In Focus: Exploring Black Representation in Entertainment
December 22, 2016•47 min
After back to back years of #OscarsSoWhite, 2016 has opened up promising new opportunities for black Americans in entertainment. In this special episode, The Takeaway is exploring the history and rise of African-Americans in television, film, and theater. Here’s what you’ll find in today’s show: Scott Heath is a cultural theorist and professor of English at Georgia State University. He says there has been a marked shift in the last several decades when it comes to the ways black stories are presented. It's been 25 years since Julie Dash's film "Daughters of the Dust" was released. It was the first movie directed by an African-American woman to receive a theatrical release in the U.S., and the only film to date by a black woman that has been added to the National Film Registry. Dash explores the evolution of black women in filmmaking, and the challenges that still lie ahead. Legendary producer, writer, and director Norman Lear says he wasn't aware he was making history when he first introduced a family like “The Jeffersons” in 1975, but that’s exactly what he did. He discusses how sitcoms can engage viewers on topics of race and class through social commentary. The intersection of race and culture can not only entertain, but also educate and help change the lens through which history and society is viewed, according to Jennifer Nikki Kidwell and Scott Sheppard, the co-creators and performers in the thought-provoking stage play, "The Underground Railroad Game.” There's been so much buzz this year about the diversity in movies and television shows, and the African American Film Critics Association is confident that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag won’t surface again this year. Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association, explains. Actress and singer Leslie Uggams has seen the entertainment industry change in recent decades — she’s been in show business since the age of six, and since then, she's moved seamlessly between film, television, and theater. Uggams is a cultural pioneer, a woman who saw her break-through role come in 1977 when she played the role of "Kizzy Reynolds" in the television miniseries "Roots.” Thought lost for decades, work has begun recently to restore "Cane River," a little seen film by Horace Jenkins, a black director who died months after the film's premiere in 1982. Horace Jenkins's son, Sacha Jenkins, was just 11 at the time of his father's death and has never seen a completed version of the film. A writer and director himself, he is in the early stages of research for a documentary on the making of "Cane River," and joins The Takeaway to discuss his father's legacy today.