Photo courtesy of Disney|ABC Television Group Summer Press Tour 2016
Story by Anika Boyce / Contributing Writer
Black directors, actors and writers have been making major strides in the entertainment industry lately. “Insecure,” a comedy-drama series directed by Issa Rae, portrays the struggles and reality of everyday black women. The sitcom “Black-ish,” created by Kenya Barris, shows an African-American family that tries to claim their cultural identity in a predominately white environment. Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” follows the lives of black students at a mostly white college. And the list continues.
Black directors and actors are also breaking records in the box office with films like “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, and “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava DuVernay.
Andria Peterson, a 19-year-old theater student at Middle Tennessee State University, is looking to pursue a career in acting. She says she’s inspired by the on-screen representation for black people.
“As someone pursuing a career in the entertainment business, all of this positive representation makes me feel like I can actually succeed in the industry,” she said. “Growing up, I had two or three shows to watch that showed people like us. It’s great to see some progress.”
So what sparked this increase in visibility?
“I think we’re at a time where networks are realizing that in order for them to get eyeballs on the screen, they have to have people on those screens who look like their audience,” said Jennifer Woodard, a journalism professor who teaches about race, class and gender at MTSU.
Another possible reason for the increased representation is that there are numerous platforms like Netflix that are determined to add diversity in the content that they are producing.
“It’s great that there are more chances for black people in the entertainment business,” said Kayla Reynolds, a children’s theater teacher and Nashville resident. “It’s about time. When I was a teen, all we had was ‘Moesha.’ The people creating, directing and acting in these shows are showing younger kids that they can go even further. Positive representation is well-needed.”
A recent emphasis on fighting for equality has allowed many budding stars to find their place in the entertainment industry. University of South Carolina professor Stacy Smith is responsible for coming up with the idea of an “inclusion rider,” a contract aimed to include more minorities, women and LGBT cast and crew members. After actress Frances McDormand famously mentioned inclusion riders at the Academy Awards, many actors and actresses have agreed to have an inclusion rider for their projects.
Another reason for this new wave might be because viewers are constantly searching for new content.
“There are so many more shows on television now that focus on black people and black life,” said Xavier Williams, a 22-year-old Nashville resident. “I think it’s because people are tired of seeing the same old storylines. Black creatives are making undeniably good and new material, and everyone loves it.”
This representation of black entertainment is also creating more black entertainers and inspiring them to go after their dreams.
“I know it’s given me hope, so I hope it’s doing the same for children and everyone else looking to pursue a career in the industry,” Peterson said.
Click here to view a timeline of the evolution of black television.
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