2013 Winner: Big, Black, and Bold: A Historical Textual Analysis of Black Women on Television Sitcoms

Project Information
Big, Black, and Bold: A Historical Textual Analysis of Black Women on Television Sitcoms
Arts
FIlm 195 and Film 199
My research paper traces the historical shifts in the representations of African American women on television situation comedies. In order to demonstrate how African American women are portrayed on television, I do a textual analysis of one African American sitcom that stars or features a lead female character from each decade starting with the 1970s. Race and television studies are combined to fully understand the relationship between African American women and television situation comedies. Three major questions this study attempts to answer are: How are African American women represented on television sitcoms? What stories are being told about African American women using the genre of situation comedy? How do characters address or reassert the fact that they are not just women, but Black women? My research moves beyond labeling images as positive or negative; instead, I advocate for more images of African American women on television, in order to give audiences a well-rounded depiction of African American women. I outline some of the key changes in representation, and attempt to explain why such changes occurred. I argue that Black women have become increasingly middle class, skinner, lighter skinned and less likely to identify as Black, yet the stereotypes that have been used to represent Black women since before the 1970s have remained relatively the same. I find that the stereotypes of African American women on television sitcoms are used as a way to contain Blackness, so that it continues to serve white ideals and ideologies of African Americans. I conclude by arguing that television representations of African American women are not based on the actual lives of African American women, but more so stereotypical characterizations based on white perceptions and assumptions that are guaranteed to return a profit. The purpose of this paper is to help readers better understand how Black women on television sitcoms are represented and how these representations go beyond images on the small screen.
PDF icon 373.pdf
Students
  • Ashley Young (Ten)
Mentors