When I turn on the TV, go to the movie theater, at even pick up a book, I find myself asking, “Where’s all the black people at?” Or better yet, where are all the minorities? Let’s face it: entertainment has always been white-washed. And when there is a person of color in, let’s say, a movie, that person is usually a minor character and/or succumbs to a stereotypical statistic. And with Halloween around the corner, there’s always that statement about the black person dying first in a horror flick. There are plenty of movies where the black character doesn’t die first; heck, some live to the very end. Usually, however, the minority is the first person to be offed. Why is that? Why don’t I see more characters I can relate to? Why, when I do see black characters, are they’re often portrayed in a negative fashion?
I want to start by saying that my previous statements are not always true. There are literature, movies, and TV shows specifically targeted for and even written/produced by African-Americans that portray African-Americans accurately. That’s more than what can be said about other minorities. But for the most part, entertainment is geared to the Caucasian audience. I believe one of the reasons for this is that since the very invention of using books and movies as entertainment, they were produced for and by Caucasians. When there were minorities in novels or movies, they were shown stereotypically and used for laughs. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th century that African-Americans were making an appearance in literature. So why exactly do African Americans die first in movies? Simply, art reflects society. If you don’t know how scary movies work, here’s a rundown: People have to die and there are usually one to three survivors at best. The protagonist lives, as does the love interest/best friend/family member. The least important characters bite the dust first. And that’s how scary movies work. Now back in the day, there would be at least one African-American character in a movie because: a) The film-makers need someone unimportant to kill off that the audience isn’t going to care about and b) The producers need to show that they’re being diverse in their movies (this is known as a “token character”). And since minorities were still seen as inferior to Caucasians, it was okay if they kicked the bucket first. So the art (movies, books, etc.) was simply reflecting society of that time. Today, this is still somewhat true, but the formula has changed a bit.
When it comes to entertainment, we all know that groups of people aren’t always portrayed correctly whether that portrayal involves race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I will ask why is it so hard to find novels and movies where the main character looks like me. And when I do find African American movies, why are they always showing me the same cookie cutter characters and preaching the same message? For example, let’s take a look at Tyler Perry’s movies. I enjoy watching his movies as much as the next person, but you can’t ignore his over-used formula and stereotypical characters. Black women are strong on the outside but are sensitive, insecure on the inside and just need a man to sweep them off their feet and love them. Inner-city youths live in the projects and are constantly battling a losing war against drugs and gangs. There’s baby mamma drama, siblings having different fathers and then those fathers are either in jail or have left the household. In the end, however, they all find God. That’s a Tyler Perry movie in a nutshell. So where are the people who look like me, who are in my age range, my gender, or going through what I’ve gone through? Honestly, I have no idea. The only reason I’ve come up with is that there aren’t that many African-Americans producing their own movies/shows or writing their own novels, so our stories aren’t really ever being told.
I know there are people who would love to prove me wrong and argue that the problem could be reversed or that this problem doesn’t even exist. They could say I’m playing the race card and that I’m trying to find fault where it isn’t. These people are probably at the other end of the spectrum where finding cultural representation in entertainment isn’t hard for them. This is something they don’t have to deal with or think about since this problem does not exist for them. There’s a reason why I feel almost obligated to root for the black people in game shows. There’s a reason why I loved watching The Proud Family when I was a child. It was about the life of an African American family, specifically the daughter Penny, and the cast was racially diverse. How many cartoons can you name that was like that? There’s a reason someone created a TV channel aimed at African Americans. There’s a reason why young black girls want the long, straight hair and lighter skin tone. We love seeing black people portrayed in a positive light. Yes the plot, story, and acting are crucial, but what’s wrong with adding some color more than every once in a while? So my question remains: Where my black people at?