BURBANK, CA—The long-standing economic, political and social divisions between blacks and whites in America at long last ended Monday with a TV producer's casting of a black actor in a bit part as a teen computer-whiz archetype.
Though racial equality had, throughout U.S. history, been seen as little more than a distant dream, TV producer Fern Blochner—co-producer of such popular daytime teen "dramedies" as Crestwood Daze and Chillin' Out In Study Hall—made that dream a reality when it came time to cast her newest series, My Home Ate My Dogwork, airing Saturday mornings on NBC.
"You wouldn't normally think a black kid would be running a high-school computer lab, but we have one doing just that," Blochner said of her show, whose uplifting and dignified portrayal of black youths in America is being widely credited for the sudden flowering of racial justice and harmony across the nation. "Our casting decision boldly defies the societal stereotype that black people are not smart enough to run high-school computer labs."
Shortly after the airing of the premiere episode of My Home Ate My Dogwork—in which the computer-whiz character is clearly visible in the background in no fewer than three separate scenes—the barriers of poverty, crime, and lack of equal access to education that have kept America's blacks at a disadvantage came crashing down.
"I'll admit, I was a bit shocked when I found out I got the part," said Darrell Goodwin, the 17-year-old actor who plays the computer whiz. "I thought to myself, 'The computer lab... run by a black kid? How could this be?' Then I realized that the casting decision deliberately defied society's racist expectations, expectations that I myself had bought into by doubting myself."
Though Blochner and her associates said they had reservations about the controversial casting decision, particularly regarding how others in the traditionally white entertainment industry would react, they held fast to their conviction that the teen computer whiz should be black.
"We were worried that institutional, internalized racism on the part of industry executives might manifest itself in the form of opposition to our casting decision," Blochner said. "But we stood our ground, and, as a result, such closed-mindedness is now a thing of the past."
Blochner said she came up with the idea to make the computer-whiz character black while doing background research for the show.
"We wanted our show to be as accurate as possible, so we spent some time at New Trier High School in the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka to ensure authenticity," Blochner said. "But after a few days at the school, we noticed a disturbing and unfair aspect of the upscale high school's student demographic: There were no blacks."
"We were very concerned that the high school had no black students, and that none of the students at the school had ever known any blacks, and that there were no blacks living anywhere within the neighborhoods zoned for the school," Blochner continued. "We said to ourselves, 'This is unfair!' and were determined to change reality for the better. So we decided that in our fictional version of the school, we would put in a black kid, and we'd make it seem like he's smart, too."
Noted sociologist Edwin Hull explained how the producers of My Home Ate My Dogwork were able to bring about racial equality in the U.S.
"By boldly envisioning a world in which African Americans possess the socioeconomic wherewithal not only to attend a high school like New Trier, but actually to run the computer lab therein, this television program created a 'positive media portrayal' of African Americans," Hull said. "This proactive portrayal of a positive African-American role model boosted the collective self-esteem of the nation's African-American community, thus establishing racial harmony at last."
Hull noted that this strategy was similar to the one used by the 1998 Environmental Media Awards, at which episodes of Baywatch and The X-Files featuring pro-environment themes were credited with last year's spontaneous healing of the ozone layer and the return of several dozen long-extinct species to the global ecosystem.