Gossip Girl for black kids

Kathleen Posted by Kathleen at August 30, 2017 20:12:55 August 30, 2017 20:12:55

Gossip Girl is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Vanity Fair honoured the milestone with a retrospective feature that everyone is talking about today, mainly for the behind-the-scenes dirt and a weird AF anecdote about how Blake Lively would send Leonardo DiCaprio photos of dolls when they were dating. Wait, what? I have so many questions. Anyway, on the same day that the Internet remembers Chuck Bass, Blair Waldorf, Nate Archibald, Dan Humphrey, and Serena van der Woodsen (or van der Mumbles, as I used to lovingly call her), Issa Rae has a pitch for a new teen show for us, via The New Yorker.

First, can I just tell you how many times I squealed out loud, died and then came back to life during this video? If you’ve been paying attention, y’all know I’m still a teenage girl in my soul and I love a good teen drama. You also know how much I love Issa Rae. I’m convinced that Issa Rae and I would be best friends if we ever met. This video is proof of that.

Of course, black kids watched 90210 and Gossip Girl. I was obsessed with them both. But every time I watched a show like 90210, or Gossip Girl or The O.C. or Dawson’s Creek, I was reminded that on mainstream television, black youth are often invisible. We never got to be the rich kids coming of age, experiencing angst and falling in love. Issa Rae namechecked one of my favourite shows of all time, Moesha. I just named you four, massively successful teen series starring all-white casts. Moesha was the exception. The final episode of Moesha aired on May 14th, 2001. Sixteen years is too long to wait for another exception to the unspoken TV rule that black teens don’t deserve to have their stories told.

I spent almost every episode of Gossip Girl waiting for Vanessa Abrams (played by bi-racial actress Jessica Szohr) to do something even vaguely interesting so I could root for her. This rarely happened. I can tell you the names and episode numbers of every time the ageless Bianca Lawson aka Principal Green’s daughter Nikki appeared on Dawson’s Creek. I’ve been waiting my whole life for Issa’s imaginary Ladera Heights 90041 or Potomac, Maryland 20854. LET US HAVE THIS.

Issa already has a rough treatment with a main character named Lil Richie, a f-cking hilarious theme song, a character always on “her hoe sh-t” and a tagline: “This Gossip Girl is Black, Bitch.” I mean, it sounds like it should be the first series of Shondaland’s Netflix deal. I’d binge that sh-t in a single weekend.

All jokes aside, it is about damn time we got a teen series featuring a cast of people of colour. Ten years after the success of a show like Gossip Girl, you’d think it would have already happened. The first comment under The New Yorker’s tweet featuring Issa Rae’s pitch was this:

What would be nice is just a show about black teens without having to be a black version of the white version.

It’s a valid point. It’s the same point that Jay-Z made in his Moonlight music video, which featured a Friends scene recast with black actors – including Issa Rae. Re-making these teen shows with token black characters may not be the answer (I’d still watch it though, no shame) but that’s not what anyone is asking for. I want to see a show written by Issa Rae or Shonda Rhimes or Angie Thomas about black kids going to high school in Windsor Hills. When Issa asks, “Where’s our Gossip Girl?” she’s making the point that following the lives of black teens shouldn’t be such a radical concept.

The New Yorker

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