Photo: Black Representation on TV/A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood/John Beale/Focus Features
Black representation on TV – The current push against systemic racism and police brutality we see today is one of the biggest movements against racism since the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s. Black people are fed up with the daily injustices they face and finally, people of all races are standing with them. As Black people fight for more equality in the real world, it’s natural to wonder how television executives intend to change their programming in order to invite more Black representation on TV.
In 1973, Professor Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter conducted a study that found that the majority of Black representation on TV were often lower-class characters who worked jobs like mailmen or house cleaners while in the same show white people were CEOs and Business Owners. But that was 50 years ago. Back then, it was controversial when Mr. Rogers put his feet in a pool with a Black neighbor. Since then, there’ve been shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Jeffersons, and Black-ish which put Black voices first and portrayed Black characters in a more diversified and honest light. Of course, the first step to accurate representation is allowing for more shows with Black writers and producers. Unfortunately, according to this article by Colorlines, there are a huge amount of obstacles Black people have to face to break into the television industry. The obvious solution is to hire more Black people to work on TV shows and movies. However, that requires a significant uprooting of the industry which will take an incredibly long time to implement. In the meantime, some TV shows are stepping up and leading the fight against systemic racism in the television industry.
The Animation Problem- White Voice Actors Playing Characters of Color – Black Representation on TV
This problem has existed in animated sitcoms since the genre’s inception. Animation has given casting directors the cover they need to cast anyone in any role. Unfortunately, this means a lot of minority race roles go to white actors. A famous example of this is Apu from The Simpsons. An Indian man with a laughably long and difficult to pronounce last name (Nahasapeemapetilon) works in a convenience store with his wife and an uncountable amount of kids. Sound bad enough yet? He’s also voiced by Hank Azaria who is white. If an Indian actor had played the role, he would have insisted that Apu be far less stereotypical for his own dignity and that of his race. To give credit to The Simpsons though, the character has been appearing less and less on the show in recent years.
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Fortunately, some animated shows are correcting their errors which only serve to privilege white actors. An example of an animated show that has realized this problem in the wake of the new Black Lives Matter movement and changed accordingly is Big Mouth. Big Mouth is known for portraying its teenage characters in a very honest light so it was surprising that white actress Jenny Slate was cast to voice half-Black character, Missy. But thanks to the newly revitalized Black Lives Matter movement, the show is ousting Slate and casting an actress more who more accurately depicts Missy’s race in her place. Big Mouth creators have admitted that they “took [their] privilege for granted” when casting Missy.
Through this action, Big Mouth creators have revealed that they are allies and compassionate towards the cause. The same can be said for the Amazon show Central Park for which creators have also made the choice to recast its characters of color. South Park, a famously non-politically correct show, has surprisingly been ahead of the curb on this issue from the beginning of the show back in 1997. Though I can’t speak for guest appearances from Black characters, the two recurring Black characters on the show, Chef and Token have been played by Black actors from the beginning.
Related article: Live Updates: List of Successes From Black Lives Matter Protests!
Related article: Oscars Diversity Guarantee: What the Academy Awards’ New Rules Mean?
Television Commentary on the Police Could Start a Dialogue That Moves Tensions in a More Positive Direction
The team that produces Brooklyn Nine-Nine recently announced that they have thrown out the first four scripts of their next season in response to the death of George Floyd. This is surprising because Brooklyn Nine-Nine has an impressive track record when dealing with social issues. The show dealt with police bias in the episode “Moo-Moo” in which Sargent Terry Jeffords, a black character, gets arrested just for walking on his street. The show has also tackled sexism and homophobia on multiple occasions.
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Of course, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had to respond to the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement because it is a show about police officers and the police have directly caused a lot of the tension going on right now. The situation is interesting because a comedy cop show has taken the lead on this. It will be fascinating to see how cop dramas respond.
Television has to change for the better and represent Black people in a positive light. It is time to put those racist troupes to rest. We look forward to seeing TV represent the best of the real world which comes in every color.
Click here to read Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.
An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard. Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”
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