Monday, 11 February 2013

My 15 Favourite Black Sitcoms

Black sitcoms used to be good during the 1970s all the way until the early 00s. Then all of a sudden, they all dropped like flies when mainstream networks such as NBC and Fox ditched them in favour of reality shows and dramas. The Black sitcoms on Cable networks don't seem to fare well with audiences either.

In homage to the Black situation comedy and being a sitcom fan myself, here is my list of my 15 favourite Black sitcoms of all-time, with my reasons listed as to why I enjoy one of them personally.

The top 3 sitcoms I've chosen are unanimous in their positions, whilst the other 12 are interchangeable in their positions:



1. The Jeffersons  - 'We're movin' on up in the East side!' Ooh yeah! The Jeffersons was the spin-off to All In The Family created by Norman Lear. The late Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford were outstanding as couple George and Louise 'Weezy' Jefferson. Great supporting characters such as Helen & Tom Willis, Mr Whitley, Florence - the maid who would get into arguments with George-, and Lionel and Jenny, not forgetting, Ralph.

The Jeffersons is my absolute favourite African-American sitcom; it was funny, brilliantly written, great set of characters, great cast & George Jefferson will be remembered as one of the most iconic sitcom characters in history.

People were raving about this series - I've read comments online from people on how good The Jeffersons is; this was one of those shows that didn't air in the U.K, but thanks to Youtube, I manage to discover this gem. I do think it's strange that a lot of people, especially Black viewers don't realise The Jeffersons was and still is one of the longest running Black sitcoms on US TV.

I wasn't born when it first aired on CBS in the U.S, and neither was it aired in the U.K, so you're going to ask why an 80s -born child chose The Jeffersons as their favourite Black sitcom. Well, The Jeffersons is my favourite Black sitcom because a) the characters are great, b) it's funny and c) I enjoy watching the episodes. There isn't an episode that I dislike from this show.

No other Black sitcom on a major network- be it Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC- has since matched its feat.

The Jeffersons was just pure brilliance, and though whilst the latter seasons weren't as good as the earlier ones, it was still entertaining nonetheless.




2. Good Times  -  Another of Norman Lear's creations during the 1970s, it revolved around the Evans family in Chicago. Good Times was co- created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans; Mike Evans also played Lionel Jefferson, George and Louise's son in The Jeffersons. There has been working-class sitcoms during the 1970s, but Good Times was the first U.S sitcom to feature an African-American working class family as the main characters.

Although it was a sitcom, the episodes had a serious undertone to them and they mostly dealt with a range of issues, stemming from drugs to child abuse. The main comic relief came from J.J Evans, James and Florida's son and he was a bit of a buffoon, but he made the show amusing. By the early 80s and due to the death of James, Good Times lost its spark and its run was over. Not even the arrival of Janet Jackson as Penny could halt its decline.

Still, the performances all-round were fantastic and the writing was top-notch, until the last 2 seasons. The departure of James and later on Florida, with Bookman, Penny and Willona being made as central characters, didn't work. The critics said this show was pandering to stereotypes - i.e. Black people and lower class, when it was reflecting a lot of the social problems that took place in 1970s America.

The Huxtables may have been everyone's favourite Black sitcom family, but the Evans's, through its multitude of personalities and characters, demonstrated that life isn't a bed of roses, yet in spite of this, anything is possible, regardless of your social status -IF you work hard to make things happen.




3. What's Happening!!  - This show was based loosely on the movie, Cooley High that  revolved around a trio of teenagers Raj, Dwayne and Rerun aka Freddy Stubbs but moreso that of Raj- Roger Thomas as known by his mother, Mabel - his mother and younger sister, Dee. She was a character that annoyed the heck out of me. There was also Shirley, who had a few wisecracks of her own as the sassy waitress.  Really great show and one of the few Black sitcoms that centered around a single parent family, in a positive sense and to reinforce the idea that as a child raised by a single parent, this is considered as a bad thing.

When in actuality, it is not.

I may add also that Rerun was a great dancer too!




4. The Cosby Show -  The Cosby Show deserves a nod for being the first Black sitcom to have an affluent family on a TV show. Entertainment Weekly lauded the series that it helped raise the profile of Blacks on national TV, and this of which carried on with In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It later led to a spin-off, A Different World.  This show, alongside Family Ties and Diff'rent Strokes showcased family life in a positive light, whilst maintaining it's feel-good, easy mannered charm.




