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Click Here for a Preview of the Program

Hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray from PBS Distribution May 16th


Arlington, Va. – March 13, 2017 – PBS Distribution announced today it is releasing “AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS” on DVD and Blu-ray, the latest three-part, six-hour documentary series hosted, executive produced and written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

In the new documentary, Professor Gates travels the length and breadth of Africa to chronicle the continent’s history from a firmly African perspective. His journey takes him from the city of Great Zimbabwe to the pyramids of the Kingdom of Kush in Sudan, from the spectacular rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia to the continent’s oldest university in Fez, from the Blombos Caves in South Africa to Ancient Mali, the empire of King Mansa Musa, still thought to be the wealthiest person ever to have lived. 

AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray May 16, 2017 and has a run time of approximately 360 minutes on 2 discs. The DVD SRP is $34.99 and the Blu-ray SRP is $39.99. The program will also be available for digital download.

In the program, Gates chronicles a sweeping 200,000-year journey of discovery, showing the complexity, grandeur and diversity of many millennia of undiscussed and unknown details about Africa’s compelling and dramatic history. Gates presents — for the first time for a popular audience — a new vision not only of Africa’s pivotal place in world history, but also the world’s relation to Africa.

Africa’s contributions to the human community’s development of art and language, writing and religion, agriculture and government, the arts and sciences are commonly misunderstood, or even ignored. This landmark series presents a new and comprehensive narrative about Africa and the history of the extraordinary diverse peoples of its continent, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Cape of Good Hope, from the Red Sea and down the Nile River, and from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. The series sizzles with exciting interviews with leading historians, creative writers, art historians, paleoanthropologists, geneticists and museum curators, including the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka; Kenyan paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey; historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University; Christopher Ehret of UCLA; Ghanaian scholar Emmanuel Akyeampong of Harvard University; and art historian Cécile Fromont of the University of Chicago, along with many more.

“Africa is the ancestral home to the human community and to many of the pivotal breakthroughs in the history of civilization, yet the continent continues to be stereotyped as an isolated and underdeveloped region in the mind of outsiders, devoid of any profound historical achievements,” says Gates. “This series will dispel these myths and other inaccuracies about Africa through a detailed and riveting examination of significant historical events, such as the rise of its powerful kingdoms, the growth of extensive trade networks with the Middle East, Europe and China, seminal technological and artistic discoveries, and its peoples’ resilience in the face of harrowing past traumas. We made this series to end this ignorance about the African past, to reveal how Africans not only shaped the history of their continent, but also how profoundly and how extensively Africa has shaped the contours of our modern world.”

Beginning deep in the continent’s past with the origins of Homo sapiens and the “Out of Africa” migration of all of our human ancestors from east Africa, Gates vividly paints a picture of the earliest African civilizations — from Ancient Egypt and the Kingdom of Kush to the end of the 19th century as Africans faced Europe’s infamous “Scramble for Africa” — through their artistic and cultural achievements, their religious practices and political and social structures. Viewers examine the origins of the first human beings in Africa and the art and writing they created, and are introduced to unique environmental marvels such as the Gilf Kebir plateau, Jebal Barkal, the major climatic transformation of the Sahara Desert, and the emergence of cities in Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, South Africa, Great Zimbabwe, Angola, Benin, Ghana, Morocco and beyond. In terms of cultural and artistic innovation, the program looks at how the sculptors of West Africa exhibited craftsmanship rivaling that of European masters, and how the early Christian church — both through its theology and Christianity’s most architecturally stunning foundations — was nurtured in African cities like Alexandria, in Nubia along the banks of the Nile River and in Ethiopia. The crucial role of Africa in the evolution of Islam, and Islam’s major shaping role throughout North and West Africa, are subjects addressed with vigor throughout the series.

Africa’s history and its rich culture did not develop in isolation — it is and was greatly influenced by complex interactions with the rest of the world, since the most ancient of times. Gates shows how Africa’s interactions with foreign civilizations and ideas transformed these trading partners, and how African societies and cultures themselves were shaped through these extended contacts, including the arrival of Islam in medieval North Africa and Western Sudan and the rise of a maritime civilization on the East African coast, which regularly traded with Persian and Chinese visitors. Trade in salt and gold across the Sahara placed Africa in contact with Europe and the Middle East for millennia. Further, Africa was an epicenter of Christian theology and philosophy, reflected in the influential thinking of early Christian theologians like St. Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century, and in travel accounts of such Islamic scholars as Leo Africans and Ibn Battuta.

