For her 2017 National Geographic documentary Gender Revolution, veteran journalist Katie Couric crisscrossed the nation to put compelling faces and poignant personal stories to America’s complex relationship with gender identity. The experience proved so fulfilling that Couric hit the road again, delving into more crackling social issues that both inspire and undermine unity in our “United” States, challenging our individual moral compasses and coloring our outlooks far beyond any neighborly chat over the backyard fence.
Issues like gender inequality; the plight of American Muslims; the economic uncertainty of the white working class; the intersection of history and oppression in our nation’s monuments; and how technology is rewiring humanity (trust us, you won’t ever look at your cellphone the same).
The result is National Geographic’s deeply affecting six-part docuseries America Inside Out With Katie Couric.
“Part of the problem in this country is that nobody wants to have these uncomfortable conversations,” says Couric. “As a journalist, I’m insatiably curious about other people’s perspectives, unpacking these thorny issues and understanding where people are coming from. … I wanted to get, as cliché as it sounds, up close and personal with the people who are living examples of these massive changes we’re seeing our society undergo.”
And so Couric spends time with American-born Muslim schoolgirls asked by playmates if they hide bombs in their hijabs. A black paramedic who gives his colleagues an eye-opening perspective on the “take a knee” movement. A once highly paid welder for GE who now works 14-hour days delivering milk to make ends meet. And Art Cullen, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times who champions the role immigrants play in breathing new economic life into his rural Iowa town. A few famous faces join in as well, including Elisabeth Moss, Aasif Mandvi, Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee, Viola Davis and Steve Aoki.
In an especially powerful segment, Couric travels to Charlottesville, Va., to interview Zyahna Bryant, the young woman who petitioned to have the Robert E. Lee statue removed from a downtown park. Attending a unity gathering at a local church, Couric is stunned to also find herself with a front-row seat to torch-carrying white nationalists on the march. “It was really frightening,” the Virginia-born Couric says, “and it made me realize this was about much more than just statues. This was about how we see ourselves, our past and each other.
“We’ve moved away from this kind of journalism,” Couric laments of her effort to educate and inform in an intensely human fashion. “A lot of it now is in studios, with experts and talking heads — people who have a lot of interesting things to say, but they’re not exactly living these problems out loud, every day.”
America Inside Out With Katie Couric airs Wednesdays at 10/9c beginning April 11 on National Geographic