07 April, 2013
Has America historically been groomed to use television and entertainment to deal with delicate issues such as race?
"In 1968, Diahann Carroll became the first African American woman to have the lead in a hit TV show, starring as Julia Baker - widowed mother of six year old Corey. Julia moved to Los Angeles following her husband's death (he was a USAF pilot killed in Vietnam) and found a job at the medical office of Astrospace Industries, where her home, work and social life provided material for the series.
Julia lived in a modern integrated apartment building with her little boy, whose best friend was white kid Earl J Waggerdorn, one of their neighbors. Other characters in Julia's home life were Earl's dad Leonard, landlord Sol Cooper and mothers helper Carol Deering. At work, the middle class heroine had equally harmonious relations with her white employer, feisty and kind-hearted Doctor Morton Chegley, his wife Melba, fellow nurse Hannah Yarby and plant employee Eddie Edwards.
Romantic partners were however, strictly black. Paul Cameron was Julia's occasional boyfriend for the first two seasons and was replaced by Steve Bruce, a widower with a four year old daughter, Kim, during the series' final year.
There was initial controversy surrounding this non-traditional black role (she wasn't somebody's maid like most other characters) and black critics called the show a "cop out," claiming she did not accurately portray black women. Carroll said herself at the time; "I'm a black woman with a white image. I'm as close as they can get to having the best of both worlds. The audience can accept me in the same way, and for the same reason. I don't scare them".
Things eventually settled down and the show ran for three seasons and Julia became the highest-rated show on TV within a month of premiering. Ultimately the liberal white press and young militant blacks criticized and finally denounced the program as false and distorted. Diahann admits this show almost killed her. She was hospitalised twice for stress and weighed only 99 pounds. After three years, she asked to be released from her contract. "
Run Date: 1968-1971
After watching this I did think that her character's nature, specifically her sense of being oblivious to the obvious racial climate of the 1960's, specifically in the year of MLK's death, was surprisingly negligent in addressing her perceptions of the current day. But I can understand the producers of "Julia" straddling the line between crossing political and social boundaries of those days and portraying someone who breaks stereotypes and intentionally slaps bigotry in the face.