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The awards, recognizing the most compelling and empowering stories released across broadcast and streaming media in 2020, were presented in the categories of children’s and youth, documentary, entertainment, news, podcast/radio and public service.
Entertainment winners are The Good Lord Bird, I May Destroy You, La Llorona, Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, Ted Lasso, Small Axe and Unorthodox.
Noteworthy documentary winners include Oscar-nominated films Collective, Time and Crip Camp, from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company, and Oscar documentary shortlist films 76 Days — which features patients and medical professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic during its early days in Wuhan, China — and Welcome to Chechnya.
Both La Llorona and 76 Days made history for their distributors, winning the first Peabody Awards for AMC Networks’ Shudder streaming service and the Sheila Nevins-led MTV Documentary Films, respectively.
PBS won the most awards this year with five, followed by Netflix with four, HBO with three, and Amazon, Apple TV+ and Showtime with two apiece.
A number of this year’s winners address the COVID-19 pandemic, with other issues tackled by the nominated projects including voting rights, police violence, immigrant rights and economic justice.
The Peabody board of jurors selected this year’s 30 winners from a list of 60 nominees, revealed last month, chosen from more than 1,300 entries. Nominees and winners must be unanimously chosen by the board of jurors.
“Whether documenting the horrors and struggles of COVID-19, amplifying critical discussions around police brutality, or simply entertaining us with heartfelt stories about our shared humanity, the Peabody 30 winners represent the very best in compelling storytelling,” Peabody executive director Jeffrey P. Jones said in a statement. “Spanning mediums and genres, they told urgent and powerful stories despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic and an often relentless hostility towards the press. It is an honor to celebrate their fantastic work.”
Winners were announced in batches over social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and the Peabody Awards’ website from June 21-24. To present the awards, the Peabody board of jurors enlisted stars like Chris Rock, Goldie Hawn, Guillermo del Toro, Steve Carell, Cynthia Erivo, Will Ferrell, Sandra Oh, D.L. Hughley, Kristen Bell, Trevor Noah, Thandiwe Newton, Taraji P. Henson and Natasha Lyonne.
Videos of the awards presentations and acceptance speeches are available here.
The Peabodys also honored Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY with an institutional award, Sam Pollard with a career achievement award and Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour, with the inaugural Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity.
And the organization recognized journalism crews for their work amid unprecedented challenges in 2020.
A full list of the 2021 Peabody Award winners, along with jurors’ comments about each selection and presented in alphabetical order by category, follows.
The Good Lord Bird
Part fiction, part history, and part dramatic satire, this Showtime limited series boldly yet humorously examines the enigmatic abolitionist John Brown. With Ethan Hawke’s rich and complex portrayal of a madman who would become a martyr, Brown’s competing legacies are given ample room to coexist. The miniseries can’t help but follow in his wake and give us an irreverent history lesson that feels fresh and pressing for our times.
Showtime Presents Blumhouse Television, Mark 924 Entertainment, Under the Influence Productions (Showtime)
I May Destroy You
One of the year’s most critically-acclaimed series is the provocative brainchild of British screenwriter, director, producer, and actor, Michaela Coel. The story centers on her character Arabella, who awakens from a night on the town with fragmented memories of having been sexually assaulted. With a compelling narrative that mirrors the structural rhythms of psychological trauma, the show defines the emergent subgenre of consent drama and takes center stage in a developing cultural conversation around complex issues of sexuality and consent, freedom and abuse, friendship and trust.
HBO in association with BBC, Various Artists Limited, and FALKNA (HBO)
Jayro Bustamante’s reworking of that well-known Latin American folk tale about a weeping woman relies on the lyrical potential of the ghost story genre. The power of this gripping film is its inventive approach to visualizing the pains of a nation’s collective memory. It is a quietly powerful indictment of justice delayed and a visceral embodiment of accountability politics that rightly centers Guatemala’s indigenous population.
La Casa de Producción (Shudder)
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
With filming restrictions in place, Stephen Colbert decided to move production of his CBS Late Show to his home outside of Charleston, a remarkably successful transformation of the late-night television model by a host inviting us into his home, rather than his typical comforting presence in our living rooms and bedrooms. Amidst suffering in a global pandemic, a public fed up with police violence against African Americans, and a morally contemptuous president fighting for his political life, Colbert’s kindness, gentle spirit, and deeply felt ethical nature provided a nightly salve the nation desperately needed.
CBS Studios (CBS)
This anthology series by Steve McQueen focuses on Black West Indian immigrant stories in post-war Britain. It honors the sacrifices made, hardships endured, culture asserted, and battles fought—the small and large acts of courage and confidence—all for the dreams of possibility and becoming. Portrayed through the poetics and intimacies of everyday life, the richness of culture and music, and the collective power of social movement and political action, Small Axe is a stunning emotional testament, offered as both political prism and intellectual history.
