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"Our Kind of People" and "The Wonder Years": two aspirational visions of Black life and prosperity

1 12 18
22.09.2021

Sitting within the intersection of a Venn diagram that has "The Wonder Years" remake inside one circle and "Our Kind of People" in the other is none other than Diahann Carroll. Don't dismiss this as a stretch until you consider the late great actor's career in television, where she broke major barriers twice.

First came her starring role in "Julia," making her the first Black woman to lead a series playing a nurse and a widowed mother living in an integrated neighborhood.

Although Carroll later admitted that the show was presenting "the white Negro," her very presence in NBC's primetime lineup placed her in American homes in the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law.

For that reason, Carroll bore the stress and criticism she sustained for playing a whitewashed role during an era of intense animus. "Julia" may not have been an accurate portrayal of what was going on in Black America, but it – she – was on the air and in front of everybody who owned a TV set.

Saladin K. Patterson's remake of "The Wonder Years" also begins in 1968, but the common thread it shares with Carroll's half hour isn't the year but its intent, which is to show a view of that era that white Americans don't typically consider, and a nostalgic, rarely depicted version of Black American life in that era.

Comedies featuring solidly middle class Black families on network TV and cable are far fewer in number now than in the post-"Cosby Show" years when they flourished on Fox, UPN and The WB. Even ABC's "Black-ish" depicts an upper-middle class Black family living a life most would consider to be aspirational.

We're much more likely to see the version of Black wealth perpetuated by reality TV shows such as Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," "The Real Housewives of Potomac" or VH1's "Basketball Wives" – all of which are direct or indirect descendants of Carroll's "Dynasty" diva Dominique Devereaux, who Carroll was proud to claim as "the first Black bitch on television."

Lee Daniels' first tribute to Carroll's primetime soap goddess came in the form of Taraji P. Henson's Cookie Lyon on........

© Salon


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