As the TV industry celebrates Black History Month, African-American viewers say they‘re seeing more of themselves and their stories on the small screen but want to see even more inclusive content that reflects their experiences.
Today, there are nearly 50 scripted series on broadcast, cable and streaming services that feature Black leads or predominantly Black casts. While that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 559 scripted TV shows offered in 2021, according to FX research, industry observers say it‘s certainly an improvement over what was on television a decade ago.
While several iconic and popular shows will leave the air this year (ABC’s Black-ish, OWN’s Queen Sugar, TNT’s Claws and Showtime’s Black Monday), there are plenty of new shows aiming to fill the gap (Amazon Prime Video’s Harlem, ABC’s Queens, Starz’s Run The World and ABC’s The Wonder Years). Also on tap is the much-anticipated March return of FX’s original comedy series Atlanta, starring Emmy-winner Donald Glover.
Black viewers are noticing the increase in content. According to Horowitz‘s recent FOCUS: Black: Consumer Engagement report, 55% of viewers said that they are seeing more Black actors as lead characters in scripted TV shows. More importantly for distributors, two in three Black viewers say that seeing Black characters and communities portrayed in positive ways positively impacts their decision to watch a show or a movie, according to the report.
While the report shows that viewers are reacting positively to the increase in Black images currently on-screen, Horowitz Research chief revenue officer and insights and strategy lead Adriana Waterston said there’s a desire to see even more diversity and inclusion within those characters and storylines. Indeed, Horowitz reported that 66% of Black TV viewers wanted to see more TV shows and movies that showcase the diversity of the Black experience here in the U.S.
“This is an audience that in itself is incredibly diverse in a lot of ways, including cultural diversity, religious diversity and lifestyle diversity,” Waterston said. “There are so many differences that can be celebrated, and consumers are now saying that it’s not just enough for the representation of Black audiences to be good in numbers and quality. They are saying, ‘I want to really see myself represented,’ and that requires a level of understanding of the audience and a level of nuance.”
Shows like Netflix‘s French-produced series Lupin, about a Senegal-born man looking to avenge his father’s death in Paris, and CBS‘s Bob Hearts Abishola — which takes a comedic look at immigrant life in America — have begun to help shine a light on diversity within the African-American community.
“Current statistics and research substantiate that the U.S. Black population is not monolithic,” said One Caribbean Television president of sales and marketing Mark Walton. “At a time when Black-themed content is in demand, telling the stories of Black immigrants, primarily from Africa and the Caribbean, and their descendants, undoubtedly provides an opportunity to attract millions of viewers, many of whom rarely see themselves reflected in the narrative of being Black in America.”
Waterston added: “The awakening to the dangers of stereotypical representations that was so damaging for so long has made people become more sensitive to on-screen portrayals. The next phase is not only being sensitive but being inclusive.” ■
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