African Americans Portrayl On Television Essay, Research Paper
Ever since the invention of the television in 1939, African Americans have been portrayed as maids, servants or clowns. These negative perceptions started to appear in sitcoms such as in Amos and Andy, who were the stereotypical blacks who never took anything seriously. All those views changed during the 1970?s when black sitcoms were becoming more reality based. Although blacks have been, and often still, portrayed in a negative way on TV, there has been some improvements of stereotypical images of African Americans on television.
There were five stereotypical roles of blacks between 1940-1970, they included, the Tom, Coon, Mammy, Tragic Mulatto, and the Buck (Gray ?Recognizing?). The ?Tom? was always insulted, but kept to his faith and remained generous and kind. The ?coon? (most used image) was always lazy, unreliable and constantly butchered his speech. The ?mammy? was more distinguished than the coon only because of her sex. She was usually big and plump and full of life. The ?tragic mulatto? was fair-skinned, trying to pass for white. They were well liked and believed that their lives could have been enhanced if they were not born biracial. The last stereotype was the ?buck?. He was the big, oversexed black man (Gray ?Recognizing?).
In the late 1960?s, there were shows like ?I Spy? and ?The Flip Wilson Show? which had blacks starring in them. Starting in 1971, shows were premiering everywhere with black casts (Crenshaw ?Cosby Show?). Sanford and Son appeared on NBC on January 14,1972, to replace another show (Booth 2). The show took place in South Central California, where Fred Sanford and his son Lamont lived and owned a junkyard. Fred was satisfied with his little business. However, Lamont, wanted something bigger and better. Fred would do any and everything in his power to keep his son from abandoning him and the business. Every time Lamont threatened to leave, Fred would do his famous act and fake a heart attack and start moaning to his late wife, “I’m coming, Elizabeth, I’m coming.” Lamont, never fooled by his father’s scheme loved him and, despite his future aspirations and what he said about his future, really would not have left him (?Network and Cable?). They were rated the 6th most popular show during the 1971-72 season, and 10th during the 1976-77 season (?20 Most?). The stereotypes were still there, but realistic views were appearing on the show of realistic lives of black men.
After Sanford and Son aired, many others followed. Good Times appeared in 1974 (Ingram ?Good times?). Florida and James Evans were lower middle-class blacks, with their three children in a high-rise located in the ghetto on the south side of Chicago. J.J., an amateur painter, was the oldest, Thelma was a year younger than he, and Michael was five years younger than she. James, who was always in and out of jobs, made their lives difficult at times, but there was always plenty of love in the family. The famous catch phrase from J.J ,”Dy-No-Mite” became very popular in the mid 1970s (Ingram 69). During its first season, Good Times was the 17th most popular show (?20 Most?). Many black families related to the characters. Each character complemented the other and you saw for the first time how black families showed their love. Moreover, this was the first black show that had controversial issues such as gun control, murder, and drug use, and abortion (?Network and Cable?). These were topics previously unexplored on television. Good times were one of the most original shows on television in its time.
The Jefferson?s were seen often on ?All in the Family? from 1972-1975 (?Network and Cable?). The Jefferson?s was an extremely popular TV show during the 70s and 80s. It focused on a black family making it to the top in New York City. George Jefferson was a successful dry-cleaner, who owned and operated seven stores. He and his wife ?Weezy? started out with nothing, living with George’s mother. They moved to a house in Queens, NY once George?s new business hit big. As he became more successful, they moved, with their son Lionel, into the famous “dee-luxe apartment in the sky”. As their lives became more strenuous they decided they needed a maid, so they hired a black maid. She possessed wise-cracking humor which made the show much more appealing. The best friends of the Jefferson?s were the Willis?s, an interracial couple (?Network and Cable?). The Jefferson?s had in its show what no other show had. Many other shows had a few episodes with interracial relationships; yet, The Jefferson?s had an interracial couple as supporting actors on the show. There were always a variety of episodes. There were funny episodes, light episodes, and ones that almost made you cry. The Jefferson?s was not just a comedy; it was a show that taught America, and especially blacks, that if they worked hard and with diligence, they could achieve anything. The Jefferson?s were in the top 20 for seven years (?20 Most?).
