Hollywood is finally starting to get it. Or maybe it only appears as if they are. For decades minority roles in film and television were precisely that: minor. The prevailing wisdom in Tinseltown was that white audiences wouldn't care to engage with stories that didn't come from their perspective. As we enter the 2020s, the stigma of a major studio release starring a host of ethnically diverse leads is slowly disappearing. You can point to a handful of properties from the 20th century anchored by non-white leads, but the examples are scarce. However, the representation of people of color in the media, specifically television, had to start somewhere. Enter: Amos 'n' Andy.
Before the television show, Amos 'n' Andy started as a radio show in the 20s, featuring its white creators adopting "vocal Black face" to portray characters exhibiting an array of harmful Black stereotypes. When the medium of television arrived, Freeman Gosen and Charles Correll, the program's creators, were given a curious choice. Would they continue to star in a televised version of their smash hit, or would they hire Black actors to serve as the new leads? The creators went with the latter option, turning Amos 'n' Andy into a strange paradox in the history of Black representation. On the one hand, the show was a cadre of demeaning stereotypes stitched together in the name of "comedy." Conversely, Amos 'n' Andy was the first television show to feature an all-Black cast. Yeah, it's got me at a loss for words too.
This week in 1951, Amos 'n' Andy migrated to television and created one of the oddest pieces of Black history. The first episode of Amos 'n' Andy, courtesy of ReelBlack's YouTube channel, is linked below.