Black History Month in 2021 has looked different from previous years, for many reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to stay home when we would have otherwise attended in-person celebrations or visited a local museum. Some of us may have even planned a trip to the nation’s capital to see the African American History Museum, the Martin Luther King memorial, or the Emancipation Proclamation.
With the more traditional ways of honoring Black History Month off the table, many of us instead turn to our TVs to learn about black history and celebrate black achievement. That’s significant for a couple reasons — two that are particularly important in the context of Black History Month.
1. Representation on TV Matters
When TV is inclusive of authentic and multi-dimensional Black characters — and stories from their perspectives – it can open our eyes to new experiences and possibilities.
That is the impetus behind the $25 million “Content for Change” initiative from BET and their parent company, ViacomCBS. While BET has elevated Black voices for over 40 years, the new “Content for Change” initiative seeks to show how media plays a pivotal role in shaping and driving individuals’ and communities’ values, perceptions and actions — and further the principle that representation matters.
To achieve this goal, BET has expanded its partnerships with social justice organizations to drive change for Black Americans. That has meant deepening relationships with current content creators and establishing new relationships with up-and-coming creators. In addition, funds from the initiative will support content that will help “drive the critical changes needed to eliminate systemic racism and inequality in America.”
2. TV Plays a Role in Education and Perception
TV programming also keeps people informed. What we watch on TV can help us learn something new, keep up with what’s going on in the world, and inform our opinions.
TV that can shed new light on issues like injustice and inequality, then, can be powerful tools to combat racism. That’s why the Beyond community is particularly excited about two BET Black History Month specials, both that began airing this past weekend, on February 21:
“Boiling Point” explores Black America’s long-standing struggle for racial justice and equality. As part of this six-part docuseries, BET and CBS News are sharing original interviews and never-before-seen footage of pivotal moments in the fight for Civil Rights. Each hour-long episode highlights events including Bloody Sunday, Hurricane Katrina, and the more recent killing of George Floyd. According to BET, the series “seeks to connect racism’s through line in U.S. history to understand if Americans have come to an overdue awakening on systemic racism.”
“Disrupt & Dismantle” addresses the injustices still affecting Black communities across America today. Each episode follows Emmy Award-winning journalist, Soledad O’Brien, as she confronts issues ranging from police brutality, to the prison pipeline, to infant mortality — first with Black Americans in their communities, and then in the field as she works to identify solutions with activists, politicians and other thought leaders. The first episode followed O’Brien to Dallas, Texas to uncover environmental racism in the city’s Southern Sector.
BET’s Black History Month 2021 specials not only help Americans learn more about Black stories and struggles, they also highlight five issues that are central to the “Content for Change” mission: racial justice, economic empowerment, education, health and civic participation.
While February may be a special time to draw attention to Black History and Black achievement, it’s also important to remember that TV networks like BET celebrate Black excellence all of the time. And, as the country continues to undergo a reckoning on race and inequality, the Beyond community is encouraged to see many more TV networks stepping up their efforts to support the Black community, to combat racism, and to create a more just and equitable society.
To learn more about diversity in TV and how Beyond advocates for inclusive programming, join Beyond and keep tabs on new content from your favorite TV networks.