Are Actors Creating A New Positive Stereotype Of Black Men?

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suit archetypeIf you are familiar with the many negative racial stereotypes attributed to African-American people in the American mainstream media, you may share my dissatisfaction with the characters Black people play on television and films. The characterizations portrayed not only affect Black people’s views on their own community; they typically create negative depictions which form prejudice in people of other races. While prejudice and stereotypes have historically been a major factor in oppressing African-Americans, a new archetype in the media has positively altered perceptions of African-American in recent years. The perpetuation of this new archetype in the media, which I have named “The Suit”, possibly was even a factor in the election of America’s first Black president, Barack Obama.

What is “The Suit”?
Well this new archetype can be attributed to a Black man who is extremely intelligent, authoritative, a mentor to others, and serves as a voice of instruction and reason. Its meaning is similar to the American slang term for describing business men, although this is explicitly referring to Black men who are typically in a position of power or influence like a President, mayor, detective, professor, doctor, or specialist. He dons a clean tailored suit, is always clean in appearance and hygiene. His physical and mental strength, articulacy, and character command attention and respect from others. He is generally wise beyond his years, and is as in touch with his emotions and culture as he is to his wits, that even when his profession encourages violence and hostility, he typically uses his mind before aggression.

Nuances of this archetype can be seen in its early stages with Morgan Freeman in the 1998 movie Deep Impact as President Beck, Bill Cosby as Doctor Clifford Huxtable on The Cosby Show, and James Avery as Judge Philip Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Text continues after “Men Who Define The Suit Archetype” gallery …

Men Who Define the “Suit”
However, in the past decade a select group of Black actors have defined this character, including blockbuster actors Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, and Laurence Fishburne. Their portrayals of intelligent, confident leaders have aided in creating a new stereotype, which has opened up the possibility for talented, but lesser known Black actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor to play an Ecologist in the movie 2012, Blair Underwood to play President in NBC’s The Event, or Malcolm Barrett playing a leading scientist in the ABC series Better Off Ted.

This increasing positive representation of African-American men in the media has influenced a new acceptance of Black leaders and intellectuals in recent years. Seeing Black men in influential roles, advising and commanding people of other races, has shifted the view of the Black man as a subordinate, to a man who can perform superior roles. Perhaps, “the Suit” archetype is a reflection of American sentiments, and possibly a major influential factor in embracing our First Black president, Barack Obama.

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