The Persistent Issue of Black Representation on Television and Why More Roles Won’t Fix A Thing

September 8, 2010  |  

by Charing Ball

Television and Movie Actress Regina King has penned an op-ed piece about the lack of color during this year’s daytime Emmy’s Awards show. Talk about stating the obvious. However King, who is probably most known for her roles in 227 and The Boondocks, struggled immensely to draft this said piece regarding the number of people of color mentioned, celebrated or honored in the history of the televised Emmys.

Up to and including this year, there have been only 53 non-white actors nominated for Emmys out of nearly 1,000 possible nominations in the top four acting categories for drama and comedy, she said. And to add insult to racial injury, Rutina Wesley from the HBO Vamp-series “True Blood”, who attended this year’s Emmys, walked the red carpet with the caption, “Regina King enters the 62nd Emmys,” displayed under her for the television viewing audience.

Ouch, that had to sting.  Those two don’t even remotely look alike.

First, let me say that I have been a fan of King since she played little fast-tail Brenda chasing after Calvin in 227. Her acting brilliance aside, I think that she is both right and wrong about the issue of racism in Hollywood.

Is so-called liberal Hollywood racist?  You bet it is. Why is it that the black guy always dies in most horror films? How come that most successful relationships we see black characters in, happen to be interracial relationships?  And more importantly, where are the black people on The Bachelor?  You mean to tell me that with 42 percent single rate among black women, you can’t find one single sista for the show?

However, it’s not the quantity of black people on the big and little screen but the quality of the roles they are allowed to play. While 53 nominations for actors of color in the 37 years of Emmy history is deplorable, I don’t think that the Academy, or whatever it’s called, should be forced to nominate black actors just to have a black actor/actress represented in their categories.

I mean have you seen the Blacks sitcoms and dramas on network television lately?  No you haven’t because they are virtually non-existent.  And if a show does feature black folks, they are usually one-dimensional, sidekicks of the lead character or the rapist/murderer/gang-banger on Law & Order.  I don’t know about you, but that’s not my idea of must-see T.V.

Nevertheless, the constant roars over racism in Hollywood, after a while, begin to ring hollow. How many more decades must we go on waving the racism flag before we accept that if we want Hollywood and i’s representation of Negros to change, than we must be willing to do it ourselves.

More unacceptable than the lack of black character on the screen is what is happening behind the lenses. According to Black Enterprise, of the 558 feature films that were released in 2009, eight were filmed by black directors and two of them were creations of stage and big screen powerhouse Tyler Perry.

Ironically, Perry is the only Black person producing and writing television’s only scripted black TV sitcoms (Meet the Brown and House of Payne).  And regardless of how you feel about the creativity and overall quality of his work, you can’t deny that much of Perry’s success is a result of the black audiences he was able to capture on what has been historically called the chitin’ circuit -way before the Hollywood machine came calling.

Hollywood A-Lister Thandie Newton, known for playing Condoleezza Rice in the film W, told a UK paper last year about an audition she had where the casting director expressed doubt as to how they could blacken up a role, which required for the character to have a college degree.  While that and similar experiences have been upsetting for Newton, it also helps to shape her overall views of the industry in general: “My views of Hollywood can be summed up as a smash and grab. I go into a meeting with a director as an equal, thinking that what I have to offer is of great value.”

The rareness of roles for Black actresses and actors in Hollywood makes it tremendously difficult for us to find steady work outside of a few stereotypical roles.  Yet this hasn’t stopped many actors and actresses from accepting these roles, thus reinforcing stereotypes.  Nor has it inspired those, who claim to be sick of Hollywood’s lack of diversity from creating works of  their own.

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