The Rebirth of Colored Television

Growing up in the 90s had its perks. Pogs, Tamagotchis, Starter jackets, Guess Jeans outfits, Grant Hill’s Filas, The Miseducation of Lauren Hill, homemade mixtapes, Blockbuster videos, Bagel Bites, BrainQuest, and those weird-ass transforming McDonald’s toys. ALL THAT SHIT WAS DOPE.

You’ll notice that this list doesn’t contain any hip-hop albums. I’m well aware that this was perhaps one of the most influential decades for rap music, but honestly, I didn’t fall in love with the genre until The Roots blessed us with Things Fall Apart. As a child, my mom had a strict ‘no cursing’ policy in our house (which only applied to my brother and me), and it extended to the music we were allowed to listen to. Although she loved Tupac (who didn’t love Tupac?), my moms discarded my brother’s copy of Jay-Z’s (classic) debut album, Reasonable Doubt, by the time Hov talked about taking funds to his jeweler Tito (she yanked that shit right out of the cassette player with no fucks to give).

Plus, there are more gifted writers than I who can provide better insight on just how great hip-hop was during the 1990s, especially 1996.

Pause: Why was I allowed to watch Boyz N The Hood, Menace II Society, and Higher Learning, but not listen to Illmatic? I need answers, mama. I’m digressing.

You know what else was great about the decade before Y2K? Black television. Of course, there were iconic sitcoms such as The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, and Family Matters. But with shows like Roc, The Parent ‘Hood, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, New York Undercover (y’all just had to kill Eddie, huh?), Living Single, In The House, and In Living Color, there was no shortage of minority representation on a nightly basis. Seriously, EVERY NIGHT. It was en vogue. It was chic. It was proactive and it got the people going.

It was also impactful and encouraging because it provided images of people who shared my melanin doing big things, like going to college, or becoming doctors (and lawyers and judges), or developing transformation chambers to get the girl of their dreams (what up doe, Urkel?!). They made us laugh, and they made us cry. (Why did Will’s daddy do him like that?) They found ways to discuss societal issues, such as drug use, sex, violence, gender equality, and police brutality. Truth be told, had it not been for A Different World — and my mom filling out an application to FAMU — I probably would have never attended an HBCU. And given Detroit’s horrific resemblance to apocalyptic ruins during my childhood, this impression mattered.

Which is why I appreciate the current renaissance of Black entertainment. While there have been some notable black shows in the new millennium (My Wife and Kids, The Bernie Mac Show, Girlfriends, Chappelle’s Show, Everybody Hates Chris, The Wire, Treme, and Oz), Black folks have been mostly relegated to the minstrel rachetness of reality television.

(Was I the only one who peeped BET’s first scripted series, Somebodies?)

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But since Donald Glover’s Atlanta (FX) and Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar, premiered to record-breaking ratings and impressive reviews, the tide certainly seems to be turning for the better. Furthermore, these two hits are just the latest residents to crash the old-fashioned, White neighborhood that is the television industry.

Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard are commanding a loyal following as Cookie and Lucious Lyon on Fox’s Empire, killing the ratings game and getting that Pepsi advertising money. Starz is serving a double-dose of Blackness with the Twitter-favorite Power and King James’ produced Survivor’s Remorse. And is there any acclaim Black-ish isn’t garnering with Tracey Elis Ross’ fine ass? It’s also proof that if Anthony Anderson can recover from his token roles in Agent Cody Banks 2 and Kangaroo Jack, you can blow up in that nursing program, get your hair done, and buy a Toyota Camry. Don’t give up on your dreams, people.

Perhaps the most incredible example of black people flexing their talent on television is the upcoming show Insecure.

While HBO has provided some beautiful cinematic art, since Chris Rock’s flagship program concluded in 2000, the premium station has been extremely white with its content. Like white, white. Game of Thrones is great, and all, but the only prominent Negro on that mug was Xaro, and his punk ass fell victim to Daenerys’ ruthlessness for foolishly trying to double-cross her on some fuckshit. Up until now, HBO’s longest tenured shows featuring black folks were either about selling drugs, or prison. C’mon, b.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency featuring the lovely Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose was canceled after its inaugural, 7-episode season despite garnering a Peabody Award. Brothers in Atlanta, a comedy series from seasoned writers Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin, was scrapped after the network greenlit the project and ordered a pilot. Plus, we all know how they tried to play our soul-sista-friend Effie Brown on that “White Boy Bro” bullshit Project Greenlight.

Yet, terrible shows such as Bored To Death (the title should have been adorned with a Surgeon General’s warning in small print for excessive shittiness) and Lena “I really want some Black penis” Dunham’s, Girls, survived for multiple seasons before getting axed. I swear the only people who watched that Wonder Bread bullshit was my homeboy and my ex.