5. Desmonds  -  Living in the U.K, Black sitcoms were very scarce; not many of them aired on TV. Desmonds arrived in 1989, though was filmed a year earlier, and even to this day, it is still one of the best Black sitcoms, period, for me. I rank this show up there with the African-American sitcoms I listed because it was just so brilliant. What was it that I loved about Desmonds? So many things- the cast, characters, the setting of the show in a barbershop, the story lines and Black British humour and writing at its best.

It is so good it would probably make for a good American version of Desmonds. Or maybe not.

Desmonds still holds up well after over 20 years; the humour is side-splitting at times, what with the loud audience noises in the background, but not to the extent that it becomes patronising to the viewer.

Definitely worth checking out.





6. A Different World -  This series was sort of okay, but when Debbie Allen took over, it improved throughout. It was a lot more interesting and enjoyable; I think the decision to get rid of Denise, have her move back to live with Cliff and Clair Huxtable and to retool the show to have it centered around Whitley and Dwayne, was a good move by Debbie.

The earlier seasons didn't do much for me at all. I don't remember it very well when it aired in the U.K in 1988/89; I was 7 years old, and whatever I did watch of ADW, as a child, I couldn't quite make out what it was about. But as an adult and re-watching the episodes on YouTube, I understand what it was, and why many Black viewers lauded it.  It was one of the better examples of TV shows that presented collage life in the U.S without it coming off as being 'corny'; i.e. 'Saved by the Bell-ish'. Based on some of the comments I've read online, it appears The Fresh Prince of Bel Air has a bigger following than ADW outside of the U.S. Speaking of which....




7. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air - I honestly think the reason why The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was such an accomplishment, especially for NBC, who were leading ahead of the pack compared to the other networks with Frasier and Friends, was because it connected with not just Black audiences, but with Whites, Asians, everyone. Much like with The Cosby Show. I enjoyed the first 4 seasons of this series; for me, it hit its peak during the fourth season. It was a shame the last 2 seasons felt less of a sitcom with less laughs, audiences noticing a lighter-skinned Aunt Vivian, the arrival of Nicky - which I think affected the quality of the story-lines, and the writing became way too serious and over -dramatic in parts. Had the last 2 seasons of the show been as good as or better than the first 2 seasons, then I would've rated this one higher than 7th.




8. Hangin' With Mr Cooper - In spite of the inclusion of Geneva and Nicole during seasons 2 and 3 and departure of Teacher Robin Dumars -played by A Different World's Dawnn Lewis, I still found Hangin' With Mr Cooper enjoyable and watchable. Mark Curry's colourful and zany performances as Mark Cooper brought a smile to my face, whilst Holly Robinson Peete shone as Vanessa; one of Mark's roommates & friends. Both Mark and Vanessa get together during the last season, and I thought they were rather cute as a couple. In spite of their different personalities. A lot of people stopped watching the show once they got together, apart from me. In all, Hangin' With Mr Cooper was fun and I enjoyed every bit of it. A shame about the ending though.




9.  Living Single - This was another one of those American sitcoms I had heard of, but of which never aired in the U.K. Living Single was the earlier version of Friends but with Black characters. 6 characters: 4 girls (Khadijah, Max(ine), Synclaire and Regine) & 2 guys (Overton and Kyle) shared an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. For a series that remained in the top 5 African-American ratings throughout its 5 seasons, this is quite a feat. Great ensemble, wonderful camaraderie and good chemistry. I've seen Friends but this show has something going for it; not to mention I like these characters more than the ones in NBC's offering.




10.  The Parkers - The Parkers was a hit- &- miss affair for a lot of viewers; some enjoyed it, others hated it. Sure it was silly in parts, but I never conceived The Parkers as one of those sitcoms that had a serious undertone to it or had characters that were serious in nature. It was made purely to generate laughs aplenty and wasn't a show where it made you think about things.

I thought it was hysterical and it made me laugh a lot; Mo'Nique as Nikki Parker was rather amusing - she was amusing when she was crazy and threatening when some man would try and take her 'boo', or be it the Professor Stanley Olgavee. Kim, Nikki's daughter was a dumbed- down character from the one in Moesha, Stevie was the lone White girl and T was the cool, calm and collective male; together they were also Free-style Unity, a R&B music trio. Given it was a spin-off of Moesha- which was part- sitcom, part -drama as well, I was genuinely surprised how different The Parkers was as a sitcom .

