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Blacks In Soaps or How To Be On a Daytime Drama For Years and Never Have a Real Storyline


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IT'S A MATTER OF OPINION

Blacks In Soaps or How To Be On a Daytime Drama For Years and Never Have a Real Storyline

by Geri Jefferson

Black people on daytime dramas, by and large, are in a terrible state. They can't have their own series because that would be discrimination (and what little is on nighttime television is generally ill-conceived) so they get thrown into existing stories where they are clearly 1) not wanted 2) not portrayed properly and 3) sadly, but obviously true - simply not altogether real. For the most part they are stereotyped and one dimensional.

Back in the old days (and sometimes the new days, too!) Black folks were not accepted as being real people with real problems (other than wine, women and the corner song) and real aspirations (other than moving from one ghetto to another).

Now the media has decided to let the Black folk, out of the closet, so to speak, and into the light of day.

Well, glory be! So now the Black folks have been ushered into the big time! They are clever pimps (Tyrone on All My Children), reformed drunks (Paul Grant on Days of Our Lives), and - this is the big one folks - dead heroes (Officer Clay Watson on All My Children).

But let me not be unfair, all that is black is not necessarily bad - so sayeth the daytime seers - and we find "those people" are also ingrained in other fields. Doctoring!!! That nobles of professions (aside from the Police Force) has opened its pearly gates. There is Black Dr. Clem Moultrie on Ryan's Hope (his shining hour was when he rose in almost eloquent defense of a female Mexican paraprofessional who, accused of theft, was found innocent). There is the lovely Dr. Jesse Rawlings on The Doctors who is yet to be graced with a real reason for being on the show in the first place (other than being Black, of course). There is the aspiring lady doctor on Days of Our Lives, Valerie Grant. Despite her humble beginnings Mom is a racist and Pop is that on-again off-again drunk mentioned earlier - Paul Grant)...despite her volatile beginnings - she was having a platonic affair with a white man - she will be triumphant. She is going to Howard University to study medicine. (Of course, Howard is a fine school, but isn't it interesting that she isn't going to Stanford University or Cornell? Did the writers consider that sending Val to a Black school would stick out like a sore thumb?)

Then of course there are the Grants on All My Children. Frank is a doctor, his wife a social worker, his mistress/fiancee - a nurse. This happy threesome's problems are such that anyone, any race, just about any religion can relate to, and that's the key. Something to which almost anyone can relate.

Okay. By now you may be confused. You've been shown the "good" ones and the "bad" ones. Therein, my friends, lies part of the problem. ONES!!! On any daytime series - the proportions are really off key. For every ten, sometimes fifteen or twenty characters, there might be one or two Black characters! And there are (even in our enlightened age) still some stories with no Black population at all! (I'm not talking about extras, I'm talking about main characters).

Black people are not so few in numbers as they are portrayed.

Even if your television has no picture tube - you can usually tell what role the Black cast addition is playing. They will be 1) a member of the medical professional 2) a member of the police force 3) a member of the crime "profession."

When will someone realize that there are Black people who teach, write, sell, sew, paint; there are plumbers, carpenters, professors...there are entrepeneurs and the independently wealthy. There are Black women who, in addition to cleaning house and singing hymns...do other things...

When programmers come under fire for not having representation of the viewing population - the comments are "Blacks are never satisfied. We made them janitors, maids, butlers, chauffeurs and they clamored for professional roles. Now we're casting Blacks as professionals, and still they complain."

The answer to that can only be...are all pies apple? Is all ice cream vanilla? Are all Blacks negroes?

And for goodness sakes, why do people say, "...well there's one, what more do you want? You've got a pimp sure, but look, we gave you a doctor!" If that same psychology were reversed, there would be a lot of unhappy people...because they would realize how unfair and foolish their statements were.

If a foreigner came to this country - they'd never find our proudly publicized "melting pot" country portrayed on daytime television. They'd never see all our wonderful equality on the screen!

The only near equality seems to be in the commercial interludes. At least there, a Black banker, stewardess, lawyer, accountant, housewife, professional...all can be seen. Why? Because the advertises want to sell their producers and, for them, the money spenders have no color. Too bad they can't all be hired to work in daytime television!

Television has an obligation not to perpetuate discriminatory programming that supposedly we, as mature adults, reject in total and that offends a large portion of the viewing audience.

There is no reason why the Black race can't be portrayed as intelligently as the Anglo-Saxon race.

In closing I must draw your attention to a recent finding by the United States Civil Rights Commission that truly speaks for itself. They charged that the TV industry was guilty of perpetuating racial and sexual stereotypes. Need anything else be said?

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume, you shall assume

For every atom belonging to me as good

As belongs to you

- Walt Whitman

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Ill-Fated Romance

Trish and David have married, although each loves another. How do the people who live with the daily happenings of "Days of Our Lives" - the performers themselves feel about the latest development in the complex love stories of Val, David, Trish and Mike? We asked Patty Weaver, Wesley Eure, Richard Guthrie and the "voice of 'Days'" Macdonald Carey. Tina Andrews has left the show and was not available for comment.

