For Us By Us

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In the past couple of years, there has been an influx of television shows created by black producers, writers, showrunners and directors. We have seen the arrival and return of a plethora of black shows including Atlanta, Insecure, Queen Sugar, Chewing Gum, Luke Cage, Being Mary Jane, Black-ish, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Empire, and Power (Bastien,, 2017). Some media scholars and journalists have even gone as far as dubbing this the “Golden Age of Black Television”. According The Atlantic, 2016 was a banner year for black people in front of and behind the camera, Hollywood seems to be evolving for the better in the way it constructs and markets black TV series (Bastien, 2016). Additionally, CNN shared similar sentiments in an online article,  “The Golden Age of Black Television” stating that, “in the era of #BlackLivesMatter, there's been a bumper crop of TV series offering various glimpses into black lives and culture. And while shows like "I Spy" and "Julia" broke ground in the late 1960s by featuring black actors, today's shows feature black artists on screen and off” (France, 2016).

As exciting as it is to see more folks of color on the TV screen, this is not the first time in tv history that blacks have had an abundance of representation on the TV screen. The late 90s and early 2000s had a similar influx with sitcoms like Living Single, In Living Color, The Cosby Show, A Different World Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Girlfriends, etc. What makes this era of black television feel different—or more “golden”—than before is the number of blacks having behind the scenes and leadership roles on television and the ways in which these shows are presenting the experience of “blackness”. Current television shows featuring black casts with black folks behind the camera in creative teams are manifesting new portrayals of blackness by displaying more than one depiction of what it means to be black, addressing issues that are important to the black community, addressing historically negative stereotyped portrayals of blackness, not framing blackness from a white point of view and embracing black culture. Blackness is being performed more authentically on television than it historically has been. Authentic blackness means more rooted in African-American culture and not from a white perspective.  By addressing racial issues, the idea that we are in or that there ever was a “post-racial” America is being deconstructed. These representaions are saying YES, RACISM DOES STILL EXIST. In fact, they are saying that racism never stopped. Moreover, by embracing black culture, color-blind post-racial narratives are being met head on by saying black people and white people are not all the same, we are not all “one-race", and that’s okay.

Part of what makes this era of black television so significant is that blackness is being performed on several different shows on several different platforms. Blacks are not being forced to relate to one specific character or show but are able to see blackness performed in many different ways and across many different televisual spaces. As Lee Daniels of Empire said in Entertainment Weekly, “Finally there’s so many African-American experiences that can be seen and viewed by everybody. It’s nice to be there, really, at the epicenter of it all.” We  get to see a gay black man on Empire, an awkward nerd on Insecure, the gangsters on Power, the professional upper class black woman on Being Mary Jane, the black queer marijuana smoking hippy on Queen Sugar, the black nuclear family on Black-ish and so much more.

What networks and audiences are beginning to discover is that not only do black people enjoy these authentic depictions, but white audiences enjoy these shows too. According to Ebony Magazine’s website, “according to a new report by Nielsen, ABC’s Black-ish, Secrets and Lies, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder; Fox’s Pitch and Rosewood; HBO’s Insecure and FX’s Atlanta all average more than 50 percent non-Black viewership… Storylines with a strong black character or identity are crossing cultural boundaries to grab diverse audiences and start conversations” (Danielle, 2017). The more successful black shows are, the more networks are willing to have more black shows created by black people. Being a crossover show no longer means taking the blackness out of black television which pleases black audiences enjoying the plethora representation and allows for audiences of other races to enjoy good storylines and TV.

The numbers on how many blacks are in Hollywood may still daunting because a majority of directors, producers and writers are still mostly white and male, but these new strides in black television can give us hope that things might be changing. Issues relating to the black community are being addresses head on, different representations are being portrayed and more black creatives are being hired and hiring other black creatives. What’s making this era of black television truly golden is the fact that the trend doesn’t seem to be dying down and audiences of all races are enjoying the results.

 

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Bastién, A. J.(2017, January 29). Claiming the Future of Black TV. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/01/claiming-the-future-of-black-tv/514562/

France, L. R.(2016, October 19). The golden age of black television. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/13/entertainment/black-tv-shows-2016/index.html

Stacks, T. (2005, March 6). Empire State of Mind. Entertainment Weekly, 23-30.

Danielle, B. (2017, February 16). Black Shows Are Winning the Ratings Race & Attracting Non-Black Viewers. Retrieved from http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/black-tv-nielsen-report#axzz50v1UKrfW