By Faith Karimi, CNN
Birdwatcher Christian Cooper was thrust into the spotlight in 2020 when he filmed a racially charged encounter with a White woman in New York’s Central Park. Next year he’ll be back on television on his own terms: To showcase his passion for birdwatching on National Geographic.
Cooper will host a series, “Extraordinary Birder,” which National Geographic says will take viewers on a journey through the “wild, wonderful and unpredictable world of birds” around the US.
“Whether braving stormy seas in Alaska for puffins, trekking into rainforests in Puerto Rico for parrots, or scaling a bridge in Manhattan for a peregrine falcon, he does whatever it takes to learn about these extraordinary feathered creatures and show us the remarkable world in the sky above,” it said in a statement.
Cooper, 59, told The New York Times that National Geographic reached out to him about a potential series a year and a half ago.
“I was all in,” he said. “I love spreading the gospel of birding.”
A National Geographic spokesperson told CNN the show will premiere in spring of 2023.
When CNN reached Cooper by phone he declined to provide additional details. But he expressed his excitement in a post last week on Facebook.
“Birding has exploded in popularity recently, and I’m looking forward to putting a spotlight on these amazing creatures and the extraordinary birders who love them and work to protect them!” he wrote.
Cooper declined to cooperate in Amy Cooper’s prosecution
Cooper made headlines after a White woman falsely accused him of threatening her and her dog on May 25, 2020 — the same day a police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Amy Cooper (no relation) was walking her dog in Central Park when she encountered Christian Cooper in a wooded area known as the Ramble, which is famous for birdwatching.
A dispute began after he asked her to leash her dog, which is required at the Ramble. She threatened to call 911 as he used his phone to record a video of the incident.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said in the video.
She then told dispatchers that she was in danger as he remained mostly silent. “I’m in the Ramble. And there is a man, African American — he has a bicycle helmet. He’s recording me and threatening me and my dog,” she said.
Christian Cooper posted part of their exchange on social media, where it was widely shared as another example of White people calling the police on Black people doing mundane things such as banking and running. One version posted on Twitter has been viewed over 45 million times.
The outrage was broad and swift. Amy Cooper was fired from her job at a financial services firm and charged with filing a false police report. Christian Cooper said he would not cooperate in her prosecution.
“Considering that Amy Cooper has already lost her job and her reputation, it’s hard to see what is to be gained by a criminal charge, aside from the upholding of principle,” Christian Cooper wrote in an July 2020 opinion piece in The Washington Post. “If her current setbacks aren’t deterrent enough to others seeking to weaponize race, it’s unlikely the threat of legal action would change that.”
Amy Cooper told CNN in 2020 that she’s not a racist and wanted to “publicly apologize to everyone.”
In February 2021 prosecutors dropped the charge against Amy Cooper after she completed education and therapy classes on racial equity.
He wrote a comic book about his experiences
Birdwatching’s popularity has grown during the pandemic among people looking for safe outdoor hobbies.
Christian Cooper has said his love for birding started as a child when he read a book on birds to stay busy during a cross-country road trip with his parents. By the time they arrived in California, he could identify some birds, he told The Washington Post in 2020.
He’s also a big fan of comics and superheroes, and once worked as a comics editor and writer. After the Central Park incident he wrote a graphic novel partly inspired by his experiences. DC Comics published the novel, “It’s a Bird,” in September 2020.
It tells the story of Jules, a Black teenage birdwatcher, who gets an old pair of binoculars with magic powers. When he looks through them, he sees the stories of Amadou Diallo, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — unarmed Black Americans who were killed by police.
“I hope young people read it in particular, and that they’re inspired to keep the focus where it needs to be, which is on those we have lost and how we keep from losing more,” Cooper said at the time.
Christian Cooper’s new show is one of six new nonfiction series coming to National Geographic.
They include “Dance The World With Derek Hough”; “Farming Is Life,” with urban gardener and influencer Indy Srinath; “Restaurants At The End Of The World,” with chef and entrepreneur Kristen Kish; and a yet-to-be titled series with travel blogger Jeff Jenkins.
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