My Reaction To CNN Presents “Black in America” by Gary A. Johnson
Part II of CNN Presents Black in America focused on “The Black Man.” I hate to sound like a broken record, but this show fell short of my expectations. It was so negative that at one point I thought I was having a heart attack. If I was wearing a blood pressure cuff it would have blown off of my arm. Would it have been so bad to show one black male success story from start to finish?
Here is CNN’s official description of the show: “In Black in America: The Black Man, Soledad O’Brien evaluates the state of black men in America and explores the controversial topics of black men and fatherhood; disparities between blacks and whites in educational, career and financial achievement; and factors leading to the dramatic rates of black male incarceration. The documentary also examines the achievements of black men and the importance of the positive influences of black fathers.”
There are tens of thousands of black men who don’t have children out of wedlock. There are tens of thousands of black men who have children out of wedlock and take care of their children financially and are involved in their lives.
Some of CNN’s portrayal of black men included showing brothers married to white women, a marketing executive with mostly white friends and whose black friends say he’s not black enough, a lower-tiered rapper and a 32-year old high school graduate with some college finding a part-time job after months of searching.
The segment featuring the Reverend/Doctor/Professor Michael Eric Dyson started off well and ended with a negative showing his brother going back to jail cell to serve his life sentence. I know this is life for many folks in America. I can accept this. Let’s also show the other side. There are positive aspects of life for black men that were not shown. Let me repeat my earlier question:
Would it have been so bad for the show to have one segment featuring a black man without any negatives?
I’m assuming that CNN would argue that the segment featuring the brother who was an Assistant School Superintendent in Arkansas married to a Circuit Court judge was very positive. They had three sons. OK, let’s look at that segment through my lenses. They lived in a 6,000 sq. ft. home in a mostly white neighborhood. (I have no problem with that). One of the three sons was married to white woman, the other son had a white girlfriend and was involved in a shooting where he escaped jail time. When asked about the incident both the son and the father refused to discuss the matter. Again, that’s their choice. (I’m sure having a mother who is a judge and a brother who is a prosecutor didn’t hurt).
My main complaint has to do with the issue of balance in the coverage of the challenges facing black men. This show did not show the full range of black men in America and their families as they claimed in their promotional pieces that preceded the show. If they did, we would have seen more “positives” than “negatives.”
Having seen both shows, I saw a clear and consistent “common thread.” Every segment that started out with what appeared to be a “positive” story ended with a “negative” outcome.
Am I wrong on this?
The only segment that I could stomach was the segment with filmmaker Spike Lee who talked about the impact of the negative images of black men in Hollywood and his challenges of making films other than comedies that perpetuate negative stereotypes.
Let me state for the record that I applaud Soledad O’Brien for this effort. I believe that her intentions starting out were honorable, however, somewhere along the way either she and/or CNN got off track. This was not an accurate and full portrayal of life in Black America. It focused way too much on the negative aspects of black life for my tastes.
CNN Presents Black in America is the perfect argument for why we need strong black owned media outlets. Perhaps if there was a black owned media outlet with the capability and “reach” of a CNN a different story would have been told. It’s not good enough to have just the outlet. You have to have strong leadership willing to exercise courage to tell the whole truth. You need a company willing to resist the temptation to lean toward the negative and portray more of a balance of life in black America.
There was a time when we had such a media outlet, it was called BET. However, I don’t think the story would have been any different under the leadership of Bob Johnson. We need black owned media outlets willing to tell our story. Some will argue that Bob Johnson formed a film company to tell “our story. Yeah right. Let’s take a closer look at this argument.
This is the same Bob Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), who sold BET to Viacom, and became this nation’s first male black billionaire. You are correct. Johnson did form a film company called “Our Stories Films,” which debuted its first film on July 27, 2007, entitled “Who’s Your Caddy?” starring actor/rapper Big Boi and Sherri Shepard. WTF?
Bob Johnson and Tracey Edmonds (the former Ms. Babyface) said they want to produce films that show black people in a positive light. So they give us “Who’s Your Caddy?“ as their first film. (I stopped using the N-word. Where’s Jesse Jackson when you need him? Bob Johnson, talking down to black people, I’d like to …) “_________ Please!” Don’t start me cussing up in this camp.
This is Bob Johnson’s way of telling “our” story. Making a film that even Stevie Wonder could see that the characters in the film depict racially offensive stereotypes and the jokes are stupid and crass.
Folks, it is time for solutions. What are we going to do for ourselves to help break these cycles of violence, poverty and apathy?
A good friend of mine helped me calm down today and put this whole thing in perspective. He said to me, “Gary, the reason you’re upset is because you expected too much from CNN. CNN is a news organization that does not have the perspective to tell our story.” Thank you Janks Morton, you of all people should know “What Black Men Think.”
Am I being too hard or critical about the CNN series? What are your thoughts?
Gary Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.”