Liz Fe creates informative content to entertain and educate her readers.
Black people are human. We eat, we breathe, we sleep, and sometimes we do those things poorly. We make mistakes, sometimes because of our circumstances and sometimes because of our bad decision-making skills. And yet, in film and television, black characters are often relegated to a single dimension: the one-dimensional "strong" black woman or man who can do it all but lacks any real flaws or vulnerabilities.
In other words, they're perfect—and that's not realistic at all! There's nothing wrong with strong characters; just don't expect every black character to be this way. Strong characters need room to breathe alongside their weak counterparts so that audiences can see how complex black lives truly are—and how varied those lives can be within a single community.
Flawed Black Characters are Human
The problem with so many Black characters is that they're written as if all black people share the same values, desires and goals. The reality is that black people are not all cut from the same cloth; we have many different backgrounds, cultures and experiences that shape who we are as individuals.
Black men in film and television should be shown as complex individuals with nuanced personalities, just like their white counterparts. We should see them as doctors, lawyers, teachers and criminals—just like their white counterparts! For example: there's nothing wrong with having a black character who is afraid of dogs or cats because they were bitten by one! Or maybe they had an unpleasant experience while visiting someone's home whose pet was running around unleashed? The point is: there's no reason why these characters couldn't exist in film/TV if they were written well enough (and I'm sure some great writers out there could pull this off).
Being Black is Not a Monolith
The world needs to see that being black is not a monolith. Blackness is not one thing, just like how white people are not all the same. We are all different from one another, and our experiences vary across the board. There is no such thing as a "typical" experience for anyone—and neither should there be for black characters on screen.
There's something about seeing yourself reflected in media that makes you feel validated and understood; it validates your existence within society, which is something many minorities desperately need after years of marginalization within their own community at large (and sometimes even within their own families). By showing us diverse forms of blackness on screen, we can finally take steps toward understanding what it means to be black in America today—and hopefully begin dismantling myths about race along the way
Complex Black Characters are Human
One of the biggest problems with representation in film is that there are few characters who are allowed to be complex. The vast majority of black characters are either “the token black friend” or “the magical negro” and every once in a while, you can find an addition to your collection of stereotypes like “urban thug.”
While these types of characters do exist and often serve as the impetus for white character development, they don’t represent real life and they don’t give audiences a chance to see themselves on screen. Instead, we need more nuanced depictions of black lives that reflect the diversity within our community and depict us as full humans rather than just one-dimensional caricatures
Read More From Reelrundown
Representation in the Writer's Room
As a black man, I know how much it means to see yourself on screen. I understand what it feels like when you feel like your story isn't being told or represented in the way you want it to be. That's why we need more black writers moving forward.
It's also important to remember that these characters are not just characters, but they're people with deep histories that they bring into every scene they're in—just like any other character would have their own history and experiences, regardless of their race or gender identity.
Better Black Characters = Better Stories
Writers and producers should understand that black characters don't have to be perfect. It's important that they're complex, flawed, human, and relatable. These are the kinds of characters who can break through to audiences and show us something new about ourselves.
There's a lot more opportunity for storytelling where black characters can simply be human—and this is what we need on screen right now: stories that don't rely on stereotypes or caricatures; stories with real conflict; stories where black actors get to play nuanced roles without having their race thrown at them as some sort of twist (see: Get Out).
As long as there are people who still believe that all black people are inherently cool but super violent, intelligent but angry/mean spirited, etc., then we need writers who know how to capture the nuances of our experiences so we don't have to keep seeing these same tired tropes depicted over and over again.
We need more complex, flawed Black characters on screen. This is not to say we should celebrate the flaws, let alone mediocrity. We should be striving for excellence, as all humans should. But when it comes to how we portray black people on television and film, I think we would do well to see them as just that: human beings with flaws and struggles.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of representation and think that every black character needs to be “perfect” or “good enough”; after all, this is what many of us have been conditioned to think by society. But the truth is, flawed characters allow us space for diversity within ourselves. Nuanced narratives reflect reality better than any stereotype could ever hope for.
- "The Catch-22 of Black TV," Udoka Nwansi, The Michigan Daily, December 5, 2021
- "10 Movies Where Black People Actually Get to Be the Main Character," Zoe Christen Jones, Mel Magazine, August 2020
- "Do Not Adjust Your TV: Complex Black Characters are Coming to Your Screens," Lilian Uzokwe, Bronze Magazine, September 17, 2016
© 2022 Liz Fe