Keith Hartgrove The Angry Heart
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Formerly MC Journal: The Journal of Academic Media Librarianship, AV Review Database

Reviewed by Lori Widzinski, Health Sciences Library, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

Audience Level: College
Rating: Highly Recommended
Subject(s): Health Sciences

Racism is not usually a term associated with health care. Yet there is enough research and anecdotal evidence to prove that it is as insidious and dangerous an issue in public health as it is in society. In fact, the effect of racism on the emotional and physical health of stigmatized groups is almost a mirror image of the effect on the group as a whole. The Angry Heart skillfully breaks the issue of racism into understandable parts and illustrates how they affect health and health care of African Americans by telling the story of Keith Hartgrove.

A survivor of three heart attacks and quadruple bypass by the age of 45, the profile of Hartgrove brings to life the statistics provided by researchers, scientists, and physicians interviewed in the film. African Americans have the highest rate of hypertension, the highest death rate from cardiovascular disease, and receive sub-standard health care in the U.S. It is interesting and eye-opening to realize that the deep roots of prejudice and discrimination in our country contribute to the conscious and sub-conscious education of our healthcare providers. The burden of racism creates stress, a key factor in cardiovascular illness. In its three manifestations, institutional, personal and internalized, more and more data show that racism affects the quality of care given to African Americans resulting in less diagnostic testing, fewer referrals, and patient education.

Like a good novel, The Angry Heart marries facts and emotion to create a connection with the viewer that touches the brain and the heart. The scholarly interviews with researchers, physicians, and community leaders in the film are well balanced with the touching narration of his experience by Keith and his wise and personable mother. Suitable for undergraduate through graduate level courses, it should be required viewing in medical schools (and all health sciences educational programs for that matter). Highly Recommended

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved. Distributors may use select segments for promotional purposes with full credit given to the author of the review and to Educational Media Reviews Online.

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Ethnicity and Disease

Review by Clifford L. Broman, PhD, Michigan State University

"From leading researchers in the fields of race, racism, and heart disease, the viewer gains an understanding of…[how] racism and discrimination pervade the lives of African-Americans and other minorities in the United States…The story is heartwarming, compelling and informative…The powerful and moving ending emphasizes the need for films such as this to be included in cultural competence courses for professionals in the fields of healthcare, education, and human services."



MC Journal

Highly Recommended

"The Angry Heart skillfully breaks the issue of racism into understandable parts and illustrates how they affect the health and health care of African Americans. Like a good novel, it marries facts and emotion to create a connection with the viewer that touches the brain and the heart. Well balanced, with touching narration. It should be required viewing in medical schools and all health sciences educational programs."



Community Change

Review by Merav Shohet

Medicine often hides behind the mantra of "objective neutrality," claiming that science is colorblind, and hence that health has little or nothing to do with race. Yet the pervasive prongs of racism do exert their insidious influence, and in the case of heart disease, racism - whether blatant or masked - is particularly deadly to African Americans.

At a recent anti-racism brown bag lunch meeting hosted by Community Change, the relationship between racism and heart disease was discussed in depth through a searing documentary film produced by Jay Fedigan about his friend's experiences living with heart disease. After viewing "The Angry Heart" film, the meeting was opened to discussion with Jay Fedigan and Keith Hartgrove, whose story was featured in the film.

Keith, a 45 year old African-American Roxbury, MA native, revealed his frustration with the medical community, which all too often neglects to acknowledge, let alone address, the problem of racism and its adverse effects on non-whites' health. He also spoke movingly about his difficulty sitting through each screening of the film, reliving the pain of his heart attacks, triple-bypass surgery, and sense of loss that while he miraculously survived his latest heart attack in 1998, three other members of his church who were also hospitalized that same night for cardiovascular arrest did not emerge alive after the ordeal. Keith alluded with pain as well as pride to the segments of the film where he is shown singing solo and as part of his church choir - a role that has allowed him to heal through spiritual connection to his community. His strength as a survivor and the church's key role in sustaining a community of care and hope are highlighted in those segments.

Yet Keith's strength, spirituality, and lifelong healthy behavior - including exercising, maintaining a vegetarian diet, and not smoking - have failed to shield him from the perils of heart disease. The stress of living in our racist society has contributed to Keith's poor health, and were it not for his physician friend, who knew and personally called Keith's attending doctor and instructed him not to let Keith die, Keith likely would have become another sad statistic, contributing to the absurdly high number of fatalities among African Americans suffering from heart disease. For example, we were told in the film that in 1995, death rates from cardiovascular disease were 49.4 percent higher for black men and 67.2 percent higher for black women according to National Center for Health Statistics and the American Heart Association.

To eliminate this disparity in the chances of survival of black versus white Americans, we must address the underlying problem of race in our society. When a group of people is continually treated (or even assumed) as inferior - for example, told that its neighborhoods are unsafe, that its schools are sub-par, that its family structures are unsound - that sense of inferiority, defensiveness and hopelessness is internalized. Stress builds up; expectations of achievement and success are suppressed; the heart suffers. As Dr. Camara Jones, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health interviewed in "The Angry Heart" explained by way of a metaphor, whites often can't even perceive the locked doors that African Americans constantly encounter. Whites assume an open and level playing field while blacks can't even set foot on the sloped field that is locked behind the door.

Despite claims to the contrary, medicine is not just a science: healing is an art. Since hospitals and other healthcare facilities face shortages (of supplies, equipment, and staff, not to mention authorization to perform a given procedure because of Managed Care), the best care is given to those who are well-connected. Thus, one of the reasons that African Americans are not privy to the same quality of care that whites receive is that they often do not have the strings pulled for them. Doctors and nurses may not be consciously aware of their internalized racism, which pits whites as superior and therefore more entitled to superior care, but patients--including Keith Hartgrove, who during his post-surgery recovery was at the mercy of a racist nurse --can feel the difference, and the mortality statistics also bear witness to this disparity in quality of care.

Deeply disturbed by this disparity, Jay Fedigan, a close white friend of Keith Hartgrove, was therefore inspired to produce "The Angry Heart," a film that can raise the medical community's consciousness to the problems and dangers of racism. Community Change and its friends who participated in "The Angry Heart" brown bag lunch meeting shared the privilege of watching this powerful film. It is now our job to help Jay, Keith, and many others in raising consciousness and struggling against the systemic forces of racism that plague our society.