Our America with Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network is an MTV True Life-esque exposé on various issues hidden in American society. Sometimes shocking and always enlightening, host Lisa Ling takes an objective stance with every person she interviews.
The controversies Ling has addressed in the new series are sex offenders, mail-order brides, Christians battling with homosexuality, transgender individuals, heroin addicts and faith healers. Ling immerses herself in every situation presented to her, blending in flawlessly. She has had a conversation in the middle of the woods with a man convicted for molesting children; flown to Barranquilla, Colombia to follow ten men searching for the perfect bride; and eaten dinner with a married couple in which one was born a man and had genital reconstruction surgery to become a woman.
What is so captivating about Ling is her openness and acceptance of even the highest social pariahs. She comes across as curious and inquisitive, not accusatory and judgemental. Many see her as cheerleader for the underdog, giving people normally shut off from society a voice and a chance to speak their piece.
“Bravo for such an informative show. These are every day people with extraordinary problems, trying to do the best they can. I love how Lisa Ling is so compassionate, yet makes very honest observations. Shows like this make us feel less isolated, I think. It’s a small world, and we need each other! Bravo!” was one of the many similar comments left on the show’s website opinion forum. It seems America has been waiting for an edgy show like this to show what really goes on in the heartland.
When asked point-blank why he molested his girlfriend’s two children, an unidentified sex offender said simply “because they were there, because I could.” Ling didn’t insult or belittle the man, who was forced to live like a hobo in the woods of Florida with other sex offenders.
One of the most emotional episodes, the premiere, was about faith healers and their following. Ling attended a conference in California with several faith healers and a couple hundred devout followers hoping to have their ailments healed by the hand of the healer.
An extremely memorable attendee, a paraplegic man with a speech impediment, shared his story. After living a normal childhood, he was in a horrible car accident as a teenager, sustaining brain damage. Several years later, he fell off a roof and lost function of his legs and most function of his arms.
He explained to Ling in an interview that God told him to go to this convention and on the last day of the convention, he would walk. His faith was unshakable. Other believers prayed with him, passionately chanting and screaming and grabbing the man’s unmoving arms and legs.
Ling had to leave the area they were in because she didn’t want her doubt or fear anywhere near the people who were so devout and so strong in their belief that the man would walk.
The people then lifted him out of his wheelchair and the man attempted to walk, to no avail.
His faith wasn’t shaken, though. “At the end of my last day here, I am going to walk,” he said confidently. He patiently waited for his turn with the faith healer, who screamed into a microphone and eventually began to speak in tongues, sweating and clutching to the man’s body.
Ling caught up with him at the end of the day at the end of the weekend. As she had quietly predicted, he was no closer to walking than when he arrived two days ago. Despite this emotional disappointment, he refused to stop believing. “Today just wasn’t my day,” he said. “When God decides, I will walk.”
I was in tears by the end of the hour.
Starting the season with such an emotional topic established Ling as a serious reporter determined to show her audience what really happens behind the closed doors of these hush-hush groups. Ling does so in a classy way that allows her interviewees to maintain their dignity.
Our America’s objective is for viewers to challenge their own beliefs about controversial issues and reconsider their preconceived notions about certain subgroups in America. She never fails to reveal an interesting story or a thought-provoking individual we never knew existed.
Our America with Lisa Ling is on OWN Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m.