By: Dominique S. Johnson
When I first heard about the hit series Riverdale, I felt a sense of obligation to join the bandwagon. It was praised by critics and social media and seemed like a show I’d enjoy. I binged the first season on Netflix and was hooked right away. But mid-way through season two, I became bored. Not because the storylines didn’t keep my attention but because I grew frustrated and tired of watching a group of White teenagers and their drama. My frustration made me realize the lack of a diversity in teen dramas that’s been going on for years. Quite honestly, I’m exhausted.
Thanks to UPN, I was able to grow up and see people who looked like me as they navigated through their teenage and college life in shows such as Moesha, One on One, and The Parkers. While these shows and several others were presented as comedies, there were still dramatic themes of race, pregnancy, adulthood, etc. explored. Once UPN stopped broadcasting in 2006, it seemed as though shows centering around Black teenagers didn’t exist anymore. At the prime part of my teenage years, I no longer saw myself being reflected on television. Instead, I was shown the trials and tribulations White kids went through in high school.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The themes explored in shows such as Gossip Girl, The O.C. and Friday Night Lights mostly reflected the life of a teenager. I was able to relate to some topics. But what lacked is how issues teenagers face combined with racial discrimination and identity can play a major impact amongst Black youth. Unfortunately, nothing has changed and the struggles Black youth go through on top off trying not to be seen as “ghetto,” “hood,” and “ratchet” is still not being shown in teen dramas.
If we go back and examine all the popular teen dramas that have been dubbed some of the best, Black characters in predominately White teen dramas fall into the conventional role of being the “token” Black friend. The token Black friend provides comedic relief to the drama surrounding the characters. This can be seen in One Tree Hill with the character Skills and Boy Meets World character, Angela. Audiences never see their side of the story and are unable to understand their character development. While the characters may be minor and may not at all drive the show’s overall storyline, there needs to be more representation so that young Black teenagers see themselves and the issues they face reflected on television.
Black millennials never got the Black teen drama we deserve. We didn’t get our Beverly Hills 90210 or The Secret Life of the American Teenager. We barely got our shine on Degrassi. Network executives need to give Black teen dramas a chance. We deserve to be represented in the same fashion as our White counterparts. Let’s not use the excuse of possibly receiving poor ratings and a small number of viewers per episode. It’s already been proven with the success of Black Panther that if you give Black people the opportunity to be represented in various capacities, we will pay and watch and enjoy it. There are too many Black producers, showrunners, and writers wanting or have wanted to create shows surrounding Black teenagers for there to not be something on television.
A change needs to happen now. It’s time for audiences to receive an accurate and true depiction of the lives of Black teenagers. It’s long overdue.