Rise of the Black Pharaohs (DVD)

Revenge of the Kush

Rise of the Black Pharaohs tells the story of the Kush Empire and how for a century the Kushites ruled Egypt as Pharaohs. The extraordinary parts of the story are twofold–one being the Kushites had long been looked down upon by the Egyptians as a subclass of people and a necessary evil in terms of their trading agreement with the nation.

And the second part is the length Egyptians went to covering up the Kushites’ very existence, a bigoted attack which sadly continued with the first main archaeologist who began to unearth evidence of the empire and dismissed the nation’s importance in the Egyptian historical register simply due to the fact the Kush people were dark-skinned Africans.

Now I really enjoyed this documentary having only heard the barest of facts about the Kushite power before now, however there is something that bothers me. It’s simple and maybe I’m overthinking things but if you are trying to show through your documentary that the color of a person’s skin should have no merit in terms of their importance in history then maybe you shouldn’t be naming your documentary Rise of the Black Pharaohs.

Could just be me, but it could have been just as easy and perhaps less evocative to call this “Rise of the Kushite Pharaohs.” After all if the issue is that not all pharaohs were Egyptian why not go ahead and not bury the lead by calling this documentary what it is?

It just seems that’s calling undue attention to the fact that most of what is going to be talked about is racially motivated. I’m not saying that there’s a need to dismiss the racially motivated aspect at all for it does drive most of the documentary however it just feels like perpetrating some of the underlying issue the documentary is trying to correct.

Rise of the Black Pharaohs has a very engaging driving force behind it: the lead archaeologists leading the current day exhibition excavation in ancient Kush (now Sudan), Geoff Emberling and Tim Kendell. Their enthusiasm for discovering what’s behind the Kush rise to power and their subsequent relegation to footnote in history is contagious and easily carries the viewer through the documentary.

As with most PBS shows there is little done to either audio or visual specifications. In terms of the video we have the industry standard 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which has very minimal processing done to it. This isn’t a surprise at all as most PBS documentaries choose to let the inherent beauty of nature’s visuals speak for themselves. The transfer is free of most of the glitches we see although there is a bit of grain though it’s hardly something which will diminish your enjoyment.

The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which is serviceable, if not outstanding. There are plenty of subtitles even when the speaker is communicating in English so you will not have any issues with the audio aspect of this program. There are no special features.

I enjoy learning more about this portion of history which has been covered up unnecessarily for so long. It’s sad how far people will go to make sure their version of events becomes the widely perpetrated interpretation. If you have any interest in ancient Egypt this is an interesting addendum to your knowledge base.

Not guilty.

PBS, 55, NR (2014)


1.78:1 anamorphicwidescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)

English SDH





  • Who knew Kushite power would be so interesting?


  • The title seems like an oddly provocative choice
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