It may not have been to everyone's tastes, and the series finale was rather erratic and ridiculous, but it was for me, still a lot of fun and provided lots of funny moments.




11.  In The House - I already posted a review of this show; In The House was a good sitcom when Debbie Allen and Jeff Wood were part of the cast, but after they departed, it just wasn't the same as it was before. But the first 2 seasons were really funny and enjoyable, thanks to Debbie Allen's character, Jackie Warren. Had it not been for the departure of Jackie and her son Austin, the series would've lasted a little longer.

LL Cool J may have been the main star attraction as injured pro- footballer- turned- nanny, Marion Hill when for me, Debbie Allen made this show; she was bold, funny, sarcastic and entertaining. And though many have cited the performances by LL Cool J and Debbie as overdrawn and over-acted, I completely disagree with that notion. Especially Debbie, who having had cameos in A Different World and The Cosby Show & played slightly 'off -the- wall' characters, it was good to see her take on the role, where her character was more 'normal' than the ones she played previously and that she was able to strike a good balance between being humourous and comedic, but also serious as well. Jackie and Austin were my 2 favourite characters for 2 different reasons: Jackie for being funny, sarcastic but also caring and strict and Austin, because he experienced some of the things that I went through as a child, such as the bullying so I felt sorry for him sometimes, but he wasn't bad. Plus he looked cute!

Even though I enjoyed the first two seasons over the last two seasons of In The House, it still holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first ever show I watched with Debbie Allen in it (being born in 1981, I was too young for Fame and I wasn't too familiar with A Different World during its original run on NBC and Channel 4 in the U.K), and thus I became a fan of Debbie Allen's.

She was just awesome in this sitcom!




12. The Jamie Foxx Show - Before he made the transition to movie star,  Jamie Foxx was a fully-fledged comedian on Def Comedy Jam, not to mention he had a spell on Fox's sketch comedy series, In Living Color, playing an assortment of characters. He also had his own sitcom titled, The Jamie Foxx Show in 1996.

During the first 2 seasons, he played Jamie King: an aspiring musician from Texas, who works in L.A to pursue a music career. To support himself, he works in his aunt and uncle's hotel. His co-workers include Braxton: a bourgeois -type, who has very high standards and Francesca ''Fancy'' Monroe, the latter of whom Jamie develops a crush on during the series.

I had heard of this sitcom before but it never aired in the U.K. However, I managed to watch some episodes on YouTube and I have to say, I love it. The WB network had some so-and so sitcoms, but arguably, The Jamie Foxx Show was and is by far the best of the bunch.

It helps when many of the cast remained throughout the duration of its run and the quality of the episodes later on were very good. The whole Jamie and Fancy love interest theme, which ran throughout, was interesting. I enjoyed it and I liked them as a couple; I was glad that there was a happy ending for those two in the end. My favourite character is Braxton: he is charming, suave and I love his personality.

The performances were great and it was generally a feel-good sitcom.

In all, The Jamie Foxx Show was great fun - for one of the lesser known Black sitcoms around, it impressed me a great deal and I can understand why some people enjoyed this one.



13. The Steve Harvey Show - created by Winifred Hervey, whose previous offerings were The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and In The House, The Steve Harvey Show had a surprisingly good run of 7 seasons on the WB before its cancellation. Steve Hightower (played by Steve Harvey) is a former 70s funk legend turned music teacher/vice principal at a school in Chicago. During the series, we see him try and win back the affections of Regina (played by The Game's Wendy Raquel Robinson): Steve's ex-class mate. Support comes in the form of 3 students, namely Romeo, Bullethead and Lydia, as well as Steve's friend, Cedric (played by Cedric the Entertainer) and secretary, Lovita who becomes Cedric's girlfriend later in the series.

Though it got cancelled, 7 seasons is a respectable run and had it remained longer, it would've got stale as a show. But The Steve Harvey Show was very, very funny; Lydia cracked me up a few times and the cast were terrific.



14.  Martin - Martin, alongside Living Single were 2 of the 3 highest-rated shows for Black viewers on the Fox network back in the 90s. Martin Lawrence played a DJ named erm, Martin, who has a girlfriend named Gina (Tisha Campbell-Martin). Martin had a unique-yet different take to other sitcoms, as Martin Lawrence would play a variety of characters and wear different costumes and prosthetic makeup. One of those characters was Shenehneh: a loud, brash and very in-yer-face type of woman that plays on stereotypes of Black women, though I'm sure it wasn't done intentionally to offend. She would try and p*ss off Gina and her friend, Pam (Tichina Arnold) by goading and mocking them and who'd try to pick fights with them as well.

