What 2017's TV Spoofs Say About Black Joy & Representation

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Fans of the Netflix series Dear White People can rest assured that the second season is coming. The show’s stars, like Antoinette Robertson who plays Coco, have been Instagramming away on set while filming. On Thursday, Entertainment Weekly exclusively released yet another spoiler from the upcoming season. Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe — who became the first ever Black woman to take home an Emmy for best writing on a comedy series — will be joining the cast as a recurring character by the name of P Ninny. According to EW, P Ninny is “a braggadocious MC who stars on a ridiculous Love & Hip Hop-like reality series called Trap-House Tricks.” This news means more screentime from Waithe in 2018 — which is truly a blessing because… bae — but I’m even more excited about the possibility of another epic Black TV parody.
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If you’ll recall from the first season of Dear White People, the residents of the historically Black Armstrong-Parker dorm at their fictional Ivy League, Winchester University, had a weekly ritual for part of the year: Defamation Wednesdays. Every hump day, these students of color would gather to watch a political drama called Defamation that was modeled after Scandal. It was the “epicenter of Black college life” for them. This viewing experience was a necessary break from their near-constant efforts to resist and organize against the racism they experienced on campus. Not only was “Defamation” a great example of creativity and comedic genius from the Dear White People brains, it inadvertently offered a richer portrayal of the Black experience — part of which is engaging with representations of oneself onscreen.
During an interview on Good Ones, Vulture’s podcast about jokes, series creator Justin Simien talked about Scandal as a shared cultural experience for Black folks and why it was imortant to capture for his own show. “If you’re a black person of a certain age, you’ve absolutely been to that viewing party,” he explained. I can certainly attest to that. My Thursday afternoons were often spent figuring out which crew I would watch Scandal with later on in the evening. “What was so funny about it for me, as a person who wasn’t watching week to week, is just how caught up everybody was in it. The show is a lot of fun, but watching people watch the show, that was the gag,” said Simien.
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HBO’s Insecure, the relationship dramedy created by Issa Rae also took advantage of the Black TV-watching experience to bring its own characters together. Due North was a period drama about slavery introduced in season 2. Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and Tasha (Dominique Perry) watched it together. Issa (Rae) watched it with her homegirls. Lawrence watched it with his homeboy. It was a source of Black culture, but more importantly, Black joy, for the characters on Insecure. Due North, like many of the shows we watch, was an opportunity to check out from their work problems, relationship drama, and rising rent.
The creators of both Insecure and Dear White People used their parodies to offer commentary on Black culture. Due North examined how the institution of slavery could influence today’s understandings of relationships. Defamation laser-focused on the illicit romance between a white president and the powerful Black political strategist that runs DC around him. Given that Dear White People’s main character was trying to introduce her fellow Black community to her new white boo, watching Defamation together became the perfect setting for the couple to finally discuss their cultural differences. When Spike Lee revived She’s Gotta Have It as a Netflix series this year, it also included quick glimpses of a fictional show called She Assed For It. This game show spoof offered women the opportunity to win a booty makeover if they won. Clearly this was Lee’s commentary on what he feels is an overindulgence in Black women’s interest in plastic surgery. It was crass, ridiculous, and clearly judgmental, but we can’t ignore how he chose to incorporate a piece of TV to do it.
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All of these spoofs and parodies emphasize the need for Black representation in TV and movies. The need to show Black people on-screen is about more than diversity quotas. It’s about the outcomes and conversations that occur as a result of Black people seeing themselves.
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