BBC Studios Americas, Inc. and Amazon Studios (Amazon Studios)
What this presumably Ugly American, fish-out-of-water tale offers us is a charming dose of radical optimism, with an equally endearing Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso. It turns out that more than simply a sports coach, Ted is remarkably good at honest communication with others, affecting change by being a deeply good human, one with his own quiet anxieties and pain. The Apple TV+ series is the perfect counter to the enduring prevalence of toxic masculinity, both on-screen and off, in a moment when the nation truly needs inspiring models of kindness.
Apple / Doozer Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television and Universal Television (Apple TV+)
A riveting thriller, the series takes a hard look at how a religious community enforces strict gender roles to maintain its identity no matter the human cost. With the raw and authentic Shira Haas as Esty, Unorthodox merges a stark portrayal of religious oppression with a coming-of-age story that resonates with gritty, desperate innocence.
Studio Airlift and RealFilm for Netflix (Netflix)
Renee Tajima-Peña’s five-part documentary series places Asian communities at the center of debates about belonging and citizenship in America. The series asks us to consider who gets to be at the center of these American stories, offering the requisite national, ethnic, religious, political, linguistic, and cultural diversity that make up Asian American communities across the country today. In turn, we move beyond a singular representative testimony and bear witness to varying, complex, and touching portraits of individuals, identities, enclaves, and movements, collectively born in the face of tragedy and in spite of the burdens of trauma.
CAAM, WETA, Flash Cuts, LLC., Tajima-Peña Productions, ITVS (PBS)
Director Feras Fayyad’s astonishing documentary tells the story of a subterranean network of tunnels that function as a hospital in Syria, where the besieged residents of war-torn Al-Ghouta come for relatively safe medical care. Most are greeted by Dr. Amani Ballour, a female doctor in her late 20s, who serves as the hospital’s managing physician. The hospital endures everything from the constant fear of daily bombing raids to the heartbreak of children suffocating in war-crime chemical attacks. These haunting and harrowing images are necessary cries for help for these seemingly forgotten victims.
A Danish Documentary Production, in Co-Production with Ma.Ja.De Hecat Studio Paris Madam Films for National Geographic Documentary Films (National Geographic)
In the aftermath of a nightclub fire in Bucharest, the survivors suffering from non-life threatening burn injuries mysteriously begin dying. Journalists from the Gazeta Sporturilor newspaper probe into why, and their enterprising investigation, supported by key whistleblowers, is captured by director Alexander Nanau’s intimate and breathtaking cinema vérité film. What unfolds is a staggering exposure of official corruption that reaches from the highest levels of government and infects the entire health care system.
Alexander Nanau Production, Samsa Film HBO Europe (HBO Europe)
Nicole Newnham and James LeBrecht’s film features a group of summer campers who first met at Camp Jened in upstate New York in the early 1970s and went on to become key players and activists in the Disability Rights Movement in the U.S. With an unapologetic spirit and a welcome cheekiness found in its archival footage, the documentary gives us a glimpse into the warmth of the teenagers’ discovery of independence, romance, and themselves, while also offering an inspiring history of a space where people found the strength and the sense of community to take on a fight to change the very world around us.
A Higher Ground and Rusted Spoke Production in association with Little Punk / JustFilms / Ford Foundation for Netflix (Netflix)
Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz’s six-part documentary on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency shows how bureaucrats and officers working across different, seemingly unconnected domains make up a complex and terrorizing system. With rare access to detention facilities, ICE agents on duty, immigrant families, and lawyers and activists, the filmmakers reveal how individual and collective justifications of “we are just doing our job” rationalize a punishing system.
A Reel Peak Films Production for Netflix (Netflix)
This is a hopeful film that does more than just document the beginning of the global pandemic in the lockdown period of Wuhan, China—the city in which cases of the coronavirus were first reported. It is a film about resilience, compassion, empathy, improvisation, the power of human touch and caring hearts as much as it is about panic, suffering, and indiscriminate victims. Using a direct cinema technique across four hospitals, the film captures frontline workers and the sick and dying while eschewing the story of politics and government action and statistics.
76 Days LLC / MTV Documentary Films
This remarkable story of love and the impact of incarceration on a family is detailed through the multiple, often elusive registers of time—slow time, long time, happy time, missed time, hopeful time, and arrested time. In this brilliantly conceived, beautifully realized, and brutally honest chronicle, we travel with Fox Rich and her family toward her husband’s release and their collective freedom. Carefully building and then mining the archive of family memories, home movies, prison visits, high school and college graduations, filmmaker Garrett Bradley proffers viewers the power of dreams and the struggle to shape and sustain love and life across the divides of incarceration.
