Happy Juneteenth! When Will TV Fully Embrace This "New" Holiday?

By #AndradeSays Archives
Cover image for  article: Happy Juneteenth! When Will TV Fully Embrace This "New" Holiday?

Juneteenth is upon us, y'all, and while shows like black-ish have been having the conversation about this previously ignored milestone since as early as 2017, the newly minted federal holiday only just became such a year ago, when President Biden signed it into legislature. This, of course, means paying attention to this major event in Black History hasn't been a profitable move for very long, and it shows, because it feels like there isn't a damn thing to watch. The aforementioned black-ish episode aside, I'm hard pressed to find anything truly noteworthy to tell anyone to watch, or even watch myself. I could personally list for you, right now, shows with the best Halloween episodes, and if we start talking about Christmas, I mean, forget it. That fruit can't hang any lower. The point is, my attempt to celebrate this holiday in the same fashion that I do my job -- by watching TV -- has only led me to the realization that Juneteenth is a severely under-served holiday. So, the questions to be asked are, "Why?" and, "Is there really nothing to watch?" Fortunately, I've got answers for both.

First, for those who may not know and/or haven't read my piece on the holiday becoming official last year, Juneteenth is the celebration of that day in 1865 when the enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally found out they were free. In fact, they had been free since January 1, 1863 via the Emancipation Proclamation -- about two and a half years before that -- but until General Gordon Granger and his union soldiers arrived on June 19, 1865, the slave owners kept their lips shut about that freedom business in exchange for continued free labor.

So, why is Juneteenth not getting a fair shake on TV? There are a couple of reasons. The most obvious one is time. Like I mentioned before, the holiday hasn't been profitable, or even an official holiday, for very long at all. It's only been one year, and most of what's on TV right now was probably already set in stone in one way or another before the President's historic signing last year.

Additionally, Juneteenth doesn't sell toys, or flowers, or booze. Juneteenth doesn't sell costumes and candy. It's also culturally specific, which limits the market of people who actually give a hoot about why they've got the day off now in the first place. In turn, I believe that TV shows, especially ones that aren't specifically about people of color, don't see the benefit of factoring in Juneteenth, even if it was just as something in the background for their characters' to mention or otherwise respond to.

The effect this has on the industry is that nobody feels like the odd ball out for not participating, because at this point, the group not participating is much larger than the group that is. On the flipside of that is, say, Christmas, a mega-commercial holiday that almost every show (and commercial, for that matter) tries to tie into, whenever appropriate.

With all of that said, the answer to the question, "Is there really nothing to watch?" is: No, the TV world isn't a total wasteland when it comes to Juneteenth. Yes, the usual suspects still exist -- naturally, I'm referring to the famous black-ish episode, as well as the episode of Atlanta known as Juneteenth -- but that's definitely not all there is. One of my favorite shows ever (and maybe one of the Blackest), IFC's over-the-top comedy Sherman's Showcase, had a special in June 2020 titled The Black History Month Spectacular, in honor of Juneteenth. It's a fun and hilarious watch.

On The CW, the Black Pack, a group comprised of R&B artists Ne-Yo, Taye Diggs and Eric Bellinger, will be celebrating not only the holiday, but the music legends that preceded them during a special called The Black Pack: Excellence that will be telecast on June 19 at 8 p.m. At that exact same time on CNN is even more music-based entertainment, a concert called Juneteenth: A Global Celebration for Freedom. That lineup includes The Roots, Billy Porter and Earth, Wind, and Fire, among many others. Back on The CW, after that Black Pack business ends, is another relevant special, this time by America's Got Talent winner Brandon Leake. It's titled Brandon Leake: A Family Affair, and will feature eight spoken word poems by the artist.

Admittedly, many channels and streaming services are now offering program made for and by people of color in general -- or at the very least including them -- all year 'round. And yes, that is a good thing. But I can't help but feel that when it comes to Juneteenth something more direct should be happening. I mean, that black-ish episode came out, what, over four years ago? And that Atlanta episode? It's barely about Juneteenth at all, and mostly about an awkward ass party, because what Atlanta truly serves is surrealist comedy, not history lessons.

Where are our alternatives? What's going to be the next landmark Black show to take up the responsibility of representing the culture every year? What's going to fill the footprints the fictional Johnson family left behind? Where is my Black Modern Family?

The closest options I can think of are ABC's Abbott Elementary, the best new sitcom on the market right now, and CBS's The Neighborhood. Abbottis all heart, with a diverse cast, but is still Black enough of a show that celebrating Juneteenth wouldn't seem out of the ordinary whenever they chose to do so. The Neighborhood has plenty of room to execute that same move, especially since it's lead character, Calvin (played by Cedric the Entertainer), is about as pro-Black as one can get.

I guess what I really want is to be able to give everyone a list of  "The Top Ten Juneteenth Episodes on TV," but that's the whole point. I can't. There aren't 10 Juneteenth episodes, period. It feels like there aren't even ten different shows where something that qualifies as a "Juneteenth episode" could even happen. It's not that I'm not happy with what we've currently got, because I appreciate the fact that we have anything at all, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want there to be more. I guess this holiday has pointed out to me that, while representation for people of color is definitely on the rise, we could still use a bit more in the heavy hitter department.

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