Written by: Kayla Lake ( @ka_ayy)
Edited by: Brittnay Cooper ( @bee_michele)
What is it like to be black in the entertainment business? The entertainment business is often a catch twenty-two experience for black celebrities. Throughout history, black people have broken the barriers of being limited to perform in certain cities and venues and not being broadcast on national television and radio stations. Black entertainers, such as Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Etta James, had to bear the burden of these barriers throughout their careers.
Today, black artists are welcomed to perform and entertain all over the world. However, some issues remain in the entertainment business, one of which is the business side itself. Black artists are often the victims of unfair business contracts, such as record label deals that often involve signing over royalty rights to their music. Recently, the entertainment world watched as Lil Wayne fought with Cash Money Records over album release dates, album budgeting, and royalty rights for artists under his subsidiary label, Young Money.
Music is not the only area of entertainment with these problems; black actors have also had trouble receiving recognition for their contributions to the industry. The 2016 Academy Awards were met with a boycott by one of the biggest families in the acting world: the Smiths. The Smiths boycotted the award show because of the lack of diversity in the nominations. Jada Pinkett Smith was quoted as saying, “Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?” The Smiths took a stance against something that has been going on in the television and film industries for decades. This discrimination started in the 1950s, when black actors were only allowed to play certain roles, which were generally secondary roles, and almost always made the black character secondary to more prominent white characters.
While the entertainment business has never been easy for black people, one industry that was considered carefree and fun has historically been sports. However, the sports industry has recently become difficult for black athletes because of politics. Black athletes are often criticized for addressing their political concerns and voicing their opinions on social injustices in black communities. In the 2017 football season, black athletes, inspired by Colin Kaepernick, participated in peaceful protest by kneeling during the National Anthem to speak out against police violence in minority communities. As a result, Colin has been blackballed in his search for a new team, and the NFL has instated a new rule that beginning in the 2018 football season, players will have to stay in their team locker rooms if they won’t stand for the National Anthem.
Black people should not be discouraged from pursuing careers in the entertainment business. Black celebrities often use their positions as platforms to speak out on social and political issues that affect black communities, despite attempts to stop them. The entertainment business has its ups and downs, but it’s a necessary and important part of black communities. Now more than ever, representation matters, and the industry is making strides to meet that need. The next generation of black children will see positive TV and movie characters, musicians and athletes that look like them, and they’ll have powerful role models who use their voices to create change.