Wesley Eure (Michael)

"Tina Andrews got another show but they've recast the part. Just because they [the writers] have opened up that subject and explored it - whether they ever get married or not - that would just be another level.

They [Val & David] have touched, they've kissed - they said they loved each other, they discussed children. "Days of Our Lives" explored an incredible amount of subjects - that's why soap operas have become a vital force. There are credible things to come." [On "Days"]

Patty Weaver (Trish)

"They should have continued the story. Once you make a commitment to anything that's socially explosive - you shouldn't step into it unless you're going to finish it. I was disappointed that they didn't, but that is the world of the soaps.

There are a lot of people out there - of the 22 million who watch soaps who really don't want to see it. Who's to say who is right? I know I have my opinions. I felt very badly that it wasn't finished. But when 70% of the mail says 'stop it' then what happens? I really felt they [Val and David] were going to be married. I really thought they should have gotten together. The story should have been concluded one way or the other.

I commented, "Well, it was."

"Not in my eyes. I didn't believe the way it was concluded. I'm speaking quite honestly - I didn't believe Val running off to Washington. That is my own personal opinion."

Macdonald Carey (Dr. Tom Horton)

"I think that what the to-do there about it was very interesting, in that there was great reaction on the other side. If they [the writers] decided to get rid of Val at that time - they certainly changed their minds quickly enough - and we had a greater percentage of blacks after that than we did before. By no means has the thing ended. There's no way of knowing where the plot lines go. It's influenced by your readers and by the public at large, if they want a story to go a certain way, the writers try to make it go that way. I think the writers did not, and this is just my surmise, think the plot could go any further and it wasn't that they were dropping the miscegenation idea - if it was going over. But it didn't seem to be going over. SO they stopped - but they found out otherwise - so who knows where it's going now. David is married and it seems to have ended but we don't know."

Richard Guthrie (David)

"What I said [referring to another article on the subject] 'it was a very important storyline.' It had been attempted before on another soap but this is the first time it was successful, and I think it was successful because Tina and I worked very well together. Both felt we were doing something important. We felt if we could change 100 people's minds in this country about interracial relations it was worth it. At the time we felt it was over with [the story of David & Val] it appears that way. We would liked to have taken the whole story - had children - and told a complete story.

I asked, "Do you think having David marry Trish is a 'cop-out?'"

Richard answered, "If I say it's a cop-out - I don't know what the future story line is going to be. It would have been pretty gutsy to get David and Val together and then go through all the problems they would have had and then even have children - who would have been mixed children - that would have been a gutsy storyline. It would have taken a lot of courage, on the part of the producers, to have continued on."

I asked, "Do you think the pressure from the viewers influenced the decision - if it has been decided?"

"They always listen to people who bother to write in. If I were a producer - I would listen and be responsive to the public - not give them everything they want - but I'd listen to them."

I asked, "Do you know of any couples who have an interracial marriage?"

Richard said that he did not. "But I was finding out all sorts of things when we were doing it. When Tina and I first decided what we wanted to do with the story and tried to put our feelings into it - about the romance - (for a long time in the story we were just friends) - Tina and I would go away for a whole day - go shopping and people would look at us, and I asked Tina if they recognized us - she'd say, 'Now Richard, they're staring at us because you're white and I'm black.' So we did a lot of that kind of research on our own, plus we talked about it endlessly and Tina was dating some white guys - so she knew quite a bit about it but - I was learning as we went along - it was all discovery for me. And I thought the audience was learning, too. The story continued for two years and I think a lot of people out there forgot that she was black and I was white. IT was just David and Valerie - and that was the point of the whole thing in our minds, was to be able to achieve this. My personal mail was opposed to my relationship to Valerie. They [the viewers] suggested I get together with Trish, 'She's such a nice girl,' they wrote."

- Ruth J. Gordon

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I know it's blasphemous as a black person to say this, but blacks need to get off their asses and do something for themselves. Quit looking for white writers and producers -- white media -- to actively portray the black audience with 100% accuracy. It's not going to happen.

(Of course, Howard is a fine school, but isn't it interesting that she isn't going to Stanford University or Cornell? Did the writers consider that sending Val to a Black school would stick out like a sore thumb?) - Geri Jefferson

Well, that's a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario and comes across as sour grapes. It's not unbelievable that a black character would go off to an HBCU. I can get behind critics that want a greater portion of black characters on television (and in all media) to be represented in a more positive, respectful fashion. I totally agree, which is why I detest BET. They should know better. However, I can't get behind critics that keep whining about black characters not being equal to white characters in EVERYTHING they do. This is one of them. It's totally acceptable that Val didn't go off to Stanford or Cornell because, during that time in the 1970s, blacks were, indeed, going off to HBCU's such as Howard and Spelman and Morehouse... if they were fortunate enough to go to college at all! It seems like that critique is coming from a place of "well, since she couldn't get the white guy, she should at LEAST go to a white college!" as if there needs to be some kind of bartering system in place for what black viewers will accept and will not accept. I totally understand that the story wasn't finished properly -- but sending her off to Howard, Stanford, Spelman or Weslely doesn't change that. I mean, hell... Jefferson's acting like they sent her off to Beulah's School of Napbustin'.

