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88 minutes, 1991 Producer/Director: Marlon Riggs, Producer: Vivian Kleiman, Narrator: Ruby Dee
ABOUT THE FILM
George Foster Peabody Award
Outstanding Achievement Award, International Documentary Association.
Erik Barnouw Award, Organization of American Historians
In Color Adjustment, Marlon Riggs - Emmy winning producer of Ethnic Notions - carries his landmark studies of prejudice into the Television Age.
Color Adjustment traces 40 years of race relations through the lens of prime time entertainment, scrutinizing television's racial myths and stereotypes. Narrated by Ruby Dee, the 88 minute documentary allows viewers to revisit some of television's most popular stars and shows, among them Amos and Andy, The Nat King Cole Show, I Spy, Julia, Good Times, Roots, Frank's Place and The Cosby Show. But this time around, Riggs asks us to look at these familiar favorites in a new way. The result is a stunning examination of the interplay between America's racial consciousness and network primetime programming.
The story, told with wit, passion, and verve, shows how African Americans were allowed into America's primetime family only insofar as their presence didn't challenge the mythology of the American Dream central to television's merchandising function. It demonstrates how the networks managed to absorb divisive racial conflict into the familiar non-threatening formats of prime-time television.
Clips from the shows that captivated, amused, and sometimes angered audiences are interwoven with the parallel story of the Civil Rights movement as brought into our living rooms on the evening news. Writers and producers - such as Hal Kanter (Julia), Norman Lear (All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons), Steve Bochco (Hill Street Blues, LA Law), David Wolper (Roots), and others - take us behind the scenes of their creations. Esther Rolle, Diahann Carroll, Tim Reid and other black performers ruminate upon the meaning and impact of the roles they themselves played in shaping prime time race relations. Cultural critics Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Herman Gray, Alvin Poussaint, and Pat Turner point out that while these television programs entertain, they also reinforce and legitimate a particular notion of the "American Family."
As engaging as it is perceptive, Color Adjustment sheds light on the racial implications of America's favorite addiction - television watching. It will help viewers reexamine America's and their own attitudes towards race.
"Marlon Riggs, with his usual éclat, traces the evolution of black images in American television. It is a tortuous story, with moments of shame and of achievement, of aspiration and of compromise, of courage and cowardice - an unfinished chronicle posing tellingly the difficult issues of racial strategy vis-à-vis media under complex webs of social, political and industrial control. An important ninety-minutes of media self-scrutiny."
Erik Barnouw, author, Tube of Plenty
"A cogent and thoughtful survey of Black America as represented by American television, from the demeaning stereotypes of ‘Amos ’n Andy’ to the subtler, more insidious ones of ‘The Cosby Show’”.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Surveys the strange history of TV's various racial fantasies, taking us from the early days of Amos 'n' Andy to the advertising idyll of The Cosby Show. With its witty visuals and enlightening interviews, Color Adjustment tells us just the story we most need to hear, raises precisely the questions that must be raised, now that the media spectacle shines triumphant all around us."
Mark Crispin Miller, New York University
"A fascinating reminder of how far TV and American society have come-and how far both have to go."
William Raspberry, syndicated columnist
"An impressive and provocative and quietly adversarial documentary...examines the relationship of the lighthearted world of video fiction to the grinding realities of a society reluctantly coming to grips with the expansion of civil rights. A unique and thoughtful statement that should be seen by anyone involved in the creation of television."
Van Gordon Sauter, Daily Variety
"One of the most provocative and insightful analyses of the representation of blacks I have ever seen. A powerful and needed history lesson."