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RACE; Black Isn't a Personality Type
[HOME EDITION]
Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.
Subjects: Actors; Motion picture industry; African Americans
Author: McWHORTER, JOHN H
Date: May 12, 2002
Start Page: M.2
Section: Opinion; Editorial Pages Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

Remember Franklin in the "Peanuts" comic strip? In the wake of the criticism of mainstream popular culture for depicting a "whitewashed" world, Charles Schulz followed a trend by introducing this little fellow in 1968. But what was Franklin "like"? Charlie Brown was a loser, Lucy was bossy, Snoopy was insane--but Franklin was, well, "black." One of the TV specials had him giving Charlie Brown "five" once. But overall, Franklin had no personality traits at all. Beyond the tint required to render his skin tone, Franklin was a blank.

Luckily "token black" quickly became a buzzword concept and by the 1990s was a virtually obsolete term. The creators of "South Park" even dropped in a black kid named "Token" with a "T" on his T- shirt, with the implication that the very concept is now so outmoded that we can laugh at it. No one could say that Avery Brooks' Hawk on "Spenser: For Hire," black-identified and self-possessed, was a token. Marsha Warfield's Roz Russell on "Night Court" was a similarly memorable persona and wasn't even the only black character on the show. Ever more often today, Hollywood is casting black actors with no regard for their race in choice roles. Samuel L. Jackson's musical instrument appraiser in "The Red Violin," or even Whitney Houston's pairing with Kevin Costner in "The Bodyguard," would have been unimaginable in 1968. The next Austin Powers girl is Destiny's Child's Beyonce Knowles, and the next Bond girl is Halle Berry.

"Monster's Ball" performance won Halle Berry a best actress Oscar.; PHOTOGRAPHER: JEANNE LOUISE BULLIARD; Franklin, center, joined the "Peanuts" roster in 1968. Apart from being black, he had no character traits.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Courtesy United Features Syndicate; [Denzel Washington] won best actor award for his role in "Training Day."; PHOTOGRAPHER: ROBERT ZUCKERMAN

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