Journal of An Entitled Millenial: Black TV and the Black Label

By Onke Madikizela (@mangutyan)

 A successful television show with a black lead or an entirely black cast no matter how well and democratically scripted turns into a show for black people. Black stories are for black people, and with all the hell we have been through and the concomittant ‘baggage’ no other race can claim to understand our tales, right?

Remember the comedy drama and black women’s motion bible, Girlfriends? With its rich selection of four fine black sistahs, all on wide success spectrum, ranging from homeless and squatting Lynne to “I am so rich I can quit my job to open a restaurant” Joan, for All of Us to relate to?

What ever happened to the show or the ladies who made it a success?It premiered in 2000 and ran until 2008 and in that period was Every Black Woman’s virtual relationship and success consultant. It became the longest running live-action sitcom on network television in its eighth season in 2007.

Sex and the City, just four women trying to find love and conquer New York, on the other hand premiered in 1998 and ran until 2004. That is 4 years before Girlfriends was cancelled and yet Sarah Jessica Parker can still claim to be relevant because of Sex and the City.

Sex and the City, birthed from a book that turned column and then turned TV series, spawned two feature films in 2008 and 2010 and a prequel series, The Carrie Diaries. It was nominated for 54 Emmies and 24 Golden Globes and won a significant number of them. And it is still being aired in syndication around the world, making “best of” lists.

So what stifled Girlfriends’ success and reach? It’s the same thing that is likely happening to Scandal and Being Mary Jane right now.

Black support and its Black Label. It’s the great Achilles’ heel of Black Television that the success of a particular show or movie with a black lead often limits its distribution and does not translate into universal success for the genre or the actresses and actors.

A successful television show with a black lead or an entirely black cast no matter how well and democratically scripted turns into a show for black people. Black stories are for black people, and with all the hell we have been through and the concomittant ‘baggage’ no other race can claim to understand our tales, right?

(Predominantly) Black support comes with the ‘Black Label’ which limits distribution and the universal demand for a show.

Girlfriends, was one of the highest-rated scripted shows on television among African-American adults and women aged 18-34 in its time.

Sex and the City, was just four women trying to find love and conquer New York…or London, or Hong Kong or Johannesburg. Girlfriends, was four black women navigating the perils of being black and all the unique difficulties that come with that race.

White TV launches stars- think Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis topping social news reports riding off the fame of That 70’s Show, or Jennifer Aniston still riding the fame and support from Friends.

Black TV creates a virtual niche. Whether this is a niche created by marketing or our rush as black people to label, own, claim and share in any success by a black person or product, the couch investigator in me has not yet figured out.

And its not just about networks, Girlfriends was co-created by Mara Brock Akil, a black woman, and Kelsey Grammer, a very white and successful actor and writer.

So while Akil and Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, are two black women who make me turn all kinds of shade of green with envy and inspires the writer in me, the success of a black television show does not equal a success for black television production.

Akil attempted the right marketing strategy when she said “Being Mary Jane shows our full humanity,”

Black TV’s success lies in black support without the Black Label.

Onke is the alter ego of an accounting refugee turned journalist by knowledge osmosis. She is who a new money millennial black girl would be if she weren’t afraid of the bills she is convinced has to pay. 

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