Saturday, May 5, 2012

WDYTYA: The Rashida Jones Episode

Photo by Arnold Gatilao (cc 2.0)
Did you watch the Rashida Jones episode last night on Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA)? If you haven't seen it yet be sure to watch it (if you're in the US) on What a great episode!

I have to admit that before last night I had no idea who Rashida Jones was. The biographical profile at the beginning cleared things up when they proclaimed her the daughter of Quincy Jones.

Rashida was probably the most natural and relaxed celebrity to-date that they have featured on WDYTYA. I find that both funny and ironic considering that all the guests are celebrities who are used to being in front of a camera and the public eye. I have always been astounded at how uncomfortable some of the celebrities have been.

In addition, Rashida was one of the most genuine of the guests. Perhaps it's her youth that makes her more open to the experience than some of the others. Rashida struck me as a very down-to-earth, intelligent and an interested adventurer on this family history quest. I'm not a big fan of celebrities, yet Rashida checked her celebrity status at the door and went on this journey as a daughter and granddaughter seeking to uncover the mysteries in her family history.

At one point Rashida said "It's a miracle that I even exist." I don't think she was exaggerating or overstating. Her background is quite unique. On her father's side she comes from enslaved African Americans. On the other, Latvian Jews, most of whom were killed by the Nazis at Rumbula during World War II. If her great grandfather hadn't been the one family member to leave Latvia for the United Kingdom in the late 1800s she wouldn't be here today.

The end of the episode showed Rashida and her mother, Peggy Lipton, visiting the memorial site of the Rumbula massacre, the place where 24,000 Latvian Jews were killed. I thought it was a genuinely heart-felt moment for the two as they were overcome with the emotion of what had happened there. I appreciated when they said that perhaps their branch of the family survived so that could remember and provide testament to those of their family who didn't make it. I admit that even I needed a hanky at this point.

I hope that Who Do You Think You Are will continue on for another season. They have highlighted the importance of family history and reminded all of us of critical moments in U.S. and world history.

Photo credit: photo by Arnold Gatilao and used under the creative commons license


  1. Marian,

    Your last paragraph was the big take away for me. I hope that the show, WDYTYA, found its true voice in using genealogy and family history to educate its viewers on what really happened to folks.

    Peace & Blessings,
    "Guided by the Ancestors"

  2. I haven't seen it yet but I dvr'd it so will watch it soon. I needed a hanky just reading your blog at the end. I also hope WDYTYA will be renewed. It is a fascinating show

  3. They have done an especially effective job, this year, of using different themes each week to not only tell the family history of the celebrity but showing the many different ways we each are affected by our pasts... very complex, not just simple, straight line stories. Well done! ;-)

  4. Last nights episode was very poignant. It portrayed so well the sad results of one of the ugliest deeds of human history. It was also a reminder to all of us that what we are and where we are today we owe in part to those who came before.

  5. I agree that this episode and I think, the Jerome Bettis episode were the most poignant. There were no moments of awkwardness or, well, acting in either. Those two were just clearly grateful for the opportunity.

    I also think that the ways in which the show highlights family history and world historical events do so much to highlight how inextricably linked these phenomena are, which is so important for everyone, but particularly so here in the United States where this sort of thing is so often overlooked.

  6. Loved the episode even if I missed ten minutes of it due to interruptions caused by storms in our area. So many times in researching my family tree I have discovered incidents that make me feel lucky to be here. I will now have to use Rashida's line that I am here to remember my ancestors. It sounds so much better than luck.

  7. I have mixed feelings about the show. On the one hand, I think it's doing a good job trying to explain to the general population, what's the importance of genealogy. I guess they need celebrities, to sell. On the other hand, I always feel that it's acted and that the "moments of discovery" are not filmed during the actual moment when they learn something about their family, but they re-enacted. I felt the same in this episode, even tough I agree that Rashida was genuinely moved by the process. Her mother for example, obviously knew what she was flying to Latvia for and why they were visiting this holocaust memorial. Despite the attempt for a dramatic ending, and I'm sure they were both genuinely moved by being there, I still felt a void. It's also hard to immagine that they didn't know that they arrived in Irland from Russia/Lativia. The grandmother certainly knew her parents were born in Russia and immigrated to Ireland. We're not talking that many generations removed for this kind of family history to be completely lost on Rashida's mother. It felt as if they show manipulated all that to make their point. I hope the show does continue, because it's better than nothing, but it's got a lot of work to do to turn itself from an acted documentary to a truly meaningful show about real people discovering their roots.

  8. @Smadar, I agree that mostly the show is "acted" and her mother was definitely not convincing. But I have to disagree that her family wouldn't know about the Russia→Latvia→Ireland migration. Plenty of people--and I know this from experience--don't talk about the past. For various reasons, this has happened on both sides of my family and it's been going on at least three generations with my relatives. And, I know it happens with plenty of other people, so it's not a stretch for me to believe they were clueless about this. I also think this is especially true in families and/or cultural/ethnic groups where something tragic or something considered shameful has happened.

    I really wish that this show and the PBS "Finding Your Roots" would see fit to explore the histories of "regular people." Honestly I'm much less interested in finding out about the family history of Rob Lowe or Condoleeza Rice than I am in learning about everyday folk.

  9. Rachel, you have a very good point about how frequently people really don't know about their past. I guess, I find it so acted that I doubt a lot of it. It's so formulaic. I wish they wouldn't pretend it's an authentic moment.

    I couldn't agree with you more, that "regular people"'s stories are SO MUCH MORE interesting. It's the ordinary people and their extraordinary lives they lived which makes genealogy so interesting. The millions of people into genealogy truly understand that. I wish the networks did.