Give the CNN Special ‘Almighty Debt’ Credit for Trying

The latest installment of Soledad O'Brien's Black in America series is long on faith and hope but short on practical solutions.

Soledad O'Brien during "Almighty Debt" panel discussion at CNN Centerin Atlanta on Oct. 6. (E.M. Pio Roda/CNN)

The most sympathetic among those profiled is a laid-off insurance executive who tearfully watches his wife leave each morning for secretarial work while he applies futilely for jobs beneath his former pay grade.

In contrast, it’s hard to feel pity for the couple who once wielded power in luxury automotive and real estate sales but have fallen two years behind on their mortgage. Even though they’re broke, they won’t deny themselves the joy of owning three BMWs, a homestead large enough to accommodate a tennis court and a swimming pool, and the dream of sending their spoiled teenage daughter to an Ivy League school.

And in stretches that stand out as awkwardly long and repetitive, “Almighty Debt” focuses on a penniless teen who pins all of his hopes on winning enough scholarship funding to study acting at an obscure East Coast college.

Given the disastrous economic condition of the black community, one wonders whether all of the resources CNN poured into this program during the seven months of filming, editing and marketing it wouldn’t have been better spent compiling a comprehensive list of reliable job-search sites, academic-scholarship directories and mortgage-restructuring programs and scrolling them continuously for an hour and a half.

“Almighty Debt” proves there’s no shortage of unfortunate circumstances to be endured if you’re “Black in America.” But if the franchise has a future, let’s hope it strikes a better balance between strife and solutions.

A. Scott Walton is a reporter based in Atlanta.

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