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Which makes Issa Rae’s meteoric rise as unlikely as it is welcomed. Much like her best-selling novel The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and her budding web series, Rae’s Insecure seeks to feature women of color beyond the clichéd roles of strong, loud, menacing, ghetto, angry characiture. Positive imagery matters, but so does realness. Not every Black woman is Olivia Pope or whatever melodramatic, stereotypical nonsense Tyler Perry concocts. Based on the trailers, reviews and the nature of Larry Filmore’s writing, the show looks promising, engaging, an funny as hell. UPDATE: I’ve watched the pilot, and it was what I thought it would be (RIP, Dennis Green). It’s a funny, authentic protait of what it’s like to be black and female in 2016 (and beyond?). Gon’ ‘head and get that Friends money, girl.

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Side note: It’s worth mentioning that HBO produced some quality Black films back in the day. Something The Lord Made with Mos Def and Gabrielle Union and The Tuskegee Airmen featuring Lawrence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. were well-written, well-acted gems. Also, Dancing In September is perhaps one of the most underrated movies of all-time. It’s a story about the politics and struggle associated with Black television shows starring Isaiah Washington and Nicole Ari Parker. And don’t get me started on Jeffrey Wright’s portrayal of MLK in Boycott. (I love that film.)

Make no mistake, this influx of Afro-centric programming on the small screen isn’t going to rid our country of racism and systemic bias. Romanticizing about how our televised stories will somehow incite care, understanding, and empathy is a beautiful notion, even it is profoundly misguided.

Regardless of the overwhelming amount of successful shows featuring colorful casts portraying minorities positively, the 1990s was still one of the most racially tumultuous decades since the Civil Rights era.

The cops who brutally beat Rodney King and heinously executed Amadou Diallo unjustly escaped consequences for their criminal actions despite Officer Winslow’s touching portrayal of racial profiling.

Moreover, officers sworn to protect and serve our communities continue to benefit from a flawed judicial system that frequently provides immunity to those who use their oath as a creed to unlawfully abuse their power, thus permeating law enforcement’s blatant disregard for Black lives.

But Negro representation on the tube does provide much-needed access to role models and ideals that may be not available within decaying communities. It allows us to depict a variety of narratives about the Black experience in America. Plus, it affords opportunities to minorities in an industry perversely structured to be Caucasian. Y’all Wypipo stay Whitewashing shit.

At the very least, it’s enjoyable entertainment that has proven to both critically and commercially successful. May the new wave of colored television reign on. Black is beautiful.

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Atlanta Is Great Because It’s Black AF (With No Apologies)

I’m happy. Scratch that, I’m happier den a mug. I’m elated. I’m ecstatic. Because I just watched the first two episodes of Donald Glover’s new show, Atlanta.

It’s good. IT’S HELLA GOOD, fam. And it’s so because it’s genuinely black, AF. Since its premiere Tuesday night, there has been no shortage of praise for Glover’s brainchild and handy work. Much kudos to Glover for assembling a novice writing staff comprised entirely of BLACK PEOPLE. If this past season of OITNB–or any other show that features Black characters written in a majority white writers room–taught us anything, it’s that authentic Blackness is captured in the nuance of things. That stuff matters. A LOT. Especially to Black people. It also makes for great television. The script reflects that authenticity. It’s real and subsequently, incredibly heart wrenching! But it’s also funny. It addresses relevant issues within the Black community, such as homosexuality, mental illness, and being called a nigga by White folks, with sincerity and pert humor.

The show centers on a trio of Black dudes in Atlanta seeking to capitalize on recent success in the rap game. I know, I know, Black people stay rapping, or playing basketball, or dealing drugs when it comes to television shows. (See Empire, Survivor’s Remorse, Power, as proof.) But it’s real. I currently live in Atlanta. Everybody is a rapper here. EVERYBODY! You can’t go to Publix, or even church (yes, church) without somebody peddling their “fire” mixtape. However, this show isn’t necessarily about the rap game, it’s more about the experience of being Black, in America, in the Black Mecca of America.

The cast is amazing. I MEAN EVERYONE! First, there’s, of course, Donald Glover, who stars as Earnest “Earn” Marks, a really good kid and a mad city who just wants to win. He’s rebounding from a short stint at Princeton and can’t seem to stop catching Ls like the Lakers, or Lena Dunham. (Side note: Did you know Glover had a brief role on Dunham’s mediocre show, Girls? He played a Black Republican, whom she smashed. Shocker!) He’s stuck in reset, trying to make it in these streets by peddling credit apps at an airport. Yet he’s getting out-hustled by a Black woman whose name looks like it ought to be Delores. Add in that he’s living with his baby moms (because he’d be homeless otherwise) who he wants to be with, but can’t because he won’t shake his own immaturity. I could give you full recap, but I’m digressing. Simply put, Donald Glover is acting his butt off.

