Is America Ready for a Black Male Lead on Television?

Home OP-ED Is America Ready for a Black Male Lead on Television?
Black Male Lead
Black Male Lead

It’s peculiar that there isn’t any entertainment platform discussing the issues surrounding black men.”

In 1992 as Eddie Murphy was riding the wave of his success, he took liberty to create the ideal we know as Boomerang.  Murphy portrayed Marcus Graham; the film’s lead character who’s a high-power advertising executive who happens to be a womanizer.  It’s generally considered one of Murphy’s best films of the 90’s, well as a cult classic. 

Fast-forward 27 years later (2019) and BET has created a series based on the film using the same title.  Sadly, the showrunner decided not to chronicle the life of a black male, but chose to follow the life of Marcus and Angela’s “daughter” Simone.  It was then I realized America doesn’t want the black man’s stories being seen, heard, or told on television.

Still of Tetona Jackson as Simone Graham and Tequan Richmond as Bryson Broyer from BET’s “Boomerang” episode 101. (Photo: BET)

For decades television has found ways to take a glimpse into the black man’s life, without fully diving into the black man’s prism.  A fraction of the black man’s story is only told, because black men only exist in an ensemble cast.  The black man continues to be the love interest sprinkled over a few episodes.  If not, he’s the bad guy, or the gay male who’s represents an accessory to the female lead.  Why is television so afraid to showcase the everyday professional black guy?  In 2004 the UPN aired a sitcom starring Taye Diggs [Kevin Hill] as a lawyer who’s balancing his professional and love life, while having custody for his 10-month-old cousin.  That kind of representation needs broadcasting on television, but the network pulled the plug after the first season despite critical acclaim.  In 2005 there was Noah’s Arc, which had four black men as leads.  Nonetheless, the show was short lived, with limited episodes on a secluded network, which is a recipe for cancellation.  

There isn’t any need to pretend as if the black man doesn’t have, and hasn’t had value in television when it comes to leading a show.  We’ve seen many black men lead successful television shows.  It’s the format of the show he’s leading that’s the issue.  The spectrum where the successful black lead resides in is always the comedic corner to provide relief, which is what America wants.  They want the sense of relief, with reassurance that our real-life issues aren’t an issue at all, and more of a fabrication of our imagination, despite what’s going on with the black man in the world.  So, they only allow our televised image to occupy the space of the funny guy.  Or the guy who wears dresses, and mimics the stereotype of black women.  As long as the character conveys some form of buffoonery that’s profitable, then they’re not concerned about being accountable for damaging the image of the black men.  Rather than broadcast the ordinary everyday professional black man we know exist.  Their focal point is to display the funny “safe” black man they wish to see.  Further demonstrating the lenses, in which they truly view us.    

black tv fathers

The black male father figure has always been represented well in television.  From James Evans, to Heathcliff Huxtable, to Carl Winslow, to Uncle Phil, to Dre Johnson.  America gets it right when it comes to the black father.   However, in 2019 the everyday professional black male still doesn’t exist.  Sure, we have Donald Glover in Atlanta, and Omari Hardwick in Power, but their characters don’t represent the bulk of black men.  HBO’s Insecure got it right with the character Lawrence.  Yes, the show stars two leading women, but Lawrence doesn’t play second fiddle to them.  Lawrence has an arc, that has more than one episode each season surrounding his plight. Lawrence is the closest thing black men have on TV that not only represents them well, but showcases an authentic story.   

Black men are hungry for the content, and have a desire to see themselves on television as equal.  It’s peculiar that there isn’t any entertainment platform discussing the issues surrounding black men.  Surprisingly Netflix’s hasn’t jumped onboard with an original show.  We’re aware that our image won’t always be represented well, but the lack of good representation is what’s bothersome.  Huey P. Newton once said, “I don’t expect white media to create positive black male images.”  I guess we shouldn’t either, because there’s a slew of black male writers who are capable of creating relatable representation for TV.  It’s just sad that white media thinks the black man’s story isn’t worth anything outside of strife and struggle.  Real stories that represent the black man’s gaze is what’s missing.  Yes, America is threatened, and doesn’t wish to see the black man lead on television, but they only believe that, because they speculate that there isn’t an audience for a black male lead. 


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