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4 social media questions about 'Roots' and 'Underground,' answered

At the time of this post, it is the last night of the new-and-improved retelling of the seminal classic Roots, and during the four-night event, there have been a lot of questions and concerns flying around. Snoop Dogg has gone on record asking people not to watch the History Channel’s miniseries because it appears Hollywood wants black people to keep reliving the trauma of slavery.

“I don’t understand America. They just want to keep showing the abuse that we took hundreds and hundreds of years ago,” he said in an Instagram video (reposted by USA Today). “But guess what? We’re taking the same abuse …When you all going to make a [expletive] series about the success that black folks is having? The only success we have is Roots and 12 Years A Slave?”

Snoop has been getting it from all sides since posting that video, but frankly, folks who agree with Snoop and folks who disagree with him are both right. This year is a watershed moment for slave stories. From TV giving us Roots and Underground, to Nate Parker finally bringing his vision for The Birth of a Nation to the big screen, it might seem like we’re seeing slavery from every media outlet possible. Making a show or a film about slavery is a catch-22: Honoring ancestors is necessary, but at what point do stories about slavery stop being about honor and become some sort of flagellation exercise?

These are my observations from the questions I’ve seen posed on social media, and how, perhaps, we can come to a middle ground when it comes to the way in which certain slave stories are told (and most importantly, how we can decide who tells them).

1. Are films and television shows about slaves still necessary in 2016?
My point of view: Yes, slave stories are still necessary, especially in 2016, particularly because of the racially charged times we are in.

If you haven’t noticed, things aren’t as copacetic as they could be when it comes to race relations. Without naming names, this year’s race for president is like nothing we’ve seen before, particularly when it comes to the level of inflammatory racial speech, which has incited lesser-minded individuals to violence against those who don’t look or worship like them. This election cycle is only the rancid cherry on top of the awful sundae called the 2010s, which has been filled with epithets leveled against the first President of the United States of African descent, along with increasingly publicized instances of the unnecessary deaths of black men, women, and children at the hands of law enforcement officers.

The kicker is that a lot of the statements made in this election, and a lot of the statements made as to why black men and women have been killed, are all linked to the same original sins America has yet to deal with. Black men and women today are often the victims of the same rhetoric slave owners used when subduing and/or killing black men and women hundreds of years ago — and people today aren’t safe from the same types of violence. The statements made about Mexicans, Middle Easterners, people of the Muslim faith, and women are all offshoots of xenophobia and bigotry. It’d be one thing if this talk was roundly condemned, but sadly, there are people out there who love it, not realizing how this point of view hurts them as well.

The point of making and watching stories featuring slaves should be to remind us of the past, to re-educate us about what happened and what we dare not repeat. They are supposed to be made to honor the men and women who didn’t have a voice. But in 2016, these stories should also serve as a serious and urgent warning: America is at a precipice, and unless its citizens wake up and realize that the slave stories of yesteryear are very much relevant to today’s Black Lives Matter struggle, America will never fulfill its ultimate goal of being the land where all people can be free.

2. Why are slave stories so popular?
First, let’s talk about one misconception: Slave stories don’t happen every year. Tambay Obenson of Shadow and Act compiled a list of films from the last decade featuring black actors and/or stories specific to the African-diasporic experience. The list features many films about a variety of subjects; most of them aren’t about slavery.

So if Hollywood isn’t telling slave narratives every year, why is the misconception that Hollywood only tells slave stories one that sticks? Probably because one of the most guaranteed ways a black actor can be nominated for an Oscar is by playing a slave. Slavery movies are the ones that usually get the Oscar buzz, and the oversaturation from that buzz makes it appear like slavery movies happen every year, when in reality, they don’t.

But this very issue of Oscar recognition ties into why so many film actors speak out against Hollywood’s casting practices, why many black actors like Nate Parker, Queen Latifah, and others are developing their own movies and production houses, and why so many black actors (and actors of other ethnicities) are going to television, where there’s now more opportunity to play roles they wouldn’t be able to play in film. The issue is that there aren’t enough meaningful, well-rounded roles for people of color in Hollywood.

Even if black actors aren’t playing slaves every year, there’s still a good chance they’re playing a role that is beneath them and their talent. Take Viola Davis, for instance, who has played mostly bit parts in films, including the Oscar-nominated Doubt. Her biggest film role is arguably her role in The Help, a film that has been decried by many as a “white savior” film. But on television, she’s Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, a flawed, contradictory lawyer who is constantly working through the guilt of her past. Do Annalise’s actions make sense all the time? Certainly not. Do actions result in real consequences on How to Get Away with Murder? It seems not, since pretty much every character should be in jail for murder but instead are still in college, still employed, and still being wildly unethical. But does Davis get to chew the scenery and show her mettle as an actress to be reckoned with? Undoubtedly so. In fact, she’s the only thing holding that show together.

