Images of African Americans may not have changed since the 1930’s and 1940’s, but they have been subdued and made subliminal within media imaging. Those images are still prevalent in contemporary media. Sadly, there is not much contrast to the films and television shows of yesteryear and entertainment today. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, a majority of film and television portrayal of African Americans was degrading; African Americans were often cast as subservient characters with limited intelligence. In contemporary media, African Americans are no longer cast in subservient roles, but often cast as characters that are undermined by other characters; particularly their white counterparts. While contemporary portrayal of American Americans include a more refined and educated character they are still, nonetheless, represented as the underdog and in some case “educated fool”.
A prime example of contemporary television programming that portrays African Americans is the “The Cleveland Show”. This program is produced by Seth MacFarlane, Mike Henry and Richard Appel; not one African American amongst the group. This television show would be easily classified as a comedy; it is an animated cartoon with mature themes. There are no real central themes expressed within the program; it is a simple situation comedy animation that circumnavigates around the life of a blended African American family that lives in the fictitious town of Stoolbend, VA. It contains parodies, political satire and is saturated in irony. This show, in the opinion of many, is nothing more than blackface of the shows predecessor “Family Guy”, which is a program that prides itself on making fun of everyone.
Within “The Cleveland Show”, stereotyping runs rampant. The instances are often commonplace and accepted by the characters, despite the fact that the main character is indeed African American. Cleveland is mild mannered and more loveable than any other character, and takes a nonchalant approach to the glaring and blatant disrespect. Each stereotype is presented in a joking manner, sadly. Donna, the mother and wife of Cleveland is stereotyped as the typical “black woman”—snappy, smart mouthed and full of attitude. Cleveland is stereotyped as the visibly intimidating but loveable pushover. Rallo, the youngest son is considered the “ladies man”—he is fixated on women despite the fact that he is only 4 years old. Roberta, their daughter, is a younger version of her mother mixed with an abundance of naivety and Cleveland junior is typecast as the chubby dunce of the family. All of those stereotypes and racial snarls are presented blatantly and the dialogue of the show does nothing to combat them—in some cases, they take the stereotyping a step further. The interaction between characters is unbelievable; prime example being that one of Cleveland’s drinking buddies is a confederate flag waving “redneck”, as described by the shows website. Anyone with common sense would know that a Neo-Confederate and an African American would not be best buddies. Case in point—roles and portrayal of African Americans has not changed drastically; the only difference is that the stereotyping is now culturally acceptable.
Just some food for thought GLAMs….the only way we can change a problem is to open our eyes to it.