By Roderick R. Crowder
Opening night for the 2022 Oak Cliff Film Festival brought the screening of Butterfly In The Sky; a documentary about LeVar Burton and the public broadcast show Reading Rainbow.
It’s simple concept to increase children love of books it’s something that should still be heralded today. No one could have possibly imagined using a television show to get children wanting to read books would survive. Not only did it survive; it thrived for more than two decades. At the height of its success, Reading Rainbow had more than two million weekly viewers.
The casting of LeVar Burton for this show was a brilliant decision on the part of its creators, Cecily and Larry Lancit. It seemed like just the right fit given LeVar’s background having a mother who was an English teacher. His joy for reading was already baked in and was evident on the air. His enthusiasm and genuine joy were inescapable. The children were able to live the joy of books through Levar’s eyes. “But you don’t have to take my word for it” was a brilliant segue.
Even as his star power increased and he began to land more lucrative television and film roles, he never abandoned this important work. He struck the balance that made it possible to do both and even brought his audience behind the scenes of the hit science fiction television show on which he was a star. He was a staunch advocate and even testified before Congress all the vital importance of public television in the development and education of children.
The reviews by the children of the books in their own words was brilliant. Those children who are adults now spoke fondly about their experience and how it’s shaped their future lives. Mission accomplished. Underscored the impact this television show had on a generation.
This documentary took us on a rollercoaster ride as the tension built toward the show ending either by the departure of LeVar Burton or its loss of public television funding. Ultimately, it was the latter over the former. You were swept up in the emotion because you wanted to show to continue; you wanted a different outcome; although, you knew what was going to happen.
There is a saying: “All good things must end.” I do not believe it is correct, should not be applicable to this groundbreaking and landmark television series. It is not often that we get to see people pour their hearts into something that truly inspires them and find an audience that identifies so passionately with it. We were certainly better off with this series on the air and we’re a little worse off now without it.
We must find a way for this type of art to survive in a content industry driven by capitalism. If we fail, shows tap into children’s wonderment about the world while allowing them to be children for as long as possibly will be lost forever. I truly hope that my generation it’s not the one that makes that happen. Hopefully, “I’ll see you next time.”