When the eighties rolled in, so did a new stereotype of blacks. They were no longer the ?coons?, but now, people were viewing blacks as lower-class, yet still happy, content people (Booth 23). There was a new image blacks had to confront head on and crush. In the late 1970s to the early 80s, there was a famous icon and saying that came form one Pint-sized little boy. The boy was from an interracial show named Dif?rent Strokes. 8-year-old Arnold with his famous, ?Whatchu talkin about Willis?, and his 12-year-old brother Willis were two black kids from Harlem who one day found themselves suddenly in the lap of luxury. Their dying mother, a housekeeper for wealthy Philip Drummond, had taken from her employer the promise that he would look after her two boys when she passed away. It didn’t matter that there were endless double takes when the rich, white Philip Drummond, president of the huge corporation Trans Allied, Inc. introduced the two spunky black kids as his “sons (?Network and Cable?). Also in the household was Kimberly, his 13-year-old daughter and the new, careless housekeeper, Mrs. Garret. There was always plenty of love to go around. Everybody learned little lessons about life and what was right and wrong in each episode. The show also tackled serious issues ranging from child abuse and the dangers of hitchhiking (?Network and Cable?). There was a huge controversy over the interracial relationships between the two boys and Philip. Critics protested that the show was not realistic. But in a study performed by US News and World Report, revealed that there was an increase of interracial adoption by 20 percent (57). Other Shows in the 1980s followed Dif?rent Strokes such as Webster.
In 1984, The Cosby Show appeared on NBC (Crenshaw ?Cosby Show?). The Huxtable residence, in New York City, where Cliff (an obstetrician) also maintained his office was a place where the average black loving family resided. He and his wife Clair, a legal aid attorney, had five children. Sondra, the oldest daughter was a senior at Princeton University during the first season; Denise and Theo were the know-it-all teenagers; Vanessa the rambunctious 8-year old; and Rudy the adorable and mischievous little girl (?Network and Cable?). The family held values and were proud to show their ethnic and social backgrounds. There was a positive approach to family life, values and standards (?Changing Image? 80). The Cosby Show has been watched by more people than any other situation comedy in the history of television. Having won countless awards and enjoying record-breaking success, the program has been ranked number one more times than any other TV series since its premiere (Crenshaw ?Cosby Show?). People argued that The Cosby Show was attempting to break the ?traditional? way of black lives, and that it did not reflect the typical black family (Booth 4). However, the show?s main goal was to abolish those exact stereotypes (Crenshaw ?Cosby Show?). It was true that the show did not copy the repetitious images people saw on the news, but it did show the common black middle-class family of the 80s. In actuality, the show represented many black professionals in America (Crenshaw ?Cosby Show?). Not only did they make an effort to eliminate the stereotypes people saw of blacks, but purposely created positive roles of blacks. The 90s perspective was different from how it was in the 1960s. The Cosby Show changed the stereotypical view of the black family on television. It introduced real African Americans on TV. Other shows came along in the 90s that were affected by The Cosby Show.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air premiered on NBC on September 10, 1990 (?20 Most?). The series is about a young man named Will from Philadelphia who gets sent by his mother to live with his aunt and her family in Bel Air, California. Will had to adjust to a totally different lifestyle and to having new relatives around. He now had an aunt, uncle, and three cousins (?Network and Cable?). Having a black family in upper-class but still humble was a huge sensation. Fresh Prince had many similarities of the Cosby Show. Both were of well-to-do families that were proud of their heritage. Fresh Prince had episodes where it was impossible to stop laughing, and some episodes that had you on the verge of your seats. They dealt with situations that happened to everyday people, from trying to make the cheer squad to burglary. It was number 10 on the ?Top 20 shows in the 70s, 80s and 90s? in 1992-1993 season, and number six in 1993-1994 season (102).
Family Matters was a show that focused on a middle-class black family living in Chicago. The family included a blustery father, Carl, a Chicago cop, Harriette, his sharp-tongued wife and Eddie, Laura and Judy, their loud and crazy children. Hanging around is Grandma Winslow, Carl’s and Harriette’s recently widowed sister, Rachel, who moved in with her infant son, Richie (?Network and Cable?). The real star of the show emerged halfway through the first season. Steve Urkel, the pestering nerd, was a neighborhood kid who possessed a huge, yet serious crush on an uninterested Laura. With his oversized glasses, hiked-up pants and high-pitched voice, Steve Urkel made the show almost irresistible and always gave you a needed laugh. (?Network and Cable?). They were portraying the average black family we see today in society, and did so quite well.
Today, many black roles in television avoid much of the racial stereotyping that was characteristic of shows in the 1970s-present. There is a definite change in America?s view of the ?typical? black family that widely opened the doors for other shows that came along after the 1970s. Although there still are stereotyping of minorities (especially blacks), there has been improvements overtime that will continue to aid in the taking away of all stereotypical images of blacks on television.