Concordia Studio, GB Feature, LLC and Amazon Studios (Amazon Studios)
Welcome to Chechnya
Filmed in secret with the use of hidden cameras and cell phones, David France’s documentary details the brutal ongoing purge of LGBTQ Chechens in the closed Russian republic by a government-directed system of abduction, torture, and execution. The film follows undercover activists who risk their own safety to deliver rescued victims to safe houses and provide visa assistance for their refuge. The film employs innovative techniques of artificial intelligence and facial replacement visual effects to protect the identities of the subjects while delivering a harrowing story of ruthless persecution, audacious courage, and human survival.
Public Square Films, Ninety Thousand Words, Maylo Films, BBC Storyville and HBO Documentary Films (HBO)
This captivating podcast is a comprehensive story of Hurricane Katrina and its social, cultural, psychological, political, economic, and environmental aftermath and impact. From the national media’s ready-made criminalization of Black residents and their worthiness to be rescued, to the insensitive early response of national government officials, Floodlines also asks us to consider what happens to place, home, relationships, and community when politics, incompetence, and indifference are at the core of how we regard each other.
The Atlantic (theatlantic.com; podcast platforms)
Post Reports: The Life of George Floyd
George Floyd’s death ignited a global movement to end the plague of state violence against African Americans. Rather than focus on his death, The Washington Post sought to answer a simple but enlightening question: “What about his life?” Rather than a straightforward biography, their special podcast episode offers a more expansive view of Floyd’s life, keenly laying out how systemic racism operates across many institutions, creating sharply disparate outcomes in housing, education, the economy, law enforcement, and health care. The Post Reports team sketches a moving portrait of a man and of a nation, one that feels all the more archetypal for its familiar trappings.
The Washington Post (washingtonpost.com; podcast platforms)
The Promise: Season 2
Host Meribah Knight examines Warner Elementary, one of the most racially and economically lopsided schools in Nashville, especially when compared with the high-performing, almost all-white school just one mile away. Taking aim at nice, well-meaning white parents in an increasingly gentrified neighborhood, season 2 of The Promise chronicles the decades-long fight against desegregation as well as Warner’s uphill battle to turn itself around. The podcast carefully lays out how the current school system is inherently dependent on the resources white households provide, both creating and perpetuating systemic inequality in the process that most affects Black students.
Nashville Public Radio (Nashville Public Radio)
ABC News 20/20 in collaboration with The Courier Journal: Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor
ABC News 20/20 and The Courier Journal’s two-hour documentary special presents a holistic picture of the events that led to the police killing of Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020. Tracing the botched police investigations and operation that resulted in officers arriving at Taylor’s apartment building, this report is a lucid investigation that goes for the granular without losing sight of the systemic and structural fissures that led to her death. Exhaustive forensic reporting paints Taylor as more than the symbol she’s become, yet also reminds us why this case symbolizes how the demands for justice and police reform are so necessary.
ABC News 20/20 + Courier Journal (ABC)
This documentary uncovers the story of China’s arresting an estimated two million Uyghur Muslims and putting them in concentration camps—what experts says is the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust. But the report also makes the case that this is a massive experiment in developing the most complete surveillance state in history, as the government employs technologies such as advanced algorithmic facial recognition software and houses marked with digital barcodes to monitor and ultimately detain Muslims whose behavior is “predicted” as threatening.
FRONTLINE (PBS / GBH)
Digging into Arizona’s “Brady list,” a system designed to track police officers with histories of lying and committing crimes in hopes of keeping police accountable, this hour-long special from ABC15 Arizona offers a stark portrait not only of why the system is broken, but why it has never been fixed. The yearlong investigation, with exhaustive reporting and damning video footage, demonstrates how law enforcement agencies rarely adhere to their own legal standards in keeping and disseminating such misconduct reports.
ABC15 Arizona (KNXV-TV)
Muslim in Trump’s America (Exposure)
In this rigorously reported film that chronicles the dangerous climate created around Muslims and other groups targeted during Trump’s presidency, director Deeyah Khan investigates the connection between rising hate crimes and state-sponsored racism with stories of those at the center of the storm: the downward spiral of a Kansas farmer serving 30 years for an anti-Muslim bomb plot; the conspiracy-filled world of right wing, armed militia who believe that Islam is infiltrating the United States; the painful reality of Muslims whose loved ones were hunted and killed by white supremacists; and the complex duties of embattled lawmakers such as Minnesota’s Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Fuuse Films (ITV)
PBS NewsHour: Coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Relentless and comprehensive reporting from PBS NewsHour gave us the best news coverage of a once-in-a-century global pandemic. Their work on “Global Pandemic” covered the pandemic’s human toll on five continents, in countries already hit hard by war, famine, and death. In the United States, “Making Sense: The Victims of COVID” put a spotlight on the millions who lost their jobs, the devastating impact on restaurants, and the near shutdown of the travel industry, while shedding new light on how the pandemic revealed and exacerbated astonishing racial disparities in American health outcomes.