Then there’s Earn’s cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, played by Brian Tyree Henry. He’s a 2Chainz-like rapper looking to blow up after years in the game. I’ve been a fan of Henry for a little while, but I’ve grown to appreciate him a lot as of late. He’s had some brief roles in The Good Wife, Boardwalk Empire, and The Knick. But he really got me when he played Dr. Brown’s estranged husband on HBO’s new irreverent comedy, Vice Principals. He’s a dry-funny type of cat with a knack for executing one-liners with a straight face. (Side note: Atlanta is gold for one-liners, bruh. GOLD!) He’s convincing as Paper Boi, providing the much-needed skepticism, grit, and bravado an aspiring rapper needs to make it out of the hood.

There’s also Darius, Paper Boi’s roommate, drug dealer, ghetto philosopher, and magical Negro (played by Lakeith Stansfield). Darius also has an impressive sneaker collection (I peeped those OG Spiz’ikes and Black History Month LeBron 13s. Again, it’s the nuances.) You’ve probably (certainly) have seen Lakeith in a few roles here and there. He made us cry in Selma as Jimmy Lee Jackson, the cat that was murdered by the PoPo in front of his parents. He made us cringe when he beat up Malcolm for his Jordan’s in Dope. He was Long Beach smooth as Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton. (I also see that he’s in Oliver Stone’s Snowden releasing this fall. Get that Friend‘s money, fam). But Keith’s best role (in my opinion) was in Short Term 12, where he beautifully portrayed Marcus, an at-risk youth afraid of embracing life on the outside once he’s released from the cocoon of a foster-care facility. It’s a riveting performance. The movie’s quite good too. It also stars Brie Larson (the cute chick from 21 Jump Street), John Gallagher Jr. (that snarky producer from The Newsroom) and Rami Malek (the creepy hacker everyone loves from Mr. Robot).

Darius serves as the comic relief, and Stanfield does a remarkable job of providing humor, randomness, and punch to the stark reality of the show’s premise. This is best illustrated when Darius answers the door of his residence, revealing a big, Black nigga in a toy Batman mask. The dude asks if Paper Boi lives there, to which Darius replies with a faint, suspicious,”Uh, yeah.” Ol’ boy then runs off (like he probably did on the plug, twice), to which Darius turns to Paper Boi and instinctively says, “You too hot!” Again, the writing is gold, but it’s nothing without the execution.

Then we have Van (played by newcomer Zazie Beetz), Earn’s baby mama, who’s a school teacher and has morning breath that smells like Curry. The chemistry between Beetz and Glover is both electric and genuine. Van and Earn have a profoundly flawed relationship, mostly due to Earn’s lack of consistency. But they share a child and, for the time being, live together. And, she’s Black AF (much like the entire show). Namely because she was quick to tell Earn to stop taking her child to his mama’s house because she has a home of her own and is willing to bail Earn’s dumb-ass out of jail. Plus, she took her Bantu knots out like a pro after curbing Earn from getting some morning nookie for saying some nonsense. She’s not the angry Black, single-mom you’d expect, courtesy of Tyler Perry movies. She’s calm, collected, but savage if necessary.

Lastly, the remaining supporting roles are stellar. Earn’s parents are played by Myra Lucretia Taylor and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (You know him as Senator Clay Davis from The Wire. Sheeeeitt!!!) They display a supportive, yet incredibly guarded, affection for their child. For instance, Earn’s barred from their house because he always asks for money and leaves Anaconda like dumps in the toilet without flushing. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about their boy. They just want him to shake his funk and, as Earn’s mom puts it, “…eat something real. Instead of all them candies and cookies and whatever other stuff was in there.” It’s a tough love that I personally know all too well.

It’s refreshing to see Black millennials credibly represented on the tube. Atlanta excels at creating a portrait that resembles the Black experience in America at a frenetic pace. (The show is only 30minutes.) It’s a show that is rooted in pure, supreme, Blackness and is truly reflective of our existence. Whether it’s Earn retrieving money from a pair of Double Nickel 10s, the Black cop asking for a pic with Paper Boi to post to the ‘gram, or Paper Boi’s excitement after getting the hookup with some lemon pepper wings (wet), the show is exceptionally nuanced. It’s thoughtfully written and superbly acted. Perhaps that’s why it’s so remarkably beautiful. Not just for Black folks, but for everyone.