Part of the seeming popularity of slave stories is that, in a sea of awful role choices, the immediate pathos of a slave character can provide actors dying to show their worth the chance they’ve been waiting for. They can finally give their all in a character that deserves their honor. The other part is, as written above, these stories will almost always get recognition come award season. Also, on a much seedier level, some people might use slave stories as self-flagellation — a way to learn about how their version of America differs from someone else’s.

The Washington Post released an article detailing what TV critics thought of the original Roots, and one of the critics, William Greider, wrote that perhaps one of the reasons ratings were so high among white families in particular might have been an attempt to assuage historical guilt.

For eight nights, white viewers watched coarse, wicked whites inflict cruelty, from rape to maiming, upon peaceable, vulnerable, sensitive blacks. White folks joked uneasily among themselves, I can tell you, about this unfamiliar experience. “Maybe tonight’s show will turn up a nice white person.” And: “Back on the rack, it’s time for ‘Roots’.”

The self-conscious wisecracks suggest that white people were drawn by guilt or a desire for self-flagellation. Maybe so … My hunch is that, among white viewers, something nearly the opposite of guilt was going on … I think the effect of “Roots” was, ironically, to make the story of slavery, the truth about it, accessible for white Americans for the first time. Yes, this TV series … allows — even forces — white people to look upon slavery-and-freedom as their story too. Yes, even their triumph.

To some degree, it feels like self-flagellation is much more the order of the day than actually letting the lessons sink in, because just watching Roots doesn’t mean anything if you don’t apply its lessons to your life. (We definitely wouldn’t be in the presidential-race situation we’re in if the lessons were applied by everyone). And revisiting slavery as a curiosity, a critique that could be applied to Django Unchained, doesn’t serve anyone in the long run and cheapens the story. But one of the reasons slave stories have been utilized in the past definitely includes the gaze and interest of the outsider.

3. Should we still be telling these stories?
Yes, we should. We should keep telling the stories of the slaves, of those who lived through segregation, and those who fought for civil rights. It’s too easy to forget these stories. This sentiment also came up in my interview with Underground star Alano Miller: If stories like these aren’t told in order to live in a colorblind society, people forget that there’s still work to be done when it comes to dealing with the past and creating a better, more just future. The main reason we should retell these stories shouldn’t be for monetary gain or accolades; it should simply be so that we don’t forget what happened, because a forgotten past means a past that has the ability to repeat itself.

To that end, it also makes a world of difference as to who is telling the story. The trouble with films like The Help and Django Unchained wasn’t simply that it was white people telling the stories, it was that they were white people who meant well, but ultimately lost sight of the story’s goal. With Django, Christoph Waltz’s Schultz is the one that pulls the trigger on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie, even though Django, played by Jamie Foxx, is the one who’s been after Candie’s head the whole time and has the most reason to kill him. (Candie bought and abused his wife, after all.) With The Help, Emma Stone’s Skeeter, barely a grown woman, is the one who helps fully grown black women in their struggle against their evil housewife employers.

But, with The Birth of a Nation, Underground, and the new retelling of Roots, black creators are at the forefront, and they’re deciding how the story should be told. They give the slave characters much more agency, allowing them to shape their own lives, even while they are someone’s property. They fight for their rights and for their right to live, and they don’t wait on a Schultz or a Skeeter to help them. So in short, if and when Hollywood does tell slave stories, it should be by people who want to see the humanity and the agency of a person who is striving against all odds to be recognized, not as someone who, to paraphrase Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire, always depends on the kindness of strangers.

4. If we should welcome these stories, what about the other stories we’re not telling? What should be next for Hollywood after the slave story?
It’s now time for Hollywood to step up and look beyond its own narrow-mindedness. It’s time to see the humanity in all of the stories that have shaped America. We, as an audience, should be allowed to see dramatizations of the lives of Chinese immigrants working on the Transcontinental Railroad. We should see stories from the Latino civil rights movement. We should be able to watch films and TV shows about the occupation of Alcatraz by the Native American group Indians of All Tribes. Thankfully, we’ll be able to see a period drama featuring black Venetians in the form of Shonda Rhimes’ Still Starcrossed, as well as a look at the gay rights movement with the miniseries When We Rise (both of which will air on ABC).

But beyond the past, Hollywood should and must create stories featuring the multicultural Americans many of us know and live with. More and more of us have interracial relationships, come from interracial households, have multicultural friends and colleagues. It would behoove Hollywood to actually make TV shows and films that reflect how we view each other in our daily lives. It would certainly make a lot of us feel more comfortable, that’s for sure.

This view of America is often shown in science-fiction (such as the ill-fated Fox series, Minority Report, which also showed the Washington NFL team with a different, less racist name), but this view of America shouldn’t only be relegated to sci-fi, as if it’s some far-off dream. We need more How to Get Away with Murders, more Mr. Robots, more Rosewoods, more of every type of show that showcases a multicultural cast that work together, argue, and love, without merely bringing up racial difference as some type of negative or salacious selling point.

To summarize: Snoop’s hesitancy around slave stories has merit. But there’s also merit in telling those stories, as long as we can learn how we’re supposed to create a better present and future.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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