Television has gotten black and proud recently. Over on broadcast television, you’ve got the popular sitcoms “Black-ish” and “The Carmichael Show” as well as hour-long dramas like “Empire.” On cable, there’s “Atlanta” on FX, “Insecure” on HBO, “Underground” on WGN and “Queen Sugar” on OWN, all critically-acclaimed. And let’s not forget about streaming platforms. Netflix is the proud home of “Luke Cage,” based on the strong and black superhero from the Marvel comics. They’ve also just brought over the wacky Brit comedy “Chewing Gum” to our shores.
Don’t think this has gone unnoticed. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher John Farley wrote about this new wave of African-American TV and how these shows are not filtering their content for white audiences. Many of these programs are unapologetically black, touching on issues like “code-switching” (changing one’s language to fit in a certain situation), police brutality and just plain ol’ living in America as a black person. These shows also feature a diverse array of black perspectives. Many of these programs, especially culture-skewering, stereotype-busting shows like “Atlanta” and “Insecure,” practically take delight in hipping audiences to the fact that there is more than one type of black person.
Many of these programs practically take delight in hipping audiences to the fact that there is more than one type of black person.
For African-American viewers, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. There are so many shows geared to black folk, I kinda feel guilty for not watching all of them. (Remember, we’re living in the age of Peak TV, where there’s too much TV and so little time.) On the other hand, my friend Adrienne Johnson (a former N&O features editor) loves how there is enough TV out there for black people to pick and choose. “I think that is the beauty of all this stuff,” she says. “There’s so much that you can, like, check in or not. And that’s where it should be. That is what we have been waiting for. There is enough that you can be like, ‘That’s not to my tastes’ or ‘I don’t know that world’ or ‘Ew, that’s not interesting.’ ”
What’s great about this surge in black programming is that it’s giving African-Americans opportunities both behind and in front of the camera. All the shows I mentioned above were created by African-American writers and producers. I guess when you have show running titans like Shonda Rhimes (who still rules Thursday nights with her block of dramas on ABC) proving that people will watch shows featuring black or multiracial casts, maybe it’s a good idea to bring in more people of color to spice things up. It’s also good seeing African-Americans not only prosper in creative positions in the TV industry, but in positions of power. Veteran producer and former Walt Disney Co. exec Hayma Washington was just elected chairman and CEO of the Television Academy, the first African-American to hold that post in the Academy’s 70-year history.
To borrow a title from another classic, black show, we’re living in a different world.