Who’s To Blame For The Lack Of Black Gay Couples On TV?
No matter the sexuality, it is no secret that blacks are underrepresented on television. Shows featuring all black casts are a rarity, and besides fan favorites like Basketball Wives or The Real Housewives of Atlanta, shows featuring African Americans are few and far between. And when trying to look for a black gay man on television who isn’t a bigoted stereotype, the quest becomes even harder.
If you turn on your television, you would quickly notice the lack of diversity in gay relationships. Not only are these differences between masculine versus feminine but even race. Could there not be a black gay couple attending McKinley High School on Glee? Would it hurt to see a cartoon couple with the Griffins on Family Guy?
The article written by Robert Stephenson, “Invisible Men: Why It Matters That There Are No Black Male Couples on TV,” addresses just that. He highlights popular shows that are in rotation now like The New Normal, Glee and Partners. Each of those shows features a gay couple, which is not common for prime-time television. Although barriers for gays being portrayed on television are slowly being broken down, the thought of each show not even considering a black gay couple couldn’t be more evident. Stephenson also examines the effects of not having these types of relationships represented.
A media revolution in the portrayal of gay men and women has occurred over the past 15 years. We have evolved from a time when being gay was unmentionable on TV, to the inclusion of gay characters as stock comic stereotypes, and are now seeing gay males and females as central characters in TV programming. For a long time they could be gay; they just couldn’t show daily tribulations and mainstream issues of same -ex couples. Now they can, but apparently they can’t be a black gay couple (though I’m focusing on men, the small screen isn’t exactly packed with African-American lesbians either).
True, cable channels have featured gay African-American males in and out of stable relationships. The unforgettable and violent Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire was gay in an extremely homophobic milieu but he wasn’t celibate: he had three partners over the series’ run. Logo’s Noah’s Arc gave us the lives and loves of four gay black men and included a married couple. But these shows were featured on channels that are not accessible to a large proportion of the population, and in the case of Logo, catered to a largely gay audience that doesn’t need persuading of the existence of same sex couples of color. These characters would never have seen the light of day if planned for the coveted Thursday night slot on NBC.
As much as we beg for television shows like this, will people even invest 30 minutes on a week night? Or will they be hypercritical of the show and label it a loser before it really begins?
While the networks continue to ignore us, there is a high demand for programming catering to African Americans. Nielsen recently reported that African Americans watch more television than any other group. Not only does the average African American household have four or more televisions, but we also spend an average of seven hours a day watching them, so a market for shows featuring blacks is out there.
Because we tend to tune into shows like Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta rather than scripted shows, networks feel we will not support black sitcoms and dramas. But one reason we might not be tuning in is because, in many cases when a black actor anchors a major network show, the show itself sucks (i.e. Undercovers). So can you blame us for not watching? However, web series like Drama Queenz and grassroots efforts of Patrik-Ian Polk (Punks and The Skinny) show that well-written and well-acted shows depicting black gay culture and lifestyles can be successful.
So who’s to blame for the lack of black gay couples on TV? While the answer isn’t as clear-cut as we might think, one thing is certain: Audiences have to demand better while supporting actors and producers who are delivering quality programming. Because if we’ve learned nothing else, we know that if a quality product reaches the right people, they can certainly turn it into a hit.