I put quotations around Black Shows because shows featuring all Black casts are seen as just that. Arguably, shows featuring all white casts can be seen as having stereotypical white humor, white interactions, white style and dialect – catering to a white audience, however these mainstream shows are not labeled “White shows, ” but simply Television shows. It is only in the absence of white actors are shows with all black casts seen as negative in the alienation of white viewers. I presume if it is not Rap or Hip Hop, then it’s just not kosher.
I am inspired to write this piece after the recent cancellation of The Game and Everybody Hates Chris. While I am not an avid viewer of The Game, Chris Rock’s show, Everybody Hates Chris, always had me amused. It was not until reading a post through “Black Gossip” that I really began to question the lack of quality entertainment by and for African Americans. Today, it hard to find a television series that operates outside the notion of viewing Black people as spectacle. Presence and portrayal become crucial notions here. Both notions have heightened the dramatization of Blackness by appropriating fabricated stereotypical images of African American people. The lines become blurred as audiences feel the need for the presence of any Black person on television at the cost of any portrayal.
“What you talking about Willis?”
Well, I am talking about several shows. Lets take The Wire. I would go as far as to say that I am the only person, both African American and female who does not like, love, watch, or am entertained by The Wire. While the show does succeed in its complex story lines, ‘brilliant writing,’ and multilayered characterizations, it continues the cycle in representing African American males in demeaning roles. Now, I am not reducing the show to age-old caricatures, however, what I am saying, is that The Wire is all to familiar with television series, news coverage’s, and movies featuring African American males as criminals and gangsters: Training Day, COPS, popular ‘hood’ films of the ‘90s such as Boyz ‘N’ the Hood, your local 6 and 10 o’clock news.
"In the end, The Wire falls somewhere between Birth of A Nation and the Six O'clock news as urban propaganda: a unique compilation of white liberal science fiction and hip-hop gun porn.”
--- Jimi Izrael The Root
Word to ya motha Brotha!
Tyler Perry…hmmm…. I would hope and pray that I would not have to expound upon the tomfoolery and ignorance of both his television series and movies, but alas, someone out there will charge me to praise his work.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Tyler Perry has overcome many obstacles in obtaining the privilege and success of where he stands. Clearly the numbers explain it all, right?:
Tyler Perry By the Numbers
Number of Tyler Perry Films: 7
Number of Films That Have Opened at No. 1 or No. 2: 6
Combined Domestic Gross: $356 mil
Everybody must be watching it. Yes, indeed a lot of audiences are watching it. However, I do not think his television shows are conducive to the future of African American presence on television. His show The Browns is not far from the all to familiar and popular radio and television series Amos N’ Andy. “[Amos N’ Andy] was the first television series with an all-black cast (the only one of its kind to appear on prime-time, network television for nearly another twenty years).” --- The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Furthermore, among both Black and white viewers, “At the peak of Amos 'n' Andy's success, 40 million listeners - a third of America - tuned in six nights a week, making it the longest-running and most popular radio program in broadcast history.” --- PBS.org. Or how about The Flavor of Love television series? It is one of the most successful shows in Video Hits One (VH1) television history, captivating more audiences on the days it airs than on any other channel.
Accordingly, shows of this caliber continue to generate success, but at what costs??
What’s the point?
I am not trying to revert to looking at the negative and positive representations of Black films and actors. My point is that we have seen this films already and we need more dynamic presence and portrayals of African Americans on television and in films. And this does not mean simply inserting 2-3 Black actors in mainstream TV series and films. We need shows with all Black casts.
But even with the half good shows featuring an all African American cast, television networks are still not giving these programs an opportunity.
In an article written by Zurawik in 2006, on the demise of Black sitcoms, he writes, “The new lineup will include the shows that exhibit the widest appeal among young viewers and thus command top advertising dollars. None of the eight UPN shows under review, though popular with African-American viewers, has achieved the kind of crossover hit status that ensures high ad rates.”
“Although UPN's One on One is the 170th-most-popular show among all network television viewers, it is tied for 11th among black viewers. Half & Half is ranked 167th among weekly series in overall network viewership and is the seventh-most-popular show with black viewers.”
But it’s not fair right. If African Americans make up less that ¼ of the total population how ever will our viewership be recognized among “all network television viewers”? While the presence of Black actors in mainstream television shows are essential, it does not suffice for the lack of Black themed programs.
Today, we must rely on weak channels such as BET and VH1 for the presence of Black themed shows. However, such networks as TVOne and HBO prove to provide entertainment television network for African Americans in some capacity. But it’s still not enough. The problem lies both off an on screen:
“The 2006 Diversity Report by the Directors Guild of America offers a glimpse into the state of ethnic representation at the networks. After examining all episodes of last season's top 40 network dramas and sitcoms, the guild found that 83 percent of the shows were directed by white men, 10 percent by white women, 5 percent by minority men and 2 percent by minority women.”
As a community, we need to understand at what costs the presence of Madea and Omar have on the portrayal of us all.
Until then, re-runs will have to do.
What’s the reality?...shows that I endorse: Girlfriends and Soul Food, the HBO series. All created and executed successfully.