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A new wave of black television inspires, encourages millennial viewers

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Anika Boyce, Studio M staff // 

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.

The cast of “Black-ish” at the ABC Television Group’s Summer Press Tour. (Photo via Disney|ABC Television Group Summer Press Tour 2016 on Flickr)

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 says.“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,” says Jennifer Woodard, a journalism professor who teaches about race, class and gender at Middle Tennessee State University.

Another reason is because 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,” says 24- year-old children’s theater teacher Kayla Reynolds. “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.”

Although we might not know the exact reason on why there are now so many more opportunities for black people in the entertainment business, we can only hope it’s because of progress and the fight for equality.

USC professor Stacy Smith is responsible for coming up with the idea of an “inclusion rider,”  a contract aimed to include more minorities, women and LGBTQ 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 on their team.

Another reason for this new wave might be because viewers are constantly urging for new content.

“There are so many more shows on television now that focus on black people and black life,” says 22-year-old Nashville resident Xavier Williams. “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.” says Peterson.

Anika Boyce is a sophomore majoring in multimedia journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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