In this essay I will examine partnerships involving African Americans and persons of a different race by using the following question: How are African Americans represented through television and movies as members of an interracial relationships and what traits are being passed on to the next generation of viewers?
The first interracial partnership that I examined was that of Claudette and Vic from the television series, The Shield. In the three episodes I viewed from season two, there was a huge underlying conflict between Claudette and Vic (Williams-Hawkins Video Archive, Tape #B-010). Claudette seems inherently suspicious of Vic due to his ambiguity and his past record. Claudette, an African American female and the leader of the precinct is portrayed as a true team-leader, demanding, but still polite about it. She also interacts with Captain Aceveda, a Latino, on a regular basis, working side by side with him. Aceveda was also very suspicious of Vic. Joe Clark, a black man who was Vic’s training officer, but was later kicked off the force, was somewhat on the other side of the spectrum from Claudette. Joe was originally asked advice by Vic, but then tries to get Vic to participate in a revenge scheme against the man who had him kicked off the force. Through Claudette and Joe we see that African Americans in The Shield are represented mostly as good partners, whether they are good people or not, that’s a whole different question (Williams-Hawkins Video Archive, Tape# B-002).
The second interracial partnership I examined was that of Lieutenant Fancy and Detective Sipowicz on the police drama NYPD Blue. Sipowicz always appears to be very suspicious of the African American witnesses, and is sometimes rude or racist towards his boss, Lieutenant Fancy, especially while arguing with him. Fancy is an upstanding man, always quick to think of the team before himself, whether with Sipowicz or another member of the precinct he always seems to get along all right. Sipowicz and Fancy work together well when they are not arguing. With Fancy and Sipowicz there is an unspoken bond, despite Sipowicz’s somewhat hidden racism, Fancy knows that Sipowicz will always have his back and vice versa (Williams-Hawkins Video Archive, A-118).
The third partnership I examined was that of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the movies Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2. Detective Carter is assigned to “watch over” Inspector Lee during an investigation in Rush Hour. The FBI gives Carter, an over-zealous, loud-mouthed, arrogant detective, a job to “keep him out of the way.” Carter is very dismissing with his Asian counterpart, Inspector Lee. He is also seen as a joke by his entire department. Carter evolves through this movie from an exact personification of the coon stereotype into more of a cooperative, nice guy who just happens to have a big mouth (Granger, 1998). In Rush Hour 2, the same humor is used in a separate country, this time Carter travels to Hong Kong, where Inspector Lee lives and works. Lee now becomes the more bossy of the two because he his more familiar with Hong Kong than Carter. Carter then reverts to his old tactics of yelling and arrogance only to find his efforts futile in the new environment (Granger, 2001). Carter is a much exaggerated character matching up almost perfectly with the classic stereotype of a coon.
In 2000, 166 college students (43% male and 53% female)were surveyed. The students averaged 9.96 hours per week of television viewing. The respondents were told to write down and rate the characteristics of people they saw on TV. They were told to do this entirely from memory. Of the 166 students, all of them listed more negative qualities for African American characters than for white characters. African Americans were seen to have more drug dealing, crime, violence and alcohol abuse problems than whites. They were also perceived as less intelligent, lazier, less tolerant, and less patriotic. The fact is that every college student surveyed saw more negative attributes than positive attributes in the African American characters (Fujioka, 2000). The primary objective of the mass media, film and television in particular, is to hide discoveries like this insisting that races are naturally different and each race is consistent (Rocchio, 2000).
Despite those statistics, several advances in the way the African American is portrayed have happened. Due to Spike Lee’s success in the 1990’s more accurate portrayals of African Americans have hit mainstream (Bogle, 1994). “When a segment of the general audience responded to [Spike Lee’s] films, [it looked as if movies by black directors with cultural traits and distinctions] would reach a white audience just as popular music by black artists had reached white music listeners” (Bogle, 1994).
In response to the question: “How are African Americans represented through television and movies as members of an interracial relationships and what traits are being passed on to the next generation of viewers?” Despite the fact that African Americans are usually portrayed as assertive and demanding within partnerships, they are still represented as good partners in television and in movies. Whether their antics lead to the capture of someone or the just lead to an entertaining movie, they are portrayed as good partners with open minds and are not portrayed as racist against people from a different ethnic background.