Wednesday, April 10, 2013

‘Mad Men’ Revisited, This Time With Negroes

The other day I stumbled upon Showbiz Is Glamorous, a blog by actress and writer Erika Alexander.

I’ve always liked Alexander and the characters she played, whether “cousin Pam” from The Cosby Show, or the tactless and hilarious Maxine Shaw from Living Single (the lawyer I wanted to be if I’d ever gotten it together enough to go to law school), or one of various others from her numerous guest appearances on shows such as Law and Order and Suits. (In 2010, Alexander apparently also had a recurring role on In Plain Sight, a show I really, really enjoyed but didn’t start watching until late 2011—sorry Erika. I’m sure you were fabulous.)

Alexander spent some time in Philly and attended Girls High, my alma mater, and even though some of the worst moments of my life were had in that school, I’m still proud to say I’m a graduate, and I always feel a bond with fellow students no matter when or how long they attended.

But to shift gears a moment, Alexander has penned a script for the television series Mad Men (you can check it out here,) and that’s what I really want to talk about.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve watched Mad Men, but after reading Alexander’s essay "Why I Wrote a Mad Men Episode With Negroes," I decided to see what she’d done.

And truly, I was riveted from the get go, finding in particular an early scene at the ad agency, during which Pete and Roger talk to a prospective client about marketing the client’s product to “Negroes,” to be fascinating. Seriously, there is something about a tribunal of white folks discussing black folks behind closed doors that’s irresistible. What will they say? What do they say about us behind closed doors? Tell me! That’s how I feel, anyway.

Now, we could talk forever and a day about there not being enough people of color represented on television, but the larger issue is not, and never will be, the mere shortage of black and brown faces. The larger issue is the dearth of quality stories of black and brown people, and these stories aren’t normally created without the participation of people of color, even though they’re not only relevant to us. In fact, some of the most moving human stories involve the intersection of black, brown, and white society (think Crash, The Help, and even The Long Walk Home) and Alexander’s script does that. And I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little disheartening that, on the whole, only black folks feel the lack, when white people should want more of these stories told, too.

I believe that good art makes you long for something you didn’t even know you we missing, and that’s how I felt after reading Alexander’s script. As I said, I don’t watch Mad Men very often, but darn, after viewing their world through Alexander’s eyes for a bit, I felt the weight of a lost opportunity. As though I’d missed the pivotal episode of my very favorite television show (and you know how much I love television), but this was worse, because I just couldn’t catch it On Demand or NetFlix or YouTube, because it doesn’t actually exist. And that’s the real shame, because these stories, our stories, are damn interesting, and they need a bigger forum.

So, please. Check out the script, get the word out, and keep the conversation going!

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