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On Feb. 10, 2015, three young Muslim Americans were murdered in an apartment in Chapel Hill, N.C. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, were newlyweds who had known each other since childhood. Abu-Salha’s 19-year-old sister, Razan, was visiting for dinner.
The shooting was chalked up to be a neighborly dispute by police, who said the suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, had been angry over a parking space. The Muslim community vehemently disagreed. It was a hate crime, they said.
Did you remember this tragedy? With the lightning quick news cycle, it’s become easy to forget what even happened yesterday. With her new National Geographic docuseries, “America Inside Out,” Katie Couric is here to remind you. In one episode of the six-part series, she visited the victims’ family and friends in Raleigh, N.C., and talked to the local imam about Islamophobia in America.
With “America Inside Out,” Couric tries to address the country’s larger issues — like race, our reliance on technology and the debate over political correctness — by examining smaller pieces of the puzzle.
“I think it’s hard to get our brains to rest for a second and step back to think about some of these bigger things that are happening,” she added.
For the series, the broadcast journalist traversed the country, taking viewers to Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally rocked the nation last August, and a technology addiction treatment facility in Fall City, Wash.
Here’s a sneak peak of the first three episodes, along with key moments you’ll want to watch out for, including Couric’s date with a sex robot named Harmony:
Couric journeys to Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama to examine the narrative behind the Civil War and why confederate statues are dividing some communities.
The moment you’ll want to see: The University of Virginia grad visited her alma mater, days before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, to talk to locals about the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park. Her crew decided to stay for the rally. What they witnessed was “extremely scary,” Couric said. “There were so many guns, and so many different groups of angry, racist white supremacists.”
Stand-out interview: The host visited the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., where she talked to EJI’s founder and executive director, Bryan Stevenson, about the history of lynching in America. EJI has documented about 4,400 lynchings of black people in the United States from 1877 to 1950.
The two stood in front of mason jars filled with soil collected from some of the lynching sites across 20 states. Each jar represents a victim’s life. Couric recalled one in particular: Elizabeth Lawrence, a schoolteacher who reprimanded white children as they threw stones at her in Birmingham, Ala. Word spread, and a white mob attacked Lawrence, lynching her and burning her house down.
“You forget the stories of how brutal this period in American history was – and how disgusting it was,” Couric said. “It made me realize how we’ve really never come to terms with that horrific chapter. I think we’ve tried to bury it in many ways – and avoid it.”
Woman to watch: Zyahna Bryant, the 16-year-old who launched a petition to have the Robert E. Lee statue removed from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville.
The moment you’ll want to see: In Raleigh, Amira Abu-Salha took Couric into her deceased daughters’ rooms, which look frozen in time. She still stops in every day to say “good morning” and “good night,” Amira told Couric.
“You have to have ice water running through your veins to not feel for this family,” Couric said. “Through knowing about their experience, I hope it will help people appreciate that there’s no room for this kind of prejudice toward Muslim Americans – and it’s just not warranted.”
Stand-out interview: Couric sat down with four young women in Brooklyn to talk about how they’re perceived as Muslims in the United States: Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder and editor of the online magazine MuslimGirl, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, hip-hop artist Mona Haydar and beauty blogger Nadia Azmy.
Haydar, who is perhaps most famous for her song, “Hijabi (Wrap my Hijab),” told Couric people will look at her and think she’s “oppressed.”
“They want to save you, they want to liberate you,” Haydar said. “I’m just not here for that. I am a woman of agency and intellect, and I can do that for myself.”
Woman to watch: Zainab Baloch, a Muslim American who ran for Raleigh City Council in North Carolina last year.
Couric explores how technology is changing our behavior and the way we interact with each other.
The moment you’ll want to see: With musician and social media king Steve Aoki in tow, Couric visited California State University at Dominguez Hills. Through a series of tests, the two learned how much smartphones are affecting their anxiety levels and ability to concentrate.
Stand-out interview: Over lunch in San Marcos, Calif., Couric talked to Harmony, a sex robot that uses artificial intelligence. Harmony, who was dressed in a skin-tight white tank and cut-off jean shorts, told Couric she “loves making love” and wants to be her “best friend and much more.”
Visiting the RealDoll factory where Harmony AI and other sex dolls are produced was “completely freaky,” Couric said. The sex dolls are completely customizable, meaning people who buy them can choose such characteristics as body type and the color of the doll’s nipples.
“They all look like porn stars,” Couric remarked. “That’s probably a whole series in itself: This objectification of women.”
For the record, she’s not a big fan of sex dolls: “Don’t own one, not interested.”
Woman to watch: Couric herself. In the episode, she’s told to go phone-free for two hours a day. Did she listen? “No,” Couric said. “But after I’m done with this series, I would like to.”
Bad habit: “Sometimes I’m watching TV shows, and I’m on my phone, and I have no idea what happened. I’m like, ‘Why am I on my phone if I want to watch this show?’ Then I have to rewind.”
Good habit: “My husband doesn’t allow the phone in the bedroom anymore, and I find that I do sleep better.”
Technology faux-paus: “I really get aggravated when people phub me.”
“White Anxiety” premieres May 2 on National Geographic
What’s coming: Reporting on the white working class is not a “novel thing in the age of Trump,” Couric admitted. Still, she wanted to understand how economic changes in the United States have negatively impacted certain groups of people. She journeyed to Storm Lake, Iowa, where minorities are becoming the majority in a largely white state, and Johnstown, Pa., where a black EMS worker has a tough conversation about race with his white colleagues.
“The Revolt” premieres May 9 on National Geographic
What’s coming: Why is there such stark gender inequality in Hollywood and Silicon Valley? To find some answers, Couric visited the set of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” talked to Viola Davis about intersectionality and interviewed James Damore, the former Google employee who blamed the gender gap in tech on biological differences between men and women.
“The Age of Outrage” premieres May 16 on National Geographic
What’s coming: For this episode, Couric went on a white privilege walk at Columbia University.
“Up until a couple years ago, I thought, ‘What is all this focus on white privilege?’” Couric said. “But then I started to have a better understanding of what that meant, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge it.”