Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hey Look! A Black Girl on TV! - 70s Edition

Okay, so this first in a series of posts has precious little to do with fashion but lately the simple act of opening my mailbox only to find another magazine in there just gives me a headache so I wanted to post about something else for a few days.

I was reading last weekend in Entertainment Weekly about the plan to make 21 Jumpstreet into a feature film. Because I am race obsessed, I immediately started wondering about who would be cast in the Holly Robinson Peete/Judy Hoffs role because you know that, these days especially, kinky hair and darker brown skin isn't viewed as "feature film" ready in Hollywood. My best guess is that producers will go the way of a mixed race light skinned actress or a dark skinned (preferably not American) actress with some of that "good hair" -- if TPTB are feeling particularly generous, then Beyonce might get a call, if they're feeling spiteful then Angelina Jolie is going to be breaking out that pancake makeup and curly wig again.
After I spent entirely too much time thinking about this, I started remembering all those other black women (real and fictional) on television both past and present that are sacred too me. Sadly, even after thirty years of television viewing, I still get that deer in the headlights "hey look, a black girl on TV!" euphoria when I see one. I've decided to list here (and in a few upcoming posts,) my all-time favorite black chicks on TV. Note that these are in no particular order and I'm sure I'm missing a few key ladies so bear with me. Please note that additions to the list are welcome.

Maria from Seasame Street (Sonia Manzano)

Okay so right off the bat, before anyone comments, I have to share that when I was a kid my ideas about who is what race were not very clear. My mom is a black Panamanian and she looked a lot like Maria so I just thought Maria was like any other Spanish speaking black person in my family. I have no idea how Sonia Manzano self-identifies but back then I would watch Sesame Street and pretend she was my mom and Gordon was my dad .

Jayne Kennedy Overton

Back in the day, Jayne Kennedy was what Halle Berry is today. That is, she was the black woman who white people name dropped when they had to name a beautiful black woman. She was the first African American woman to appear as a commentator on NFL Today and when I was a kid, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. My uncle Rico used to talk about her so much, I thought he actually knew her. I was clowned hard on the playground for sharing that false piece of information.

Valerie from "Josie and the Pussycats"

This cartoon was already in reruns by the time I was old enough to watch it. All I can really remember is that I had to wake up at 6:30 am to see it on TV. Yeah, those were some miserable days back before TiVo. Okay, so Valerie didn't get to play a "real" instrument and even though I was five, I knew that her character was tragically underutilized but the fact that she got to wear that leotard and furry ears made me a fan instantly. In the abysmal live action movie, she was played by Rosario Dawson.

Diahann Carroll as "Julia"

The original "hey it's a black girl on TV!" I mean, damn, she even got her own show (and she wasn't playing a maid.) Again, this is one that I only saw in reruns but my one of my mother's constant refrains from back then was "when are they going to bring my Julia back?" I guess it was her appointment television. Lastly, I think Julia and Pussycat Valerie look suspiciously similar.

Dee Dee (the black Teen Angel from Captain Caveman)

Yeah, another cartoon but I was in elementary school and TV wasn't very good back then. I didn't even like Captain Caveman (found him to be a little too creepy) but I felt I owed it ot Dee Dee to watch. She was another character that looked alot like Diahann Carroll. I think it's the hair, cartoonists just didn't know how to draw black hair styles unless it' was in an afro. Dee Dee was fly though, I'd take her timeless mini and turtleneck combo over what that blonde is wearing any day of the week.

Uhura from Star Trek

Uhura. C'mon. This one hardly needs an explaination. She was hot AND she got to work on that giant Lite-Bright that passed as a computer. She wore a sexy red dress and boots and had hair like one of The Supremes. If the more recent Star Trek iterations had characters that looked like Uhura, I'd be a Trekkie.

Dee from What's Happening!

How could I have forgotten forever wisecracking "Dee" --the baby sister of Rog on What's Happening? Yeah, her character was written with heaping spoonfuls of sass but no one else on TV could rock an afro-puff like Dee.

Thelma from Good Times

Forget Janet Jackson's Penny and her love for all things JJ. The cutest chick on "Good Times" was always Thelma and her ever changing hairstyles. From cornrows to the big ass halo afro, Thelma always looked fine and was way more well behaved than her white "One Day at a Time" counterpart Mackenzie Phillips. If Thelma ever tried to pull half of the shit on Florida that Barbara pulled on Ms. Romano, there would have been on less child in the Evans household.

**Honorable Mention**

That One Black Friend of Marsha's on The Brady Bunch

She didn't have any lines and they made her wear sheer white pantyhose with her minidress but even though that mud in Peter's volcano royally fucked up her press and curl and Marsha probablly never invited her over to the house again, I will never forget her.

Cheryl Song (aka That Asian Lady on Soul Train w/ the Long Hair Who Could Really Get Down.) As confused as I sometimes was on issues of race when I was a kid, deep down inside I knew that Cheryl Song was not black even though my cousin and I tried very hard to convince the rest of the family that she was. My argument was that of course she was at least part black because why else would she be on the show and that if you looked closely enough, you could see a little kink in her hair. My older cousin argued that Song had to be black because of her fresh dance moves and dress sense. No one ever bought the argument but it hardly mattered, because Cheryl Song was just a fly ass chick if there ever was one.


