National Geographic

Michael H. Cottman, "Shackles From The Deep"

In continued celebration of Black History Month, National Geographic recently released books by authors, Ann Bausum and Michael H. Cottman, who have each devoted their careers to discovery, research, exploration and impact. These authors tell the unvarnished truth about African American history during the slave trade (Cottman’s Shackles From The Deep) and the Civil Rights Movement (Bausum’s The March Against Fear). While Black History Month is coming to a close, these books and the authors' thoughts, below, remind us that black history is America’s history and celebrated every day.

Michael H. Cottman: Shackles From The Deep

Michael H. Cottman, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author, is a former political reporter for the Washington Post. Cottman also serves as a special consultant to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration for a national multimedia project, "Voyage to Discovery," an education initiative that focuses on the African-American contribution to the maritime industry spanning 300 years and efforts to teach students of color about careers in marine biology and oceanography. ‘Shackles From The Deep’ is more than just the story of one ship, the ‘Henrietta Marie’—it's the untold story of millions of people taken as captives to the New World. Told from Cottman’s perspective, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work, and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery.

What inspired you to explore the Henrietta Marie and write Shackles from the Deep?

When I was working on the first book, The Wreck of Henrietta Marie, I started talking to my daughter about it and she said that she thought it would be a good idea to write something that would resonate with young people. I thought, “maybe she’s onto something”, so I began to talk about how to share this story with young people in a way that would resonate with them to discuss the pain and injustice of the slave trade and in a conversational way that they can relate to and understand. I thought the best way to do it would be through writing Shackles From The Deep, because it’s part detective story, part underwater mystery, part personal journey and part history. 

Historians come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Why do you think it’s important for African Americans to study and to tell the story about African American history?

I think it’s important so that we get the story right. In a lot of cases, I’ve talked to scholars and historians who say that we need to be in the position to tell our own stories so that we can pass these truths to the generations of young people who come after us. It’s important for them to know their heritage, to know their lineage, to know about the horrible global business of slavery. But, it’s also important for young people to know that because of slavery, there was genius that was brought to these shores by African people. What I mean by that is the mathematics, poetry, culture and music—the elements that all Americans and all races appreciate to this day. I think it’s important for young African American kids to understand their history, but also understand that there is an uplifting element that has evolved and come out of the pain of slavery. 

How does the discovery of slave ships, like the Henrietta Marie, help us to better understand not just African American history, but American history?

African American history is American history. African American history is global history, a collective history. To illustrate that, I would point people to a partnership between the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and the maritime archaeologists who we partnered with to explore and examine the Henrietta Marie slave ship. During this discovery, we witnessed an unprecedented effort—white and black divers coming together to explore a slave ship. Corey Malcolm, the Director of Archaeology at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, said to me, “This is part of our collective history. There is no better illustration of this collective history than white divers and black divers coming together to explore this slave ship.”

If we want to take a step towards racial healing or cultural understanding, we must the acknowledge pain and injustice of the past, and that’s what we did together during this project. We acknowledged the pain and injustice of the past by examining the Henrietta Marie.

If you could describe African American history in three words, what would they be?

Education, illumination and necessity.

Michael H. Cottman, Ann Bausum, National Geographic

Ann Bausum: The March Against Fear

Award-winning author, Ann Bausum writes about U.S. history for young people, and she has published eight titles with National Geographic Children's Books. Her latest, ‘The March Against Fear’, explores James Meredith's 1966 march in Mississippi, which started as one man's peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South's most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement.

What inspired you to write The March Against Fear?

I’ve spent two decades exploring under told stories from our nation’s past, particularly ones about the quest for social justice. This story called out to be told for those reasons and because it shares essential history about the evolving nature of the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

You note that Meredith’s efforts were “nearly forgotten.” How did you learn about James Meredith? Based on your research, do you think there are stories, like Meredith’s, that have been left untold?

I’ve known for decades about James Meredith, especially his integration of the University of Mississippi, but also the March Against Fear. The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of him after he’d been shot along the roadside is burned on my brain; we use that image to open the book. As for untold stories, they are legion. The Hidden Figures books and film prove that—these stories tend to emerge vicariously, so it’s the job of authors and publishers to spot them and latch on.

Why is it so important for our country, and especially our young students, to continue to learn the untold stories of Civil Rights leaders such as James Meredith?

