Monday, February 27, 2017

Core Response- Race in Television the Oscars etc_ India Wilson

The past week has been a particularly volatile one, as it relates to race in television and film and popular depictions of race. As a member of the screenwriting program, and a young half black girl, this subject is one that likely permeates my thoughts more than that of someone not in my situation. How do I want to represent race? Will people buy scripts that deviate from popular depictions of race?

While it may not be particularly novel to address the Oscars 'snafu' last night, I can't help but comment, particularly in this context. Last night's Oscars come a year after the "Oscars so white controversy" and were noticeably different. There were many more black attendees, more black nominees and the main tension of the show was the battle between Moonlight, a film depicting the life/experiences of a black gay man in florida, and La La Land, a movie loved by many, but also panned on blogs/tumblrs/ and other op-ed sites for its embrace of white culture and use of black culture as a prop for those characters. This tension ultimately gave way to one of the better live TV moments in recent years in which the wrong winner was announced and the Oscars were physically taken from the predominately white La La Land cast & crew and handed to the predominately black cast & crew of Moonlight.

I'm left thinking that without the racial tension between the two potential winners, the moment wouldn't have been quite as shocking, there would've been less hanging on it. This moment in television history provided a more explicit look at the changing and controversial landscape of modern television. While the show celebrates film, it's broadcast through the television medium and sends a message out nationally (and internationally) and simultaneously (one of the last things that brings people together to watch live TV - other than the Superbowl) about what artistic works are being appreciated and what makes money.

Lastly, the show also related closely to some questions from the reading. In Herman Gray's piece, The Transformation of the Television Industry and the Social Production of Blackness, he writes "The recognition and engagement with blackness were not for a moment driven by sudden cultural interest in black matters or some noble aesthetic goals on the part of executives in all phases of the industry" (68). Here, Gray indicates the rise in black media as driven by commercial gain rather than by a larger movement for diversity. I would argue that the dramatic changes in oscar focus this year were motivated by many of the same causes (i.e. finding a new market and avoiding backlash that would hurt on a fiscal level).

Furthermore, while the show's speeches and best picture win largely focused on diversity many of the nominees in each category, aside from moonlight, fit into the same racial tropes and failed to communicate a great deal about diversity in the industry. Additionally, when looking at the actual landscape of television now, in another period in which we see a dramatic rise in television geared toward black audiences, I see Gray's sentiment that, "In the end, black programs and the audiences they could deliver were worth the risk because black audiences often have fewer options and therefore depend on commercial television for their primary programming choices" (68) strongly echoed. Most black-centered shows are on network television, rather than cable, with one or two notable exceptions on streaming services. I believe that in many ways this still reflects the commercial aim of targeting black people confined to the network sphere and exploiting them, more so than it indicates any kind of moral impetus to bring a diversity of perspectives to television.

Much as we see in the debate in Esposito's retelling of Ugly Betty, executive seem to still be filling a quota.


  1. I agree that the mistake wouldn't have been as shocking had it not been for the racial tension between the two nominees. You point out how we gather to watch an award show on Television that centered around Film, which should be obvious but I think you make an interesting point of conversation. Rather than separate spaces, how does the relationship between film and television inform or shape the social-cultural landscape of film and of television?

    1. Alyssa, I want to piggyback on this comment because I think you and India are on to something interesting here. The racial tension between the two film nominees is definitely what powered the shock of the mistake. I'm wondering what it means to have that moment broadcast and to have those commenting on it (in news articles/blogs/social media) talk about the moment as "good TV". I've seen the moment likened to the Super Bowl upset this year which both emphasizes the 'liveness' of both events and speaks to our desire to see live events on television not 'go as planned' so to speak. I wonder how race fits into the particular category here as a part of making "good TV"? How does the Oscar upset visualize race in a way that is particular TO tv or make a particular use of the liveness of the event to create visual spectacle?