Entertainment

As TV Tries to Get More Diverse, Black History Returns to the Spotlight

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith in HBO’s “Bessie”
Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith in HBO’s “Bessie”

(The Washington Post) – Most of the people who hold jobs behind the camera in Hollywood are white and male, and despite the recent unflattering coverage of this tendency in a community that prides itself on its liberalism, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for major change. But the successes of shows like “Scandal” and “Empire” have at least forced television to recognize that more diverse casts can be an asset. This fall, the new television season brings us, among other things, an FBI training class full of people of color, another Asian American family comedy, a black Jimmy Olsen working with Supergirl, an adaptation of the “Rush Hour” franchise that seems designed for Chinese TV audiences even more than American ones, Delroy Lindo as a boomtown sheriff, and Morris Chestnut as “the Beethoven of private pathologists,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

But the result of the diversity debate that I’m most excited about isn’t on stage at the Television Critics Association press tour, from which I’ll be reporting for the next couple of weeks. As networks try to find their own way to satisfy the increasingly visible hunger for stories about people of color, they’re greenlighting projects that don’t just feature African American actors, but that delve into black history. It’s as if television’s suddenly remembered that “Roots” was one of the most successful spectacles in television history.

WGN America, which has tried to brand itself with smart historical shows like “Manhattan,” which chronicles the development of the atomic bomb, is trying to start buzz against “Underground,” a series it has planned for 2016 about slaves on a Macon, Ga., plantation who decide to try to make a break for the Underground Railroad. John Legend, who with Common won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Glory,” the track they wrote for Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” will be doing music for “Underground.”

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