black television

black television
   The converging histories of Afro-Caribbean immigration and the mass expansion of television in 1950s Britain have belied their continuing divergence on a predominantly white broadcasting medium. Programmes targeted at Afro-Caribbean communities seek to redress the historical imbalance of black stereotyping, misrepresentation and mainstream marginalization on British television, addressing specific Afro-Caribbean cultural issues in various genres.
   During the 1950s and 1960s, occasional dramas were produced against an impending national panic over race, immigration and an emergent racist politics which culminated in the speeches of Enoch Powell. John Elliot’s A Man From The Sun (1956) dispelled colonial myths about the mother country from a working-class Afro-Caribbean perspective, while John Hopkins’ Fable (1965) caused a political furore by depicting a British apartheid state based on black superiority. Theatrical adaptations confronted issues of interraciality in Ted Willis’s Hot Summer Night (1952), and from positions of black inferiority in Barry Reckford’s You in Your Small Corner (1962). In contrast, hugely popular shows including The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958–78), situation comedies ‘Till Death Do Us Part (1966–74), Love Thy Neighbour (1972–5), Mixed Blessings (1978), and even the all-black comedy The Fosters (1976), the black police drama Wolcott (1981) and ‘explanatory’ documentaries such as Them and Us (1970) have tended to reinforce racial stereotypes.
   The first all-black soap Empire Road (1978–9), alongside the appearance of black professionals in Black Silk (1985) (and also John Elliot’s black lawyerbased Rainbow City (1967)) and crime drama South of the Border (1988) positively challenged damaging black representations in traditionally white domains and genres.
   Mainstream institutional bodies like the London Minorities Unit (LMU) established in 1980, and the BBC’s Afro-Caribbean Programmes Unit (1989) and Multicultural Programmes Department (1990) were created to consider ‘minority’ audiences. The LMU’s first production Skin (1980) introduced the current affairs magazine format adopted by Ebony (1982), Channel 4’s Black on Black (1982) and its revised incarnations Bandung File and Black Bag (1991). Channel 4’s 1982 launch included a groundbreaking multicultural remit and, along with BBC2, the channel has broadcast numerous dramas such as We the Ragamuffin (1992), the inner city Blazed (1995) and Caryl Phillip’s The Final Passage (1997). There have also been the black comedies Desmonds (1989) and The Real McCoy and documentaries like Lest We Forget (1990) and Windrush (1998).
   The creative and institutional shift in black programming in the 1980s abandoned a troubled race relations paradigm to convey the pluralities of black experience. Nevertheless, segregationist aspects and a reluctance in broadcasting to risk alienating mainstream white audiences, particularly by commissioning cutting-edge programmes from more independent black production companies, continues to impede the development of black television.
   Further reading
    Ross, K. (1996) Black and White Media: Black Images in Popular Film and Television, Cambridge: Polity Press (includes a section robustly discussing multicultural programming).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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