NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 145

Greaves’ black barbershop metaphor reflected another dynamic, as well — a privileging of black male experience and perspectives in programming decisions. Like much of the black freedom struggle, the leadership of Black Journal grappled with contradictory — and sometimes troubling — gender politics. Women in 1960s media and advertising were relegated to menial and often demeaning labor as typified in the contemporary drama “Mad Men,” and Black Journal was not immune to these traditions. In 1970, for example, the female employees of Newsweek magazine filed a landmark lawsuit to protest the sex discrimination they experienced in the workplace. At least a half-dozen women negotiated the gendered terrain at Black Journal to gain a foothold in television, contributing their political and artistic vision along the way. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE During the production team’s weekly meetings, Greaves used what he called the “black barbershop” test. “In the black barbershop, you get a lot of the issues that concern the black community,” he said. “So after the producers would present their ideas, I would then say, `Now will this fly in a black barbershop? If it does, it gets the green light; if it doesn’t, off with its head.’” In Greave’s view, Black Journal targeted both the black masses and black opinion leaders, while staying mindful of white viewers “especially those within the white community who feel that it is not for them, who are often surprised and irritated by the content of our shows.” The show’s staff articulated an activist vision of television’s potential. Executive editor Lou Potter told a press conference: “Television has to start proposing viable solutions, rather than just defining problems.” Similarly, in an essay for an industry journal, Greaves argued that Black Journal’s programming should focus on projects that “assist the black community in its problem solving efforts.” 143 Most of the protestors returned to Black Journal after the settlement, and Greaves oversaw a nearly all-black filmmaking and production crews, an opportunity he had craved for years. This was an historic moment — the first time African Americans had the authority to develop and design a recurring television show. net’s management, chastened by the publicity of the walk-out, pledged to allow Greaves room to maneuver. One former net executive recalled that each month, when Black Journal went on the air, “one could almost hear the collective sucking in of breath as the more timorous of the affiliates waited to see what provocations the show’s black producers might release.” These provocations came not only from the topics selected for discussion, but from the creative culture that emerged. Greaves insisted that the staff create content that directly addressed African American audiences, rather than a largely white, middle-class public which was the target for commercial broadcasters and advertisers. In so doing, the program inverted the conventions of television programming to create an early version of “narrowcasting.”