Where did all the classics go? I can’t seem to find any replacements or suitable seat fillers.

In a time where Hollywood is obsessed with Superhero’s, and creating unnecessary sequels, it is obvious that studio’s are running low on material. We didn’t really need another Carrie, Fast and the Furious has been overkilled already and no one really cares about The Exorcist anymore. Not to mention some of these original films have earned the right to not be touched again, and disrespected with a poor attempt of duplication. Like EVER! Seriously, just don’t do it. Don’t you dare touch House Party. It’s bad enough you made House Party 4. And let’s not forget about television.

There was a time, which now seems like ages ago, where black folks watched actual shows. Who needed reality shows when scripted tv was as great as it was? Back when television offered more than shows about side-chicks, but instead offered actual television shows that weren’t so farfetched and outstretched in unreality. Empire, Power anyone? Shows that common folks could actually relate to and identify with.

You may find yourself asking, “Self, what happened to all the movies that made me want to go the movies?” The television shows that made brothers and sisters schedule their plans around them. I’m talking about movies with people who looked like you, and dealt with the issues you were dealing with. The cinematic moments that allowed you to look at the characters on screen and identify them as family members that you had. Let’s not forget the times when you had to actually ask yourself if Jennifer Lewis was your aunt. The realism from Bernie Mac that turned him into Uncle Bernie for a lot of us. We had such an emotional investment in Bernie, that it felt like we actually lost our uncle when he passed away abruptly in 2008.

Let me get your nostalgia going, just in case your forgot how great the past era was. It was a time when black cinema was quality over quantity. I’m talking about Boomerang; Jason’s Lyric; Love Jones; The Wood; Love and Basketball; The Brothers; Waiting to Exhale; Set it Off; and Higher Learning, just to name a few. Do I have your attention yet? Now I am all for black directors and black films being green lit, do not get it twisted. Kudos to Tyler Perry’s success, congratulations to Lee Daniels on his longterm studio deal, and much respect to Will Packard for extending his deal with Universal Television to distribute more content. It is truly a beautiful thing to see Hollywood add some color, but all I am requesting is that if you are given the keys to the car then at least drive the car all the way home by making superior content. Where it should be FUBU, (for us by us) it actually appears that modern content both on the small screen and on the big screen is made by us but not necessarily for us. If you don’t find Love and Hip Hop hilarious, it’s probably because it wasn’t made to make YOU laugh but made for others to laugh at YOU.

Where are the films that can take you back to a very specific place and make you think about a very specific person? Television Shows like Martin; Fresh Prince; The Jamie Foxx Show; My Wife and Kids; The Steve Harvey Show; Parenthood; Girlfriends; Living Single; even The Game (pre BET-no shade it was just different). These shows had characters that you still think about as if you had a personal relationship with them. Like seriously, don’t you STILL want to know where Max and Kyle are? Or do you sometimes find yourself saying, “Roger go home?” I mean if the popular saying, “Bye Felicia” tells us anything, it tells us how influential are films were.

Some television shows and films of the past gave many of us glimpses into what the black middle actually class looked like. I never seen a brother that was a doctor married to an attorney until Cliff and Claire Huxtable. Past black television shows and films were so powerful that they even helped mold the upper echelon of talent in current Hollywood. Where would Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, and Steve Harvey be today, if not for their shows then? Not saying that Steve is equal as an actor, but he has made himself into a true force in the entertainment industry. Would that be possible without his TV show way back when? It even makes us feel more connected in their success. Black Folks feel like they were ours and now we’re sharing them with the world. But that’s okay because they were ours first, and as petty as it may sound that is very relevant and real. Although it is great to see how far Michael Ealy has come from playing stubborn Ricky Nash in Barbershop to the serial killer, Theo in The Following, we would still like platforms in which our family can come back home. We weren’t their fans, they were are friends and family that we held deep connections to. We had time to fall in love them and appreciate them. Which is why we still support them. Their best work and our favorite works, no matter the current popularity and increased pay days for them, was definitely with us.  I mean does that scene from Fresh Prince, and you know which scene I’m talking about, provoke overwhelming emotion and familiarity? How many brothers still need a hug like that from Uncle Phil? And when we didn’t have a real Uncle Phil in our lives Uncle Phil on TV was the next best thing. Jamie was breathtaking in Ray, but I bet you know the words to his vows to Fancy and wished someone would do that for you on your wedding day. Jay and Fancy were a relationship goals meme before there were relationships goals memes. 

What happened to these classics and why did they just stop becoming made?  Commercial success such as with films like Straight Outta Compton and Think like a Man, proves that black folks still actually pay for movies. Consider this, when was the last time you saw a film or television show that made you feel the way past shows did? Blackish is probably the closest we get. Empire is there, HTGAWM is a solid show, Scandal, Being Mary Jane, yeah they’re all on TV, but do any of those do for you what Martin or Living Single did? Probably NO. The same with film. I’m sure we are all enjoying Will Packer Productions, but Think Like a Man is not, The Best Man. The feeling just was not the same.

