Lately I've taken a mild interest in 80s pop culture, and from my very superficial look I was surprised to see more black actors in movies, tv shows, and commercials of that time than I'm used to seeing today.

One example: Miami Vice, which aired in the second half of 1980s had a white and a black guy as protagonists. I was genuinely surprised by this because, honestly, I think this would be considered unusual, maybe even radical in any mainstream show today that's not overtly targeted at a black demographic. Instead, what we usually see is the token black guy (Jesse L. Martin, Ice T) in an otherwise white cast. Even a show like Chicago PD, a show about a city that's whose population and police force is something like a third black--even a show like that still has the minimum required one token black guy and that's it.

Another example: Looking at sitcoms, I think I can name more black sitcoms from the 80s and 90s (Cosby, Fresh Prince, Moesha, Martin, Moesha, Family Matters, Sister Sister) than contemporary ones (Blackish..., and that's it?). I admit that this list probably says more about me than about the state of TV. I haven't kept up with sitcoms. And, who knows? maybe the 80s and 90s were the golden age of sitcoms and they've since fallen in popularity and so there's just fewer sitcoms overall, and hence fewer black sitcoms. Fine. But still, that's a precipitous drop.

I'm not trying to start a flame war, or start a discussion about the merits of representing minorities on screen. I'm just looking for thoughtful answers on 1) whether this pattern of higher representation of black actors in the 80s is real or spurious and 2) if real, what could cause this paradoxical drop in representation despite the conventional narrative of racial progress. References would be appreciated.

  • latimes.com/entertainment/tv/…
    – Paulie_D
    Nov 3, 2017 at 15:59
  • 1
    ..also "representation" is a wide target. For instance, Chicago PD has two women and a hispanic actor...so there's only so much room to go around.
    – Paulie_D
    Nov 3, 2017 at 16:05
  • 1
    There's a great video on Youtube about the rise and falling trends of black sitcoms. Worth a watch.
    – Nilerian
    Nov 3, 2017 at 18:40
  • 1
    @JohnnyBones - I thought that blaxploitation films often were highly stereotyped, so that the "blackness" they captured was more what (mainly white) producers and directors imagined was the case. Or is that not correct?
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 3, 2017 at 21:04
  • 3
    Why the close votes? This seems like a reasonable question asking for objective information - is the pattern they noticed real, and what are the likely causes of it if it is real. Nov 4, 2017 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


Empire, Insecure, Queen Sugar, Secrets and Lies, House of Payne... There are still shows out there that cater specifically to the black audience, just not all of them are available to all TV subscribers.

Additionally, I've noticed a very large trend in commercials lately that depicts a black male/white female household.

In movies, there's usually a good balance between black and white characters, although some still remain all-white and some remain all-black. Tyler Perry's movies feature predominately black characters, although with a few recent duds his movies seem to come out less frequently. There have also been conscious attempts to inject black characters into white roles, but they are usually met with bad results. Starting with a horrible remake of The Honeymooners (2005) that featured Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps, up through the latest reboot of Fantastic Four (2015) that featured black actor Michael B. Jordan in the traditionally white role of Johnny Storm, there's a trail of films that tried to use black actors in traditionally white roles to appeal to a broader audience.

  • This doesn't address the 1980s, so it doesn't answer the original question. Nov 3, 2017 at 19:51
  • 2
    But addresses what OP said was existing in the 80s and shows that it still exists now.
    – madmada
    Nov 3, 2017 at 23:40
  • How does one determine if a show "cater[s] specifically to the black audience". Nov 4, 2017 at 12:38
  • 1
    If a show cast contains a majority of blacks and covers topics blacks relate to, it's pretty self-explanatory. Empire is about a Hip Hop mogul. Need I further explain? Nov 4, 2017 at 16:28
  • 1
    But the shows cites by the OP didn't cater specifically to black people. With the exception of Sister, Sister and maybe Moesha, they were mainstream shows. Dec 2, 2017 at 1:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .