Black Television Travels: African American Media around the Globe

Black Television Travels: African American Media around the Globe

Black Television Travels: African American Media around the Globe

Black Television Travels: African American Media around the Globe

Excerpt

On December 8, 2005, the Museum of Television and Radio in New York broadcast an interactive panel discussion where television writers, actors, programming executives, and viewers at colleges across the country discussed new opportunities for women in dramatic television series. I called in with a question about why dramas featuring women of color have not enjoyed the same success as those with white leads. Susanne Daniels, president of entertainment for Lifetime Entertainment Services, fielded the question:

It is my understanding … this is … how I’ve been educated … that one of
the ways we make money from these shows is selling them internationally,
and that the international marketplace will pay less for shows with certain
ethnic leads than they will for white leads. … When I’ve asked that ques
tion before, I’ve heard that answer.

Daniels’s comments are not idiosyncratic. I have heard similar assessments from more than a dozen television executives, demonstrating just how widespread the assumption is, and how much perceptions of international salability influence domestic portrayals of African Americans and their potential to circulate transnationally. In this instance, globalization places limits on which genres are and are not likely to feature African Americans. As we shall see throughout this volume, globalization also shapes the characterizations, narratives, settings, themes, and cultural politics of African American and black television programs in more complex and ambivalent ways.

In the pages that follow, I view media globalization not as a restrictive or liberating force, but as productive of certain kinds of representational outcomes rather than others. In some ways globalization has expanded the diversity of African American television, while in other ways it has severely restricted that diversity. With respect to genre, for instance, globalization has helped expand innovations in African American situation comedy, sketch comedy, animation, and even, to a much smaller degree, drama. Globalization has also resulted in more diverse portrayals of African American men, especially young men, in terms of class, politics, and professions. For African American women, by contrast, globalization has helped narrow the diversity . . .

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