If I had ten bucks for every time I heard…“At least Black folks is working” or “This is why we can’t get Black TV shows/movies no way!” or “You get mad when there ain’t no Black people in the media, then you get mad when you don’t like how we look in the media. Which one is it?”… I’d have enough money to start a television show and air the sort of Black shows that I’d like to see.
Seriously. We’ve got to have some standards, folks. Do you know why we’re constantly fussing over the caliber of Black film/TV/music? Because we feel obligated to support these products in spite of how we may feel about them. So, if we make (insert crappy Black film) a hit, then studios say “Hey, perhaps we should make another one of those.” It’s not the hardest thing in the world to figure out. Why were there so many great Black sitcoms in the 90’s? Because The Cosby Show stayed at the top of the ratings, which let TV execs know that audiences were interested in an intelligent, well-written Black show.
As someone said to me recently, “Homeboys In Outer Space” (which got laughed right out of the UPN line-up in 1997) would probably do just fine in 2011? Why? Cause “at least Black folks was working!”
The idea that Black people are harder than other folks on our cultural products is pretty ridiculous. Every year, shows and movies with all or mostly White casts tank and White artists either fail to chart or do so with questionable talent or content. The difference: they’re getting a lot more chances to make the shot. And since the playing field is not leveled, sure, it may seem like we’re particularly critical. But in reality, when you have but a handful of Black films (and even less TV shows) each year, the criticism may seem a bit more intense.
BET is thirty years old and is now the eldest of three Black-centered television networks. We are not so new to having mainstream media representation that we should be happy ‘just to be there’. We’ve had shows and movies that are regarded as classics and have proven their ability to stand the test of both critics and time. We don’t need (or deserve) any participant ribbons; we should feel just as empowered as any other group of consumers to say, “I don’t like this show,” or ,“I don’t want to see that movie and I’m not going to do it just because the cast is Black.”
We can’t be so hard-pressed for Black images on the screen that we’ll take any crumbs sent our way. This has less to do with guarding our reputation in the eyes of non-Black viewers and more to do with understanding that we have a right to quality and we have folks among us who are capable of producing quality work. We do ourselves a disservice when we act as though we aren’t able to make good film and television
I hate to constantly invoke the name of Tyler Perry (likely because I think he’ll have his goons get me blacklisted), but too many people have told me that they hate his work yet will support him each time he releases a new project because he employs Black faces. So what incentive does he have to hire better writers or to let Madea go, if the box office and Nielsen numbers are telling him he’s got it going on? Same goes for “Single Ladies” or “Basketball Wives;” you can’t say “this sucks and I want something else” if you tune in week after week.
If you accept that which you believe to be subpar, then you aren’t sending a message that you want anything better. Your viewership is a vote and by dealing with Black art “in spite of,” you’re actually saying “this works for me.” And if you feel that a Black show or film doesn’t suit your fancy, you aren’t obligated to support it. Its one thing to say, “Let me give this a chance ,” or, “I’m going to write the network and tell them I’ll only continue to watch this show if the writing gets better,” and another to say, “I know this show is utter garbage, but I guess I have to watch it because it’s the only Black thing around.”
Want better? Demand better.