Segments in this Video

Pioneering Actors of Color (02:13)


Actors recall stereotyping and racial discrimination in television. They discuss some of the first shows to feature African-American, Asian-American, and Latino leads.

"The Cosby Show" (03:34)

In 1984, Bill Cosby revived the sit-com genre using stories from his family. In contrast to "All in the Family," he offered positive portrayals of African-Americans.

Promoting Education (05:30)

"The Cosby Show" centered on a family with loving parents unafraid to discipline their children. Cosby wanted to become a teacher, but instead taught through example. Learn about his comedy career prior to "The Cosby Show."

"Julia" (02:47)

Diahann Carroll portrayed the first professional African-American character on television. At first, the studio had no makeup in her skin tone. She avoided racial controversies on the show, but supported Shirley Chisholm's presidential campaign and hosted Black Panther fundraisers.

"Star Trek" (04:12)

George Takei portrayed Hikari Sulu; the role was not stereotyped and Sulu did not have an accent. Takei recalls soldiers arriving at his Los Angeles home. He and many other Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

Venturing into Show Business (03:02)

Takai began by dubbing voices in "Godzilla Raids Again." Early camera roles were confined to Asian stereotypes; Alec Guinness played the Japanese protagonist in "A Majority of One." Takei felt responsible to portray Asian-Americans positively in "Star Trek."

"All American Girl" (03:01)

The first show centered on an Asian-American family featuring comedian Margaret Cho. Pressured to conform to mainstream beauty ideals, she went on a crash diet before shooting—leading to health issues. Characters were expected to uphold Korean cultural authenticity.

"I Love Lucy" (02:46)

Lucille Ball's husband Desi Arnaz oversaw production, coordinated three cameras in front of a live audience, and built Desilu Productions. Ball and Arnaz tried to avoid perpetuating Latino stereotypes, and remained friends after divorcing in 1960.

"Miami Vice" (03:19)

After Arnaz, there were no lead Latino television actors until the 1980s. Edward James Olmos replaced Gregory Sierra, negotiated for creative control, and demanded respect from his employee characters. He recalls being advised to anglicize his name.

Racially Unifying Shows (03:33)

Olmos believes his role on "Battlestar Galactica" changed views on Latino actors. "Star Trek" also envisioned a future with multi-ethnic cooperation. Early television portrayed a white America, but Ed Sullivan and Betty White fought to book African-Americans on their shows.

Ethnic Stereotypes on Television (04:19)

Most actors of color played one dimensional, servile roles. View clips of Latino, African-American, and Asian-American characters. Native American characters were played by caucasians, except for Jay Silverheels on "The Lone Ranger."

"Amos 'N' Andy" (03:15)

The 1950s network show featuring an all-black cast was successful but perpetuated racial stereotypes. Pressure from the NAACP led to its cancellation. Nat King Cole became the first African-American starring in a variety show, but advertisers would not buy commercial time.

"Mission: Impossible" (02:12)

In the 1960s, producers pushed networks to feature more actors of color. Bruce Geller cast Greg Morris, but avoided interracial romance. He also cast Gail Fisher opposite Mike Connors in "Mannix;" she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy.

Pioneering African-American Shows (03:05)

"Star Trek" presented the first leadership role for an African-American woman. Learn about Norman Lear's 1970s sit-coms featuring black actors, writers, and crew members. He also introduced television's first interracial couple on "The Jeffersons."

"The Richard Pryor Show" (06:14)

In 1977, NBC took a chance with the stand-up comic; comedians discuss his talent. His show was canceled after one season—a common story for actors of color. Hear comments on racial exclusion and take a "Pioneers of Television" quiz.

Credits: Breaking Barriers, Episode 3 (00:60)

Credits: Breaking Barriers, Episode 3

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Breaking Barriers, Episode 3

Part of the Series : Pioneers of Television, Season 4
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



This episode traces the story of people of color on American television — including the mid-1960s breakthroughs of African Americans Diahann Carroll (Julia) and Bill Cosby (I Spy). Latino landmarks range from I Love Lucy with Desi Arnaz to Miami Vice with Edward James Olmos. Also featured are Asian-Americans like George Takei (Star Trek), who details his youth spent in a Japanese internment camp.

Length: 56 minutes

Item#: BVL151291

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

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