COMM 290 Special Topics

From Beulah to Awkward Black Girl: Black Women In and On U.S. Television

Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

This seminar course interrogates the cultural and political conditions that provide the context for Black women’s depiction on U.S. television since the 1950s, and examines industry discourses and practices that coincide with shifts in Black women’s visibility on and in television. This course situates television as an apparatus of discursive and ideological power, not simply an entertainment medium.

Course Overview

This seminar course combines the following:

  • Lectures to provide background on how social and political conditions have shaped the shifts in Black women’s visibility in and on television;
  • In-class and out-of-class screenings in order for students to observe and critically examine how Black women’s depictions in television have evolved from the 1950s to the present; and,
  • Instructor and student-led discussion for students to engage in dialogue about the social and political implications of Black women’s representation on television and their presence working in the industry as TV writers, directors, and showrunners.

Course Objectives

  • For students will gain an understanding about how broader cultural discourses of gender and race, as well as the dynamics of the television industry effects Black women’s visibility and representation on television in the U.S.
  • For students to be able to analyze, interpret, and critique (i.e. engage in textual analysis) television depictions of Black women and understand the ideological, political, and social implications of such depictions.
  • For students to further develop their research, writing, analysis, and argumentation skills.

Reading List

D1- Welcome and lecture  

Key concepts: social representation; race-as-representation; media texts; ideology 

  • Icebreaker and overview of COMM 290 Course syllabus

Non-required reading referenced in lecture:

  • Hunt, D. M. (2005.) Making sense of blackness on television. In D. M. Hunt (Ed.), Channeling blackness: Studies on television and race in America (pp. 1-24). New York: Oxford University Press.

D2- Lecture: Why representation matters (Part I)

Key concepts: discourse; power; representation; intertextuality; encoding & decoding; representational intersectionality

Required readings:

  • Hall, S. (2001). Foucault: Power, knowledge and discourse. In M. Weherell, S. Taylor, & S. J. Yates (Eds.), Discourse theory and practice: A reader (pp. 72–81). London: Sage Publications.
  • Higginbotham, E. B. (1992). African-American women’s history and the metalanguage of race. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 17(2), 251–274.

Non-required readings referenced in lecture:

  • Hall, S. (1991). Encoding/decoding. In Hall, S., Hobson, D., Lowe, A., & Willis, P. (Eds.), Culture, media, language: Working papers in cultural studies, 1972-79 (pp. 128-138). London: Routledge.
  • Crenshaw, K. W. (2012). Beyond racism and misogyny: Black feminism and 2 Live Crew. In Kearney M. C. (Ed.), The gender and media reader (pp. 109–123). New York: Routledge.

D3- Lecture: Why representation matters (Part II)

Key concepts: double consciousness; politics of respectability

Required readings:

  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (1994). Of our spiritual strivings. In The souls of black folks (pp. 1-8). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
  • Higginbotham, E. B. (1994). The politics of respectability. In Righteous discontent: The women’s movement in the black Baptist church, 1880-1920 (Revised, pp. 185–230). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

D4- Lecture: Television and Discourses of race in the 1950s

Required readings:

  • Endres, K. L. (2014). Television, 1950s. In M. J. Coleman & L. H. Ganong (Eds.), The social history of the American family: An encyclopedia (pp. 1337–1339). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
  • Jewell, K. S. (1993). Cultural images as symbols of African American womanhood. In From mammy to Miss America and beyond: Cultural images and the shaping of U.S. social policy (pp. 35-54). New York: Routledge. [Read pages 35-45 only]
  • Bogle, D. (2002). The 1950s: The scraps. In Primetime blues: African Americans on network television (pp. 9-91). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Grioux. [Pages 26-41]

D5- Student-led Discussion of Beulah

View before class:

  • Hunter, I. M. (Writer), & Bare, R. (Director). (1952). The waltz [Television series episode]. In T. McKnight (Producer), Culver City, CA: American Broadcasting Company. [Season 3 Episode 3]
  • Curtis, N. (Writer), & Bare, R. (Director). (1952). Beulah goes gardening [Television series episode]. In T. McKnight (Producer), Beulah. Culver City, CA: American Broadcasting Company. [Season 3 Episode 4]

Required readings:

  • Bogle, D. (2002). The 1950s: The scraps. In Primetime blues: African Americans on network television (pp. 9-91). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Grioux. [Read pages 9-13 and 19-26 only]

D6- Lecture: Discourses of blackness in the 1960s and 1970s

Keywords: black power; assimilation; integration

Required readings:

  • Walker, A. The civil rights movement: What good was it? In In search of our mother’s gardens: Womanist prose (pp. 119-129). San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company.
  • Carmichael, S., and Hamilton, C. V. (1967). Black power: Its need and substance.In Black power: The politics of liberation in America (pp. 34-56). New York: Random House.

Non-required readings referenced in lecture:

  • Omi, M., and Winant, H. (2014). The great transformation. In Racial formation in the United States (pp. 161-184). New York: Routledge.

D7- Lecture: Discourses of black womanhood in the late 1960s and early 1970s

Keywords: “quality” and “relevance” television; black women as “superwomen”

Required readings:

  • Office of Policy Planning and Research. (1965). The negro family: The case for national action. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Labor. [Read pp. 5-14, and 29-33 only]
  • Wallace, M. (1999). The myth of the superwoman. In Black macho and the myth of the superwoman (pp. 87–178). New York: Verso. [Read pp. 109-117 only]
  • Beale, F. (1970). Double jeopardy: To be black and female. In T. C. Bambara (Ed.), The black woman: An anthology (pp. 109–122). New York: Pocket Books.

Non-required readings referenced in lecture:

  • Lentz, K. M. (2014). Quality versus relevance: Feminism, race, and the politics of the sign in 1970s television. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, 15(1), 44–93.

D8- Student-led discussion of Julia

View before class:

  • Kanter, H. (Writer and Director). (1968). Mama’s man [Television series episode]. In H. Kanter & B. Wiesen (Producers), Julia. Los Angeles, CA: National Broadcasting Company. [Season 1 Episode 1]
  • Kanter, H. (Writer), Shear, B. (Director). The interview [Television series episode]. In H. Kanter & B. Wiesen (Producers), Julia. Los Angeles, CA: National Broadcasting Company. [Season 1 Episode 2]

Required readings:

  • Shabazz, D. R. (2016). Negotiated boundaries: Production practices and the making of representation in Julia. In M. M. Dalton, & L. R. Linder (Eds.), The sitcom reader: America re-viewed, still skewed (pp. 91-103) Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Bodroghkozy, A. (1992). “Is this what you mean by color TV?” Race, gender, and contested meanings in NBC’s “Julia.” In L. Spigel & D. Mann (Eds.), Private screenings: Television and the female consumer (pp. 142–167). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

D9- In-class screening of Good Times

Episodes:

  • Monte, E., Evans, M., Lear, N., Sommers, J. (Writers), & Kenwith, H. (Director.) Florida the woman [Television series episode]. In J. Elinson, W. J. LeBlanc, A. Manings, and N. Paul (Producers), Good times. Los Angeles, CA: Tandem Productions. [Season 3 Episode 22]
  • Belkin, N., & Belkin, H. (Writers)., & Keith, G. (Director). Florida’s night out [Television series episode]. In Kalish, A. & Kalish, I. (Producers), Good times. Los Angeles, CA: Tandem Productions. [Season 4 Episode 11]

Required readings:

  • Bodroghkozy, A. (2003). Good times in race relations? CBS’s Good Times and the legacy of civil rights in 1970s prime-time television. Screen, 44(4), 404-428.
  • Leonard, D. J. (2013). Consciousness on television: Black power and mainstream narratives. In D. J. Leonard and L. A. Guerrero (Eds.) African Americans on television: Race-ing for ratings (pp. 16-33). Santa Barbara: Praeger.

