I attended the April 11th Cinematheque screening of Goodtimes, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Blackish, three sitcoms based on the lives of African-American families in the 70s, 90s, and today respectively. The guest speakers were Peter Saji, who writes Blackish, and Dr. Bambi Haggins an Associate Professor of Film and Media studies at Arizona State University.
Dr. Haggins pointed out that the amount of laughter varied drastically depending on which show we (a mostly college-aged audience) were watching. While many of us did not find Goodtimes humorous, we seemed to relate more to the type of comedy in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Blackish. For example, the Blackish episode we viewed brings up the phenomenon of “the nod,” which is when one black man nods to another black man to acknowledge that they “share a struggle.” Many of us chuckled at this because the act of nodding to a peer is likely to be relatable to us whether we are black or white.
In addition to their being a difference in the type of humor among the sitcoms, Saji noted that their cinematographic styles differed as well. Goodtimes and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air were filmed in the mode of play – taking place in just a few rooms, but Blackish was recorded in the style of a movie – transpiring across many locations. Saji said that Blackish had to be shot in this way because the viewing audience today has a much shorter attention span than in the past, partially influenced by increasing social media presence.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending this screening and discussion because I, as a white male, had not seen many black sitcoms previously and gained exposure to the type of humor and social commentary offered by high-quality African-American comedies.