History Is Cool Again In “The People Speak”

What are you doing this Sunday? If you know what’s cool, you’ll be rediscovering American history during The History Channel’s premiere of the documentary “The People Speak,” based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Yes, I know you are having flashbacks of falling asleep during history class watching dreary videos about Christopher Columbus, who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 with the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Boring … right? But what if you were to hear Josh Brolin read the entries from Christopher Columbus’ personal diary or Eddie Vedder sing a Bob Dylan song? Now that’s interesting. Howard Zinn realized the power of this material after hearing some excerpts from the book read aloud. Soon the book developed into a successful live performance and, finally, a feature-length film. Actors such as Marisa Tomei, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viggo Mortensen, and Danny Glover do interpretive readings of first-person historical documents from vital moments in America’s history. Think Mark Twain’s personal letters, the lyrics from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s address at the Seneca Falls Convention, to name a few.

Matt Damon is honored to be a part of the film. “I think it’s important for all of us to learn at a young age that there are different perspectives on the same event,” he explains.

Viggo Mortensen, who has been involved with the piece since it was a live performance, talks about what he learned from the project, saying, “It sounds trite, but it’s the truth — how powerful ordinary people getting together are.”

That’s what the filmmakers hope for viewers to take away from the doc—the thought is that these voices can help us to recognize the power that people have to change the course of history and inspire a new generation to act. History has never sounded cooler. [The People Speak, PopEater]

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