Some of our untold stories are left untold intentionally. They may fall outside of a national narrative of uplift, make us feel uncomfortable, or force us to face past mistakes. I would argue that the best way to avoid such mistakes is to learn about them. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do that any number of times with National Geographic.

If you could describe African American history in three words, what would they be?

Essential American stories.


 The March Against Fear and Shackles From The Deep are both available for purchase through the National Geographic store; author interviews conducted by Christian Garland for National Geographic.


On February 20, 2017, Nat Geo WILD launched its seventh annual ‘Big Cat Week’, a week of premiere programming and activities dedicated to telling the stories of nature’s fiercest felines—lions, tigers, cheetahs, panthers and more—around the world. ‘Big Cat Week’ is an extension of the Big Cats Initiative (BCI), a long-term commitment by National Geographic Society to stop poaching, save habitat and sound the call that big steps are needed to save big cats around the world. The initiative was co-founded by big cat experts Dereck and Beverly Joubert, and supports protection efforts through assessment, on-the-ground conservation, education, and global public-awareness campaigns—since 2009, BCI has supported over 95 innovative grants to protect seven iconic big cat species across 27 countries.

The Big Cats Initiative Sister School Program is an interactive learning opportunity that connects classrooms in the U.S. and abroad with students living near big cat populations across the African continent. One such classroom is P.S. 205, the Fiorello Laguardia School located in the Bronx, which is paired with Gudigwa Primary School in Botswana. Through photos, letters, and virtual assemblies over the last three years, the two schools have created substantial cross-cultural exchange and discussion about the decline of big cats in the wild and what that means for the ecosystem around them.

Last Thursday, P.S. 205 students helped Nat Geo WILD kick off ‘Big Cat Week’ by spending some time with the Jouberts themselves, who live in Botswana and work closely with Gudigwa Primary School. After a special screening of their new documentary, Soul of the Cat, the Jouberts spoke to nearly 400 4th and 5th graders about the history, purpose, and progress of BCI, their role as explorers and filmmakers, and the world of students at Gudigwa, which P.S. 205 has raised $1,500 for through classroom fundraisers. At the end of the presentation, students gave the Jouberts letters to take back to students at Gudigwa and participated in an auditorium-wide ROAR for big cats around the world, while being reminded that even people who live in New York City far from big cat populations can make a difference in protecting them.

Dereck and Beverly Joubert are award-winning filmmakers from South Africa who have been filming, researching, and exploring in Africa for over 25 years. Their coverage of unique predator behavior has resulted in 22 films (and five Emmys), 10 books, six scientific papers, and many articles for National Geographic magazine. As Explorers-in-Residence with National Geographic, the Jouberts are now focused on developing solutions to halt big cat endangerment, which has seen the number of lions in Africa drop from 450,000 to 20,000 in just 50 years.

“We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to big cats,” says Dereck. “They are in such a downward spiral that if we hesitate now, we will be responsible for extinctions across the globe. If there was ever a time to take action, it is now.”

Learn more about ‘Big Cat Week’ and the Big Cats Initiative.


naacp image awards taraji henson janelle monae octavia spencer

21st Century Fox businesses took home a collective 11 trophies from the 48th NAACP Image Awards on February 11, scoring wins for acting and directing on film and television projects such as Empire, Atlanta, The People v. O.J. Simpson, This Is Us, and Hidden Figures. The ceremony, which celebrates the accomplishments of people of color across the media landscape, was broadcast live on TV One and was hosted by Anthony Anderson.

A complete list of 21CF businesses wins is as follows:

  • Outstanding Motion Picture – Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox)
  • Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture – Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures
  • Outstanding Television Movie, Limited Series or Dramatic Special – The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
  • Outstanding Directing in a Dramatic Series – John Singleton, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
  • Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Limited Series or Dramatic Special – Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
  • Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series – Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (20th Century Fox Television)
  • Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series – Taraji P. Henson, Empire (FOX)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series – Jussie Smollett, Empire
  • Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)
  • Outstanding Song (Traditional) – Kim Burrell and Pharrell Williams, “I See a Victory,” Hidden Figures soundtrack
  • Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction) – Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

“There are roles you accept that scare you. And this one did because I failed math,” Henson said during her acceptance speech for her role as Katherine G. Johnson in Hidden Figures. “I made it my mission to do this film. This film was very important. It was bigger than me.”

