When it comes to producing and creating shows that revolve around a multicultural and racial topic or identity, I haven’t seen any other network or creative site that matches Netflix. We will be focusing on three shows: Luke Cage, On My Block, and Dear White People to demonstrate the forwards movements that Netflix makes to provide content and perspectives from people outside the white gaze.
Looking at the narrative worlds of these shows, it becomes apparent that they are going to involve the tackling of the “racial empathy gap” as Nico Lang points out. Luke Cage for example does not have many white characters, or white people in general in the show. This forms the narrative world as belonging to how African-Americans live in the present day. We learn that Cage was put in prison for something he didn’t do because of his profiling. We see that he is struggling to support himself even though he works hard and goes to multiple jobs. We also see the flip side of class beaus Cottonmouth is a very rich and influential man in some kind of mafia. When looking at On the Block and how their narrative worlds are formed, we see from the beginning that this neighborhood is lower class, and it’s dangerous as well when we hear the gunshots at the party. This is a norm for these children however because instead of running in fear they get excited when they know what kind of gun fired. It again draws away from the white gaze, as neighborhoods such as these are not usually represented on network television. Moving on towards Dear White People and this one differs from the other two as the main characters are surrounded by white people, but the perspective is focused on the blacks. This makes the narrative world feel as though the kids on the campus are trapped or always being on guard when they are on campus because they are surrounded by white people who do not understand the world that they live in every day.
When it comes to if these shows show racial stereotypes, I would say yes and no. For Luke Cage we get the scene of the men talking about sports in the barber shop, which is a stereotype of black men, however these kinds of barber shops do actually exist. I think that this scene also shows the relationships of the people in the community and the divide between the older generation and the younger. For On My Block, Ruby Martinez’s family was the most stereotyped because of the grandmother being a very devout Catholic, as well as Ruby shouting “Ay Dios mio!” when he realizes he is in a dress outside. The Latino gang is also highly stereotyped by riding in lowriders as well as wearing wife-beater tank tops all the time. For Dear White People I didn’t notice so many stereotypes of being African-American as much as I noticed stereotypes about these kids being outspoken college students, which is common in every college. The point of this show was to draw attention to the black stereotypes that white people assume because these stereotypes are false, however instead of showing these stereotypes visibly, the characters call them out on their own.
One stereotype that was noticeable, and to me problematic to some degree comes from Luke Cage. He is a quiet man who works hard, and takes pride in his work no matter what he does. However, I found this to be similar to the quiet black man stereotype that we see in TV and films such as servants, or janitors. I realize that these are the only jobs he can get because he was incarcerated and wants to lay low because of his powers, but this stereotype just kept staring at me in the face despite him being the main character and the “superhero” of the show. Another thing that is present in the show is isn’t necessarily a stereotype, but rather a comment on our society today where black men are subject to violence at a high rate, however we have a Cage being a black man that is “bulletproof.” This makes him impenetrable from the violence and death that surrounds him and his fellow black men every day and the irony of that is astounding.
For On My Block I noticed that Jamal doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypes of being an African-American man either. Stereotypically, black men should be strong and tough, like Jamal’s father. He should have a love for sports and not show any weakness. Jamal is a nervous, skinny, goofy kid that doesn’t fit his father’s expectations. I think this is a positive way to show this character though because it allows black men and boys to show emotion and to be who they actually want to be rather than what society expects them to be. I think that can go with the other boys in the show such as Cesar because he makes it clear at the end of the first episode that he doesn’t want to be a part of his family’s gang, but he is struggling to separate himself from what his family expects him to do, not only because it will disappoint them, but he could also be hurt if he does. This highlights the traps that these low-income neighborhood kids can be stuck in just because they live there.
To change the minds of anyone based on one show is difficult to do, so I don’t think any of these shows, try as they might, will transform a bigoted person. A bigoted person would also probably not go anywhere near a show titled Dear White People if they know that their prejudices and cruel judgements are going to be called out as wrong. As for most people who just need to be properly educated about discrimination that thrives in this country, I think that all of these shows have the ability to open up their minds, and perhaps make people more open and welcome to others different from them.
When looking at which of these shows is the most appealing to the largest audience it would have to be Luke Cage because of the great appeal for the superhero genre, and the fact that it fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is another reason that it became as popular as it did. It also doesn’t have such a brash title as Dear White People does and it’s more appealing than On My Block because more people can sympathize with Cage’s situation more than they can living in a low-income neighborhood where violence and gangs are rampant. However, I personally think I sympathized with On My Block though because of the kid’s drama between themselves, and the awkwardness of growing up and growing different from your friends. I think that Dear White People was the most informative however because I am a white person, and the show was basically telling me personally how and how I should not interact with people of color. It also allowed me to see the daily struggles that POC go through every day with ignorant and sometimes racist people.
Looking through an industrial perspective, it is difficult for minorities to get stories and shows like these ones out into the public because of the limited resources and doors that are open for them. Julien Simien said in his podcast that he had to work a day job on the side of just trying to get money to get his movie off the ground. Even then he explained all the hoops he had to jump through and how patient he had to be just to finally get a buyer for his show. He also has to deal with the backlash once the movie and show was released. People got offended by having their pregudices called out, and didn’t belive that “blackface parties” actually happen, which only proves Simien’s point in that the show is to open people’s eyes to the realities that black people face every day.