The series also examines the ancient African kingdoms’ increasingly complex relationships with the political economies of Europe and the burgeoning trans-Atlantic slave trade, and how these interactions began to change the internal dynamics of the continent. Finally, the series draws to a close at the end of the 19th century, when the infamous “Scramble for Africa” witnesses the industrial nations of Europe fighting for control of the vast riches of Africa’s natural resources, and when on the Plains of Adwa, Ethiopia makes a heroic stand against an invading colonial power.

AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS” is a production of Inkwell Films, McGee Media, Kunhardt Films and WETA Washington, DC, in association with Nutopia. Major corporate support for “AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS” is provided by Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson and Ancestry. Major funding is also provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Gilder Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.


About WETA Washington, D.C.

WETA Washington, D.C., is one of the largest producing stations of new content for public television in the United States. WETA productions and co-productions include PBS NEWSHOUR, WASHINGTON WEEK, THE KENNEDY CENTER MARK TWAIN PRIZE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS GERSHWIN PRIZE FOR POPULAR SONG, LATINO AMERICANS, THE ITALIAN AMERICANS, documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, and productions by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., including FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. Season Three and BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE. More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at www.weta.org.


About McGee Media
McGee Media was founded by award-winning filmmaker Dyllan McGee to produce documentary content that is innovative, compelling and immersive. Every story is born from a vision of a more fair and equitable world. Whether it is the sweeping history of the African-American experience or the intimate personal stories of the hundreds of women who made up the feminist movement, McGee Media uses television, film and digital media in radical new ways to inform and inspire. Current projects include: MAKERS (AOL), Once & For All (AOL), Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (PBS) and BLACK AMERICA SINCE mLK: aND sTILL i RISE (pbs).


About Kunhardt Films
Kunhardt Films produces documentaries about the people and ideas that shape our world. Most recently completed is JIM, a two-hour film about the life and imprisonment of journalist James Foley. Other films include BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (PBS, 2016), Living with Lincoln (HBO, 2015); Nixon By Nixon: In His Own Words (HBO, 2014); Finding your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Season 2 (PBS, 2014); Makers: Women Who Make America, Season 2 (PBS, 2014); The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (PBS, 2013); Gloria: In Her Own Words (HBO, 2011) and Teddy: In His Own Words (HBO, 2009). Kunhardt Films was founded in 1987 as Kunhardt Productions. It is run by Peter Kunhardt and his sons Teddy and George.


About Inkwell Films 

Inkwell Films was founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to produce sophisticated documentary films about the African and African-American experience for a broad audience. The six-part PBS documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013) earned the 2013 Emmy, Peabody Award and NAACP Image Award. Inkwell Films has co-produced BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (2016), Finding Your Roots (Seasons 1-3), Black in Latin America (2011), Faces of America (2010), Looking for Lincoln (2009), African American Lives 2 (2008), Oprah’s Roots (2007) and African American Lives (2006).


About Nutopia
An innovative award-winning international content company, Nutopia was founded in 2008 by Jane Root, former President of Discovery Channel US, Controller of BBC2 and co-founder of Wall to Wall TV. Nutopia is best known for creating the “mega doc,” huge-scale history series designed to stand out from the crowd. Critical successes include the landmark Emmy Award-winning series HOW WE GOT TO NOW; the ratings smash FINDING JESUS. FAITH. FACT. FORGERY for CNN; Emmy Award-winning series AMERICA THE STORY OF US and MANKIND THE STORY OF ALL OF US, both for History. Nutopia has recently announced two new landmark series. CIVILISATIONS for BBC/PBS and ONE STRANGE ROCK for National Geographic Channel.


About PBS Distribution

PBS Distribution is the leading media distributor for the public television community, both domestically and internationally, extending the reach of these programs beyond broadcast while generating revenue for the public television system, stations, and producers. 

PBS Distribution offers a broad range of high quality content in multiple formats including DVD, Blu-ray, digital download, and digital streaming.  PBS International offers factual content for broadcast, cable, and satellite services internationally.  The PBS Distribution catalog includes films from Ken Burns, documentaries from award-winning series such as NOVA, FRONTLINE, AMERICAN MASTERS, NATURE, and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, dramas from MASTERPIECE, as well as films from independent producers and popular children’s programming.



Street Date: May 16, 2017

Genre: Documentary

Run Time: Approximately 360 minutes on 2 discs

SRP: DVD, $34.99; Blu-ray, $39.99

Format: DVD & Blu-ray