Media portrayal of African Americans is a significant and ongoing issue. The manner in which we are portrayed on television has a significant impact both on how we see ourselves and how the rest of the world views us.
John Amos, famed father on Good Times, revealed in an interview with the American Archive of Television that he was fired from the show because of how vocally he spoke out against the “shucking and jiving.” According to Callahan, Amos’ position “seemed to have rubbed the show’s creator…the wrong way.”
Amos’ contention was that the show could have been carried by the positive aspirations of the younger two children–one of which wanted to become a Supreme Court justice. However, the show began to center around the “chicken-hat wearing” J.J. whose character shucked-and-jived his was through every episode.
“I felt too much emphasis was being put on J.J. and his chicken hat and saying ‘dy-no-mite’ every third page, when just as much emphasis and mileage could have been gotten out of my other two children.”
Amos’ account aligns with that of Florida Evans–portrayed by Esther Rolle– who left the show shortly after Amos’ television death. In regards to J.J.’s role, Esther Rolle stated in a 1975 Ebony Magazine article:
“He’s eighteen and he doesn’t work…He can’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that. Michael’s role of a bright, thinking child has been reduced. Little by little…they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped on us through the character of the oldest child.”
Amos demanded that his television family be portrayed in the most positive manner possible. His clear position in the debate ultimately got him fired. Nearly forty years later, it would appear that the debate of the type of images portrayed by and of African Americans on television may have been lost. In many ways, there are more negative portrayals of blacks on television than positive. However, if these are the images that our own community consumes and seeks out, is there anyone to blame but ourselves?