In a time when American racial sensibilities run the gamut from blatantly offensive to subtly shameful, there’s a definite upheaval of strong Black figures assuring the marginalized public that their voices will be heard. Through shows such as Insecure, Atlanta, black-ish, Queen Sugar and others, our people are seeing themselves as the hero, flaws and all, capable of not only carrying a hit series but of carrying the culture on its back.
Save for networks created with the specific intent of serving the Black community, no single channel or streaming service has done more in recent years to continue pushing this much-needed narrative than Netflix, whose recent “Strong Black Lead” commercial highlights the creators and talent who have used the platform to birth content that continues to place us at the forefront of storytelling.
Making its debut during the 2018 BET Awards, “Strong Black Lead” is a new initiative representing Netflix’s focus to talk authentically with and about Black audiences. The heavily-praised spot features some of Hollywood’s biggest names who now call Netflix home, including 13th director Ava DuVernay, She’s Gotta Have It creator Spike Lee and several others. Narrated by Stranger Things’ actor Caleb McLaughlin, the clip was inspired by the iconic 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem, which featured prominent jazz musicians of its era.
“This is a new day built from the ground broken by legends, a day for our generation to see untold experiences of our blackness representing a limitless range of identity, playing kings and queens of our neighborhoods, defeating larger than life forces trying to flip our world upside down,” says McLaughlin in the video. “We’re not a genre because there’s no one way to be black. We’re writing while black—nuanced and complex, resilient and strong. This is not a moment; this is a movement. We are strong black leads. Today is a great day in Hollywood.”
The abundance of Black talent depicted far exceeds that of its streaming competitors, as well as premium services such as HBO and STARZ, who rarely feature more than one predominantly Black series per season, if that. Black women are undoubtedly flourishing, which certainly contradicts recent arguments against the streamer made by comedian Mo’Nique, who attempted to start a boycott after being low-balled for a stand-up special. While things between the Oscar-winner and Netflix never worked out, their relationship with LBGTQ leaders of color such as Lena Waithe and Laverne Cox, as well as several other passionate women writers, producers and actors, has resulted in a wide range of content that not only allows us to be our own storytellers, but to see ourselves in a variety of beautiful Black people.
The recent firing of Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland for using the N-Word twice during work meetings came days before the spot made its debut, leading the cynical among us to believe this whole movement is nothing more than a public relations move. To be fair, that isn’t an unreasonable assumption, as we’ve become accustomed to corporations offering insincere apologies in the form of a finger bandage meant to heal the gaping wounds they inflict with their ignorance. Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings knew many viewers would draw the same conclusion, leading him to question whether to release “Strong Black Lead” on schedule, according to Deadline, with him ultimately deciding to do so.
From Barack and Michelle Obama’s recent development deal to Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes’ future collaborations with the service, Netflix continues to show how much they value Black voices and narratives that serve our communities. A great day in Hollywood, indeed.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.