Term Paper: Black Women on Early Television

Pages: 8 (2470 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] She worked for the Quaker Oats company from 1948 to 1966. Wilson conceded that although her family was supportive of her role as Aunt Jemima the commercials were met with much criticism and many felt that the role was demeaning to black women. (Foxworth)

Characters that were considered too White, the Single Black Mother and stereotypes perpetuated throughout the 70's

At the other end of the spectrum were television shows in which the black female characters were deemed as being too White. One such show was Julia which debuted in 1968 and starred Diahann Carroll as a single mother. Much of the controversy arose from the fact that most Blacks did not live like Julia and many felt that the character was a misrepresentation of the Black community. (Giovanni and Smith) Many also felt that Julia's son lack a father figure on the show. (Giovanni and Smith)

Carroll confesses in her autobiography that she was often bombarded by activists and psychologist alike who showed great disdain for the character and the message that was being sent to the African-American community. (Carroll) Carroll also asserts that she had no control over the decisions being made by the creators of the show. She also felt that Julia was an accurate depiction of some black people including herself. In her autobiography she asserts that,

What captured my attention was Julia herself. From the first scene I understood her completely. Julia's conversations with her son reflected many of the same middle-class attitudes toward parenting I experienced in my own childhood. I could relate to Julia's desire to make a place for herself in the world. She wanted a good job. She wanted an apartment. She wanted to give her child a decent education. (Carroll)

Although there was a part of Carroll that understood the character of Julia she also realized that she had a responsibility to the Black community. Carroll states that after hearing the frustrations of activists and the Black Community she made a concerted effort to examine her scripts more carefully and object to any material that she felt was questionable. (Carroll) Carroll did not want to perpetuate ignorance about the Black community.

In the 70's, shows like Good Times, Sanford and Son and That's My Mama were also controversial because of the stereotypes that were being perpetuated once again. In Good Times the mother of the family, Florida was cast as a housewife with a husband that was usually laid off or working a low wage job. Neither had a high school education and the family lived in the Ghetto. The woman who played the role of Florida was seen as the matriarch of the family who kept everything together when her husband was laid off of work or they didn't have enough money to pay bills. (Giovanni and Smith)

Esther Rolle was the actress that played the role of Florida and she eventually left the show because she didn't like the stereotypes of black women that were being depicted. (Giovanni and Smith) She felt that some things that were scripted were demeaning to the black community and that there should have been black writers and producers on the show. (Giovanni and Smith)

Others complained that the show became even more problematic when the father was removed from the show and Florida became a single mother. (Giovanni and Smith)

The show That's My Mamma was criticized for reviving the role of the Mammy. The show was protested by feminist groups and other people within the Black community. The character that played the role, Theresa Merritt did not believe that the show depicted Black women in a negative light.

Although there were limited female roles on Sanford and Son, the role of Aunt Esther was greatly criticized. Aunt Esther's role supported the fallacy that black women were loud and bossy. Just as in earlier cases, people felt that this role was an inappropriate stereotype. (Giovanni and Smith)


The purpose of this discussion was to examine the roles that black women played in the early era of Television. We discussed how the roles of Black women were limited to playing the role of mammies during the early era of television. Our research suggested that the roles of mammy and Aunt Jemima perpetuated the idea that black women were overweight and bossy.

The paper also discussed roles for Black women that were labeled as being too white. We discovered that the role of Julia was seen as unrealistic and did not accurately reflect the black community.

In addition, our research examined the stereotypic roles that were portrayed on television throughout the 70's. We found that shows like Good Times, Sanford and Son and That's my Momma also contributed to negative stereotypes of Black women.


Carroll, Diahann. Diahann! An Autobiography.1986

Ford, T.E. Effects of sexist humor on tolerance of sexist events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9, 1094-1107(2000) http://condor.depaul.edu/~mwilson/extra/humor/steoaatv.html http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=29237660

Giovanni, Nikki. Images of Blacks in American Culture: A Reference Guide to Information Sources. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001291049

Hamlet, Janice D. "Mammies No More: The Changing Image of Black Women on Stage and Screen." The Western Journal of Black Studies 23.2 (1999): 135. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=15287542

Foxworth, Marilyn. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001183292

Rada, James A. "A New Piece to the Puzzle: Examining Effects of Television Portrayals of African-Americans." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 44.4 (2000): 704. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=58839903

Torres, Sasha, ed. Living Color: Race and Television in the United States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998. [END OF PREVIEW]

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