The humour was over-the-top and outrageous at times, but also hilarious to boot. Bill Cosby once called Martin a 'modern day minstrel'. I guess Martin's humour just wasn't to his liking. If you are able to put up with the craziness of  Martin Lawrence's characters, then Martin will be right up your alley.



15. Out All Night - Out All Night was a short-lived affair, - which bemused me given I was surprised to learn it only lasted 1 season. It was a really good sitcom. Created by Andy and Susan Borawitz, the same people who brought you The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, it had a really good cast- singer Patti Labelle, All of Us's Duane Martin, Vivica A Fox, Morris Chestnut and Simon O'Brien, who was the token White character & hailed from Britain.

The sitcom is set in the same universe as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and features appearances from numerous musical guests, such as Gladys Knight and Luther Vandross. Out All Night was also the launchpad for the careers of Morris Chestnut, Vivica A. Fox and Duane Martin, who all went on to pursue other TV and movie ventures after the end of its brief run.

It had potential and the characters could've been more developed and fleshed out, but based on that one season, it was entertaining and amusing.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Black Sitcoms: Narrative & Ideology: Analyzing And Deconstructing In The House


By Waiching Liu

The sitcom is a short abbreviation of the words, 'situation comedy'; a form of comedy featuring reoccurring characters in a common environment, be it the home or the workplace, accompanied by jokes and running gags, which form part of the dialogue. First originated on radio, sitcoms have- up until say 2005- became one of the most dominant genres and forms of narrative (entertainment), especially in the United States.

The sitcom is essentially penned as the 'comedic drama' lasting for approximately 30 mins, including adverts and running a full 20 mins excluding them. 

There has been a lot of work and studies on race and media; most of those are focused around the representation of Black men and women. This is due to the strong presence of the African American counter-culture that has existed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, for example, that provided different - yet positive role-models for Black Americans to relate to on TV. These role models appeared in response to the early racial stereotypes of Blacks, such as the notorious 'Black face', as far as back as the 1930s & 40s that were deemed derogatory and out-of-date. 

Means Coleman once said that because of its (as in sitcom) sub-generic distinction results in the core casting of African- American characters who exist to 'illuminate Black cultural, artistic, political and economic experiences' ( pg 142, Mary M Dalton, Laura R. Linder). 

In other words, what she is indicating here is that Black sitcom characters are created and portrayed on TV by creators, writers, producers in order to highlight and denote life & the hardships in America as experienced by African Americans to their viewer-ship, as well as towards other minority groups. They showcase what Black sitcom humour is all about and that fans enjoy taking to heart their culture being mocked in good taste via humour. But that through situation comedies, they can relate to the character's well being & status, and thus proving they are NOT one-dimensional. 

The 1990s up to the mid- 00s saw a high percentage of African American sitcom series; both on major U.S TV networks such as Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC, as well as UPN, a cable-based broadcast network that caters towards Black viewers. Whilst these shows resonated with Black audiences, for the exception of The Jeffersons, Fresh Prince Of Bel Air and The Cosby Show, many of them didn't attract a huge mainstream following. Although they still gained a good, solid Black viewership throughout (Mary M Dalton, Laura R. Linder). 

Such practices by networks and advertisers to create more shows for White audiences led to a charge made by American civil rights organisations, who accused the networks of denying minorities a bigger participation in general TV production. The recent decline in (Black) sitcom production, as well as the interest in reality TV on national TV in the U.S has led to viewers shunning the main networks in favour of Cable channels and even You Tube, which air classic sitcoms that don't appear on NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC any more (Dr Alvin Poussaint). 

There have also been some concerns aired by some members of the Black community over the negative depictions of Black people on TV and how Reality shows have made them out to be the laughing stock of society. This coupled with hardly any positive Black sitcoms and sitcom characters on mainstream U.S TV, and one can understand why such a case as this has validity and truth to it. 

Ideology

Ideology is in other words the ideas behind the text; a set of beliefs, concepts, beliefs underpinned by the institution or process and leads to social relations (Media Know-All). 

Ideological discourse looks at the issues debated or addressed in various forms of media and the rules taken on these subjects form a basis of our social rules and practice. Issues include education, employment, gender, race, class, age, personal responsibility and politics.

