When I first heard about the Grown-ish spinoff of Black-ish starring superstar activist Yara Shahidi I was super excited. I’ve been a fan of Black-ish since it came out in 2014. When people were trying to talk slick about the name of the show, I was in the forefront defending the potential of what it could become. I saw the modern day Cosby Show vibes that were on the horizon. And it exceeded those expectations. The topics that Black-ish has touched on has been amazing. And the nuance that they tackle these subjects with is one of a kind. It’s the epitome of intelligent satire. One moment, you’re doubled over in laughter, the next you’re embroiled in intelligent thought about the discussion of the night presented.
The prospects for what Grown-ish could be following this formula had me ready for January 2018 to come around the corner. The problem was, my high expectations for the show weren’t met. Grown-ish seemed to be more sitcom than satire. A mockery roast of the millennial generation more than a humorous view at the the kids of the information age. The characters seemed like caricatures to me. Even bigger caricatures than what’s seen in Black-ish. Plus, it seemed as if they were outlandish for no reason because their growth was suspended. The growth that they underwent by the end of one episode would be undone as the episodes progressed.
Don’t get me wrong now! I love Grown-ish! I watch it on a daily basis and rewatch it on the Freeform app and DVR. It’s wildly entertaining and hilarious. That doesn’t take away from my critiques though. Because I love the show so much, I want it to be the best that it can be. I want it to speak to the true realities of HBCU and PWI/PBI students alike and find hilarity in situations that extend outside of relationships, friendships and partying (and pills I’d choose to believe black people ain’t popping). Oh, the places that Grown-ish could go!
Let me also make this clear as well. I’m not picking on Grown-ish! The college based media of the past twenty years (post-A Different World) by in large hasn’t been an accurate depiction of black college life. Sure, it’s shown a sector of the black college experience but a hyper-sensationalized version of the black college experience that’s being portrayed. Because of this, I decided to conduct research on this topic that I presented at my HBCU Fort Valley State University’s 9th Annual Research Day. My presentation won 3rd place in the oral presentation section of the Arts & Humanities competition. You can watch it below!
We could go into my abstract and I could copy and paste my long research day proposal but let’s make things condensed and get to the point. There’s a reason why these media projects aren’t accurate. It’s quite simple. Those that are writing, producing and creating these movies and shows aren’t that well-versed on our generation. It isn’t their fault. They don’t have the time to keep up with Kodak Black’s new diss on T.I. or however many Deltas are campus queens this year. They have lives, bills, children and the responsibilities of fully grown adults. That’s our job!
I believe that if college students (that are part of the 18-25 demographic of viewers that these shows often target) were more involved in the creative process of these media projects it would be way more accurate. From what I see, college students aren’t in these rooms. If we’re allowed in, we’re doing intern responsibilities. Hence the reason for this disconnect. There’s a way for these writers and producers to produce more accurate depictions of black college life: sit down with college students, interview them, just listen to what they go through. That’s what I did to create my book A Queen’s Pain.
I had to lean heavily upon my many female student leaders, friends and campus queens around the nation to make my book A Queen’s Pain. The book is about a young lady named Raynetta Duram who aspires to be the 78th Miss Laketon State University and a member of the Rho Eta sorority on campus. However, she has a problem understanding her value. She believes that being Greek and a Campus Queen will validate her. She believes that securing these titles will give her purpose; something to live for. However, what she doesn’t realize is that her true value lies within her. Raynetta’s lack of awareness of this fact causes her mental anguish that threatens to derail her chances of being a Rho Eta and Miss Laketon State.
Now, think about this. I’m not a black woman, campus queen nor am I Greek. Yet, I conducted a poll on HBCU Pulse’s Instagram using the polling feature on IG Story. During the poll, I presented images and snippets of each of the college shows that I’m going to mention below. 83% of students polled believed that “A Queen’s Pain” was a more accurate depiction of HBCU life than Grown-ish (73% of college students surveyed voted that it wasn’t an accurate depiction of college life), Dear White People (70% voted no), and the relationship storylines of Drumline & Stomp The Yard (96% and 80% of students voted no respectively).
