Bashing “Julia”—How the Critics Got It So Very Wrong

1968-TV-007-JuliaI recently stumbled across the Aspire Network on channel 381 on my DirecTV. One morning I watched the show “Julia” starring Diahann Carol. The show ran from 1968 to 1971 in which Julia played the role of a nurse and single mother raising a son. The absence of a husband was due to him being shot down in Vietnam while serving as a spotter pilot—the obligatory fractured black family. I did not watch Julia when its first television run but I am now enjoying watching episodes of well written, positive portrayal scripts for a black female role. But, there were critics who felt that Julia was little more than a “white Negro.” This was the criticism that came mostly from black America. I think they got it totally wrong and we are now paying the price for black America’s put-down of Julia.

On the show Julia Baker plays the role of a nurse at an aerospace facility in Los Angeles. In the episode where Julia applies for the job, a white manager makes it clear that her race is a major obstacle to her getting the job. Julia stands her ground reminding the bigot of her extraordinary credentials. The doctor who eventually hires Julia turned away all the other white “fluff heads” and hires the best—Julia. Julia lives in an apartment below her white neighbors where the husband is a policeman and wife is a stay at home mother. Every episode of Julia that I have watched portrayed Julia as a beautiful, well dressed, well educated, loving mother. She has several black suitors including Fred Williamson. She dresses elegantly, she is absolutely gorgeous evoking admiration from white male characters, including Bob Hope in one episode. And so I ask, what was the problem with black America and Julia?

When it first aired the show was characterized as the first “non-stereotypical” role for a black female. This was the first television role where the black female character was not the “typical” head-rag wearing, overweight, nasty mouth, poorly educated, bad grammar using, and beat down by an abusive man type character. Julia is just the opposite. The show also did not have the stilted laugh track requiring off color jokes of the sort usually spoon-fed to brainwashed Negro audiences. One black activist referred to the Julia show as “Bullwinkle” referring to the comic strip. I am supposing that this same person enjoyed watching Tarzan, Superman, and Popeye the Sailor Man. Black America’s brainwashed acceptance of “Ole Mammy” roles for black women thwarted their own power to set themselves free of white concocted imagery.

The price we are now paying for the push back against a positive black female character in the 60s and 70s is the current total disrespect and denigration of black women. Exhibit A is former First Lady Michelle Obama who was treated with wholesale disrespect using language I will not use in this column. Compare the treatment of Michelle with Melania Trump who has accomplished nothing in her life except to marry a buffoon. Even last week someone posted a cartoon mocking Michelle’s shapely arms, suggesting masculinity, and fawning over Melania’s “femininity.” One comedian spoke out saying that he can’t blame Melania for not moving into the White House because who in their right mind would want to sleep with Trump. But the point is not lost on how favorably Melania is accepted and how Michelle was mistreated.

Those who lambasted the role of Julia Baker failed to comprehend the “image making” that television performs. Not only does television broadcast and shape images, it also shapes the narrative around these images so much that a white female can be portrayed as the “face so lovely it launched a thousand ships,” a narrative that would never be accorded a black female. In their haste to find social relevance in the black experience, black America too quickly shut the door on avenues and pathways to emancipate itself from a history of negative imagery. If more Julia Baker roles had continued in mainstream media, the current anti-black woman desirability narrative could have been eradicated. Instead, what so many critics fail to understand is that to the same extent that black women have been rejected her children, especially her sons, have suffered the same fate—at the hands of America’s police state. There is a direct link between respect for the mother and respect for her children. When a white cop can throw a black woman to the ground and beat her with his fist, or snatch her from a car and arrest her for a poor lane change, then it is clear that there is a lack of respect mindset that is deeply ingrained within the American fabric. Those who called Julia a “white Negro” would probably find nothing wrong with the huge number of black men who refuse to date black women. Are they also white Negroes? History cannot be recalled, but, there is a steep price to be paid for making bad history. Black women are now paying a steep price.

Copyright 2017 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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