Black and White TV: Two-toned Content in an Age of Technicolor Screens
Recently on Facebook I came across an article entitled: Why Khadijah James Means More To Me Than Carrie Bradshaw. The article highlighted why it’s author had always related more to Queen Latifah’s character in the sitcom Living Single rather than Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw of Sex & and the City. She made interesting points about the merits and experiences of both characters, however what bothered me about the article is that it represents the segregation of interest in film and television today and society’s desires to choose sides on screen.
Throughout the entirety of American cinema we have seen black films and it’s white counterpart or vice-versa whether it manifested in the form of a more soulful than sing-songy “Wiz” (“Wizard of Oz”) or a “Can’t Buy Me Love” with more F.U.B.U. and relaxer (“Love Don’t Cost a Thing”). Audiences are confined into color-coded boxes in which they are lured to their physical likeness on screen.
A common song sung in the praises of these kinds of instances is the term “representation”. It is true that there simply aren’t enough Black, Hispanic, Asian, Latino, or Indian actors on our TVs and in our films. However, simply copy and pasting identical plot lines with different colored faces is counterintuitive to equality we desire and the diversification of our media. Asking audiences to seek out a Love Don’t Cost a Thing in opposition to a Can’t Buy Me Love only further segregates our media places our cultures into boxes.
We should not put such great emphasis on merely having black faces or white faces on screen but instead look to searching for our experiences and value our media for more than it’s appearance. Through this we will find common ground in what we watch and unify our movie theaters.
When I see simply a black character on screen, I only see a picture of myself rather than my whole story. For instance, I did not enjoy Girl’s Trip. I found the story overdone and the jokes to be cliche and crass for the sake of being shocking. The characters looked like myself and people in my life. They are among actors and actresses that I greatly admire. However, they did not act like me and they did not represent me. For that I don’t hold the film in the same praise as some and that is okay.
Alternatively, I patiently anticipated the release of “The Incredible Jessica James”. The movie depicted a character just like me that is cynical, went on bad Tinder dates, struggled to find stability, dealt with insecurity, and was hopelesssly dedicated to a struggling artform. More aptly said, her character felt like me, but what acted as the cherry on top to her story was that she looked like me also.
Seeing a black character like myself is refreshing and makes me feel like I’m not the only one of myself. However, I do not feel disadvantaged when I relate to the struggles of a character and their experience but their outward appearance doesn’t match my own.
I am not ignorant enough to say that the world will not just see me as a black women and I am not close-minded enough to think that Girl’s Trip isn’t someone else’s reality and it isn’t important to them. However, because of this I will not sacrifice wishing to see all that I am inside represented on screen.
I see myself as an artist, a young adult, a zany little sister, a lover of travel, and a person with no clue where life will take her. I see myself as a serial shopper, a girl who gags at the sight of cheese but can’t turn down a slice of pizza, and an “almost adult” that can party all night but need to call my mom the morning after when it’s time to face my real responsibilities. This is me; and all these nuances and little habits exist within me.
A person of color on screen is only half the battle to me. Relationships and interest can begin with more obvious connections like race, sexual orientation, or but only through in-depth, interpersonal connections can these relationships be sustained. I feel represented in many characters that don’t look me but are otherwise just like me. I see myself in the in the city-savviness but utter quirkiness of Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City). I see my awkward fumbles in Jay (Insecure). I see myself in both the strength and insecurity of Pi Patel as he navigates a journey that he’s not sure he can withstand(Life of Pi).
I feel represented, I feel seen, and I feel less alone in seeing characters that think like me and act like me. I cannot relate to all black people. We are a beautifully diverse community and for me to have to feel satisfied by just seeing my likeness on screen is not enough.
And this is not all to say that no one should want to see their physical person on television. And this is not to say that our current system of advertising and film isn’t prejudiced. However what I am saying is that we call can truly benefit from connecting to those that are at first glance polar opposites of ourselves. The world is not just black experiences, white experiences, Hispanic experiences or asian experiences. We are all multifaceted creatures that can connect on deeper levels than our color. Our racial, cultural experiences contribute to who we are but they do not represent all that we are.
ALSO: film literacy is important and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy any of these movies. Here’s a list of some great racially specific films and their remakes!
Can’t Buy Me Love(1987) , Love Don’t Cost a Thing(2003)
About Last Night(1986), About Last Night(2014)
The Wizard of Oz(1939), The Wiz(1978)
Steel Magnolias(1989), Steel Magnolias(2012)
Dracula(1931), Blacula (1972)
Cinderella (1950), Cinderella (1997)
Rough Night(2017), Bridesmaids(2011), Girls Trip(2017)
The Nutty Professor(1963), The Nutty Professor(1996)
Dr. Doolittle (1963), Dr Doolittle (1996)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner(1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner(2005)
Taming of the Shrew (1967), Deliver us From Eva(2003)
Romeo and Juliet(1968), A Bronx Tale(1993), Love is All There Is(1996)
The Honeymooners series (1955), The Honeymooners (2006)
The Bishop’s Wife(1947), The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
One Day at a Time(1975-1984), One Day at a Time(2017-)
Sex & the City (1984-2004), Girlfriends(2000-2008)
Friends(1994-2004), Living Single(1993-1998)
All in the Family(1971-1979), The Carmichael Show (2015-2017)
Family Guy (1999-), The Cleveland Show(2009-2013)