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Social Studies

TV Color

In some ways I feel sorry for Regina King. When she wrote her pre-Emmy column in The Huffington Post lamenting the lack of representation by minorities among the nominees, I saw her point. It is a little ridiculous that, in 2010, only 53 non-white actors have ever been nominated, much less won, an Emmy in the 62 years of the award. Also, I know that, as someone who has worked in the television industry her whole career, King has a certain investment in the industry recognition. But seriously? The Wire, The Best Show on Television Ever, never won an Emmy and, to hear creator David Simon tell it, a great deal of that had to do with the mostly minority cast. And The Cosby Show, the comedy that saved NBC, was in the top-five rated shows for seven years of its original eight-year run and caused a cultural revolution, yet never won an Emmy for the acting. When it comes to people of color and complaining about television, you might as well spit into the wind.

First of all, there just ain’t that many black, brown, yellow, etc. folks on TV. What do you got? If you’re talking about the WB and the CW, it’s pretty much exclusively antiseptically scrubbed, interchangeable, post-Disney Channel twentysomething white people that, frankly, creep me out a little bit. But, y’know, I admire their honesty. They don’t even pretend, unlike the various major network CSI/Law & Order random-crime procedurals that sprinkle in a person of color as a supporting character. And I do mean “a,” ‘cause you damned sure won’t get two folks on the same show that often. Like, Flash Forward was nearly unwatchable, but I was fixated on the relationship between Gabrielle Union’s and John Cho’s characters because it was an Asian dude and a black woman, and jeez, when’s the last time you saw that on TV? Forget the dearth of nominees, the first challenge King has is trying to find some folks who could get nominated.

The second big problem with complaining about the Emmys is finding some performances that don’t, well, suck. You can play “find the fly in the buttermilk” with all the secondary and background characters on the various series, but how much can you stand out when you’re the Medical Investigator/Sassy Secretary/Neighbor that shows up every couple of episodes? I mean, you got the David Simon stuff, but apparently, there’s some kind of blood feud between that man and the Emmys. I’m re-watching The Wire, and I just saw Stringer Bell’s “40-Degree Day Speech” last night and marveled at the fact that Idris Elba was never nominated for an Emmy. So I wasn’t that surprised when the sublime work of Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters in Treme was ignored this year. And then, of course, there’s the Tyler Perry stuff. Look, it is what it is: A lot of black folks love it, but it’s not very good.

Ironically, that’s who King needs to call. Tyler Perry’s shows suck, but he’s shown Black Hollywood how to do the damn thing. I don’t like to make a practice out of spending other people’s money, but I always wonder why other dudes don’t do what Tyler Perry did. Will Smith has a production company, but why doesn’t he straight build a studio in Atlanta? Spike Lee is always talking about how hard it is to get funding for his projects; well, why don’t he and, I don’t know, his cousin Malcolm build an actual Lee Joint somewhere and just create stuff in-house, nab a distribution deal, and keep it moving?

If I ruled the world, besides loving all the girls and wearing black diamonds and pearls, I’d get Denzel Washington and Halle Berry and Morgan Freeman in a room and get them to build a super studio somewhere in the middle of North Dakota, or, like, Detroit! Can’t you buy a hundred acres of land in Detroit for $9? Then I’d get an array of directors like Charles Stone III, Julie Dash, Justin Lin, Barry Jenkins, Christopher Scott Cherot, H.P. Mendoza, and, hell, Matty Rich, and just let them go to work. Do like Perry and keep the cost low using the studio sets and unknown or up-and-coming actors. If they can’t score a distribution deal with TBS (and, frankly, I don’t know how that would happen if a Smith or a Washington got involved), go around ‘em. Between YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, and a host of other options, you don’t necessarily need TV to get your joint out. I found out about Donald Glover through his comedy shorts with his troupe, Derrick, a few years before he was on Community. Oh, the things I would do if I ruled the world . . . there would be fire and pain and your God would not hear your screams but, boy, the television I would make.

Imagine if all those crappy movies they play on BET were good? I love Motives, Motives 2, and the collected ’90s canon of Shemar Moore as much as the next guy, but wouldn’t it be cool to see a series of small-budget films by Kasi Lemmons? Or, instead of another Tyler Perry’s Fill-in-the-Blank Vaguely Inspirational Buffoonish Sitcom, Lee took the rights to Sucker Free City after Showtime turned it down and just produced the show himself? I feel for Regina King, and I empathize with her frustration, but ultimately she’s talking to the wrong people. She should have written that same letter, but she should have sent it to some friends of hers in the industry who could potentially do something about it.

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