Updated: Aug 17, 2020
“West Philadelphia born and raised…” or maybe “Did I do that?....” Audiences are probably keenly aware of the origin of at least one of those iconic lines. They both came from a period where Black television was in full upswing. Can you think of any content in Black TV or Film right now that’s that iconic? No? No worries!
By the looks of it, we’re coming into a new era of accessible black content. However, you should know that it’s an uphill battle that Black creatives have been fighting for since the inception of American media. The struggles they face are the same struggles Black creatives are dealing with today to create more content, expand the perception of Black culture, and destroy Black stereotypes.
In an age where diversity and inclusiveness reign supreme, you would think that creative projects that illustrate and tell black stories would be abundant in ways never seen before. This is partly true. Shows like “Insecure,” “Atlanta,” “Power,” “Black-ish,” “Grown-ish,” “All-American,” and more all serve to show that we now enjoy more premium African-American content than ever before. From the outside looking in, it would appear that the war has been won, and Black creatives can now flourish unencumbered. Upon closer examination, however, you’ll find that despite a growing presence, Black-led content is often snubbed in any form of critical acclaim. You may remember the #Oscarsowhite hashtag following the announcement of the 2015 Academy nominations.
Often, the only iterations of Black content that see any critical acclaim or praise are stories detailing the inhumanity of inner-city neighborhoods or the evils of American slavery. I find this to be helpful only to a certain extent.
Think about it like this, primarily Caucasian content can range from a raunchy-drama like “Shameless,” to sultry supernatural dramas like “Vampire Diaries,” and still find its way back to a romantic comedy like “50 First Dates”.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Well, maybe Black people just don’t make good content.” You would be dead wrong because when given a chance, you’ll find that Black creatives create some of the most moving stories and vibrant pieces in American culture. Think of “Moonlight,” which was written and directed by two Black males (Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney) who went on to receive eight Oscar nominations. Think of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, an up-and-coming Black director with an almost entirely Black cast, which became arguably the best movie of 2018. Think of “Get Out” and “US”--- two black Horror/Thriller movies that blew away the box office.
The problem isn’t in the lack of Black talent, it lies in the lack of black opportunities.
Had it not been for YouTube, Donald Glover/Childish Gambino may have never reached the success we’re witnessing today. It should be noted that most cable TV network leaders and Hollywood executives still look nothing like the very Black creatives who have so much to offer. It wasn’t until very recently with the official opening of Tyler Perry Studios that a black male owned a significant studio.
Tyler Perry’s rags to riches success is a grand step in the right direction for the state of Black Film and Television. However, there’s still much more work to be done to see more people of color in a position to greenlight content and open up the floodgates of black creativity the world has yet to see.
To underscore the importance, you need to understand that with what little is available, the perception of blacks largely remains that we are victims, hypersexual, and violent. The Black experience is mind-blowingly so much more than many audiences can imagine.
In the age of media constructing our perceptions of the world, it grows ever more critical that the full African-American experience is represented, not as caricatures or stereotypes but fully realized, creative, loving, suffering, comedic, human beings.