Families like the Raineys, one of many working-class Black families living in North Philadelphia, are rarely the subject of nuanced or compassionate media coverage. “Quest: A Portrait of an American Family” breaks that trend with a wide-ranging, long-term look at the family’s day-to-day struggles and successes.
The 90-minute documentary, which opened the 31st season of PBS’ “POV” last night (June 18), follows the Raineys through the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Viewers see Christopher “Quest” Rainey, his wife Christine’a “Ma Quest” Rainey and their children as they work to support themselves and their community. Quest is a music producer and promoter, while Ma Quest works nights at a shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
The film also shows the family persevering through loved ones’ health threats, racist policing, neighborhood shootings and other structural struggles that push the Rainey parents into anti-violence activism. The family’s experiences coincide with the era’s emergent narratives, including Black Lives Matter and community support for people with substance dependency issues. These events also frame many heartwarming scenes, including one where Quest and daughter PJ ride a tandem bicycle to school.
“I’ve often felt frustrated about the way in which stories about Black people and Black life are told, that they feel reductive and perpetuate a lot of negative stereotypes about who we are,” producer Sabrina Gordon (“BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez”) told Vogue. “I did not want to contribute to that, but rather, I wanted to tell a story about a Black family with more nuance that did not define people strictly by their circumstances but amplified their humanity and complexity. Their thoughtfulness, humor, intellect, love, as well as their contradictions and challenges. I wanted, basically, to tell a story where Black folks would see it and feel like they recognize themselves, that the film spoke truth to power and rose above a reductive narrative of suffering and pathology.”
See “Quest” in full via PBS, which will stream the documentary for free until July 1.