Lena Waithe (American Screenwriter, Producer, and Actress) made headlines claiming that we are in a resurgence of a Black Renaissance in Hollywood. Hollywood has experienced recent success with movies like Black Panther and Get Out, and with scripted shows like “Black-ish”, “Scandal”, and “Atlanta”. These successes demonstrate that audiences are loving the surge of black entertainment. This leaves the question, ” Are we experiencing a Black Renaissance in Hollywood?“
The first Black Renaissance began on the streets of Harlem. It was the immediate outcome of the Great Migration. In the 20th century, Black people sought equal opportunities and a better quality of life. They migrated from the South to the Midwest and Northeast but most settled in Harlem, NY.
The “New Negro Movement” began to make Harlem the Black Mecca of culture. Nurturing the minds of African American icons like Langston Hughes, a poet, novelist, and social activist, and Josephine Baker, a singer that amazed spectators from stages all over the world. In addition, Jacob Lawrence would gain success at the age of 23 for his 60-panel Migration Series.
Golden Age of Black Cinema
The 90s were the golden age for black movies. The number of black movies created during that time was significant. On television, African American content seemed to be crossing over. Will Smith walked into Hollywood with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air“, while Jamie Foxx got his break on the Wayans brothers‘ sketch show, “In Living Color“.
There were also black-led television series such as “Moesha“, “A Different World“, “Family Matters“, “Kenan and Kel“, “Martin” and Queen Latifah‘s “Living Single“. For the first time in mainstream movies and TV, audiences were getting honest representations and showings of modern African- American life. Black people were also getting US history from their own point of view.
Currently, we are finding ourselves in the middle of a rebirth of a Black Renaissance. For instance, black art and black culture are at an all-time high. Black-centered projects produced by a predominantly black team are being noted and celebrated more than ever. Black narratives centered around black culture are no longer being pushed aside. A triumphant arrival of this renaissance could be credited to Shonda Rhimes and her show, “Scandal”, starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Olivia Pope was betrayed as a bold and uncompromising Black Woman you couldn’t help but respect. That was something mainstream television hadn’t seen since Claire Huxtable or the leading ladies of “Living Single”.
With the success of “Scandal” came more opportunities. Traditional media are allowing black creators to experiment on their terms. HBO provided comedian Robin Thede a sketch comedy show called, “A Black Lady Sketch Show”. It made history as the first sketch show performed by a predominantly African American female cast. Also, the hit television show “Power”, created by 50 Cent, helped Starz gain more traction and viewers.
Currently, Netflix has made space for Black creators to have a platform on their network as well with shows like their own American comedy-drama series, “Dear White People”. Equally, Kenya Barris (American writer, producer, and actor) landed a 100 million dollar multi-year producer deal with Netflix. To add, Shonda Rhimes and Michelle and Barack Obama scored a multi-year deal to create content as well.
Tyler Perry also has used his resources in Atlanta by turning a former confederate military base into one of the largest production studios in the world. Tyler Perry Studios has had high grossing films like Black Panther filmed on the property that is larger than Paramount, Warner Bros., and Walt Disney’s Burbank studios combined. Gen-Z stars like Marsai Martin has also made history in becoming the youngest person to get a first-look deal at Universal.
With all of the achievements and success we have seen over the recent years in Black Hollywood, one can say we are currently witnessing a new Black Renaissance. Black creators have been doing a great job of putting together projects with and for Black people. However, we no longer need it to be called a Renaissance. It needs to be the norm.