed by HBO/HBO Max with four, Netflix with three, and Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and The New York Times each with two. Additional winning organizations included ABC, FX, KUSA, NBC News, NPR, Peacock, Rumble Strip, and VICE.
In a statement, Jeffrey Jones, executive director of Peabody noted, “Whether exposing injustice, detailing uncomfortable truths, or making us laugh uncontrollably, all of the winners demonstrated how to tell a compelling story,” said Jeffrey Jones, executive director of Peabody. “With an ongoing pandemic, political obstructionism, and senseless wars continuing to take and disrupt lives, these programs pushed past many obstacles to tell important stories that will stand the test of time. Peabody is proud to honor their incredible work.”
Nominated projects that didn’t make the cut include “The Queen of Basketball,” “Only Murders in the Building,” “Station Eleven” and “Yellowjackets.”
Today’s winners are as follows:
Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
In the concert documentary film Summer of Soul, musician and debut director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson puts us in the front row of a seminal event that should be as legendary as Woodstock but had been relegated to the dusty and neglected storage bins of history: the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969. The film weaves together interviews with attendees and cultural commentators for context with astonishing footage of festival performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, and many more.
A Vulcan Productions Inc. Production, In Association with Concordia Studio, Play/Action Pictures, LarryBilly Productions, Produced by Mass Distraction Media and RadicalMedia (Hulu, Searchlight Pictures, Onyx Collective)
“Bo Burnham: Inside”
Bo Burnham’s comedy special doubles as a multimedia tour de force, an artistic manifesto, and a lockdown diary. Every new comedic musical number, with titles like “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight),” “Problematic,” and “White Woman’s Instagram,” feels like a call for help—the kind that gets louder and all the more disquieting the more it drones on. Burnham wrote, directed, edited, and performed this special from the confines of a single room for what feels like months on end, making it the perfect piece of Covid Era art.
“The Underground Railroad”
In Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel, the figuratively magical network that aided enslaved people in their pursuit of freedom took on a real mythical valence: the miracle of The Underground Railroad was powered by a literal locomotive. Director Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of Whitehead’s book follows the enslaved Cora, weaving in an immersive sensory experience of the land that both aided and foiled her, poignant moments of connection between characters spanning generations, and weighty lessons about the utter devastation of the transatlantic slave trade.
Plan B, PASTEL, Big Indie with Amazon Studios (Amazon Prime Video)
Children’s & Youth
“City of Ghosts”
The winsome charm of Elizabeth Ito’s City of Ghosts lies in its simple premise: to commune with haunting specters is not a scary prospect. Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn about local history, a chance to reconnect with one’s heritage. Centered on a “Ghost Club” led by Zelda, a young girl who doesn’t blink when encountering a fluffy ghost haunting a restaurant or a drumming one keeping a cafe owner up at night, this animated mockumentary series is a love letter to Los Angeles and a textured mosaic that understands the sunny city contains as many stories as it does people and buildings.
A Netflix Original Series (Netflix)
“Exterminate All the Brutes”
In our current moment of intense dispute and contestation, when the clash of narratives and history are reduced to disputes over truth and feelings, disinformation, and gaslighting, Raoul Peck’s documentary series is an uncompromising commitment to evidence, science, ethics, and morality. It asks viewers to consider the continuing impact of racial hierarchies, land seizure, and the plunder and profit of cultures throughout the world, placing important historical movements, narratives, and alliances on the global stage rather than leaving them merely as isolated national or local stories.
HBO Presents a Velvet Film Production (HBO/HBO Max)
How do you run a city when you don’t have a country? The documentary Mayor answers this question by following Musa Hadid, the charismatic and compassionate mayor of Ramallah, as he goes about his daily duties running the Palestinian, West Bank city of 60,000 people. Deadpan municipal humor, quiet outrage, and civic duty in the face of staggering injustice drive this engaging film from director David Osit.
American Documentary | POV, Rosewater Pictures (PBS)
The task of fleeing Eritrea, the small nation sometimes reductively called the North Korea of Africa, is the kind of perilous journey that often goes unchronicled for fear of retaliation. Amid threat of incarceration, torture, and execution in a country with no free press, the subjects and filmmakers of the FRONTLINE documentary Escaping Eritrea conducted an unprecedented, years-long investigation. With rigor and care, the film captures not just the myriad abuses faced by Eritreans within the country and on various treacherous migration routes, but also the historical roots of the current regime.
FRONTLINE, Channel 4 (PBS / GBH / FRONTLINE)
“Finn and the Bell”
Finn and the Bell assembles a quiet portrait of a small Vermont community grappling with a young man’s suicide, and the beauty of its method lies in how the piece universalizes the feeling of a wake. Using a drifting, non-narrated format that emphasizes the voices of those left behind, podcast host Erica Heilman gently guides the emotion through the overwhelming pang of loss toward celebration of a life, giving us a tender treatment of a community in grief.
Rumble Strip (Rumble Strip)