Let’s discuss the reason for the poll numbers and why it makes as statement. First, I want you to read a chapter from A Queen’s Pain called “Strategy Meetings”. The chapter is about Raynetta’s anxiety to run to be Miss Laketon State University because her opponent Jessica Wilson at this point of the story is being rumored to be in the process of pledging the Rho Eta sorority before campaign week.
Tyler nodded. “That’s why Jessica crossing matters so much to you. You see her as your main competition and you feel like she’s about to be an Eta and come up off of your fall out with Alicia back Freshman year.”
I dropped my head to my chest. “Exactly.”
“That’s different. I must admit it. The Etas do have pull on the yard and all the new Etas coming out are going to have clout out of this world. That doesn’t mean you’re not gonna win though. We just have to be tighter in our campaign.”
“Did I forget to mention that she’s the Mu Theta queen? The Mu Thetas run the yard too.”
Tyler shrugged her shoulders. “That’s debatable. I feel like Lambda Phi does. The Mu Thetas are just more visible.”
“You don’t see what I see. If you’re talking about clout the Mu Thetas have it.”
She smacked her lips. “You’re just saying that because you want to be an Eta.”
“I could say the same thing for you. The Sigma Betas are the Lambda’s sisters.”
Tyler rolled her eyes again. “Your boyfriend is a Lambda man after all! Either way, It doesn’t matter what sorority you’re in. At the end of the day the students want to really know who you are. We care about the impact you make more than the clout you get for crossing.”
“I don’t think you believe that yourself. You already know Laketon State is obsessed with Greeks. Jessica being Miss Mu Theta is even more important than me being Miss Junior.”
Tyler hopped up out of her chair after I said that. She started pacing back and forth and shouted. “Really ‘Netta? Really? You really think being an organizational queen means more than being a Queen for the school’s court?”
“I mean, her being their queen means that it’s a given that she’s gonna be on-line to be an Eta. Plus, the Thetas are gonna campaign hard for her too.”
She walked up to me. “You must like feeling bad for yourself or something? If so, let me know so I can go on to bed and get this over with. I might need to go out after this and drink because you got me worked up right now.”
I leaned back in the couch chair and folded my arms. She rubbed her temple and leaned on the table in front of me. She patted me on the leg.
“Look at me Raynetta.”
I looked at her. She looked me in the eye and said, “I need you to stop stressing so much. . It seems like you’re literally finding things to worry about and that’s not ok. From here on out I want you to stop worrying about Jessica and what she does. I need you to focus on you. Let me worry about everything else. As your campaign manager, that’s my job.”
I nodded. “I’ll try.”
Pick up a copy of “A Queen’s Pain” from the HBCU Pulse Store today! Also available on Amazon but buy from the source for $10 here!
This chapter came from an interview that I did Keila Outen, popular YouTuber (AK.TV) and Spring 2018 Initiate of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She also ran to be Miss Fort Valley State University a week after she crossed Delta and served as the second attendant on the FVSU Royal Court this past year. When I spoke with her for my documentary Election Season: The Story of True HBCU Queens. She said, “I don’t think that being Greek influences the election, simply because there have been Greeks on the Royal Court prior to me being on court…It doesn’t mean necessarily that they are going to vote for me. It just means they recognize me.”
Using my interview with Keila, I fictionalized her answer and added it in the context of the storyline. Because of this, it resonated with my intended audience. It’s not hard. Sure, I’m the author of four books but I’m not an Emmy-nominated writer or showrunner. This could be done easily. I even think that the easiest solution to the generational disconnect that’s often seen with college based media is literally making positions to allow students to be involved in the conversation.
Sure, as college students we don’t have degrees just yet nor years of entertainment or production experience. However, we could get it by working in conjunction with shows such as Grown-ish and movies such as Stomp The Yard or even a Burning Sands (which I left off the survey because how vehemently the movie was opposed in both the college and black Greek community.) There’s no reason to attempt to make college life more sensationalized than it already is. I mean, come on! Spend a day with us on the yard and you’ll see why I say this. Help us out! Create an associate producer spot to put us in the game. How about making a consultant on the series? I promise you, the shows would be more accrate and hit home more for college viewers.
To do better, we much know better. As millennials, we have to let our voices be heard. We must start to tell our stories and help those that want to tell our stories tell it as accurately as possible.