D10- Student-led Discussion of Good Times

Readings:

  • NONE

D11- Lecture: Television and discourses of blackness in the 1980s

Key concepts: controlling images; welfare; Reganism, multi-channel transition; narrowcasting; 

Required readings:

Non-required readings referenced in lecture:

  • Collins, P. H. (2000). Mammies, matriarchs, and other controlling images. In Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (2nd Ed, pp. 69–96). New York: Routledge.
  • Roach, A. (2014). Television, 1980s. In M. J. Coleman & L. H. Ganong (Eds.), The social history of the American family: An encyclopedia (pp. 1347–1349). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

D12- Fall Break

D13- In-class screening and discussion: The Cosby Show

Episode:

  • Williams, M. (Writer), & Sandrish, J. (Director). (1985). Clair’s Toe [Television series episode]. In M. Carsey, C. Finstra, & C. Sneider (Producers), The Cosby show. Brooklyn, NY: National Broadcasting Company.

Required readings:

  • Gray, H. (1995). The transformation of the television industry and the social production of blackness. In Watching race: Television and the struggle for blackness (pp. 57–69). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

D14- Lecture: Black women behind the scenes of television

Keywords: burden of representation, crossover television

Required readings:

  • Henderson, F. D. (2011). The culture behind closed doors: Issues of gender and race in the writers’ room. Cinema Journal, 50(2), 145–152.
  • Hunt, D. (2005). Black content, white control. In D. Hunt (Ed.), Channeling blackness: Studies of television and race in America (2nd ed.) (pp. 267–302). New York: Oxford University Press.

Non-required readings referenced in lecture:

  • Collins, P. H. (2000). The power of self-definition. In Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (pp. 97-122). New York: Routledge.
  • Erigha, M. (2015). Rhimes, Scandal, and the politics of crossing over. The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research, 45(1), 10–15.

D15- Lecture: Discourses of black feminism from the late 1980s onward

Key concepts: Black feminism; womanism

Required readings:

  • Walker, A. (1983). Womanist. In In search of our mother’s gardens: Womanist prose (pp. xi-xii). San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company.
  • hooks, b.(2000). Feminism: A movement to end sexist oppression. In Feminist theory: From margin to center (pp. 18-33). Boston: South End Press.
  • Collins, P. H. (1996). What’s in a name? Womanism, black feminism, and beyond. The Black Scholar, 26(1), 9–17.

D16- Student-led discussion of A Different World

View before class:

  • Collins, J., Friedman, M. (Writers), & Allen, D. (Director). (1991). Almost working girl [Television series]. In Allen, D., & Bowser, Y. L. (Producers) A different world. Universal City, CA: Carsey-Werner Company. [Season 5, episode 4] [Netflix]
  • Berenbeim, G. (Writer), & Allen, D. (Director). (1992). Bedroom at the top. In Allen, D., & Bowser, Y. L. (Producers) A different world. Universal City, CA: Carsey-Werner Company. [Season 5, episode 16] [Netflix]

Required readings:

  • Gray, H. (1995). It’s a different world where you come from. In Watching race: Television and the struggle for blackness (pp. 93–112). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

D17- Screening and discussion of Yvette Lee Bowser’s Living Single

Episode:

  • Bowser, Y. L. (Writer), & Singletary, T. (Director). (1993). I’ll take your man [Television series episode]. In Rickey, P. (Producer) Living single. Burbank, CA: SisterLee Productions and Warner Bros. Television.

Required readings:

  • Haggins, B. L. (1999). There’s no place like home: The American dream, African American identity, and the situation comedy. The Velvet Light Trap, 43, 23-36.

