Cuba Gooding Jr. Calls for More Black Narratives on TV

Book of Negroes - H 2015
Courtesy of BET

"Wouldn’t it be nice if all the networks were more representative of the complexions of America, not just BET?"

The question was posed by African American actor Cuba Gooding Jr., who was on stage at the Television Critics Association's semi-annual press tour Saturday to peddle his upcoming BET show, The Book of Negroes. Based on Lawrence Hill's novel, "Someone Knows My Name," the miniseries tells the story of an African woman (Aunjanue Ellis) who must navigate her way through the American Revolution in New York, the isolated refuge of Novia Scotia and the jungles of Sierra Leone before ultimately securing her freedom in England in the early 19th century. The three-night series, the network's first-ever mini, bows Feb. 16 (during black history month).

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Gooding Jr.'s remark came as part of a larger conversation about where U.S. television is with regard to the depiction of African Americans. Though the cast and creators on stage gave immense credit to uber-producer Shonda Rhimes, whose ABC dramas — Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How To Get Away with Murder — are as diverse as they are successful, he and his fellow actors argued that there’s still significant progress to be made.

The most outspoken of the bunch: Louis Gossett Jr., who was part of the cast of ABC's grounding 1977 miniseries Roots"They’re trying their best, my Caucasian counterparts,” he said, “but if you want to tell a story about a black American baseball player or the president of the United States or a black university, maybe it’s best to tell that story through somebody who is black and has had that experience. It makes more sense than somebody who’s guessing and doing research. … Up until then, you’re going to get some flaws." 

Fortunately, Book of Negroes, which takes its name from the historical document that recorded the names of 3,000 African American slaves who worked for the British army in order to qualify for their freedom, is a considerable step in the right direction, according to Gossett. "We’re going in the right direction," he added from stage, "and you haven’t seen nothing yet."