For decades, black movies and television shows have focused on the misrepresentations of black culture. Much of black entertainment consists of music biopics, crime, gang violence, athletes, and comedies about the stereotypical black family or black person.
Empire and Power, two highly rated TV shows with an all black casts, both have a hood-to-riches, underlining theme, where the main characters use their criminal pasts to fulfill their dreams in the entertainment world. The main characters and their family still dabble in crime, even once they’ve made it. It’s a typical theme in black shows and movies.
Admittedly, a lot of shows and movies focus on the same subject matters and viewers enjoy the content, despite the fact that they are repetitive, stereotypical, and predictable. Yet, there is a difference between the way audiences see shows like Breaking Bad, Weeds, and Nashville—which feature mostly white casts—and shows like Empire and Power. An essay “Representation: Culture & Perception”, published by the Perception Institute, provides a great summary that reveals the differences:
“In television and film, characters from non-dominant racial and ethnic groups often fall into formulaic tropes, and their storylines easily follow cliché’ narratives. The consistency of these representations reinforces stereotypes and makes them more readily available in our minds. For example, black men and boys are systematically portrayed negatively in both news and entertainment programming. Many media images of black men are linked to criminality or poverty, and positive depictions are often limited to sports and music.”
The highest rated movies and television shows that feature an entire black ensemble consists of the same stereotypes that are always associated with black people. As mentioned earlier, the positive images in black film and shows are often based on pursuits such as making it to the NFL or NBA, becoming a legendary musician or a rich drug cartel leader. However, many of these portrayals are rooted in assumptions that limit the way people view black potential. A vast majority of us are not musicians, professional athletes or are rich drug dealers. Blacks get pigeonholed as being good at entertainment and sports but not as scientists, explorers, and engineers, which are rarely seen on the screen.
Even in the rare instance that these positive depictions are shown in the media, the character archetypes are problematic. Take the family dynamic for instance; the women in the family, are usually attractive, selective, aggressive, overweight and make poor choices in men. Similarly, the men are often hypersexual cheats, ex-criminals, attractive and working a low wage job or in a corporate position. Though there are positive portrayals of the wealthy black man in movies, he is often depicted as an emotionally or physically abusive husband to his wife. On the surface, the portrayal of the black family is positive, but each individual’s character role is heavily rooted in stereotypes.
Additionally, there are negative stereotypes that surround black culture. For instance, black males are always associated with crime and when they are portrayed as a criminal on screen, this image reinforces that stereotype. Likewise, black women have always been depicted as attitudinal baby mothers, or single and picky—which supports the idea that black women have relationship problems. Broken families, poverty, prison and gang violence are the.
Blacks are portrayed on screen with images that reinforce these existing stereotypes, thus leaving the public perception of blacks unchanged. Our community wants the black image to change but there’s an issue; directors keep portraying blacks using the same stereotypes.
Sure, there are black families like the Lyons’ and black youth being raised in environments where drugs and sports are a large part of their day-to-day experiences. There are many black musicians, NFL players, NBA players and families that closely resemble those on sitcoms like Blackish, Fresh Prince, Bernie Mac or the movie Soul Food. However, there are other aspects and experiences that comprise black culture and black people in this country.
Since the media prides itself on spreading awareness and information they should place more consideration on the way blacks are portrayed on screen by directors. Black people shouldn’t be relegated to roles and plots that continuously reinforce old stigmas. The diversity amongst black people and the Black Experience are topics that should be viewed by audiences. These images should not only be used for educational purposes for those that have limited exposure to blacks, but to showcase our versatility.
As audiences, we shouldn’t only focus on increasing the quantity of black actors and entertainment but rather demand that the black portrayal across media, breaks away from the harmful associations made about black culture.
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