D18- Screening and discussion of Mara Brock Akil’s Girlfriends

Episode:

  • Akil, M. B. (Writer), & Garner, Leonard R. (Director). (2000). One night stand? [Television series episode]. In Stokes, M. E., and Fukuto, M. (Producers) Girlfriends. Los Angeles, CA: Happy Camper Productions, Grammnet Productions, and Paramount Network Television.

Required readings:

  • Guerrero, L. A. (2013). Single black female: Representing the modern black woman in Living Single. In D. J. Leonard & L. Guerrero (Eds.), African Americans on television: Race-ing for ratings (pp. 177–190). Santa Barbara: Praegar.
  • Genz, S. (2010). Singled out: Postfeminism’s “new woman” and the dilemma of “having it all.” The Journal of Popular Culture, 43(1), 97–119.

D19- Lecture: Black girls on cable television

Key concepts: girl power, multiculturalism and diversity

Readings:

  • Banet-Weiser, S. (2004). Girls rule! Gender, feminism, and nickelodeon. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(2), 119–139.
  • Banet-Weiser, S. (2007). Consuming race on Nickelodeon. In Kids rule! Nickelodeon and consumer citizenship (pp. 142-177). Durham: Duke University Press. [Read pages 142-147 and 152-165 only]

D20- Student-led discussion of The Proud Family

View before class:

  • Spencer, D. (Writer), McCarthy, D. (Director). She’s got game [Television series episode]. In M. J. Sichon (Producer), The Proud family. Los Angeles, CA: Disney Enterprises. [Season 1 Episode 7]
  • Stamps, W. (Writer), & Smith, B. W. (Director). (2002). Behind family lines [Television series episode]. In G. Higgins, & M. J. Sichon (Producers), The Proud family. Los Angeles, CA: Disney Enterprises. [Season 2 Episode 5]

Required readings:

  • Knight, C. S. (2016). Pride and prejudice: Pervasiveness of colorism and the animated series Proud Family. Howard Journal of Communications, 27(1), 53-67.

D21- In-class screening and discussion of That’s So Raven

Episode:

  • TBD

Required readings:

  • Bell, Ramona J. J. (2015). Racializing Raven: Race and gender in That’s So Raven. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 37, 55-66.

D22- Lecture: Black identity and cable television in the early 2000s

Key concepts: branding blackness; quality television

Required readings:

  • Gray, H. (2005). Where have all the black shows gone? In Cultural moves: African Americans and the politics of representation (pp. 77-88). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Fuller, J. (2010). Branding blackness on US cable television. Media, Culture & Society, 32(2), 285–305.
  • Lotz, A. D. (2004). Textual (im)possibilities in the U.S. post‐network era: Negotiating production and promotion processes on lifetime’s Any Day Now. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(1), 22–43.

Non-required readings referenced in lecture

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (2003). Out of focus-out of sync take 3: A report on the film and television industry. Baltimore. Retrieved from naacp.org

D23- Lecture & Discussion: Television representations of queer black & bi-racial women

Required readings:

  • Warn, S. (2006). Radical acts: Biracial visibility and The L Word. In Kim, A. and McCabe, J. (Eds.) Reading The L Word: Outing contemporary television (pp. 189-198). London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Moore, M. R. (2015). Between women TV: Toward the mainstreaming of black lesbian masculinity and black queer women in community. Black Camera, An International Film Journal, 6(2), 201–216.

Non-required readings referenced in lecture:

  • Joseph, R. L. (2013). Televising the bad race girl: Jennifer Beals on The L Word, the race card, and the punishment of mixed-race blackness. In Transcending blackness: From the new millennium mulatta to the exceptional multiracial (pp. 37-66). Durham: Duke University Press.

D24- Lecture: Black women and reality television

Required readings:

  • Warner, K. J. (2015). They gon’ think you loud regardless: Ratchetness, reality television, and black womanhood. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, 30(1), 129–153.
  • Pickens, T. A. (2015). Shoving aside the politics of respectability: Black women, reality TV, and the ratchet performance. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 25(1), 41-58.

