Television is a powerful tool. The images (movies, commercials, photos, music, etc.) become ingrained into our lives and cultures. Television is a wonderful learning tool for both positive and negative ideas.
As I was perusing the channels to find quality programming, I was once again disheartened at the amount of violence, and abuse that is fed to the general public 24 hours a day. Particularly disturbing in the severe lack a programming that portrays a positive image of people of color. People that look like ME!.
Most of us have heard the term “Blaxploitation” which is the exploitation of black people especially when it comes to stereotyped roles in movies and television. The roles for black people (even in 2020) are centered around the negatives of society such as drug dealers, gang bangers, verbal abusers of others, an excessive use of foul language, and the list goes on and on.
My reality and the realities of others I know and grew up with has been severely twisted by TV portrayals of African-American families. I blame the media for most of the hate that is directed toward people of color because of the misconstrued ideas that have shaped the attitudes of the world in regards to our culture.
First, I want to applaud the producers of the series “Julia” starring Diahnne Carroll, Lloyd Nolan, and Mark Copage pictured above. The series ran from 1968 – 1971. I vaguely remember seeing re-runs of this series and it is the one positive that I can recall in the earlier years. The series featured the main character Julia who was a nurse and was raising her son alone after the death of her husband in the Vietnam war. This series encountered criticism because it portrayed Julia as a working professional with a nice home, a family that spoke “good” English who treated each other with respect, and it encouraged a populace to strive for better and dream bigger!
After “Julia” was canceled other shows came along like Sanford and Son (1972-1977) and Good Times (1974-1979). At the time these two productions were on TV, black people were just glad to have anything thing on that had black people starring in it. I can understand that need. I can also understand that being a black actor/actress was harder then, and actors did not have the luxury of picking and choosing quality roles if they wanted to have a career. But I, am greatly saddened that these are the shows that framed the image of blackness to the world watching. I am appalled that generations fell for the WRONG SCRIPT of American Life! The burgeoning of Blaxploitation!
The list positives of Sanford and Son and Good Times is short. 1-Both Shows portrayed families. 2. Both families strived to be employed and make a living. The problem I have with both programs is that there was constant put downs and verbal abuse that was labeled as “comedy” and even though these were fictional characters, mainstream America and people from other countries actually believed (and still believe today) that this was in reality the “black existence”. Even worse, the black populace began to take on the negatives of the roles of these characters and make them a part of everyday life.
I can remember my brothers all wanting to be “JJ” from Good Times. The catchphrase was the handclap and yelling “Dyno-mite” after jokingly putting each other down. I remember people idolizing “Fred Sanford” as he called his sister-in-law “Ethel” ugly and saying other mean and hurtful things. Even though I was a young child, I could see the change in a culture that was striving to get an education and a career, turn into a culture of comedians and I saw families who started verbally abusing each other and thought they were showing their comic genius‘. Yes, Good Times had “Michael” who wanted to be a lawyer, but Michael did not get the screen time, laughs and attention that JJ did.
Even with all of the other shows and movies that came along. The main characters were the tough guys who had the muscles and the chicks , the drug dealers with the money, honey’s, and nicest cars. The “hookers” had the nicest clothes and hair, and the best lines. When that is compared to the hard working student who stays up late to study and get a degree in physics, law, PH.D, etc., the emphasis is always put on quick money and witty humor that demoralizes . . . SAD.
I applaud my mother, who encouraged our family to do better. I applaud my grandmother who instilled in the family a good moral behavior. I applaud the generations of my family and others who encourage and teach their offspring to use correct grammar and speak to each other with respect. I applaud the producers, directors, and actors of today who take the opportunity to actually showcase the genius and value of people of color.
But still . . .People of color have won Grammys, Oscars, Academy Awards and Tony awards. . . mostly for playing roles that involve slavery, drug dealing, being the help, and the drivers of the other. In my opinion, I would love to see people of color win awards (in movies and TV) for playing roles like Cleopatra, roles of ancient philosophers, black heroes of the bible, a black Lone Ranger (historically he was black), and even present day roles that have been white-washed–to many to name.
There are cartoons like the Princess and the Frog, or Doc McStuffins that have made head-way and caused a ruckus because the leads were black. Lately, The Little Mermaid (Ariel) was caste as black and there was an uproar…(no such thing as a black mermaid…?) Recently, there was the mega-hit The Black Panther that went from comic book to a production with live actors that set records across the U.S. and other countries. The success of this film was amazing, and as an added bonus, I even heard kids of different ethnicities “arguing” about which one of them was going to be the Black Panther in the game they were playing. They settled by agreeing to take turns–I listened and laughed with joy. That was a perfect example of what a great film can do for culture, and how people are perceived.
Why am I discussing “characters” when there are so many real life black success stories? Because people live vicariously through the television, and movies, and videos that give them a visual image to attach to right in their own homes, computer screens, and cellphones that we take everywhere with us. People remember what they see and hear and it becomes a part of their chemistry . . .We are inundated with negativity and WE FALL FOR THE WRONG SCRIPT. Imagine the change in behavior if we all had a Leave It To Beaver or an Andy and Opie who looked like us! Could you in any way imagine a Caucasian Stepin Fetchit?
For everyone who reads this, I know that the struggle is real. Not every household is the epitome of greatness. Being poor and disadvantaged is a real problem. The lack of opportunity and finance for education is a real problem. Red-lining is a very real problem. Racism is a rampant sickness that we deal with everyday the moment we step outside, in business, banking, and politics. The key is to work together, help each other, and focus on shaping our minds and our children’s minds that we can create a better reality by writing a script for achieving success and making it a part of our daily life.
I applaud Sidney Poitier and others who take on roles of merit. I applaud the musicians who don’t use the “n” word and don’t label black women as ho’s and bitches. I applaud the writers’ and their artistic truths about blackness. I am excited about Tyler Perry who went from being homeless to owning his own film production studio. I am enthralled with President Barak Obama, his wife Michelle and their girls who made it through 8 years in the White House despite the hate and abuse leveled at them daily.
It’s time for us as a people to change the script we are feeding to our people. Remember the past, from the indignities of slavery, to the marches for equal rights and assassinations of those who tried to make it better. Build on the foundations of education, Mom’s and Dad’s be there for your children, erase the legacy of gangs and drugs and misogyny . . .Write a script that your family and people can build a great legacy upon . START WRITING YOUR SCRIPT FOR A LEGACY THAT GENERATIONS CAN BUILD UPON, TODAY!