Why Representation Of Rich Black Women On Screen Matters

The image of the victimized Black female is one that’s become all too common in media. While using art to shed light on the realities of being a part of marginalized communities is important, the constant narratives of brokenness are dangerous and perpetuate the lie that America’s history of systemic oppression will forever prevent Black families from prospering.

Books like Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City; Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920; and Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class have provided a much needed glimpse into the lives of women who were both wealthy and unapologetically Black, thriving in societies that sought to squelch opportunities and their very way of life. And seeing the character of Peggy Scott on The Gilded Age has opened audiences eyes to the reality that rich, worldly, and sophisticated Black people exist – and have existed for some time – irrespective of adjacency to whiteness. While the harsh realities and the residue of slavery are a part of many of our history, it’s not the full story. Yet, by and large, as Rhonda Evans, Assistant Chief Librarian of the Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, pointed out in a piece written earlier this year, “Black high society in the 19th century is still an understudied piece of American history.”

It’s for that reason modern day examples in TV and film are particularly important. Images of elite African Americans serve as a reminder that Black identity is not synonymous with pain, victimhood or oppression. Diverse examples also eliminate the myth that life even for the Black elite is monolithic. They offer another path to young Black women, showing them that they don’t have to be defined by resilience and struggle but can adopt a lifestyle of ease and luxury, which many still find hard to do.

Below, we’ve listed a variety of projects that’ve shown the breath of wealthy Black women’s existence and the importance of each type of representation.


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