‘Blackfamous’ is Just Famous to me


For every inescapable episode of “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “Gilmore Girls,” there is an equal and opposite Black sitcom that might even be funnier. Black centered shows like “Martin” and “Good Times” were popular in their heyday, but lack the memorialization to keep them afloat in modern mainstream media. Instead they live on as generational references and household names. 

There is a difference between Blackfamous people and famous Black people. The term “Blackfamous” acts as a snapshot of Black history and a catalyst for Black culture. Senior writer for online Black-centric magazine “The Root,” Michael Harriot, defined Blackfamous as “the gap between black stardom and white anonymity.” Not all Black media — movies, art, television, music, celebrities, personalities — sticks, and most importantly, not everything transcends to the mainstream. It is up to the Black community to determine what, and who, is worth preserving.

Denzel Washington, Oprah, Drake, and countless others have broken past the bubble of Black entertainment and garnered white, mainstream acclaim. This attention bolsters them from Blackfamous to famous Black people.

I could spend the rest of this article waxing poetic about all of the amazing Black media and actors that fly under the radar, but I’m a proponent of gatekeeping so I’ll just share a few. To me, the most notable examples are Tyler James Williams and KeKe Palmer. They are both actors I consider personal childhood icons and are currently regaining popularity.

I grew up with KeKe Palmer, so it is difficult pinpointing my first Palmer picture. It was on a bootleg CD and I believe it was her 2006 movie “Akeelah and the Bee.” Palmer stayed on my television screen either as a plucky pint-sized genius (Akeelah) or as an inspiring football player in 2008’s “The Longest Yard.” In my household, as a brainiac and a peewee football star, Palmer was a favorite. 

I remember my excitement when Palmer began starring in bigger projects. When she double dutched alongside Corbin Bleu in Disney’s 2007 “Jump In!,” I begged my mom for braids so mine could bounce like hers. My interest in fashion and culture was spurred on by Palmer’s role as the titular character in “True Jackson, VIP,” where she played a teenage vice president of a youth apparel line. I even caught a few episodes of her talk show, “Just Keke,” with my granny. 

I can mark core childhood phases with just Palmer’s filmography alone. However, a viral tweet from Teen Vogue Editorial Assistant Aiyana N. Ishmael sparked a conversation that Palmer’s popularity may not be a universal experience. “It’s so interesting seeing the conversation around Keke Palmer having her breakout or superstar moment,” she said in the tweet. “We live in different worlds because in my household Keke been a star for forever.”

My devotion to Tyler James William was more surface level. Williams starred as a young Chris Rock in the semi-autobiographical sitcom, “Everybody Hates Chris,” which ran from 2005 to 2009. 

When Williams made his Disney Channel debut in 2012 with “Let It Shine,” I was ecstatic. I kept a poster of him plastered to my grade school binder and my cousins and I reenacted the busboy rap battle scene for weeks. My grandparents, parents, and brother were all willing to crowd around the television to Tyler James Williams. I like-liked Williams before he became the quiet but dependable love interest on “Abbott Elementary,” a successful mockumentary sitcom following poorly funded elementary school teachers.

Despite running for four seasons and being a comedic goldmine, the majority of the awards won by “Everybody Hates Chris” are from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s Image Awards. The show’s cast, writers, and crew members were all nominated for other mainstream award shows like the Emmys, Golden Globes, and People’s/Teen’s Choice Awards, but mainstream wins eluded them. 

Only one of the show’s three Emmy nominations acknowledges Black labor. Costume designer Darryle Johnson and costume supervisor Shirlene Williams’ prowess of the 1980s Brooklyn aesthetic were recognized by a 2006 Outstanding Costumes for a Series nomination. The show’s white director of photography, Mark Doering-Powell, received the other two nominations. 

These award shows are not career defining for Blackfamous media. There is essentially an entire industry dedicated to capturing Black American life, and I’m hesitant to disclose and link to these projects. This isn’t a listicle of how you should spend your February nights. There is no white person — or audience — centered in these stories. In Blackfamous media there isn’t the desire to cater to and build diversity around whiteness. These are shows made by and for us, often with topical and intentional celebrity cameos. 

Blackfamous doesn’t imply a lower quality of work or talent. I would adorn my bedroom with prints of “Sugar Shack” and “Blue Monday” before I’d ever touch Warhol or Van Gogh. I wear Celie braids to sleep and (unfortunately) I yell “Ricky!” whenever I see someone run instead of making a Forrest Gump joke. Blackfamous fuels the clothes I wear, the music I listen to, and the media I consume. It is the purest, untouched corner of Black culture. 


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