Home Written work What has changed and what has not changed in the past 40 years of portraying black people on television

What has changed and what has not changed in the past 40 years of portraying black people on television


TV shows that explore the experience of black Americans have been around for decades. But for a very long time, they were mostly written and built by white screenwriters and aimed at a predominantly white audience. In the 90s and recent years that has changed a bit. Now, shows with all or predominantly black actors are often built by black writers and producers and are shown on streaming platforms like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu. This produced critically acclaimed shows such as “Atlanta” and “Insecure”.

Who is in a writers’ room or in the halls of power directly affects what we see on screen. —Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic

But there is a deep question as to whether more inclusive changes in the television industry – for black and non-white writers and producers – will persist.

Listen: The Atlantic’s Hannah Giorgis on Black’s unwritten rules TV.


Hannah giorgis is a writer at The Atlantic, where she covers culture. She recently wrote an article in The Atlantic’s Heritage project exploring these tensions in the article “Not Enough Changes Since Sanford and Son”.

Who is in a writers’ room or in the corridors of power directly affects what we see on the screen, ”explains Giorgis.

Even when there are black and brown writers represented in the creative team of TV shows, she says their experiences and contributions have often been ignored or put aside.

Writers’ rooms and, in general, spaces for creative collaboration can be tricky, because of course people are sensitive to their work. People are sensitive to their art, ”she says. “But I think there’s something about that tendency to take someone who says, ‘Hey, that doesn’t quite feel right to me as someone who has an experience like this, or who has it. knows very well “, to take this as a more personal attack rather than this person speaking from a place of authority and experience on what form the story might take, [that] is really interesting.

Giorgis says advent of streaming services changed the landscape for Black TV and black storytelling significantly.

These platforms are incentivized to produce a range of shows, films, etc., which appeal to many different audiences, ”she says. “And so the question isn’t necessarily how to get tons of people hooking up to a sitcom, but rather how to produce enough so that there is so much of a kind of critical mass of people. have at least one favorite show on your platform.

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