” As I walk the streets of Hollywood Blvd, thinking about how hard it was for those who starred. In these movies portraying the roles of butlers and maids, slaves and hoes. Many intelligent black men seemed to look unintelligent on the screen. Like I guess you figure I play some jigaboo, what else can a nigga do.
And for the Black women in this profession, playing a lawyer, out of the question. For what they play Aunt Jemima is the perfect term. Even if now she got a perm. So let’s make our own movies like Spike Lee. Cause the roles they offering don’t strike me as nothing the Black man could use to earn, Burn Hollywood Burn
” Big Daddy Kane (Burn Hollywood Burn- Public Enemy)
Big Daddy Kane gives a nice preface. A solid history lesson on the roles and place of people of color in Hollywood. For decades men and women of color have been forced into stereotypical roles that do not help America to see us as real people with real thoughts and feelings. Guess what, we have interesting lives that could make great stories.
Think about this, even if a role calls for a person of color Hollywood leaves us out. Charlton Heston and Christian Bale played moses who grew up in Egypt. Tom Cruise was the Last Samurai? John Wayne is Ghengis Khan? Elizabeth Taylor is Cleopatra? Jake Gyllenhaal is the Prince of Persia? I mean Don Cheadle could not get the funding for his Miles Davis movie with out the addition of a white lead character. It couldn’t just be about the greatness of Miles Davis.
Because Hollywood refuses to cast people of color in lead roles of substance, we end up playing roles that reinforce negative traits that some possess, but are not a measure of an entire group of people.
Black Man- Drug Dealer, Gangster, rapist
Black or Latin Women- Domestic worker, ho, maybe a teacher
Middle eastern- Terrorist or someone who knows a terrorist.
Asian- Stereotypical accent, store owner.
This cannot be denied. Sure there are a few exceptions. But for the most part you do not see people of color in lead roles possessing positive traits. If you do the show is meant to specifically play on race, i.e Blackish, Fresh off the boat. Or in film Selma, Birth of a Nation, Malcom X.
I must mention Cosby and Different World, Living Single and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. All great shows that showed really upstanding Black people. But they have been off the air for decades. What do we have currently?
What about the lives of real people of color in 2016? Like I said we have interesting lives, great stories to tell, and huge amount of flavor to tell them with. Well my friends it has arrive. The times they are-a changing. Slowly
We now have three new shows that represent Black people specifically. Portraying us as, intelligent, thoughtful, family oriented, career driven, educated people. People who sometimes mess up and get into tough situations. But they handle themselves with dignity, and are shattering those old school mentalities. So Hollywood Step and Fetch this.
Atlanta (Fx- Tuesdays)
Insecure- (HBO- Oct 16th- Preview available now)
Luke Cage- (Netflix)
Am I Black Enough For you? Billy Paul
Atlanta is the brainchild of Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, aka Troy from Community. Glover is the creator and writer of this excellent work. The show is based around the daily life of Earnest “Earn” Marks, a basically broke but ambitous Princeton dropout. His cousin and up and coming rapper “Paper Boi.” Their friend and esoteric visionary Darius. and Earn’s ex Vanessa, with whom he has a child.
In this show we see the characters navigate having children, job security, gun violence, police corruption, burgeoning stardom, the black market, parental expectations, drug use, and relationships with friends. Glover and his writing staff do an excellent job of making you connect with the characters, and giving them depth. The dialogue is sharp and nuanced, building a world of its own each week for 30 minutes.
One of the things I love about the show is that I see people that reflect me and the people I know. I see characters that visually look like my friends and also have similar behavior. I can put names of people I know onto the characters like “oh man, she looks just like” or “Wow, I would do that too” This is a big deal, it doesn’t happen often.
Black people being portrayed as having substance, lives that matter. Families that hurt and friends who laugh and grow together. It is essential viewing if you like high quality, thought provoking T.V. that is also funny and culturally relevant.
Think the writing and performance style of Louie and Master of none, with Wu-Tang Clan and Boyz N Hood as a side dish.