Narrative

Narrative is an organisation of events, given to a series of facts. Whereas plot refers to events that take place within the story off-screen, narrative tells stories and events that take place on screen. In every narrative, there is a beginning, middle and end. Narrative is important as it acts as an organising principle that helps us make sense of the world (48, Wall, Rayner). Narrative and story-telling functions as a way of interpreting the world and in growing up as adults, it helps us to form our own social values.

Bulgarian theorist Todorov proposed that the concept of narrative follows the following formula: equilibrium > disequilibrium > equilibrium.  

All narratives begin peacefully with people getting on with and enjoying life. A firm sense of social order is established. but afterwards, comes a force of disequilibrium or disruption. something bad has happened or a problem arises.Eventually, in the end, it gets resolved, everyone is happy, harmony is restored and thus, we have a new equilibrium (50, Wall, Rayner). 

Narrative Codes

Roland Barthes proposed 5 types of narrative codes: Hermeneutic, proairetic, semic, symbolic, and cultural. 

Hermeneutic codes are plot elements of the story that haven't been explained. 
Proairetic codes are plot events that imply further action. For instance, a character confronts an adversary and the audience wonders what the resolution of this predicament would be. 
Semic codes are signs that express cultural meanings. It allows the text to show what is happening, as opposed to 'telling and explaining' by describing material things. 
Symbolic codes (see next paragraph for explanation)
Cultural codes designate any element in a narrative that refers to knowledge that is either historical, moral, social, cultural, mythological or scientific. This knowledge is prescribed in a way that it explains how the world works as shared and seen through the eyes of that particular group (Narrati - Narrative Structure). An example of a cultural code would be in A Different World and the fictional historically Black college named Hillman College. Hillman College is a cultural code, in the sense that it is an educational institution for predominately Black students, established in the U.S, with the intention of serving the Black community. The show accurately reflected the social and political life on Black campuses. The Black students, and professors taught and learned about Black history, African American social ideals, in addition to the programme tackling serious matters at the heart, such as racism and Aids. 

Analysing narratives in TV shows, movies involves disseminating technical, verbal, symbolic codes, as well as structure. Technical codes are anything to do with camera angles and movement, such as props, lighting, sound, shots, composition, framing, editing, design & layout. Verbal codes are written and verbal language, the dialogue. Symbolic codes are signs that indicate significant, cultural or connotative meanings. A scruffy- haired person wearing rags as clothes as a symbolic code,  may signify that s/he is homeless and poor (Media Know-All). This is structured in a way that organises meanings. Binary oppositions such as male/female, young/old, black/white act as a symbolic code. 




Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Black Super Heroes & The Problem On The Lack Of Visability

By Waiching Liu

Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Thor and Batman all have 2 things in common: 1) being they are all examples of super heroes and 2) they are all Caucasian/White. They are all popular and well known, not just in the comic book universe but also in popular culture as well. At least with Batman and Superman, if you asked a person on the street who their favourite super hero is or to name a superhero, the most likely of all answers would be both or either of those two.

But what about the Black super hero, and do people know that they exist as well? Of course they exist, there have been many Black super heroes, most notably Storm of the X-Men (played by Halle Berry in the earlier feature length movies of the series), Blade (played by Wesley Snipes) and to an extent, The Avengers Nick Fury, and there is also the Black Panther, the Falcon, War Machine (played by Terrance Howard and later Don Chedle in Iron Man 2), Bishop of X Factor, Steel and Spawn to name but many. Characters of whom many do not know of themselves, for the exception of say Nick Fury and Blade.


Race & Ethnicity - the distinction between the two societal concepts 

In the chapter defining race and ethnicity, Popeau once said: ''The modernist connotation of race and ethnicity sees 'race' either subsumed in ethnicity, or referred to euphemistically through ethnicity'' (Spencer, 32). What he is saying is the term 'ethnicity' is the polite way of saying 'race', when referring to a person's skin colour. Whereas with race, the word is considered as problematic, reviled, detested and contested- yet it is widely used in Western society.

It is indicated that in countries such as the USA for example, 'race' is employed in contexts where in Europe and the U.K they prefer the term 'ethnicity'. The common folk view of race & ethnicity in the U.S is one of 2 factors: 1) biology and genetics and 2) culture (Gracia, 1). This idea has been challenged in the past 20 years with no evidence the biological concept of race and the cultural concept of ethnicity has survived.

