Color Adjustment | Chicago Reader

Color Adjustment

A feature-length video documentary by Marlon Riggs (1989) critiquing the representation of blacks on television from Amos 'n' Andy to the present. Among the talking heads are actresses Esther Rolle and Diahann Carrol, TV producers Norman Lear, David Wolper, and Steven Bochco, and scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Alvin Pouissant; pointed use is also made of quotations from James Baldwin. It's hard to fault any of this as ideological and social analysis, and Riggs should be credited for his willingness to be just as critical of more recent shows as he is of I Spy, Julia, and Roots. But the conventional, low-key, and at times dull talking-heads format of the presentation—making all of its points through witnesses, participants, and “experts”—subtly undercuts the radicalism of what this historical survey is often saying and implying about mainstream TV. Considering that Riggs's aim is largely to show us many of the ways that status quo racism is maintained through bland entertainment, it's dispiriting that he should proffer some of this entertaining blandness himself as if it were a badge of honor, or at the very least a prerequisite to mainstream attention.

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