PBS NewsHour (PBS)
PBS NewsHour: Desperate Journey
The plight of migrants and refugees is often fraught with danger, but the Darien Gap, a treacherous and lawless 66-mile trail through the wilderness on the border of Columbia and Panama, might be the most dangerous path to freedom on the planet. PBS special correspondent Nadja Drost and videographer Bruno Federico put themselves at great risk to join this caravan. What could be more consequential in helping viewers to understand the desperation of these migrants than the image of them stepping over the skeletal remains of those who have gone before them and failed?
PBS NewsHour (PBS)
VICE on Showtime: Losing Ground
Correspondent Alzo Slade explores how a little-known type of ownership known as “heirs property” leaves African Americans especially vulnerable to losing their property to unscrupulous developers through arcane and ethically questionable legal mechanisms. The abstract maneuvers occur in piecemeal, hard-to-follow fashion, but the cumulative result is that entire families are displaced and inheritances lost. Losing Ground dramatizes how the law so often favors the ruthless and illuminates a dark side of American property rights.
VICE News (Showtime)
Whose Vote Counts
From the legal battles over primary election absentee ballots to how the pandemic would exacerbate unfounded concerns over “rampant voter fraud” in November, Whose Vote Counts presents a clear breakdown of the way racial inequities, COVID-19, and voter suppression became interlinked crises in 2020. In collaboration with Columbia Journalism Investigations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and USA Today, the team at FRONTLINE and writer Jelani Cobb offer a probing and thorough investigation into the simple question of the piece’s title.
FRONTLINE, Columbia Journalism Investigations, USA Today Network (PBS / GBH)
CHILDREN’S & YOUTH
Designed to get its young audience to embrace mindfulness, empathy, and kindness, and to rejoice in the chance to rejoice in the quiet wonders of the world around them, Stillwater is a calm and soothing balm in the typically frenetic world of children’s television. Its essence is best captured by the patience of voice actor James Sie, who makes the titular character as much a role model for kids as for those parents watching. Structured around a number of parables told by the affable panda bear to his three young neighbors, every episode feels like an engrossing painting come to life that demands you slow down and take care to relish its every brushstroke.
Apple / Scholastic Entertainment / Gaumont (Apple TV+)
The Owl House
Alice in Wonderland. Dorothy in Oz. Coraline in Other World. To that list we should now add: Luz in Boiling Isles. Luz crosses a mysterious threshold and finds herself in a magical, colorful land where she finds both the strength and the support group she needs to become who she’s meant to be. The Dana Terrace-created animated series builds a wildly inventive other world that makes room for everyone and gives queer kids a welcome template alongside which to explore their own budding creative energies.
Disney Television Animation (Disney Channel)
Cops and Robbers
Timothy Ware-Hill and Arnon Manor’s animated short film, derived from the Ware-Hill poem, evokes the make-believe childhood game that rings quite differently for young Black kids, whose interactions with police officers do not make for such lighthearted play. Ruminating on his younger years, Ware-Hill paints a portrait of the innocence young Black boys like him are seldom afforded. But if the poem centers on his singular memories, the animated visuals that accompany this piece—produced by 30 individual artists, students and VFX companies from around the world—encompass many distinct animated styles, speaking to the shared, lived experience of many.
Chemical Soup, Lawrence Bender Productions, Netflix (Netflix)
This audacious series tackles the deep-rooted subject of racial inequality, racism, racial privilege, and the systematic ways in which race structures and impacts the public and personal life of Seattle residents. From criminal justice to health disparities, environmental racism to land policy ramifications for Native American communities, the reporting team covers the magnitude and depth of the story sensitively yet critically. In particular, the series is attentive as well to the powerful emotional and psychological impact of racism and racial trauma, particularly among parents, trans-racial adoptees, and multiracial youth.
KING 5 (KING-TV)
June 22, 10 a.m. This story has been updated with the second batch of winners unveiled by the Peabody Awards.
June 23, 10 a.m. This story has been updated with the third batch of winners unveiled by the Peabody Awards.
June 24, 10:30 a.m. This story has been updated with the fourth batch of winners unveiled by the Peabody Awards.
June 24, 8:12 p.m. This story has been updated and condensed to reflect the full list of this year’s winners.
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