ABC’s 1950’s sitcom, The Beulah Show, was the first television program to star an African American actress. Although this was, obviously, a historically groundbreaking sitcom, the plot did an injustice to blacks by portraying black characters as inferior to whites in almost every way (unless it be the ability to perform housework). One would only need to watch the first 5 minutes of an episode of the sitcom to see the racial inequalities at play. Would this sitcom have been written, or aired, Post-Civil Right Era? It is hard to imagine that.
Other than the obvious differences between Beulah, Bill, and Oriole, Alice and Harry -- such as clothing, occupation, and wealth, there are other social differences portrayed in the episode, as well. Lets examine the scene in which Beulah is sitting at the table with Bill, and she tells him about a, “...new thing called ‘the economy’”. By referring to the economy as ...view middle of the document...
As the scene in which Beulah and Bill were discussing the economy at the table ends, Bill is offered a plate by Beulah, but refuses to take the plate, and eats quickly from his hands as he walks away. This sends a message that blacks are without the manners that white families so devoutly practice in their home.
In the episode, Harry, Alice, and even little Doddie have important, fun things to do, whereas Beulah’s only obligation is to serve the family, who even go as far as asking her to take on their responsibilities in the garden. Although Beulah is an employee of the family, doing the gardening is outside of her responsibilities, and should not have been so promptly, if at all, assigned to her. This display of relying on Beulah to pick up the family’s slack shows that it’s eventually up to “the help” to do all the work. When Beulah asks for the help of Oriole to tell her if the bushes look even, Oriole makes a comment that women will, sometime soon, “have the suffrage”, showing that she had no idea that the suffrage did, in fact, begin in the late 19th century. This is the second example of how blacks are shown as uneducated in only seven minutes.
In this episode, the three black roles were a domestic worker, an uneducated, lazy man who doesn’t stick around long enough to do anything besides eat, and an idiotic friend who failed to say anything meaningful throughout her whole scene. The only positive, black contributor in the episode was Beulah, who only contributed positively by, “being wonderful”, which meant by serving the family that she is hired by. Comparing the way that black characters walk, talk, dress, and act, overall, to the white characters, it is easy to see the show’s underlying message: that blacks can only be trusted with very menial tasks, and, even then, there may be error. The show was, in-fact, a huge step for African Americans, when it comes to major rolls in the media. It is, however, a shame that the script was not better written. The producers of this show sent an offensive stereotype of blacks -- a stereotype that would become a trend in the media.