Cinematheque Extra Credit Screening: Good Times/Black-ish/Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Last week, I attended Emory’s Cinematheque screening of ‘Good Times’, ‘Black-ish’, and ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ with guest discussants Dr. Bambi L. Haggins, who is an Associate Professor at UC-Irvine and Mr. Peter Saji, who is a writer and producer of ‘Black-ish’. This screening was also part of Emory’s “Black Lives on the Small Screen” initiative. We watched one episode from each series. I thought that the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the most fascinating one to watch because this was a show that was popular during my childhood, but I watched it with a different viewpoint now that I learned about the background and context. Before the episodes were shown at the screening, the discussants talked about how each show talks to a very different time. They explained that sitcoms can be seen in three different ways. They can be seen as industrial products, cultural artifacts, or as creative endeavors. From looking at sitcoms over the years, it is evident that they reflect what goes on in American culture and in black culture. After we watched the episodes, Dr. Haggins described sitcoms as the cockroach of television genre. She thinks that sitcoms are considered dead every couple of decades, but still remain in society because of its situational comedy. There has been a transformation of television in recent years, bringing in more black content on different platforms. An audience member asked Mr. Saji if there are any racist jokes that he wishes he hadn’t written in ‘Black-ish’. He exclaimed that there is nothing he regrets about the show. He is a believer that just because one person or a few people are offended, does not mean that the idea is universally offensive. He said that he can be sorry that the joke was misinterpreted, but he would not apologize for making the joke. I found this question to be fascinating because viewers interpret shows in very different ways and once someone becomes offended, it can become dangerous and risky for the producers of the show.