It’s a question I’ve wondered about for years but I used to think I was being “overly sensitive” and second-guessed myself. Now I know better! When you get a hint of something being off it’s best to investigate why until you’ve found an answer. In the continuation of making the abnormal, dysfunctional or flat out depraved seem neighbor-next-door normal have you noticed the last few years where nearly every non-dramatic series with a predominantly black cast features them singing, dancing, playing basketball, wearing huge grins or with loud theme songs with extra Negritude. You know that extra sassy spin: think the theme song for Sister Sister.
Now don’t go trying to kick the messenger. I found it so odd because by contrast for every predominantly white sitcom I would be hard-pressed to find one person singing…or dancing…or the rest. I used to think, “well black people are generally talented so maybe it’s a compliment”. Or some of those stars actually were singers or dancers so the theme just showcased their ability. Perhaps, but if the character they were playing was a student, designer, nerd next door or something that had nothing to do with performing why feature that in the show’s opener? I’m not even going to touch the actual show content. That’s a whole other blog post!!
Then it dawned on me I was watching a 15-30 sec minstrel show. It was far too many shows across the board and there was no parity. I wondered if blacks watching needed to be entertained even for the opener. Do you dance to the theme song of a show as it comes on? Or was this for the benefit of others to marginalize a show from the start? Admittedly I’ve actually enjoyed some of these shows and compared to what came after their run, I’d gladly have them back instead of the nonsense that replaced them.
We know networks like Fox and the former WB and lately the CW used black audiences to build their market share and solidify their positioning before often abruptly dumping these shows once they’ve found it. Those of us who watched Girlfriends, for example found the show canceled with no prior notice and no finale when the network claimed…what exactly did the network say that made any sense actually? Then I watched as they added a show like Gossip Girl which I think is horrible for so many reasons and see it get trumped as the be all end all.
Except if you look at the ratings, the viewership numbers are nearly identical while the makeup is what differentiates. One has a predominantly white female audience and one didn’t. One is lauded as a “hit” and the other was relegated to the bin without so much of a farewell. One allows for the leads to land major magazine covers and get lots of media coverage. One was virtually ignored and it had been running for eight seasons. Not that Girlfriends didn’t have it’s share of plot holes and questionable presentation but it was one of the few that actually had black women cast. We failed to demand for more and settled for seeing them on tv, counting on the benevolence of the white executives running the network to “do right by us”. Argh!!
Now that the bulk of shows with black casts is practically down to nil – again – in 2009 no less we have a larger issue at stake. I could talk about racism of course, but what about the apathy and lack of support from black executives in Hollywood? I don’t think Debra Leevil is the only one with plans for the “destruction of black people” as quoted in the Hunger Strike episode of the Boondocks. We as viewers have a huge amount of power that we don’t even use. Some of us complain but never do anything. Also since so may of these industries are diseased and dying this is the time for all creative people to DIY.
The price of technology has brought the price down for equipment and software programs are the great equalizer. I’m personally brushing up on my media arts skills as we speak. It’s going to become a situation with the haves and have nots and I’m not going to be left behind or still focus on trying to fit into an old business model. We’re younger, faster, stronger and we can survive. Some of these people and companies won’t.
It’s time for us to make our own user-generated content that uplifts but is super duper fly at the same time. Start a digital magazine. Create an e-book. Learn guerilla filmmaking. Stop asking for permission and waiting for other people to validate your vision. Don’t second-guess yourself any more. Go forth…and create. It’s time to put the charcoal and red lipstick away for good and allowing others to dictate how we are portrayed.