Your first grown up job is a pretty big deal, especially when 11.5 million people are watching you do it. With a shiny pair of slippers, huge pipes and a multi-talented cast with combined experience longer than she has been alive, Shanice Williams easily eased her way into the heart and soul of American entertainment in The Wize Live. She rightful earned the iconic role of Dorothy, formerly played by legendary talent like Diana Ross and Stephanie Mills.
Shanice blew us away.
Viewers on social media marveled at how she is a beautiful and positive representation for Black girls.
2 Hours of Black Girl Magic Just Simply Wasn’t Enough for Me.
Black Hollywood is breathing new life into the entertainment industry, particularly on the small screen. How to Get Away With Murder earned Viola Davis the title of first-ever Black woman to win Best Actress in a Drama. Taraji P. Henson is a style icon on Empire, proving that despite your background, you have the right to live like a Queen. Being Mary Jane is sensational. Creator Mara Brock Akil is killing the game with her candid discussions through the show’s star, Gabrielle Union showing the many layers of a woman wanting to have it all over the age of 30. Finally, the world is seeing the intersectionality that come with women of color. Black feminism is at an all-time high on prime time television.
These shows are a bit racy, with a TV-14 rating being a bit too light for certain episode topics. Where can Black teen girls pick up a remote and turn to see themselves?
Last summer, I spoke to a group of teen girls, primarily Black, at a broadcasting camp ranging from ages 10 to 17. My mission was to feed their curiosity into the news industry. At the time, I was a news producer and on-air contributor, giving the perspective of behind and in front of the camera. At that point in my life, my own interests were shifting from TV news to screenwriting. I was honest with them, careful not to deter them from wanting to pursue a similar career in TV.
At the end of my presentation, I thought I’d learn a little more about them. So I asked, “What do you all like to watch on television?”. Hands went flying in the air. You’d be surprised at their answer.
Moesha. How could a show that was in its prime before many of them were even born remain relevant an entire generation later? I quickly responded in my deep Southern home girl accent, “What ya’ll know about Moesha?”. The responses were similar; Brandy Norwood’s character was relatable to their experiences as a teen. The girls went on to say that today’s television did not cater to their needs. There was no happy medium. Either the shows were too grown or too babyish. They wanted a show that could get in tune with their day-to-day drama. Many of them admitted that while their parents hogged the TV watching Love & Hip Hop, the girls retreated to YouTube finding old Moesha episodes or were able to catch reruns on UP TV. With a huge generational divide from 1997 to 2014, especially in terms of technology, what made Moesha so attractive? Takeaway the fashion. Lose the dated lingo and Moesha is a classic teen pressured by underage sex, first love, clueless parents, school drama, and every other headache that seems to be the end of the world in your adolescence. She kept her head on straight, with the added layer of being Black.
So what has happened to the Moesha Mitchells of the world? She must have gone home to TV glory with Ashley Banks, Laura Winslow, Raven Baxter, Denise Huxtable and Thelma Evans. In 2015, girls have excellent role models like Quvenzhane Wallis, Amandla Stenberg, Mo’Ne Davis, Zendaya, and Gabby Douglas, just to name a few. We see you, just not enough on TV. Before I go bashing today’s television execs and casting directors, I must mention today’s shows with young Black actresses like Yara Shahidi (Zoey) and Marsai Martin (Diane) in Blackish. Skai Jackson holds her own as a strong supporting character on Jessie.
What about lead roles?
China Anne McClain maintained her lead for nearly 3 years on A.N.T. Farm, until the show ended in spring of 2014. Zendaya is awesome and funny as she takes the reign on K.C. Undercover. That covers Disney. Did I miss any others? Nickelodeon had True Jackson, VP starring Keke Palmer in the hip and edgy show about a teen girl running the show for a fashion company. True’s reign ended in 2011, leaving a gap between those to follow. How to Rock, starring Master P.’s daughter, Cymphonique Miller debuted on Nick 2012, ending its in the same year. Today, you are more likely to see a pint-sized Black actress who plays sidekick to the lead or as extra in the back with little to no lines. In March, Shadow & Act reported 73 TV pilots and upcoming series with Black talent in lead or supporting roles. Not to mention the countless titles still in development. How many will have a child of color with a starring role?
We are constantly buzzing about Hollywood’s diversity issue. Some of it got “handled” and addressed in 2015. It’s like the world said, “Wow, Black women do watch TV!”. We can thank Shonda Rhimes for knocking down most of those barriers with her phenomenons on ABC. That is just one network with a handful of shows. What about the others? Fortunately, we have award shows like Black Girls Rock! to celebrate the achievements of girls of color, both young and seasoned, cheering on those at home hoping to one day be recognized.
Long gone are the days of Black characters depicted as aloof, subservient and downright ignorant. We are steps ahead of past racism in the TV industry, yet have so many several miles to travel. Our girls deserve to be better represented. There are plenty of shows that target girls and the issues that impact them. Growing pains do not discriminate. Why not have a modern day Moesha tell the story? Our girls are lacking inclusion in the entertainment industry. Representation goes beyond numbers. What message are we sending them? Realizing this void has sparked my own ideas to change the problem rather than just blogging about it. As we cheer on the successes in Black TV, let’s not leave our girls out of the conversation.