Race has historical roots and is woven into discussions and analytic debates with regards to defining citizenship as a sense of 'belonging' to a country (Spencer, 33). Race is a key component; the idea first emerged in European languages during the late 13th and 14th centuries but the usage of the word 'race' didn't come into fruition until the 16th century (34).

Media studies is the study of media institutions, the study of the television, movie, music, video game industries, the ideas and concepts around it and how it impacts on people of all races, ages, genders, nationalities. Sociology is the study of human behaviour in society and sociologists have learnt one thing: all human behaviour that takes place occurs in a societal context (Andersen, Taylor, 4). This 'societal context' Andersen and Taylor refers to is one of institutions and cultures that surround us. Examples of institutions and cultures are schools and education, media and entertainment, the law and order such as the police, solicitors, lawyers, religion, family, race, nationality, identity and politics. It can be argued that Media Studies is partly influenced by Sociology; because of the idea of analysing and studying the media, and the media being the outlet for projecting characters and personalities on TV, film and thus showing how and why their behaviour is or could be a direct consequence of societal, cultural and personal factors.

Sociology is thinking about society and its influence of people of different social groups, but in a scientific way. It involves observing, reasoning and making logical points of view together with a body of theoretical and analytical work carried out by various theorists and sociologists. (Andersen, Taylor, 4).


Superheroes and Super Black

The role of the superhero is steeped in affirming a division between right and wrong. They all operate on a framework that is of morality. It is of no coincidence that superheroes become victorious in the end. Yet this is little to do with their strength, powers and weapons and more to do with being concerned for others and their own notions, - of which are never the same as every other super heroes- on what 'justice' is to them. Likewise, the Punisher, who is a vigilante, own sense of justice will be different to that of say, Superman's. (4, Nama)

With Black superheroes, Nama points out that not only are they representative of all things that are for the good in a racial, 'lets defeat racism, racists' - kind of way. They are cultural ciphers for accepted wisdom regarding racial justice and the changing politics of Black racial formulation in the U.S (4, Nama). When these acts of heroism are being carried out, they are fighting a waging war against the villains, whilst also upholding and maintaining their status and identity as a Black man/woman.

Despite the symbolic significance of Black superheroes in American popular culture, the topic itself is un-examined. In the essay, Finding Other Heroes, John Jennings and Damian Duffy stated the problem lies in the comic book industry itself. An industry dominated by White male characters and most quintessential images of heroism and one of the obvious examples of  unequal representation (13, Brown).

It is believed that just because there are no or there are very little Black superheroes in movies, on TV, it is suggested that there are NO black superheroes existing, period. For years, young comic book readers have encountered an idealised image of what heroism was all about: honest, law-abiding, masculine, and White. (13, Brown)

It is a wrong misconception because if you go on the internet and Google Black superheroes, you will find websites that have names of all the Black superheroes. 

It is a case of knowing the information on this subject is out there- it's just that people choose not to investigate and delve deeper into it, and probably out of ignorance, dismiss that Black superheroes exist and just exclaim racism. There was a infamous video posted on YouTube a few years ago by rapper P. Diddy, who having seen Will Smith's, Hancock decried the lack of Black superheroes, whilst heralding Hancock as a saviour. The video prompted a furious reaction and was met with shock and anger by most viewers, who- unlike Diddy- understood that there are indeed Black superhero characters and went on to list most of them, just to prove a point. 

For the exception of say, Spawn played by Michael Jai White, many people will go on record to say Black superheroes are poorly represented and lacking on screen. For me personally, the discussion and talk regarding Black and minority superheroes is one I find fascinating to me; not just due to them being from a minority group but because they have a super power or ability, it makes them stand out from other people. Because they are Black, Asian, gay/lesbian, their presence and morality alone represents their social group and is seen as a positive influence. In the X-Men series, mutants are discriminated against by the humans. This discrimination is on par with that of racism, sexism and gay bashing. But when in the case of Jubilee, who is Asian -American and a mutant, she is having to come to terms with herself being Chinese-American AND also fighting discrimination, because she is a mutant with these super powers.

Unlike Marvels The Avengers, I personally identify myself more with the X-Men than the latter, given they were treated like social outcasts by the rest of society, of whom looked down on them and saw them as a 'problem'. Something that I could relate to. Because of this, the mutants, especially those who were under Professor Xavier and were the do-gooders, Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit, Storm etc were increasingly isolated, discriminated against and marginalised.  

