Top 5 Soaps with Historic African American Representation
With a majority African American audience you would think that all daytime drama's would move to fully integrate their cast. Yet, sadly that hasn't happened. Days of Our Lives trots out the Carver’s for weddings and bar mitzvah's while The Young and The Restless uses their only AA's every on the 1st and the 15th. When it came to the now defunct As The World Turns, Oakdale was as white as a piece of drawing paper and General Hospital has one black man in full rotation.
So I thought it would be great to take a look and count down the top 5 daytime dramas that have done the best job historically at infusing African Americans onto their canvases. Enjoy.
Creator Sally Sussman Morina can take the credit for creating the first daytime drama that had an African American core family (the Marshall's) from its inception. She can also take credit for having cast the first Black villainess Jonelle Allen (Doreen) in daytime.
Although the series was shorted lived (just under 2 years), Generations set the standard for how to fully integrate a series and write and create diverse African Americans images onscreen in frontburner storylines that were culturally relevant.
4. One Life To Live
Agnes Nixon was an angel for wanting to see diversity on air and the first daytime serial she created has boasted several African American families and popular characters. Firsts was Ellen Holly's role as Clara Grey which gave the ABC soap its first popular storyline better known as the "Imitation of Life" story where Clara , a light-skinned African-American, was passing as a Caucasian named Carla. The fact that Carla were actually African-American was not revealed to the show's audience until about six months into the show's run. The revelation was a major shock to viewers, and the series was boycotted by several southern affiliates. Nevertheless, the controversy attracted much attention and ratings shot up for the fledgling soap very quickly because of it.
By the early 90's the Gannon family (Rachel, Hank, RJ) had been introduced and by the turn of century fans met a future fan favorite Renee Elise Goldsberry (Evangeline) and Tika S.(Layla). The the series would later boast the Evan's family (Destiny, Greg, Shuan, Phylicia & Richard) and once had a total of 8 African American recurring and contract cast members whom were heavily used, integrated and embroiled in 3 different frontburner storylines. While the African American presence has since declined, OLTL deserves praise for it past endeavors.
3. The Young and The Restless
Taking a page out of Generations book Bill Bell decided to create Mamie Johnson the Abbott maid's extended family which included her nieces Drucilla Barber a troubled young illiterate woman and Dru's sister Olivia Barber a young successful doctor. Next, Bell added the Winters brother. There was Neil the MBA grad and young Bob Johnson in the making and his own troubled brother Malcolm who later went on to become a photographer. Throughout the 90's the Winter's family were front and center and from 90 to '94 as the African American cast expanded on Y&R the ratings rose and soon the series became the #1 soap watched by African Americans and boasted a majority AA audience. At its height Y&R had 8 African Americans on contract on the series a number the show has since never been able to live up to and the African American presence is currently fragile on the CBS serial. Y&R did have a good 15 year run...and for that it deserves its props.
2. All My Children
Just like with One Life To Live Agnes Nixon had African Americans characters in her second daytime serial creation. The Baxter's (Les, Pat, & Angie) were the original African American family on AMC which were introduced in the late 70's early 80's. Angie went on to get involved with Jesse Hubbard a boy from the wrong side of the tracks and they quickly became a super couple. Angie and Jesse were so popular that they became a pop cultural reference and a household name in black and white family households alike.
Post-Hubbard's (in which Jesse was killed and Angie was written off), Agnes created the Frye family (Derek, Olivia, Terrance, Mimi and later Danielle), which were front and center during the early 90's. At their height AMC boasted 7 African American contract players during the mid 90's and went onto create a popular interracial couple featuring Noah Keefer an African American male and Julia a Latino woman.
AMC much to Agnes's vision has shown a consistency with diversity and recognizing its core African American audience. In 2008 the Hubbard's returned to fan fair and have since been consistently frontburner and fully integrated with the rest of the cast.
Taking a page out of all the soaps on this list Passions much like Generations had an African American core family (the Russell’s) from its inception. It was the first soap to boast a full African American family that had teenagers. Also the series tied it’s African American characters every storyline on the series and made their own plots equally as important to the rest.
Tracey Ross who was one of the series 4 leading ladies can go down in history as most ever on-air African American actress on a single soap in the history of daytime. During her first years on the series Tracey beat Victoria Rowell’s combined episode count during her entire run on Y&R. And for about 2 years Passions was largely centered around Ross's character Eve. It even spanned numerous promo's in which one was entitled "All About Eve." Ross's character Eve was much in the vein of Victor (Y&R) and Sonny (GH) where in almost every storyline all roads led back to her in one way or another during her early tenure on the NBC sudsers.
Other notable things were the fact that Passions gave it's African American characters storylines that were most often only afforded their Caucasian counterparts. Such as: the story of Eve's tainted past, Liz (Eve's sister) as a villainess that blackmailed her sister and tried to kill Julian twice and Alistair (both of whom were part of the show's most hated family). There was also the controversial storyline of incest when Whitney thought Chad (her lover) was her half brother and was still engaged in a romance with him. It later led into Whitney joining the convent and being drawn into a plot to help "God" who was really Alistair in disguise try to rule the world.
Simone the youngest child from the Russell clan went from being obsessed with her sister's man Chad to "coming out" as the first African American lesbian and spawned the first same sex kiss on air in the history of soaps.
In the series final show of diversity the series had Valerie turn out to be Vincent who had once romanced Chad during the infamous "downlow" storyline and was later revealed to be a hermaphrodite who became pregnant with his/her father's Julian’s child and terrorized the citizen of harmony.
Many Passions storylines were generally absurd and many just plain horrible but it was the only soap on-air that for entire run played African Americans front and center and out of the "Blackbox" and allowed African American actors a chance at storylines they had thus far never had access to and may never have access to again.