As Black Americans grapple with ongoing disparities in representation in the film and television industries, it has become increasingly clear that in order to truly understand Black Americans’ identity within Hollywood, an accurate, diverse portrayal of Black experiences needs to be both seen and heard onscreen. In many ways, this could include the development of “average” Black characters, whose stories are neither glamorous nor solely focused on their Blackness, but instead express a more aesthetic, precise balance reflecting the diversity of Black stories and realities. 

After all, entertainment has an incredible capacity to influence public opinion and attitudes. Therefore, an average Black character within popular culture can serve to not only open the discourse surrounding race but also enable a portrayal of an everyday Black person that is often drowned out by overwhelmingly negative or one-dimensional Black characters.

What Does It Mean to Have an Average Black Character on Screen?

When discussing the notion of having an average Black character on screen, it is important to understand that this character type stands in direct contrast to those that are traditionally seen in major films or television series, such as the Black stereotype. Contrastingly, average Black characters are typically far more nuanced in their representation of Blackness and would, wish to tell stories that vary from the standard archetype. These characters could be anything from a high school athlete, a Biology teacher, or a weekend DJ, so long as their story is steeped in realism and not defined by their Blackness.

The Benefits of Having Average Black Characters on Screen

There are many powerful benefits to having an average Black character portrayed onscreen. Most notably, these characters can serve to disrupt the enduring narrative of Blackness being one-dimensional and one-note, ultimately enabling the development of more realistic and substantial stories that properly capture the nuances and complexities surrounding Black identity. In addition, average Black characters on screen can help to humanize what is all too often a villainous caricature or token, which serves not only to challenge the public perception of Black people but also create a platform to explore the realities and complexities of racism in America.

Further, having a wide range of average Black characters on screen can also open the dialogue on disregarded or decontextualized issues affecting the Black community, such as the school to prison pipeline, gentrification, and wage gap, to name only a few. Such topics are often avoidable within major films and television series due to their ability to complicate the narrative. Still, by featuring average Black characters with stories that progress beneath the surface, these issues can be explored in an unapologetic manner, and it can prove both refreshing and eye-opening for audiences.

How to Develop Average Black Characters on Screen

In order to properly develop and accurately represent average Black characters on screen, there are several key steps that producers, writers, directors and actors should take in order to ensure the character type is properly treated with the respect and complexity they deserve.

Write with Intention

When writing the character, it is important to remember that this character type is not simply an archetype, but rather a deeply fleshed out individual with a unique story and dynamic personality. Although there is a need for characters that are steeped in realism, the story should remain dynamic and entertaining, through the use of engaging subplots and well-crafted dialogue.

Remember Diversity

The term “average Black character” does not assume that every individual included in this character type is identical. This type should include a diverse range of characters, as well as various genders and sexualities in order to represent the more extensive aspects of diversity within the Black community.

Employ Highlighted Talent

When enacting the average Black character, it is important to take precautions to ensure they are represented in a respectful and accurate manner. Such precautions may involve the employment of highlighted Black talent to ensure the character is properly shaped through an individual who truly understands and identifies with the experience of being Black in America.

Find an Avenue Within the Story

It is vitally important that the average Black character is portrayed in a manner that serves not simply as a token within the story, but rather as an individual with purpose and drive. Finding an avenue through which this character may work toward their goals, whatever they may be, can help to ensure that their place within the narrative is justified and well-received.

Look for Opportunities for Change

The beauty of having average Black characters on screen is the opportunity for the furtherment of meaningful dialogue surrounding the experiences of Black Americans. Strive to find those unique opportunities where this character may bring about a sense of change, be it directly or indirectly, and make use of that opportunity in order to organize a broader discussion.

Ultimately, the concept of an average Black character on screen can prove both beneficial and game changing for the film and television industries. Such a character type stands to not only challenge the dominant narrative of Blackness but also open the dialogue around race, class, identity and treatment, which could, in turn, lead to powerful and authentic story arcs that rise above the status quo. In doing so, such characters can enable the public to gain a better understanding of the complexity and reality of the Black experience.

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