Tim Reid denounces portrayals of blacks

April 17, 2003|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Tim Reid decided early in his acting days that he wanted to be a producer, too - to hold the reins of his career. That realization hit right about the time when a white network official fired him from a proposed television show because he wasn't "black enough."

"I'm not sure black folks fully understand the power that media has in our life," Reid told roughly 200 people yesterday at the Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center. "We are becoming who they portray us as being. We've allowed ourselves to become a collection of negative statistics. Simon says dress like a gangster, and we do."

Reid delivered the keynote address at Morgan State University's first Communication Day, which also included several panel discussions about the black press and new media.

He drew a receptive response as he took aim at the representation of African-Americans by news organizations and by the entertainment media in music, movies and television. And Reid admonished his audience, overwhelmingly black and many of whom were Morgan communications students, to take more control of the portrayal of African-Americans.

"I'm amazed by what I see on television or in the movies," Reid said. "Most of it is not familiar to me. I'm saying, either I overslept or someone stole my culture."

When he was younger, the 58-year-old Reid said, people feared the future imagined in 1984, George Orwell's bleak book about a totalitarian society ruled by power and fear. Instead, Reid argued, today's society more closely represents Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which a government controls its subjects by indulging them.

"Huxley feared that what we love could ruin us," Reid said. "I'm here to tell you, black people love television."

Reid is perhaps best known for his television roles on such shows as WKRP in Cincinnati, Simon & Simon and Frank's Place. But he left Hollywood. Along with his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid, he created his own studios in Virginia, producing movies, documentaries and television shows with more richly drawn depictions of blacks.

During yesterday's talk, Reid held up an edition of Variety, the Hollywood trade publication, that carried the line: "Viewed as showbiz, Iraq was a Winner."

"Politics, religion, news, sports, education and business have all been transformed into an appendage of show business," Reid said. "The fact that our sons and daughters were killed means nothing to the ratings. It was almost like watching another episode of Survivor."

He traced the history of blacks in film, saying most roles were limited to specific types: Uncle Toms, Mammies and "violent, menacing black bucks." Similarly, he said, the news media tend to focus only on the extremes - the Oprahs on one side, and the criminals and welfare mothers on the other.

"From birth of a nation to gangster rap - that's the image," Reid said. "The entertainment media has altered the ways we create and define meaning in our lives.

"Fight propaganda with your own propaganda. Make your content in the context of the culture in which you dream of being a part."

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