A portion of the Black edutainment trend stems from inclination. There are writers from all backgrounds who are drawn towards edutainment ideals. However, this only speaks to a portion. The extent to which scripts from emerging Black writers feel compelled to explore Blackness in a very outward-facing, explanatory way—Blackness for the white gaze—says far more about industry appetites and attitudes than anything else.
There are still Black writers out there who have enough courage in their convictions to be telling Black stories that prioritize Black viewers; these stories are just rarely getting made (a few wonderful exceptions, like “Miss Juneteenth,” have managed to make it through). But most of these projects are still not getting greenlit. Contrast that to the numerous tales of graphic, brutal violence against Black people designed to enlighten and move white audiences through shock and gore—with little thought to the experience of Black viewers—that have been recently made or are actively being made. Combined, it makes a feedback loop that pressures Black creatives to tell tales for others, not themselves.
This is an incredibly heavy burden for writers to bear. The best stories are often the most personal, the most driven by passion, and written because they’re the stories the writers themselves really want to see. But this industry overwhelmingly asks Black writers to do just the opposite—to write for others first and foremost, to edutain.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with teaching through entertainment, in the sense that it can, to an extent, be relatively effective. If that’s truly what a creative wants to create, they should be welcome to do so. The issue is the multifold ways in which this industry still pushes Black creatives towards taking on these additional responsibilities, both by primarily rewarding stories aimed for white audiences specifically, and by failing to see the potential of those that don’t.
Sparked particularly by the torture fest that is the new Amazon Prime limited series “Them,” commentators from publications ranging from The Atlantic to The Guardian have raised questions about the purpose and dubious ongoing need for all-too-real fictional stories packed full of Black suffering and violence against Black people and little else. Who wants to see this? Who are these narratives for? And the only answer that truly makes any sense is “white people.” As Angelica Jade Bastién writes for Vulture, “watching ‘Them’ feels like compounded trauma […] It doesn’t force others to consider the anti-Blackness they perpetuate. If anything, it lets modern white people off the hook, providing extremes with which they can distance themselves from their own racism.”
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