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I know it's blasphemous as a black person to say this, but blacks need to get off their asses and do something for themselves. Quit looking for white writers and producers -- white media -- to actively portray the black audience with 100% accuracy. It's not going to happen.

Yes, it is blasphemous, but so bloody true. Thank goodness, for the black directors and producers and hell even Tyler Perry(I like TP, but you know how folks are) for what they put out.

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I know it's blasphemous as a black person to say this, but blacks need to get off their asses and do something for themselves. Quit looking for white writers and producers -- white media -- to actively portray the black audience with 100% accuracy. It's not going to happen.

Amen to that. my entire life i've lived by the motto of "If you want it done right, do it yourself". I don't have much sympathy for whiners who don't get of their butts and do something about it. Tyler Perry is one who has done this, and does a superb job at it. Hell, Oprah got enough money to produce prime time shows, why don't she? She's got her own production company already in place. She could do a feature film or two... I know she does some stuff, but she ain't the only one with money.

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I don't have much sympathy for whiners who don't get of their butts and do something about it.

Mhm.

a feature film or two...

...Or 20 or 30.

I know she does some stuff

Try a LOT.

Which is a lot since Oprah is an entire brand.

she ain't the only one with money

She's not.

But money isn't the only issue (it's not even the main one).

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The fact that minorities should and do take the media into their own hands doesn't let soaps off the hook. This is a genre that has built its success on the eyes of black viewers but doesn't consider them worthy of consideration. It's the media equivalent of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They need our money so they are willing to coerce and harass us for not riding the bus but they expect us to sit at the back. They want us to pay them for the privilege of being treated like second class citizens. If the mainstream can keep these shows on the air, fine, but no matter what Tyler Perry, Oprah or John Singleton do, I will no longer subsidize my own marginalization.

These people need to be held responsible for what they produce.

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The fact that minorities should and do take the media into their own hands doesn't let soaps off the hook. This is a genre that has built it's success on the eyes of black viewers but doesn't consider them worthy of consideration. It's the media equivalent of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They need our money so they are willing to coerce and harass us for not riding the bus but they expect us to sit at the back. They want us to pay them for the privilege of being treated like second class citizens. If the mainstream can keep these shows on the air, fine, but no matter what Tyler Perry, Oprah or John Singleton do, I will no longer subsidize my own marginalization.

These people need to be held responsible for what they produce.

BINGO.

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Mhm.

...Or 20 or 30.

Try a LOT.

Which is a lot since Oprah is an entire brand.

She's not.

But money isn't the only issue (it's not even the main one).

What is the main issue? Distribution or something? I know Oprah is a brand unto herself, I was just saying she isn't known for her production work like Tyler Perry is. I know she's acted in many feature films, but how many has she produced? I thought it was 2 or 3... but I could be wrong, I'll have to look that up. Carl... considering the time this article was written, it seems more pessimistic in tone considering the huge flux in black culture in the entertainment industry at the time, dare I say.. more than you see today. The huge wave of Blaxploitations movies has just occured, you had big presence in the music business with the advent of Disco artists, Gamble and Huff, all promoted to great success by radio and Don Cornelius. And you had a huge black presence on TV, in the form of Flip Wilson, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Tony Orlando and Dawn, What's Happening, Bill Cosby. Not to mention bigger budget feature films such as Mahogany.

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I thought the article was slightly hyperbolic but I mostly posted it just to show some of the attitude towards this issue 30 years ago, and to ask if those fans who were watching soaps 30 years ago feel anything has changed between then and now.

The Valerie/David one I posted because I hadn't seen it here before and I thought fans might be interested in what the actors had to say. They were more frank than I'd expected...

They also had some photos -- most of them I'd seen before but one was of Petronia Paley on The Doctors. I'd never known she was on that show.

The only soap I've seen from back then was Ryan's Hope, where Clem was a supporting character for six months to a year and then increasingly disappeared until finally he was gone for good, with a quick, forgettable explanation by other characters, in early 1978.

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You know, I'd really like to see a black headwriter in daytime. Like Tyler Perry, or Shonda Rhimes. It may bring a fresh perspective than what we get with all these recycled writers, who incidentally aren't getting any younger.

I think that would be great, a fresh perspective couldn't hurt, that's for sure. Even "You know who" has some fascinating ideas.... like Erica going in for a facelift and having it go wrong, and all the repercussions from that (Her beauty being her basis for her self esteem and confidence, etc.). La Lucci would play the HELL outta something like that.

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I think that would be great, a fresh perspective couldn't hurt, that's for sure. Even "You know who" has some fascinating ideas.... like Erica going in for a facelift and having it go wrong, and all the repercussions from that (Her beauty being her basis for her self esteem and confidence, etc.). La Lucci would play the HELL outta something like that.

I agree up to the part of it about being about Erica.

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