Kaifa Pt I and II- Karl Hector and Malcouns
For women of color it is even harder to break out of the stereotypical roles and depictions. Rarely do you see a show with a lead Black woman actor. But what creator Issa Rae does with this gem is nothing short of BLACK GOLD. Issa Rae aka (Awkward Black Girl) creates a place for Black women to break away from the constant barrage of Housewives and Love and Hip Hop types.
Rae is the lead. She works for a non- profit, has natural hair, wears alternative clothing and has a sense of humor but also a sense of insecurity about it all, hence the title. Her best friend is also a black woman. She is a master at navigating the corporate world and the domino table simultaneously. She seems to have it all, but still something is missing in her life.
Soundtrack- Drake – Feel No ways
They are educated, forward thinking women of color who make good life decisions overall. They lead an existence of positivity and growth. All while being hilarious, whip smart and very keen on open mic rap battles. Insecure is about real women. The ones we hardly ever get to see represented in movies and TV. Issa Rae has a blog called the Awkward Black girl. Hopefully this show will make her and others who connect feel less Awkward and more loved.
Luke Cage- Produced by Netflix and written by Cheo Hodari Coker (Southland, NCIS, Ray Donavan, Notorious)
Luke Cage is the latest Marvel Comic hero to be released as show or film. After an experiment gone wrong Luke Cage played by Michael Colter emerges as an unbreakable, bulletproof, hero with super human strength. Due to circumstances that unfold between Cage and the villain Cornell “CottonMouth” Stokes played vividly by Mahershala Ali (Remy from House of Cards). Cage is forced to save Harlem from the evil.
I’ll be honest this show is Black. Super Black. All of the lead characters are Black or Latina. The soundtrack includes John Lee Hooker, Marvin Gaye, Epmd and Ghostface. It takes place in a pre gentrified Harlem reminiscent of “Renaissance Harlem”. They discuss Black literature and quote hip hop lyrics consistently. Not to mention every episode is named after a Gangstarr track.
Visually you see us. In Cottonmouth’s office there is a prominent painting of The Notorious B.I.G. wearing a crown. This is significant because he is one of our modern cultural icons. The painting is present often and shown from many outstanding camera angles. When you put a large painting on your wall, it’s part of who you are, it means something to you and shows a lot about you. I know to many of my generation Biggie meant a lot. To have his image shown so many times and in such an artistic manner speaks volumes of his impact. It also speaks to the impact of hip hop as a culture on black art and creativity. I have a painting of OutKast on my studio wall to help me reflect on their work as I do my own. Our cultural greats help us move forward.
The Harlem back drop, the speaking mannerisms and slang use, the music, the clothing. (Even Dapper Dan makes an appearance) All Black Gold of the Sun.
Just like Atlanta and Insecure, Luke Cage is giving a positive representation of Black people and culture. They are also shining a light on Black artistry, writing and creativity and production. They do this while staying true to the Comic book fantasy element. If you are a fan of comics tune in. If you are a fan of Hip hop tune in. If you are a fan of seeing people that look like you shine like the sun, tune in.
Of course there are some who are not to pleased with this changing of the guard. Tweets like,
“The lack of white people in Luke Cage makes me uncomfortable, the show is racist, where is the diversity?”
BUH! I’m floored.
I mean, Seinfeld (Which I think is hilarious) , Sex in the City, Friends? more recently Girls and Transparent all white casts. Hollywood is white, its a fact. Remember #oscarssowhite?
The thing is, this is not just happening on TV. White Anglo Saxon Protestant males are no longer a dominant cultural force. The status quo is shifting. We just had a Black president for 8 years, and we just might have a Female president next. All of the Supreme court justices or either Jewish or Catholic and the far right is dying off slowly. It’s scary for some, but freeing and exciting for me and like minded individuals.
These new shows are a vision of our countries future. A diverse nation with many unique individuals. So much talent is out there. So many amazing people with incredible gifts whose lives are about be illuminated. So thank you Donald Glover, Thank you Issa Rae and Thank you Cheo Hodari Coker for showing “us” in such flattering light, and for hearing the words of Big Daddy Kane and doing something about it.
All three of you are
“SICKER THAN YOUR AVERAGE” – B.I.G