Don’t weigh in on positive black shows if you only support ratchet TV

How “The Photograph” supporters made me reevaluate my take on African-American entertainment

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Feb 23 · 5 min read
Photo credit: Julian Myles/Unsplash

OscarsSoWhite gets too much attention. While I understand the validity to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, I just don’t care enough about the Academy Awards to really get outraged about it. Part of the reason is because most of the movies that win these awards are not of interest to me. The other part is I’ve often found that the African-American films and actors that do get the golden man revolve around slavery, violence and/or the white savior complex.

I go out of my way to support African-American films on other platforms that slide under the radar but turn out to be really good. They’re often drama-free, flesh out the characters, avoid tokenism and show black folks in a light that doesn’t look like a mainstream rap video with dialogue.

So when I see tweets like, “I’ve never watched black-ish but apparently I’m missing out because Tracy and Anthony have won this award 29 years in a row….#NAACPImageAward” and responses like, “That’s because they keep just giving them awards for no reason… there [sic] performances are not ground breaking,” I’m annoyed. Entirely too many of us still do not respect shows that pay homage to innovative projects that go outside of the box.

When was the last time (or first time) we saw a show with an African-American family with a marketing executive, a doctor, a dog-walking/”gap year” son, a daughter gone off to college (“Grownish,” I see you) and two solid kids? And the grandparents definitely are not the Russell and Anne we saw on “The Cosby Show.” While the baby and the “Gucci” dog may need to be added to a milk box, “Black-ish” is one of very few African-American shows that goes against all of the drama and negativity that we complain about. Although the show, which started in 2014, hasn’t gotten awards for “29 years,” Kenya Barris and the cast and crew certainly earned their Golden Globes, AFI Awards, AAFCA Awards, BET, Black Reel Awards, MTV Movie + TV Awards, Peabody Awards and all other nominations.

Photo credit: Sai De Silva/Unsplash

But I fell into the same trap while watching “The Photograph.” I grudgingly admit that I was underwhelmed by the film. Although I adore LaKeith Stanfield’s versatility and think he is handsome, I kept thinking Issa Rae was playing the same character that she does on “Insecure.” It just felt like she dumped Lawrence again, ditched Daniel (although Y’lan Noel was in the film) and stopped “eating tacos and kissing on the mouth” long enough to get away from Nathan.

I voiced my opinion about not being really into the movie, and the backlash was glorious. I respected the folks who completely disagreed with the film being “boring.”

I saw responses like this tweet:

“To all those saying that #ThePhotograph was boring, this movie was not meant to be funny, or dramatic, or trauma-filled like a lot of black movies seem to be. This is a Classic Romance movie. This movie is a Sleepless in Seattle, a Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a Notebook.”

And this tweet:

“The same people saying #thephotograph was boring are the same people that need trauma porn and dysfunctional sterotypes [sic] on screen to be entertained.”

Of course there have been romantic comedies and romance films that don’t drown black folks in drama — “Love Jones,” “Love & Basketball,” “The Best Man,” “Think Like a Man” (mainly black), “Beyond the Lights,” “Moonlight,” “Just Wright,” “Queen & Slim,” “Something New” (yeah, I said it), “About Last Night,” “Poetic Justice,” “The Wood,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and more. But when I think back on those films, I’m also remembering there’s infidelity, suicide scares, fist fights, psychologically unbalanced women, murder and/or friends dying in most of them.

“The Photograph” skipped all the drama and just presented two people in love — much like “Black-ish” leans more toward comedy and everyday family life instead of people yelling, jumping off tables, throwing drinks, pulling hair, gossiping, cheating, tearing businesses apart, imprisonment and being mean girls. When “Basketball Wives” reached a new low with colorism and offensive monkey social media posts, I took a long vacation from reality TV altogether.

Photo credit: Sabel Blanco/Pexels

Every black person’s life (or TV and/or movie watching) does not have to be stereotypical or negative to be entertaining. The people who supported “The Photograph” made me wonder, “Damn, is it me? Have I grown so used to drama that I don’t appreciate a good non-drama flick?” I loved that nutty “Love Jacked” film and appreciate BET “Sistas” for everything but Andi and Gary’s infidelity plot. I’m a hardcore supporter of “Black Lightning” even though I’m not the biggest superhero fan, but I love that the show is blackity black with the music and dialogue and a positive depiction of an African-American family. “All American” can stand on its own two feet without the gang violence and doesn’t show that on every episode. And the list goes on of me attempting to support any African-American show that shows us in a positive light.

But if you cannot be bothered with even attempting to watch a TV show — or find it “boring” for not being ratchet reality TV, which you clearly support in droves — why not just sit this one out? If drama free isn’t your cup of tea, let those who enjoy it live. Settle for the kinds of shows and movies that would make it to #OscarsSoWhite for being the same negative depictions that the nomination board loves to see.


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We Need to Talk

Often oddball views on family, dating and activism.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; part-time dog walker and dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance and yoga enthusiast; Shamontiel.com

We Need to Talk

Let’s chat about my oddball thoughts on family, relationships and activism — with a dose of comedy, too.

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