'Scandal' Exploits Black Women's Images?
This TV season's stereotypes are "masquerading as something new," says media insider Tom Burrell.
TR: There's a lot of buzz around the new Issa Rae series that Shonda Rhimes has sold to ABC. Are you hopeful about a refreshing depiction of black women by the creator of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl?
TB: I hadn't heard that, but it seems [based on Scandal] that Shonda Rhimes is on the exploitation boat right now. Sometimes you get into this thing to do good, but then you just do well. And you drop your mission along the way.
TR: What about OWN's recently announced partnership with Tyler Perry?
TB: I am optimistic and hopeful that this powerful, talented tandem will produce work that will contribute to moving us out of our place (last, in all too many cases) and tell us stories that not only make us feel better, but do better. We all should be given the opportunity to change, evolve, expand and grow. In them, I see signs of hope -- signs that they have a new level of consciousness, sensitivity and true appreciation and respect for their power to positively shape how we feel, think and behave.
TR: Is it possible that scripted TV is just the wrong place to look for images of and messages that help rather than harm black people? What if we look at other formats?
TB: Melissa Harris-Perry's show is wonderful. Absolutely the best. MSNBC is doing an excellent job with the way they are casting their shows and their panelists. And she injects a lot of humanity into the education. She's entertaining while she is putting out really solid, deep education and information. I think it comes from her being an educator and being a good one. If we could have a few more of those, and if we could get them past cable, then those kinds of things would really help to balance out the stuff that's not doing us any good.
When you do communications programming that distracts and anesthetizes people, you're taking them out of the game. You don't have to do any direct harm to them. So anybody who sits around and watches this mindless stuff, as many of us do -- the data shows that we [African Americans] watch way more television than anyone else -- it's just taking us out. It doesn't do anything for constructive critical thinking. So, we need more Melissas.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.