Hollywood spent all of last year attempting to urge the masses that Hollywood was getting better for actors of color. Sure their are tokens of integration here and there and actors and actresses such as Michael B. Jordan and Oliva Pope staring in big time productions and roles.  While that may be true for top-tier actors like them or Viola Davis, and Taraji P. Henson, one could argue that the disparity between those on top and those in the middle, is wider than ever. Quite similar to our economy but that’s a whole longer story. Yes, actors of color are getting more significant and wider ranging types of roles, but when you look at the landscape of film and television those opportunities are fleeting. For example, five years ago we probably would not have seen a black woman playing a role like Olivia Pope, but we did see black actresses and actors staring in shows across a plethora of networks that gave a voice to black people. We rarely see black shows and films anymore, what we see are black people sprinkled around PWP’s. Predominately white production. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is up for people to decide for themselves, but what can’t be denied is that Hollywood is negatively different in many ways. Just ask Spike Lee. There should never be a time when John Singleton and Spike Lee lack proper support and backing. Spike’s brand new film, Chi-raq is being released this Friday, December 4th by the way. Shameless plug. 

 This just in, Michael B. Jordan is not the only black man that can act folks. Nothing against that brother but why is he the only presence? Similar to what Hip Hop does with women, Hollywood loves to do with black actors. You know that, “one at a time formula.” Morris had his time, Omar had his moment, Mekhi rode the wave and not Michael is doing the same on an even larger scale, well arguably.

I challenge you without google, or IMDB to name another black male talent under 30. I promise you that they are there and ready to work but the opportunities for them to be more than pop-up actors (actors who pop-up on screen when you’re watching something and you go, hey look who it is) are not there. I’m not trying to send black actors back to the days of being only in black shows and black movies, but what I am saying is that something must change. Hollywood needs to stop reserving blockbuster roles for a chosen few. You know like Will Smith and Eddie Murphy before him. There is no valid reason that talented actors such as Nia Long, Kimberly Elise, Isaiah Washington, and Bokeem Woodbine are made into these pop-up actors. What films like Something New, and Deliver Us from Eva did, was give other actors an avenue to be seen, appreciated, and enjoyed outside of Hollywood’s blockbuster hits. 

The reason we have no idea where black Hollywood is going after the current champions stop running the race is because there are not enough avenues and platforms being created for younger actors to prepare on, to get them ready to catch the buton. Morris Chestnut became who he is as an actor because he was afforded opportunities that allowed him to grow. Thanks John Singleton. And yes, ladies even though you may not want to admit it, Denzel Washington wasn’t always Denzel. It was Mo’ Better Blues and other versatile roles that allowed him to gain depth as an actor. If you think I’m telling you lies then just go back and watch Devil in a Blue Dress and tell me which black actor steals the show.

What’s missing in black media today is the mirror. Black films and TV shows used to provide us a mirror into our lives. A chance to see ourselves, our friends, and our families from an outside looking in type of perspective. Shows used to create a window into our lives. They were authentic. They were real. They were us. They were, but now they don’t, that is if they even exist. While a lot of shows and films today are entertaining, and feature black faces, you still don’t see yourself. Something is missing. TV series are such short lived that by the time we warm up to characters, they are gone because networks pulls the plug on them. Lincoln Heights anyone? Once upon a time we had at least five seasons with characters. During this time we handpicked our favorite characters, fell in love with them, became disappointed or hurt by them, began to hate them but ultimately we ended up falling back in love with some. This is why we still miss them and often think about them. What would Uncle Phil say about today’s rap music or what would Urkel be doing to try to win Laura’s heart?

Black Households need that content. The scripted shows that grew families together, instead of fed them drama like any episode of Love and Hip Hop. Characters of the past were a part of our lives for years and then it all came to a grand closing.

In spite of it all, the point of this article was not to complain. The point was to invoke thought, and change with today’s content.  With today’s technology, and all the media outlets accessible to us, we should be creating our own content with diligence and resilence. Yes, you might not have the star power, you might not have the publicity, marketing, or capital but so what. That shouldn not stop you, because YouTube and Vimeo are waiting, once your stop making excuses. Get your films and your TV shows out there, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of the culture. We need to be moved with feeling by film again and we want to see ourselves in the mirror again. We are in desperate need of that mirror and that window. Attention all film trailblazers and defiant content creators, we have got to get busy. See you on the other side, let’s work.

~Johnathan Jackson

@john_l_jackson

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2 thoughts on “Dear Hollywood: Where Did All The Black Classics Go?”
  1. TRUTH !! A LOT OF PPL STILL HAVE A STEREOTYPE VIEW ABOUT WHAT THE LIVES OF OTHERS SHOULD AND MOST BE . THIS WILL CONTINUE TO HINDER PROGRESS . KEEP STANDING YOUR GROUND …. DON’T LET OTHERS DEFINE YOUR JOURNEY . THIS WHEN OTHERS CAN SEE WHAT WE SEE NOT JUST $$$$$$$ .

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