The Resurgence: A look at Black Hollywood from Stepin Fetchit to ShondaLand

By Thomas Hester II (@thomasahester2)

Blacks have been portrayed in media since cinema has begun.

Starting from minstrel shows, complete with blackface, working actors like Mantan Moreland & Stepin Fetchit kept working by taking the only roles available but even with the degrading roles their talent shone throughout.

Decades after the groundbreaking Beulah & controversial Amos & Andy the birth of The Jeffersons, spinning off from All In The Family, was arguably one of the first examples of a black American family prospering on television. This Emmy award winning show is one of the longest running shows in American television history.

Shows like Sanford and Son, Diff’rent Strokes & Good Times proved the black family wasn’t a monolith which led to the prominence of the iconic Cosby Show.

Lasting 8 seasons Bill Cosby becoming ‘America’s Dad’ showed USA’s acceptance of a complete, prosperous African American household.

These inspired a family to empower themselves & other comedians rivaling SNL with In Living Color showcasing Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, Tony’s nominated David Allan Grier & introduced a family diversified, spanning stand up, directing, acting, producing with the Wayans.

After the Huxtable’s danced off our television screens NBC continued with the A Different World produced & directed by Debbie Allen giving HBCU’s higher enrollment after showing student life at Hillman College.

Benny Medina & Quincy Jones recognizing a budding superstar in Will Smith produced the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Smith proved he was more than a rapper expanding to blockbusters such as Independence Day, Men In Black & dramas like Enemy of The State.

Fox established their network adding to the Simpsons early with edgy & forward thinking shows like Def Comedy Jam’s Lawrence’s Martin & In Living Color.

UPN joined the fray with shows like In The House, Moesha and The Parkers, WB having The Parent ‘Hood, Sister, Sister & bringing In Living Color’s alum Jamie Foxx, Marlon, Shawn with the Wayans Bros & Jamie Foxx Show.

In the 1990s & early 2000s blacks had a variety of successful shows but with the merger of UPN & WB into the CW rose some controversy. Unlike the individualistic networks when combined there seemed to be a concentrated canceling of shows for their established audience.

While 7th Heaven stayed One on One didn’t, as Gilmore Girls & Smallville succeeded Cuts wasn’t given the chance. Even the shows that averaged the same viewers as The Vampire Diaries like the Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith produced All of Us, Mara Akil Brock’s Girlfriends & spinoff The Game were canned. A semi-autobiographical Everybody Hates Chris was cancelled a few years later only leaving reality TV’s, America’s Next Top Model.

While some fans missing the culture may have griped about the lack of representation silently moves were being made.

A former homeless man from New Orleans parlayed plays into an empire. Tyler Perry Studios brought Hollywood to Atlanta using the popular character Madea, in the vein of Flip Wilson’s Geraldine, as a vehicle of making millions in the box office then signing a $200 million, 100 episode deal with TBS.

With the exodus of movie actors coming to television shows like Blackish & Empire have been able to flourish and continuing the success of his stand up special, directed by Spike Lee, Jerrod Carmichael signed on with NBC for a successful comedic sitcom.

Instead of having the dependence on the Big 3 networks: ABC, CBS, NBC after ending her successful run as the ‘queen of the talk show’ Oprah partnered with Discovery beginning the Oprah Winfrey Network then brought Tyler Perry’s content to OWN.

Grey’s Anatomy aired at ABC, having 3 minority leads with Chandra Wilson, Sandra Oh & Isaiah Washington. An executive produced project by a black woman is such a rarity in this industry. Shonda Rhimes built ShondaLand complete with Broadway stars Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald in Private Practice, Emmy nominated Kerry Washington in Scandal then having Oscar nominated actress Viola Davis powered How To Get Away With Murder.

After protests combined with Kenan Thompson & Jay Pharaoh critiques, SNL signed on more black female performers Sasheer Zamata, Leslie Jones & writer Michael Che.

Telenovela, Jane The Virgin, Fresh Off The Boat are giving people of color a voice.

Kevin Hart became the face of comedy releasing box office #1s with black director Tim Story & producer Will Packer birthing the Think Like A Man & Ride Along series.

Without Viacom’s MTV & BET Puff Daddy began his own music network, Revolt TV & Jay Z empowered his fellow artists with a streaming service, TIDAL.

With the Internet content creators don’t need gatekeepers anymore.

Awkward Black Girl’s Issa Rae completed a pilot deal with HBO, empowering others with ColorCreative.TV.

Netflix & HULU are giving shows a chance airing Aziz Ansari’s award winning Master of None & Mindy Kaling’s Mindy Project.

Moise Vernau launched Money & Violence on YouTube and monetized through signing a $10 million deal with TIDAL & Lionsgate. Next Revolt TV signed them on to create a new series.

The success of Money & Violence, starting with a camera & hustle, gives young creatives hope with these vehicles to empower us.

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