Tonight on FRONTLINE: ‘American Voices: A Nation in Turmoil’


November 17, 2020

Back in the spring when the pandemic was just taking hold, we began talking to Mike Shum, a filmmaker who was embarking on an ambitious undertaking: Recruiting a team of cinematographers around the country to film with individuals and families in their local communities as they confronted the spread of COVID. 

None of us could have predicted where this filmmaking effort would lead in the unprecedented months of tumult that followed.

Tonight, in American Voices: A Nation in Turmoil, you will see a glimpse of what Mike and these two dozen talented and diverse filmmakers have captured: a series of thoughtful portraits of people all across our country. From a barber in Oregon to a pastor in Iowa, an activist in Minneapolis to the owners of a floral shop in northern California, the documentary presents the varied perspectives and experiences of people as they dealt with COVID-19, responded to George Floyd’s killing and then experienced the election and its aftermath.

We’ve been working hard with the team these past two weeks since the election to capture the very latest on the characters and the country. Tonight’s film is truly a special undertaking for all of us, presenting a wide scope by following 12 characters in eight states. It took multiple virtual edit rooms — from Berkeley to Boston, New York City to the U.K. — to pull this off. And it is merely a sliver of an ongoing filmmaking project overseen by Mike, who was on the team that produced our 2019 documentary with The Wall Street Journal, Predator on the Reservation, and his friend Blair Woodbury, a medical doctor who has helped to guide the effort and develop safety protocols before and throughout filming.

“At the beginning of shelter-in-place back in March, America entered a collective unknown,” Mike says. For historical posterity, he and Blair were committed to documenting how ordinary people were reacting — and what happened as “it became clear…. that our country was not only contending with the pandemic, but also a social landscape that deepened longstanding divisions in race relations and political parties.”

You’ll get a panoramic yet intimate look at that social landscape tonight in American Voices: A Nation in Turmoil. The documentary premieres at 10/9c on PBS (check local listings), at, in the PBS Video App and on YouTube.

Thank you for watching. And please join the team behind American Voices for a special virtual event next Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Raney Aronson-Rath

Raney Aronson-Rath, Executive Producer, FRONTLINE



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