Someone You Love on GoT is Going To Die (Permanently)

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, by now, you’ve probably seen the fourth episode in what’s building to be one of the most epic seasons (season 6) since the show’s inception. Scratch that, if you’re a fan of GoT you’ve definitely tuned in to watch episode 4 of season 6. In fact, you’ve probably re-watched it, dissected it in your mind, discussed it with your communal GoTers, read about it on a blog and watched it some more. It was pretty fucking epic. If you haven’t seen it stop reading and go watch it now. Right now. At this very moment.

Titled Book of The Stranger, in this latest installment we witnessed some prime awesomeness. Jon Snow reunited with Sansa, in what has to be viewed as a major emotional victory for House Stark. The “let’s fuck each other and have kids” twins, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, make moves to restore order, and ultimately privilege, in King’s Landing.

Tyrion is out in Meereen flexing some political wit as he looks to settle things with both current and former slavers, and consequently, The Sons of the Harpy. Theon finally returned home to the Iron Islands and a thoroughly pissed off sister, Asha. Little Finger (or Petyr, whatever you prefer to call him) is back, conniving the shit out of crazy-ass Lysa Arryn’s pathetic heir.

And Ramsay, fresh off killing his father, and feeding his infant step-brother and step-mother to blood thirsty dogs, is still doing evil, menacing, sadistic shit, like killing more people (this time Osha, the Wildling chick who was watching over Rickon) and sending grim letters to Jon Snow at Castle Black. I definitely hate Ramsay more than I hated Joffrey. So much so I may punch Iwan Rheon (the actor that plays Ramsay) in the throat if I ever see him in these streets. Not for real though. Still, fuck this guy! (Ramsay, not Iwan).

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Most important, Daenerys Targaryen the First of Her Name, The Silver Queen, The Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, literally burned the motherfuckin’ house down (again) enroute to strengthening her claim to the Iron Throne. This is the second time we’ve witnessed Emilia Clarke’s nude body emerge from flames and it was just as enjoyable as the first. (Side note: I wouldn’t mind if Emilia Clarke was naked amidst fire every episode. I’m certain it boosts ratings. Who needs clothes when you can survive fire? David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, make this happen!)

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One last moment worth mentioning: Brienne detailing Stannis Berratheon’s last moments (before subsequently beheading the life from him) to a bamboozled Davos (oh, you didn’t know this crazy motherfucker burned his own daughter, your beloved princess who taught your illiterate ass how to read, so he could win a war that he ended up dying in anyway?) and her recollection of Renley’s death while mean mugging the shit out of Melisandre. All that said, a lot of cool shit happened this week, to say the least.

This episode was a wonderful primer to what I hope will be more epic awesomeness. But while we’re all feeling great and eagerly anticipating what comes next, please do not forget what this show is and what it’s about. GoT exists to fuck with your emotions. Just when you feel like things are finally headed in the right direction, and your favorite character is catching all the momentum, and your serotonin levels are raised to monumental highs, GoT will swoop in and gift you a crushing blow to your limbic system, crumbling your happiness with annoying apathy.

Someone you love, cheer for and/or enjoy watching will die. They will die a terrible death. And this time they’re not coming back. They’re really going die (permanently).  What’s worse is no one really knows who that character is yet (aside from the actors and show runners).

Unlike previous seasons, season 6 does not have a corresponding book. There is no source material (at least not published) that we can use to prepare our emotional state for what comes next. Though I’ve only read through one of the five books in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (they’re enjoyable, but also dense as hell, and laborious as shit to power through) every season I’ve usually been able to surmise the dooms of my beloved characters prior to its on-screen delineation thanks to A Wiki of Ice and Fire.

And while there’s some material from previous books that coincide with this season’s storyline, I have a hunch that everyone, devout book readers and novice show watchers alike, will ultimately be surprised (in most cases, meteorically disappointed) once episode 10 concludes. So consider yourself warned and take this for what it is.

While I have my own thoughts on who’s headed to meet the Lord of Light (wouldn’t it be terrible if they brought Jon back just to kill him again?), I do know without a doubt that it will be a significant loss (Sansa, Tyrion, Brine, Jaime, Cersei, Bran, Rickon or even Arya – ain’t nobody safe in the seven kingdoms no more). I say this with the utmost confidence because we’ve already lost Ygritte (Jon’s Wildling love interest), Oberyn (and also the rest of his family) and a whole gang of Starks (Ned, Catelyn, Robb and his beautiful wife). ALL PEOPLE WE LOVED!!!! Oh, also Tywin and The Hound. But nobody really cared for them. They needed to die.

The point is we’re headed to episode 5, the midpoint of the season. History tells us that episode 7 usually hosts the season’s cinematic climax, and someone usually dies either during this dreadful hour or in the following weeks (episodes 8 and 9, not 10). Thus, your favorite character only has, at most, 3 hours of screen time left before they’re dead. Enjoy them while you still can.

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