The concept of the hero isn't necessarily tied to race per se; when s/he goes and fights bad guys, saves the world and the people, they are not doing it for just the Blacks, Whites. They do what they do out of respect for others and for people in general. Superheroes are icons, role models, people we look up to for inspiration and who fight- not out of evil or for any bad cause, but because they truly care and want to be good people. 

Up to 1966, representations of Black superheroes were mostly degrading and seen as offensive by comparing Black people to animals. The first Black superhero was the Black Panther, who hailed from Africa; he was a king named T'Challa from a fictitious country known as Wakanda. And in contrast to other African countries that were labelled financially poor, suffering from famine and poverty - another stereotype labelled by the media- Wakanda was affluent and the most technologically advanced civilization in the world. 

Meanwhile, the first African-American superhero was the Falcon (1969); he was the first mainstream Black African-American superhero. In the book Super Black, Nama mentions the Falcon being his first and favourite flying Black super hero. He cited the Falcon as an example of a person, who operated on a broader social level. He said:

'The image of the Falcon gliding across an urban skyline symbolised the unprecedented access and upward social mobility many African Americans were experiencing in educational and professional positions in the wake of hard-earned anti discrimination laws and affirmative action.'  (2, Nama) 

Superheroes As Role- Models For The Rest Of Society

Black superheroes were not only positive representations of people's dreams, aspirations, desires and an idealised notion of ourselves and themselves but in addition, they symbolised an extension of America's political role and racial landscape which was shifting (Nama, 2). No longer were they the butt of ridicule and jokes, rather their existence pointed towards the development of the U.S as a nation and in the land of the free, anything was and is possible. Days of when America was predominately White- even though the Native Americans were the first to set foot in the U.S- is history. America today is more culturally diverse and the Black population is becoming increasing larger.

The discussion of Black superheroes and of them being positive and exemplary role models for people in general, as well as for young Black kids is important to address but at the same time, it is being neglected mostly by the media and the entertainment industries. The Black community in general are crying foul of incessant negative portrayals and representations of Blacks on TV, especially in reality shows and the lack of Black sitcoms on mainstream TV networks such as NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC. Yet in Black superheroes, these people are doing good things in the name of justice and fighting crime, mostly by using their powers more-so than guns.

It is surprising but also sad that for whatever positive representations of Blacks and other minority groups shown within the media itself, it tends to be hidden away, or in the case of comic books, not as widely accessed by the rest of society as other mediums such as TV, movies. Therefore, it is more of an issue of awareness, or be the lack of awareness of these things, rather than being a lack of Black superheroes. I do think comic books in general is looked down upon as a 'minority'/geek-like activity- and that is an image that needs to be challenged, seeing as we can all relate to superheroes and how their efforts impact us as individuals. 

Just because it is not visibly out there, as in on TV does not mean they do not exist. Black superheroes do exist and the comic book industry needs to continue to do more and feature more of them in their comics and stories to promote their image, and for the Hollywood industry to understand that whilst television in the U.S on major networks has changed completely over the past 15 years or so, the reality is, the representations of Black people are mostly negative and are doing a huge disservice to their community.

Black super heroes and comic books are filling that void being virtually ignored by Hollywood; unlike the idiots on reality shows who behave terribly and make them look bad, they stand for truth, justice, Black empowerment and heroism. Sure it would be good if they were given as much exposure as Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, Captain America etc. But the fact that they exist is better, rather than of them being non-existent. And given what they do is not for fame, greed, drugs, sex etc, superheroes in general should be considered as legitimate role models by everyone, besides celebrities, sports stars, family members anyhow.

Even if they are not real, that is besides the point: the point being is they do good things and ought to be respected for that.... And moreso than all because of the colour of their skin underneath their coloured Lycra attire. 


Sources: 

  • Other heroes: African American Comic Book Creators, Characters and Archetypes: Art Exhibition Catalog, 2007
  • The History of the Black Male Superhero in Comic Books: An Interview with Dr Jonathan Gayles - Black Voices, 2013 
  • D.C Comics & Black Superheroes,  Margena A. Christian, Ebony, January 2012 
  • Race and Ethnicity: Culture, Identity & Representation, S. Spencer, 2006 
  • Race or Ethnicity? On Black and Latino Identity, Jorge J.E Garcia, 2007
  • Sociology: The Essentials, 2009 
  • Black Super Heroes, Milestone Comics and Fans, Jeffery A. Brown, 2001 
  • Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes, Adilfu Nama, 2011 

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