Both Hidden Figures and The People v. O.J. Simpson were the focus of recent social impact campaigns. Hidden Figures has become a rallying cry for diversity in STEM, screening at the White House in December and serving as the basis for the Search for Hidden Figures scholarship contest last fall. 21CF also partnered with the LA Promise Fund to screen the film for nearly 10,000 young women in LA middle and high schools. Last year, the company took The People v. O.J. Simpson on a screening tour of HBCU campuses around the country.

21CF received 34 total nominations, including nods for FOX’s Lethal Weapon and Pitch, National Geographic’s StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, 20th Century Fox Television’s Fresh Off the Boat and The Carmichael Show, and Fox Searchlight’s The Birth of a Nation.

"The Image Awards is the premier showcase for art and advocacy reflecting the depth and diversity of the African-American experience," said Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP. "It is an American prism through which we see a breadth of culture and color reflected in film, television, music, and literature in ways that reveal our shared humanity. At a moment when America is so divided, the Image Awards represents an hour that brings us together.”

Learn more about this year’s NAACP Awards, and view the full list of winners.


Katie Couric, Gender Revolution

In support of the television premiere of Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, National Geographic and Picture Motion are partnering to launch a free screening series across the U.S. The Gender Revolution Tour invites all universities, high schools, and nonprofits to request a free DVD of the film, along with a comprehensive discussion guide full of resources, to continue the conversation on understanding gender and identity in 2017.

“From the very start, it was my hope that as many people as possible would be given the opportunity to see this film,” said Couric. “I am thrilled that along with National Geographic and Picture Motion, we are going to be able to share Gender Revolution and our accompanying discussion guide with groups all over the country.”

The documentary follows Couric as she travels coast to coast meeting people at the forefront of what National Geographic is calling the “gender revolution.” Through dozens of interviews, Couric covers a range of topics, from intersex biology to gender pronouns to societal conflict surrounding the issues. The tour aims to expand on these conversations taking place around the world by providing nuanced, well-researched information on the evolution of gender identity.

“National Geographic is about exploration and discovery. Through the Gender Revolution Tour, we want to encourage constructive conversations that will allow people to connect with each other over material that is science based, investigative and in some cases, deeply personal,” said Chris Albert, executive vice president, global communications for National Geographic. “We believe this is a timely and groundbreaking documentary, and are thrilled to make it available for free to any organization interested in expanding its knowledge on the gender discussion.”

The two-hour special premieres on National Geographic on Monday, February 6 at 9pm Eastern. Produced by Katie Couric Media with National Geographic Studios and World of Wonder Productions, Gender Revolution will also air on National Geographic in 171 countries and 45 languages. 

Watch the trailer now and click here to request a free screening today.


Gavin Grimm talks to Couric about his story and having his case heard by the Supreme Court

The two-hour National Geographic special, Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, celebrated its world premiere at the New York Times Center on Thursday, February 2. The documentary accompanies National Geographic’s January issue, which dives into the world’s rapidly changing beliefs about gender in 2017.

Gender Revolution approaches the conversation of gender through lenses of social relations, brain chemistry, cultural norms and personal experience. Couric’s interest in gender identity arose three years ago, when her daughter came home from college and mentioned that new classes began with each student sharing their name and preferred gender pronoun. “I thought there was so much important information behind the headlines, the tweets, the articles—and I wanted to take a step back to see if it all indicated a shift in our thinking and really roll up my sleeves to connect the dots,” said Couric at Thursday’s premiere.

Gavin Grimm is a high school senior and transgender male whose story is one of the many featured in the film. Two years ago, Gavin’s school ruled that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom despite identifying as a boy—the case made its way up to national debate and will now be heard by the Supreme Court in the spring. “I’m excited for the humanization that this documentary will bring to the trans community, because for a lot of people, it’s still just an abstract concept…There’s not a lot of representation of trans people in television or other forms of media…so I’m hoping it will bring a clear look at who trans people are,” says Gavin.

The film premiere was followed by a panel of notable experts, doctors, and activists, including Hari Nef, the first openly transgender woman to sign a global modeling contract, and Georgiann Davis, professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, both of whom were featured in the documentary. The panel was moderated by Susan Goldberg, editor-in-chief of National Geographic.

Gender Revolution is produced by Katie Couric Media with National Geographic Studios, premieres on National Geographic television on Monday, February 6 at 9pm Eastern, and will air around the world in 171 countries and 45 languages. In partnership with Picture Motion, National Geographic will also be hosting free screenings of Gender Revolution at high schools, colleges, and nonprofits around the country.

Watch the trailer now: