The new season of NBC’s genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? kicked off with actor Billy Porter’s deeply moving journey to discover the truth about an old story passed down about one of his ancestors. "These are the shoulders that I stand on," Porter said of his experience as he connected with several generations of his family.
Porter, who starred in Kinky Boots and is known for roles on popular shows like Pose and American Horror Story, was the first openly gay man to win an Emmy for Lead Actor in 2019.
In the clip below, Porter learns the shocking truth about what happened to his great-grandfather, Thomas Richardson. He knew his relative had been shot but the details surrounding Richardson’s death were always fuzzy until a report from a Black newspaper set the record straight: Richardson had been shot in the back, in cold blood, by a police officer. What’s more is that this wasn’t the first time the officer had been accused of shooting someone in the back.
The connections between past and present speak for themselves; it was one of many moments in the episode where Porter found himself rendered speechless by the revelations. Seeing a story written in 1923 that could have been ripped from headlines in 2022 is sobering.
Later, Porter visited the graves of his ancestors, noting how unusual it was for Black families to have gravestones at all. The fact that he was able to visit their graves was remarkable in itself, highlighting the power of his experience. “You know, what I’m grateful for,” Porter said, “is discovering and uncovering these specific stories from both sides of my family. It feels empowering. Magical, actually.”
Seeing Porter recite his ancestors’ names, acknowledging them and honoring them, was a moment that had fans buzzing on social media.
Watched the premiere episode of this new season of #WhoDoYouThinkYouAre and wow Billy Porter! Thank you for sharing your journey with us! The reading of your family’s names was incredibly powerful and moving 💜July 11, 2022
.@theebillyporter reading aloud the name of his Ancestors is the single most powerful moment I've ever seen on #WhoDoYouThinkYouAre. And what a privilege to visit the graves of his 4× great grandparents in Virginia. What a fascinating family history! ❤ pic.twitter.com/bXQSKkHkiuJuly 11, 2022
Billy Porter reading an article about his great grandfather being hunted and killed by a cop who was known to hunt down and kill people. 100 years ago. Black people protested his murder. 100 years ago.Cop was acquitted after 10 minutes. #WhoDoYouThinkYouAre #wdytyaJuly 11, 2022
Billy Porter looking dead straight into the camera, tears rolling down his face, while repeating the names of his ancestors was a moving and powerful experience. Thank you, @theebillyporter for sharing your family story with us. #WhoDoYouThinkYouAreJuly 11, 2022
Omg so happy to have #WhoDoYouThinkYouAre back!! #BillyPorter’s story was so moving and so relevant and teaches us somethingJuly 11, 2022
@theebillyporter just watched #WhoDoYouThinkYouAre. What a wonderful tribute to your ancestors! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about who you come from! ❤️July 11, 2022
After this incredible experience, Billy Porter is going to have a milestone moment in his career later this July, as the first movie that he has directed, Anything's Possible, is going to be released exclusively on Prime Video on July 22.
Who Do You Think You Are? airs Sundays at 7 pm ET/PT on NBC. The latest episodes are available next day on Peacock.
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Sarabeth joined the What to Watch team in May 2022. An avid TV and movie fan, her perennial favorites are The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, true crime documentaries on Netflix and anything from Passionflix. You’ve Got Mail, Ocean's Eleven and Signs are movies that she can watch all day long. She's also a huge baseball fan, and hockey is a new favorite.
When she's not working, Sarabeth hosts the My Nights Are Booked Podcast and a blog dedicated to books and interviews with authors and actors. She also published her first novel, Once Upon an Interview, in 2022.