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Reaction to Netflix Animated ‘Good Times’ Trailer

Reaction to Netflix Animated ‘Good Times’ Trailer

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After the writer’s strike ended in September 2023, it had me thinking, among other things, about how far television has evolved. But as I thought specifically about how Black people are represented on TV, I realized that notable and inspiring Black characters are still few. We all know Black folk have come a long way in real life, but for some reason, media still tells a different story.

We’ve been so busy trying to move forward, we’ve forgotten the Black characters and shows of the past that inspired us, set positive examples for the community, and made us proud to be Black. Case in point: Good Times.

On February 8, 1974, the first Black sitcom with a two-parent family and one of the most successful Black sitcoms of our culture was born. Florida (Esther Rolle) and James Evans (John Amos) and their three children lived in the infamous Cabrini-Green projects in inner-city Chicago. Florida and James’ children were James Jr. (Jimmie Walker), also known as J.J., Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis) and Michael (Ralph Carter).

When the series began, J.J. and Thelma are 17 and 16 years old, respectively, and Michael, known as “the militant midget” by his father due to his passionate activism, is 11 years old. Their neighbor, and Florida’s best friend, Willona Woods, is divorced and working at a boutique.

Looking at the show through 2024 eyes, so many things stand out to me. First, the Evans family probably had more integrity than any other Black family on television. Ever. Now before you say the Huxtables, I have to say, the Evans family was far more noteworthy because they actually had real-life-or-death, how-are-we-gonna-eat problems. The Huxtables, while they will always be a significant portrayal of affluent Black life, didn’t struggle like the Evans family did.

Good Times faced poverty, unemployment, discrimination, civil rights activism, gangs, suicide, child abuse, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, hypertension, illiteracy and more. Seriously, if there was a social issue, the show brought it to life. The family’s way of dealing with these issues always centered around integrity, strength, and family togetherness.

So, to hear Netflix is rebooting this beloved show as an animated series is different. Let’s take a look at that trailer, shall we?

First, here’s the official synopsis of the show: “An animated reboot of the Norman Lear series finds the latest generation of the Evans family, cab driver Reggie and his wife, the ever-aspirational Beverly, scratching and surviving in one of the last remaining housing projects in Chicago along with their teenage artist son, Junior, activist daughter Grey, and drug dealing infant son, Dalvin. It turns out the more things change the more they stay the same. Keeping your head above water in a system with its knee on your neck is as challenging as ever. The only thing tougher than life is love, but in this family, there’s more than enough to go around.”

What disturbs me about the reboot is not so much that it’s an animated series but that it appears to be yet another example of stereotypical portrayals of Black life. This reimagining of a TV classic is definitely unfiltered and not for children — which is sad because the original Good Times was something the whole family could watch.

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Let’s just say that I agree with most people’s sentiments about this trailer. Many have nothing good to say about it. It may have something to do with the strippers, nudity, sex, adultification of Black boys, and cursing. You think? Let’s talk about it.

There’s a complicated legacy when it comes to white executive producers at the helm of Black television shows. I have problems with a show about Black life, Black families, and Black struggle with white people leading that narrative. The late Norman Lear is credited as an executive producer on this project, along with Seth MacFarlane. Yes, the same Seth MacFarlane who is the creator of Family Guy and The Cleveland Show.

The reality that Lear, a white man, being responsible for bringing an expanded view of Black lives to American television was a direct result of the 1970s. Most doors were still closed to Black producers, writers, and creators, like Eric Monte.

Creator of Cooley High, Monte claims Lear was a racist who stole his ideas for the ’70s television shows, The Jeffersons, and What’s Happening!! He also worked as a writer on Good Times, which he co-created with Mike Evans. Monte also revealed that Lear didn’t want the character played by John Amos on Good Times because he didn’t think a strong Black man on a sitcom would work out. Monte sued Lear in 1977 for stealing his ideas. Although he received a $1 million settlement, he was eventually blacklisted from Hollywood.

It should be noted that Ranada Shepard is the showrunner and executive producer of the show. Shepard, a Black woman, was also part of the creative team behind Matthew Cherry’s Young Love animated series. NBA star Steph Curry is also a producer on the series under his Unanimous Media banner.

This new series brings a whole new meaning to “scratching and surviving,” as the Good Times theme song famously says. The reboot is another example of profiting from Black people’s trauma, not to mention a stark reminder of stealing Black people’s ideas.

Director Cord Jefferson’s film American Fiction gives us a similar story, with a comedic portrayal of the white fetishization of Black trauma. We see a well-educated Black author who writes an over-the-top novel in protest of the way white audiences seem to be incredibly obsessed with that kind of material. But, to his surprise, the white audiences love it.

Soon after the murder of Breonna Taylor, I had written a poem and shared it online. A white woman reached out to me and said that she was so moved by my pain. I told her that, unfortunately, there is never a shortage of pain for Black women. She didn’t realize she was being insulted.

The truth is everything is not meant to be funny or used for entertainment purposes. Consider the years of Black people speaking up about representation and this effort feels hollow. There is a clear disconnect between the media white audiences present to us as entertainment and the media Black people actually support.

You be the judge, if it’s “Dyn-O-Mite!” April 12, 2024, on Netflix.

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