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Streaming Color Wall: Part I, Mystery of the Missing Black Sitcoms

Something is missing from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. There is a massive trove of shows featuring people of color, that are just missing. No, this isn’t Netflix cancelling Luke Cage, or “Dear White People”... there are other new shows featuring people of color, shows that feature black directors and writers, and no Shonda Rhimes isn’t being removed (#shondaforever). However turn back the clock to the 70's, 80's and 90's (and even the 2000's) and you will find a strange desert of the real.

Those were the days... that famous string of words opened one of the most famous sitcoms, All in the Family. It was a show created by Norman Lear (yes a white guy), and featured a terrible bigot head of the family, Archie Bunker. This hateful old man was a portrait of a 70's america that wasn’t really sure about integration, and frankly saw black folks as lazy and not welcome in the neighborhood unless they were cleaning up after white people, or picking up garbage.

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Norman Lear did an incredible thing in that show, he repeatedly disproved the racist bigot, humanizing black and brown people. Time and again, Bunker only injures himself and others around him when he views people of color as undeserving of respect and dignity. Norman went on to feature people of color in Spin-offs such as The Jefferson’s, and the no less successful Sanford and Son, and of course Good Times. Shows like What’s Happening and Chico and the Man, featured Hardworking successful black and latinx characters that had never before been the focus of any tv show, much less visible unless it was genre television such as Star Trek or the Twilight Zone. 

The 80's featured the now tough to watch Cosby Show, A Different World, Benson, These shows introduced white america to families and individuals of color that were both traditional and not, complicated and most of all, human. That tradition of black sitcoms that humanized and demystified black folks for an entire generation of Americans. Working class and upper middle class examples of of people of color continued into the 90's with shows like Living Single, Fresh Prince, Family Matters, Martin, and the Steve Harvey Show. Shows Like Moesha, and Sister Sister, The Hughleys, Girl Friends, The Bernie Mac Show, moved into the 2000's, and continued the traditions of earlier shows.... and meanwhile the shows of older generations continued to run in syndication on television, it was not uncommon to see multiple networks running shows featuring people of color at the same time.

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These few shows were a revolution to american audiences, and helped change the way white people saw black people. It was in no way the end of deep seated racism or bigotry towards those communities, but many white people watched these shows, and attitudes towards black excellence changed (glacially), and they had a huge affect on all manner of black life in America. These comedies and Sitcoms were a way of relating black america to a worldwide audience, and while many of them were cheesy, they would often highlight the issues of white privilege, second class treatment, unfair practices by local and national governments, as well as the difficulties black families faced in a world not designed for their success or attentive to their problems.

So... whats the problem? If your a post-millennial using digital streaming services, you likely have only seen a tiny percentage of these shows. If you have cut your cable, like tens of millions of Americans have to save money, it’s likely you have little to no access to a massive part of the pop-cultural landscape. In fact, right now. Out of a list of over 40 Black Sitcoms, only 5 are partially available on Amazon, Netflix, or Hulu, and many more aren’t even available to rent. Here’s a short list of the titles that our either not available, require additional fees and subscriptions to be able to stream, or only available from less popular streaming services, like Crackle and Roku.

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So what gives? Where are all these shows? Why is that even obscure white mediocre sitcoms that ran for one season (or less), are available, but shows that had big audiences, multiple seasons, and big numbers aren’t available? Others may have six or seven seasons, but only a handful of episodes are available. In fact many of the shows listed above don’t even have full dvd sets(Dvd’s are these little disks that contain media... I’ll explain later). You can watch every season of Petticoat Junction (...more like White Privilege Station) until the cows come home, but a bust your gut funny show like Sanford and Son must be purchased at 180 dollars to watch in their entirety from Amazon?

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What’s... literally... Happening Now!!? Is it a real problem? How do we fix it?

To Be Continued....

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