Finding Color Among The White
By Sabrina Sellers
It’s safe to say that we are living in a golden age of television. The sheer amount of shows available for us to consume is almost overwhelming; it’s hard to sometimes even know what to watch. One of the great things about this surge in available media is diversity in the stories being told. Television now compiles a cast of characters that include characters of color, queer characters, strong female leads, trans individuals, and everything in between. This is especially refreshing compared to television’s film counterparts which have come under fire in the last few years with social media campaigns, such as #oscarssowhite, commenting on the lack of diversity in its nominees.
As a Black woman, what I find most refreshing is the uptick in Black female leads on my television screen. When I asked my fellow BCC students who they felt was a promising representation of Black women on television, there was overwhelming support for shows like “How to Get Away With Murder,” starring Viola Davis as Annalise Keating, and “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope — both ladies on a primetime television show. Not to mention that the shows are also run by another amazing Black woman, Shonda Rhimes, who has been hiring performers of all ethnicities and sexualities, most notably on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Black female strength has also been seen in Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyons on the show “Empire” and in a more contrasting role in “Blackish’s” Rainbow “Bow” Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Among students, Ross’ character is quite popular.
“She is not the over-sexed, drama filled, woman that Hollywood portrays Black women to be as on shows such as ‘Basketball Wives,’ ‘Atlanta Housewives,’ or ‘Power,’ nor is she the poor, single mother trying to get out of crime-filled ghettos, as represented on shows such as ‘Good Times’ or ‘What’s Happening,’” said BCC Voice staffer, Devisadaria Duchine-Khauli.
The importance of these characters, with the inclusion of their tragic flaws, is that there are finally Black women on television that young girls can aspire to be like. These characters are complex women leading lives in positions of power and respect; seeing beyond the typical portrayal of black women.
“Television does seem to portray Black women as angry, bitchy or weak,” said BCC student, Sareeta Young.
Television and film have consistently pigeon-holed Black women into these generic stereotypes of “the angry Black women,” token Black character, “ghetto,” forever struggling to make ends meet, or the comedic support to the leading man. It’s refreshing to see the Black female experience represented in success and strength and also beyond the shadows of men.
More recently, HBO released Issa Rae’s “Insecure,” marking change on a network that typically tells stories pertaining to white characters. “Insecure,” an offshoot of Rae’s Youtube series “Awkward Black Girl,” is a half-hour comedy centering around Rae, an awkward Black girl who raps in front of her bathroom mirror, feels like the token black girl at her non-profit job to support inner city kids, and who, at 29, is still trying to figure it out. She sets herself apart from the many caricatures that have been black female characters on television — Rae is refreshing. But she’s also different from Washington, Davis, Henson, and Ross’ characters in that she’s content in the fact that she may not always emulate outward strength and power, but she’s still a complex human being with quirks and flaws.
Minority experiences are not monolithic, and the Black experience in particular has been told in stereotypical ways time and time again. These women are just a few notable Black characters who are leading the change in diversity on television. They are not only visually diversifying the playing field, but telling an array of stories that expand the narrative of the Black experience. Where Cookie Lyons, Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating, and Rainbow Johnson are the women that we want to become, Issa is the woman who young millennials identify with.