You only have to turn on the television to see that the content is designed by white people and aimed at white audiences. However, African-Americans are not invisible. We are on television and in movies, but we tend to dominate only sports and the talk show circuit. Mainstream America would rather see us run and fetch a ball or argue over paternity on Maury Povich than cast us as politicians in “The West Wing.”
Whites are cast as characters that white America can identify with or look up to. We play roles that they feel represent us such as dope peddlers (“The Wire”), crooked cops (“Training Day”), or buffoons (“Martin”). We are rarely cast in shows where there is no element of crime.
Take, for instance, the shows “Friends” and “Sex and the City.” Both take place in New York City. Both are comedies featuring white cast members. Networks had to be threatened with boycotts before you could spot a black face in a crowd on the sidewalk. Both sitcoms, though nearing syndication, have added token blacks. These black characters are not cast members, but have recurring roles.
With the exception of MTV “Making the Band 2,” even reality television has passed us by. In a society that is driven by supply and demand, there simply is no demand for positive shows about African-Americans so precious few are supplied.
This does not mean that we as African Americans do not share some of this blame. We tend to cast ourselves in a bad light as well. We strip in seedy clubs (“Player’s Club”), smoke marijuana while being content with unemployment (“Friday”), and impregnate multiple women while still living in our mother’s house (“Baby Boy”).
One can argue that the purpose of these films is to instruct us on how not to act, but how many of us are getting the message or supporting positive attempts? Think about it: How many of us have seen the thought provoking films “Beloved” or “Bamboozled?”
Change can come and change will come, but we must first demand that change from ourselves. African-Americans need to commit themselves to supporting positive movies and television shows. Only then will mainstream America have no choice but to do the same.
Theresa E. Davis, 24, is a junior public relations student from Jacksonville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org