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NOVA Announces Collaboration with Stanley Nelson on MEDICAL RACISM (w.t.)

3 min read

At today’s Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour, the award-winning PBS science series NOVA, a production of GBH Boston, announced its first collaboration with award-winning filmmaker and MacArthur Fellow Stanley Nelson and Firelight Films on a new documentary, MEDICAL RACISM (w.t.). Slated to premiere in late 2022 on PBS, the two-hour film will explore racism’s devastating impacts on Black Americans’ health and solutions for an equitable future.

Among the many harmful impacts of racism in America, one that’s captured great attention over the past year is the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black Americans. But while the headlines on COVID-19 have thrown a spotlight on racial inequality in our country’s healthcare system, this reality is nothing new. In this timely report, produced by Firelight Films and directed by Stanley Nelson, NOVA will take a hard look at the evidence for medical racism in America, connecting today’s stories to a long and reprehensible history that includes the Tuskegee syphilis study, the eugenics movement, and slavery in the Americas. In addition to framing the problem, the film will seek out solutions to the devastating racial health disparities that continue to impact the lives of Black Americans today.

“There are so many misconceptions out there about the causes of racial health disparities,” said NOVA Co-Executive Producer Julia Cort. “When we saw how much powerful research there is on the true causes—including scientific studies on the biological impacts of racism and the history of how medical and scientific institutions have harmed Black Americans—we knew NOVA had to tell this story. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Stanley Nelson and Firelight Films to bring this vitally important story to the public.”

“I’m so pleased to be working on my first science documentary film with NOVA, such a trusted and distinguished name in the science programming space,” said director Stanley Nelson. “The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the medical racism that has long existed in this country. There is so much important, and often shameful, history to unpack that directly connects to the health disparities people of color are facing today, that also gives critical context to the long-overdue national conversation around race that has unfolded throughout the last year.”

In MEDICAL RACISM (w.t.), NOVA will reveal not only the long history of racism within our healthcare system and how environmental factors stemming from continued residential segregation contribute to racial health disparities, but also the science of how racism has a direct impact on the human body, making people of color much more vulnerable to disease and chronic illness.

The film will explore how racial biases impact the level of care received by patients of color more broadly, how medical training today perpetuates racist stereotypes, and how even medical tools are designed without patients of color in mind. Additionally, the film will explore how racist assumptions about pain tolerance or drug seeking persist in making some doctors less likely to prescribe pain medication to their Black patients.

Moreover, MEDICAL RACISM (w.t.) will uncover evidence showing that toxic stress––the result of living with constant threats that elevate stress hormone levels—is contributing to higher rates of hypertension and other chronic diseases in the Black community. NOVA will report on how all of these factors and more lead to a diminished level of care, skepticism in our healthcare system, and poorer health outcomes for Black Americans, while also questioning how racism impacts health outcomes long before Black patients actively engage with the healthcare system.