It is finally happening. It is occurring more and more often and it is making me happy. In the beginning, having black people on TV was almost unheard of. Then they started to creep through, more and more as periphery characters. More often than not the feed into caricatures of what black people were like in America. At the time, something was better than nothing. Having shows with entirely black casts was a breakthrough. Back in the 80’s we had Cliff Huxtable as a black doctor on TV, along with his family, setting a positive example of a black family that didn’t feed into stereotypes. They were just a family.
Over time, we have seen more black characters move from being caricatures to being fleshed out characters. However, these characters are still only periphery characters or on all black shows. But recently, there has been a trend with allowing black female characters to take lead roles in shows that have nothing to do with race. We are seeing characters in the foreground that can be played by someone of any race being played by a black female. It is still a few and far between occurrence, but the show of confidence by network television is encouraging. They are no longer trying to engage in only perpetuating stereotypes.
A few years ago, we saw the emergence of two shows that featured black males in their ensemble cast. Damon Wayans Jr. in Happy Endings playing Brad. Aside from quips on the show, there wasn’t much focus on any behavior traits that TV likes to categorize as black. Ironically, the other show was New Girl, which also started with Damon Wayans Jr. playing Coach, but was quickly replaced by Lamorne Morris as Winston. Here as well, there is acknowledgement of Winston being black, but it’s never played up. In both instances, these characters were characters first and black second.
The big change comes within the last couple years. We saw Kerry Washington take the lead in Scandal. I admit I have never seen the show, as it falls outside of my wheelhouse of interest, but from the little snippets I’ve seen, the show finds it important to make her character realistic for the job she has. However, I don’t get the impression she would be a very good role model. This year, we saw the introduction of Nicole Beharie playing Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow. I absolutely love her portrayal as a character who saw something unbelievable years ago and is no faced with its reality along with many other impossible things happening before her eyes. Aside from a brief comment in the first episode, we are never forced to question her position or even think about her race. Abbie’s story could be anybody’s or any color and it wouldn’t make a difference.
Having a character like Abbie is encouraging to all young black girls out there. Nicole Beharie shows girls that it’s okay to be black because you can be a lead on TV too. Even more importantly, it shows that black girls aren’t just a dime a dozen. Like all other races, there are different personality types and you don’t need to play into a stereotype to be black on screen. Nicole Beharie is given hope and shining a positive light on being black on network TV. Even better she is a black female protagonist in a Fantasy. My dreams are coming true.
What do you think of Abbie? Do you think we are finally starting to see a change?
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