Admittedly, I was suspicious of news that Tameka “Tiny” Cottle and Antonia “Toya” Carter—concubines of hip-hop royalty, T.I. and Lil Wayne, respectively—were going to have their own reality show on BET: Was this BET’s answer to The Real Housewives of Atlanta? Did we really need to see The Baby Mamas of Bankhead?
But Tiny & Toya, which airs its season finale tonight, surprised me. It’s far from being yet another entrant into the Coonery Hall of Shame.
Granted, the show is not without faults. If I weren’t a Southern boy, I’d probably watch Tiny & Toya and wonder whether slavery ended only a week ago, given the intensity of their accents. The tough twangs aside, this show offers a bit more depth than you would imagine.
I wasn’t expecting to see Toya fight to keep her drug-abusing mother off the streets of New Orleans or Tiny cope with a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s. I anticipated shopping at Lenox Square Mall, fights at Magic City and random trips to tattoo parlors.
But so what if it did? Tiny & Toya is not paving the way for the destruction of black people.
one-dimensional and rely too heavily on racial, gender and class stereotypes for laughs. But welcome to the world of television, where “real” life is frequently played for laughs.
Far too often some black people feel compelled to label anything perceived as “ghetto” as a minstrel show. Tiny & Toya is the latest scapegoat, dubbed by its detractors as a disgrace to black women. Others have branded the show reality TV’s answer to Garfield & Odie.
Perhaps both Tiny and Toya are a little too dependent on the famous men in their lives, but Garfield & Odie? What’s next? Calling Frankie & Neffe—BET’s reality show featuring Keyshia Cole’s mother and sister—the new Lilo & Stitch?
This sort of condemnation often reads as elitist and ignores the fact that no matter how embarrassing these images may seem to the black upper crust, they represent a very real slice of life for many television viewers.
If you judge them solely by their hair color, number of tattoos and accents, it’s likely you’ll never get a chance to see Tiny & Toya as anything more than a caricature. And like it or not, the audiences in which these shows appeal to deserve their own programming, too.
I tried to watch an episode of Turner Broadcasting’s House of Payne. I didn’t make it past 90 seconds. I’ve laughed more when I had my wisdom teeth pulled.
However, I’m no longer complaining. The show isn’t for me, and that’s OK. Tyler Perry’s programming caters to a demographic long ignored by those in the entertainment industry—including the few blacks working in it. Instead of whining about not seeing himself reflected on television, Perry went out and put himself and like-minded people on stage, and ultimately the big and small screens.
TBS may be the TV hub for Tyler Perry, but sister network TNT has provided Jada Pinkett Smith an outlet for her middle-class medical drama, Hawthorne.
Each of us is afforded that same opportunity.
Yes, it’s hard to break into television, particularly for people of color. But with the expansion of cable, now more than ever, we can show that we are as diverse a culture as any other.
For those who sit behind their computers, writing rants about the sort of programming they feel is beneath them, pull your nose down long enough to realize complaints alone won’t solve the problem.
If you want to do better, go out and make something.
Tiny & Toya did, and right now they’re winning on TV, baybee.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.