Brigitte said...

This comment was left by Jasmine:
Jasmine has left a new comment on your post "Hey Look! A Black Girl on TV! - 1970s":

My mother used to tell me that Cheryl Song was her cousin. I wish.

This post may inspire me to write a post about my own excited spottings of various and sundry Asian ladies on television back in the 1970's. In which case, I will totally credit you for the inspiration.



The original post was deleted accidentally while I was editing the post.

Style Noir said...

My Filipino mother, with her waist-length hair, abundance of rhythm, and African husband, was Cheryl Song X 1000 back in the day...

Camille Acey said...

I am a child of the 80s so I can't really comments here. But I do have to say as to "I was clowned hard on the playground for sharing that false piece of information."

I haven't heard the word "clowned" in a long time. That just made me smile. :)

Also I vote for Naomie Harris for that Judy Hoffs role. Her or Kimberly Elise OR my girl Kerry Washington. But in my heart of hearts, I don't want this movie to happen. Without my Johnny Depp, Dustin Nguyen, and Peter DeLuise triumvirate (yes I had a crush on them ALL) it just won't be the same.

BTW just found this website for cross reference. Ahh the memories!

lapetitediva said...

re: the 21 Jump Street movie - Beyonce will probaby be the first choice, with Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, and Rosario Dawson somewhere on the list. Five years ago, Halle would've been at the top of the short list of Black actresses considered for the role, but I think she might now be viewed as a little long in the tooth by TPTB.

Personally, I hope the film never materializes because I'm sick of Hollywood cranking out movies based on TV shows and SNL skits and Saturday morning cartoons. That's one of the reasons why I stopped watching Hollywood films.

re: Cheryl Song - My friends and I used to pretend that our hair was as long as hers and would constantly fling around our imaginary waist-length tresses. **shaking my head** It was both funny and sad, now that I look back on it.

AJ Plaid said...

This. Was. Brills! I love it, and it made me laugh and nostalgic at the same time. Especially Cheryl Song and Uhura...ah, memories.

Shell said...

Hi Brigitte,

I was a kid back in the 70's, I loved Jayne Kennedy. I also thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
This post brings back a whole lot of memories.


Nichelle said...

Well, Lt. Uhuru namesake, a child of the 70s and a teen of the 80s, let me just quibble a bit - 21 Jump Street was the 80s NOT the 70s! :)

In the 70s/80s, my TV/Movie favorites were Jayne Kennedy and Sherry Belafonte (because she was there!) Rosalind Cash, Denise Nicholas and anyone on the television version of Fame in the early 80s. Get Christy Love was great, but if you blinked, you missed it - it was canceled fast.

On 21 Jump Street, the characters were narcs, so they have to be able to pass for h.s. students. I dont' know that Thandie Newton could do it but I will put my vote in for Kerry Washington.

Also, did you know that the original Gordon on Sesame Street was Holly Robinson Peete's late father?

Small TV world, isn't it?

Brigitte said...

"21 Jump Street was the 80s NOT the 70s! :)"

I never said it was. Reading about the movie just got me thinking about Black women on TV in general and this post is about 70s TV. "21 Jump Street" will be referenced in the next post.

SHAYMER said...

My husband is still in love with Thelma. She was his perfect woman growing up. That is why it's so important to have positive images of black women in the media. This list really made me smile. I may have a few suggestions once you get to the 80's - Cherie Johnson from Punky Brewster was my pretend friend.

Brigitte said...

It's funny that you mention Punky Brewster. I knew that there was a black character and I almost included it in the 80's post but I didn't because I never actually watched that show.

I came across a recent photo of Thelma when I was pictre hunting online. She's still gorgeous.

Brooklyn '86 Queen said...

So I caught Sesame Street later (since I wasnt born till the mid eighties) but I definitely feel you on Maria. Really it wasn't until this post that it ever crossed my mind that Maria may actually identify as something other than black and Hispanic.

Ferocious Kitty said...

Wow! Thanks for these trips down memory lane, both the '70s and the '80s.

About Cheryl Song, remember the "In Living Color" parody "Old Train", when they had her "character" coming down the Soul Train line with a walker? That's iconography right there!



lapetitediva said...

I just thought of another Black character, don't know her name, but she was Tracy Nelson's sassy, beaded cornrows sporting, Black friend in the 80s sitcom, Square Pegs, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. She didn't have much to do except trail behind Tracy's character and occasionally speak a few lines of dialogue, usually of the "Uh-uh! Oh no you didn't!" variety.

lapetitediva said...

Oops! I just realized I posted this message in the wrong decade, sorry!

Natasha Vincent said...

Re: That One Black Friend of Marsha's on The Brady Bunch

Nay nay...she took care of that press 'n curl. The mud was only on her lower half. Momma was surely proud. Interesting note about the tights. Mind you, they all seem to be wearing tights, it's just that everyone except Lil Miss Press N Curl has flesh tone ones on.

First time post via a link from Afrobella. Nice blog you have here!