D25- Lecture: Discourse of colorblindness and postraciality

Key concepts: colorblindness; post-raciality; post-racism; blindcasting; neo-platoon show 

Required readings:

  • Brook, V. (2009). Convergent ethnicity and the neo-platoon show: Recombining difference in the postnetwork era. Television & New Media, 10(4), 331–353.
  • Joseph, R. L. (2016). Strategically ambiguous Shonda Rhimes: Respectability politics of a black woman showrunner. Souls 18(2), 302-320.

Recommended readings:

  • Doane, A. (“Woody”). (2014). Shades of colorblindess: Rethinking racial ideology in the United States. In S. Nilsen & S. E. Turner (Eds.), The colorblind screen: Television in post-racial America (pp. 15–38). New York: New York University Press.
  • Warner, K. J. (2015). “I’m glad no one was hung up on the race thing”: Grey’s Anatomy and the innovation of blindcasting in s post-racial era. In The cultural politics of colorblind TV casting (pp. 62–94). New York: Routledge.

D26- Thanksgiving

D27 Student-led discussion of Scandal

View before class:

  • Rhimes, S. (Writer), & Verica, T. (Director). (2013). It’s handled [Television series episode]. In Collins, H., and Evslin, N. (Producers), Scandal. Los Angeles, CA: Shondaland Productions, and ABC Studios. [Season 3, episode 1] [Netflix and Amazon]

Required readings:

  • Cartier, N. (2014). Black women on-screen as future texts: A new look at black pop culture representations. Cinema Journal, 53(4), 150–157.
  • Chatman, D. (2017). Black Twitter and the politics of viewing Scandal. In J. Gray, C. Sandvoss, & C. L. Harrington (Eds.), Fandom: Identities and communities in a mediated world (Second). New York: New York University Press.

D28- Student-led discussion of Being Mary Jane

View before class:

  • Akil, M. B. (Writer), & Akil, S. (Director). (2013). Pilot [Television series episode]. In Brown, C. (Producer) Being Mary Jane. Los Angeles, CA: Akil Productions, and BET Television. [Season 1, episode 1] [Netflix and Amazon]

Required readings:

  • Springer, K. (2007). Divas, evil bitches, and bitter black women: African American women in postfeminist and post-civil rights popular culture. In Y. Tasker & D. Negra (Eds.), Interrogating Post-Feminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture (pp. 249–276). Raleigh, NC: Duke University Press.

D29- Student-led discussion of Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

View before class:

  • Rae, I. (Writer). (2011). The stop sign [Web series episode]. In The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Los Angeles: Issa Rae Productions. [Season 1 Episode]
  • Rae, I., & Smith, O. C. (Writers). (2011). The dance [Web series episode]. In The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Los Angeles: Issa Rae Productions. [Season 1 Episode 5]
  • Rae, I., & Oliver, T. (Writers). (2011). The date [Web series episode]. In The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Los Angeles: Issa Rae Productions. [Season 1 Episode 7] [YouTube]

Required readings:

  • Cruz, A. (2015). (Mis)playing blackness: Rendering black female sexuality in The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. In T. Melancon & J. M. Braxton (Eds.), Black female sexualities (pp. 73–88). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Cunningham, P. L. (2013). “Get a crew . . . and make it happen”: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and new media’s potential for self-definition. In D. J. Leonard & L. Guerrero (Eds.), African Americans on television: Race-ing for ratings (pp. 402–413). Santa Barbara: Praegar.

D30- In-class screening and discussion of Insecure

Episode:

  • Rae, I., Willmore, L. (Writers), and Matsoukas, M. (Director). (2016). Insecure as fuck [Television series episode]. In Aniobi, A., Huber, S. F., & Mitchell, E. (Producers) Insecure. Los Angeles, CA: HBO Entertainment.

 

Advertisements