2020 might just be the year of “realizing things” (sorry Kylie), one of those “things” being that we are not going hard enough for the Black community. Learning about the racial injustices Black people have had to endure through shows and documentaries is one step to take toward being actively anti-racist. The next step is familiarizing yourself with films and TV shows that highlight Black people as beings beyond the typical stereotype. For every “mammy-like” Madea or “angry black woman” Miranda Bailey character out there, I guarantee there is a show that portrays a Black man or woman as someone everyone can resonate with. Both of those characters are iconic in their own right, but how many times can we see these types casted before non-Black viewers believe that is the standard, and Black viewers believe that is all we can amount to?
Not only were TV shows and movies starring a Black actor or actress limited when I was growing up, but the list for movies with Black characters who weren’t the stereotypically sassy, thug-ish, or “ghetto”—the list truly goes on—type, were slim-to-none. In fact, in 2016, Vox took a look at representation on screen and found that gang members and other similar roles were disproportionately filled by Black actors. The study also found that out of all actors casted as a doctor or pilot, only 9 percent and 3 percent of those were Black. In conclusion: this is not a representation of real life.
How many times can we see these types casted before non-Black viewers believe that is the standard, and Black viewers believe that is all we can amount to?
If you’re not too keen on numbers, sit and ask yourself, how many Black Disney princesses are there to white princesses? When have we ever seen a rom-com where the Black lead gets the varsity football player? How many seasons did ABC need to have before we got a Black Bachelorette? Bachelor? To stand beside us is to recognize that Black people have the same aspirations, feelings, emotions, desires as our white counterparts. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the Black characters we have seen on TV, it is also important to amplify the fact that we can exist in the world as introverted, quirky, intelligent, gender fluid, artistic, and overall multi-dimensional human beings. More importantly, we are your honor roll students, doctors, lawyers, designers, dreamers, hopeless romantics, and it’s time that we are recognized as such!
Although Hollywood is not all the way there as far as truly breaking away from those stereotypes, I’ve narrowed down a few TV shows and movies that have Black cast members telling a different Black story.
1. Raising Dion, Where to stream: Netflix
Michael B. Jordan produced and is featured in this fascinating series as a deceased father to an adorable 7 year-old boy named Dion, who discovers he has superpowers. His mother fights to protect him from being exposed while trying to uncover the origin of his special gift.
2. Insecure, Where to stream: HBO Max
Navigating through the modern-day black experience, Issa Rae takes us through her life of breakups, makeups and all-too relatable moments of just trying to figure life out. Oh, and if you don’t have the Shazam app, we suggest you download it when you start watching this show, because the musical score just cannot be beat.
3. Grown-ish, Where to stream: Hulu, $1.99 per episode on Amazon Prime
Yara Shahidi nails what it is like to be a college kid handling new responsibilities in this spin-off of Black-ish. Zoey, the eldest of the Johnson family, experiences the growing pains of being independent for the first time and figuring out how to balance school, finding love, friendships, and the trials and tribulations of adulthood.
4. Sister Sister, available for purchase on Amazon
Throwing it back to the ‘90s sitcom where twins Tia and Tamera, who were once separated at birth and adopted by a different parent, run into each other one day at the mall. As their parents— who have never met before—decide to join forces and move in together, we see throughout this series that their sameness is only skin deep. Bright and perfectionistic Tia and boy-crazy and extroverted Tamera bring us along a six-season journey of growing up and what it means to be a family.
5. Black-ish, Where to stream: Hulu
Tracee Ellis Ross stars as an anesthesiologist and Anthony Anderson as an advertising exec raising a strong Black family in white suburbia. While they both grew up with different humble beginnings, the two bring up their multifaceted kids to revel in their privilege that has been foreign to their parents, all the while maintaining their “Blackness.” This show is packed with hilarious banter between the parents and children and tasteful depictions of trying to navigate their way through a white-dominated America.
6. Pose, Where to stream: Netflix
This show will truly bring out emotions in you that you never knew you had. Not only does this show star a majority Black and Brown cast, but it also gives an accurate depiction of dealing with the complexities of LGBTQ youth in 1980s New York, attempting to make it in the ballroom culture world, while battling with rejection from their families and society who deem them as less than, as well as trudging through the city’s social scene.
7. Black Panther, Where to stream: Disney+, rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime
If you’re a sucker for a good superhero film, look no further. This movie is frankly one of the most important movies of our time, as it is centered around Black people not dealing with Black pain, suffering, and poverty, but rather as rulers of a kingdom, and creators of advanced technology. Black Panther is a powerful movie about a leader, T’Challa, who fights for his country, Wakanda, and his rightful place on this throne after his father’s death.
8. Candy Jar, Where to stream: Netflix
Easily one of the most underrated rom-coms on Netflix! Jacob Latimore stars as Bennett Russel, an overachieving high school student with Ivy League goals who finds himself in constant competition with his straight-A counterpart, Lona Skinner. The two who have always found themselves at odds now have to work together on a debate team, and quickly go from enemies to lovers.
9. #RealityHigh, Where to stream: Netflix
Cady Heron… but make her Black. This Netflix movie tells the story of not-so-popular, dorky Dani Barnes who dreams of fitting in with her high school peers. When she starts getting the attention of a popular guy at school, Alexa Medina—the “Regina George”, if you will—decides to befriend her with the worst of intentions. This is a feel-good film with the “dorky girl transforms, then gets the cute guy” formula that everyone falls for!
10. Living Single, Where to stream: Hulu
If you loved the show Friends, or even Girls, this show deserves the same adulation! Queen Latifah stars in this classic ‘90s sitcom about six black young professionals living in Brooklyn sharing their all-too relatable and hilarious experiences and advice with love and their professional life.