Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor at the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, continues to go out on a limb. He helps leading artists, authors, politicians, activists, business moguls, architects and journalists discover their fascinating family stories going back many generations in the new third season of the critically acclaimed series “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.”
Season three traces trees of 28 of today’s most intriguing cultural trailblazers, and will be available on DVD April 12. Broadcast journalists and commentators Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher and Soledad O’Brien look into their shared Irish roots and learn of the formidable obstacles that their forbears faced. “Modern Family” star Ty Burell seeks answers about his possible African lineage and political organizer Donna Brazile wants to find clues to the mystery of her unusual surname. Neil Patrick Harris learns that his bravery as a performer can be traced to a courageous 11th great-grandfather who was one of the first settlers in colonial Virginia, and Gloria Steinem discovers that she was not the first in her family to embrace feminism.
Three of the most successful and influential figures in entertainment—Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimesand Keenen Ivory Wayans—gain a new understanding of the struggle for freedom that binds their families and the roles each plays in this trajectory. While Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Hader and Norman Learshare a gift for comedy, they also share a history of family tragedies, and Lear, whose characters have been inspired by his embittered parents, learns information about their origins in Russia that completely changes his perspective.
The family histories of Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and Senator John McCain are steeped in military service throughout the centuries, from which each has inherited a distinctively independent sense of strength and integrity. Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow last shared the screen in 1969; in the program, they share a history of tragic deaths that their ancestors endured, providing the building blocks of two of the great Hollywood success stories. And Sean “Puffy” Combs and LL Cool J learn of family histories long shrouded in mystery that shakes them both to their cores.
“There is something essential in human nature that drives us to wonder where we came from,” explains Gates. “We can’t truly know ourselves until we know something of our origins. With new DNA technology we can learn more about this past and go further back than ever before, and we hope that the new season will inspire people to find out more about their own personal family stories, and spark an interest among young people in genetics, anthropology, history and the pursuit of science.”