The Black Sitcom from 1974 to 2018

Last night, I attended the Cinematheque screening of Good TimesFresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Black-ish. This combination of the three different sitcoms shows American popular culture and black popular culture from 1974 to 2018, with obviously considerable gaps in time between. The screening was interesting because each series discussed different topics, but they were all centered on what it is like being black in America.

Good Times focused on a local political campaign and election of Fred Davis, the incumbent, versus Jimmy Pearson, a newcomer or ‘infant’ as James describes. .The episode delves into many issues that surround the day-to-day life of inner-city Chicago residents. While the episode was explicitly political as the main topic of conversation was surrounding the political campaign, there was no real discussion on the issues that the characters face. Jimmy Pearson’s goal to create night-time centers for women with children who work night shifts was the most detail about the platforms and issues that the candidates were running on. Good Times did not delve further into these issues because it was not of the norm for a sitcom to do at the time. Black-ish has had episodes on police brutality and other current issues where the characters were able to have real conversations about the issues that affect them because it is not acceptable for a show in 2018 to be more specialized.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air showed content that was more emotional than Good Times because the episode was focused on the return of Will’s father. The episode explored the themes of fatherhood and the importance of relationships. Will cried in the episode, which I was shocked about because he is this masculine guy showing emotion–something that is not on the air anymore. The “sensitive 90s guy” arc was definitely present in this episode and I was so intrigued with how viewers can still see Will as this masculine man with real emotions at the same time; no one was upset that he was human! Men can have real feelings! We should bring this back in 2018 because it’s odd that this content is no longer shown.

Black-ish does have a more “emotional” male character in Junior, but his emotions are attributed to his nerdiness or weirdness. The episode focused on Junior’s lack of black friends and how Andre felt it was important for him to connect with other black kids. The situation comedy of Black-ish is unique to the 21st century because it focuses on how the family is black, but live in a white neighborhood and have traditionally white jobs, which adds the “ish.”

The evolution of black comedy from 1974 to 2018 shows the differences in the way that black people conduct themselves over time, but the one thing that stays consistent is their identity never strays away from their blackness. While the issues may be different, yet also strikingly similar, this Cinematheque screening was very enjoyable because I was able to witness the changes over time.