Last October many African-Americans were outraged by UPN's "The Secret Diary
of Desmond Pfeiffer." There was good reason. It was a historical absurdity,
that insulted and demeaned African-Americans. It was so poorly, written, crafted,
and slapstick that it was quickly and deservedly doomed to extinction. Now we have
Fox's "The PJs," produced by Eddie Murphy which purports to spoof life
in a mostly African-American housing project.
When Murphy conceived this idea he must have known that he would be treading on shaky
if not dangerous ground. Sure enough even before the first episode hit the air the
howls went up that the series was:
A. racially demeaning.
B. distorted black life.
C. promoted stereotypes. and
On two, possibly three counts the critics are right. The scenes which depicted black
men sitting around the table guzzling beer, that made light of a crackhead character,
and took slaps at religion, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are more than enough
to offend racial sensibilities, not to mention sending the wrong message about drugs
and alcohol. As for the humor, maybe those slightly before comatose might get a chuckle
or two out of some of "The PJs" childish antics, but thinking people, no.
Still, despite the gaffes, image missteps, and offensive scenes, there's no reason
to stampede to the barricades ala Desmond and demand that Fox snatch the series from
the airwaves. It does have some redeeming qualities, and even offers some hope. The
principal character, the building super, is a solid working class guy, with a loving
wife and a good friend who's a solid professional. He makes a mighty effort to be
a mentor, and a solid role model to the kids in the building. He demands that they
stay in school, and prods them to have a work ethic and ambition. With one exception
there is no profanity, use of the 'N' word, or disrespect of black women.
A fair number of its writers, creators, and executive producers are black, and of
course, there's Murphy. This in itself is cause for much cheer coming at a time when
some TV executives have made strong hints that black-themed series, will be either
time segregated on one or two nights a week, if not outright eliminated. This would
dump many more skilled and talented African-Americans in the TV industry out on the
street with no place to go.
But "The PJs" still needs some immediate surgery--desperately. This means
a healthy dose of enlightening humor, more positive characters such as a businessperson,
educator, or another trades person, and more care by scriptwriters not to mock personal
beliefs, religion, and revered black historical figures.
The producers and the critics of "The PJs" producers say they want the
series to tackle tough issues and tell the world the real story of black life. Now
all they have to do is to figure out what that reality should be, and present it
with a laugh.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black. email:ehutchi344@aol.
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