Netflix Racism Roulette

For those that don’t know. Netflix is a paid service that gives you television shows and movies directly to your computer or mobile devices via Instant Watch (streaming), or directly to your television set or via direct to your snail mailbox with DVDs.

I use it to avoid watching actual television since I cut the cord many years ago. There are other places where you can get your movies and TV on in similar fashion as well.

I’m choosing Netflix not to point out how racist they are or anything, because they aren’t. They are a service that gives people access to fare from the entertainment industry that is.

But Racism Roulette is such a fun game! I played it the other day and I’m sharing with you today so you can play it too. You can use anything that lists current or past television shows and movies if you don’t have Netflix. Including basic internet searches, entertainment data bases etc what have you.

Netflix users, start your engines! The rest of y’all can modify these directions accordingly to whatever other applications you are using. I’m using the internet based version of Netflix for this round.

Pull up your Netflix account and mouse over the top toolbar on either Watch Instantly or DVDs (I have both). I used Watch Instantly.

1. Click on Dramas when the drop down list appears. Dramas are the middle ground genre. Something for everyone, the genre that is geared to reach the most audience numbers. The opposite of niche. You can use the drop down on the right to sort them from A-Z.

2. What should appear next is a list of offerings using the movie poster or DVD cover art format. We will be using these pictures as our guide to whether or not these movies and/or television shows have any Black people in them.

3. Scroll down the list and when you find a picture that has a Black person featured, mouse over to get the mini-blurb that tells you what that particular movie is about.

You are going to be making a list of movies or shows that have Black people in them that do NOT also feature the following:

Denzel Washington, Danny Glover, Morgan Freeman.

The true life story (fictionalized or documentary form) of a Black person or people.

Prison, jail, juvenile detention and anything surrounding lockup including prison employee, ex-con, executions, etc.

Inner city (sometimes written as inner-city), urban, ghetto, Harlem, The Bronx, South Central, disenfranchised, disadvantaged, poor.

Gangs, Crews, criminals, violence, guns, drugs.

Military as in soldier, ex-soldier, marines, boot camp, drill instructor.

Anything to do with sports.

Anything to do with music.

Spiritual, meaning strong Christian message, preachers, deacons, moral story featuring staunch religious themes.

Single parent, especially single mother.

Slavery, slaves, civil war. Also, servants, caretakers, nannies, maids, butlers, drivers etc.

Magical Negro/Negress.

Africa, African movies, movies about Africa and/or Africans.

Good Luck! Have fun playing!


Here are some of the movies I found featuring Black people or a Black person that could NOT go on my list. Just so you know what you’re  up against. And if you think the above list of restrictions is unfair, then you’re getting it! Or at least you are on your way.

Savannah (2013); In post-Civil War America, aristocrat Ward Allen becomes a self-styled renaissance man, taking up life as a hunter and befriending a freed slave. Jim Caviezel, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Flight (2012) Denzel Washington.

Street Dance (2010); In this hip-hop drama, a street crew and an uptight ballet academy wage a blistering turf battle when the squads must share the same practice space.

The Sapphires (2012); The spirit and vitality of 1960s soul music are at the core of this film about a real-life Australian aborigine singing group and their bumpy career.

The Magic of Belle Isle (2012); Morgan Freeman.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (2009); Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as a pediatric neurosurgeon who overcomes enormous obstacles to study medicine and save lives at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (2012); A wealthy businessman is torn between his high-maintenance fiancée and a hard-working single mother who needs his help to get her life back on track.

Winnie Mandela (2011); South Africa‘s Winnie Mandela, one of the most galvanizing public figures in modern history, comes to life in this absorbing biopic. Terrence Howard, Jennifer Hudson.

The Intouchables (2011); Based on a true story, a quadriplegic aristocrat’s world is turned upside down when he hires a young, good-humored ex-con as his caretaker.

Master Harold and the Boys (2010); Young white South African Hally finds himself trapped between the views of his bigoted father and of Sam, the black man who takes care of him. Ving Rhames.

I Am Slave (2010); This drama inspired by true events follows a Sudanese girl who learns to fight her oppressors after being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Unconditional (2012); This Christian-oriented drama based on real events describes a woman’s search for her husband’s killer, and her slow return to faith afterwards. Michael Ealy.

American Violet (2008); This drama inspired by true events centers on a 24-year-old mother who takes on a corrupt district attorney when she’s prosecuted in a drug case. Nichole Beharie.

Proud (2004); This rousing drama recounts the true story of the U.S.S. Mason, the only World War II battleship manned by a largely black crew. Ossie Davis.

Scott Joplin (1977); African American composer Scott Joplin fights to break into the music business, achieving success with a ragtime tune called “The Maple Leaf Rag.” Billy Dee Williams.

Snow on tha Bluff (2011); Set in urban Atlanta, this hyperreal gangster drama centers on kinetic dope dealer Curtis Snow, who records his daily adventures.

Hoodlum (1997); In this gangland epic based on real-life events, black gangs in 1930s New York City battle the Italian mob for control of the Harlem numbers racket. Laurence Fishburne, Tim Roth.

Down In The Delta (1998); An unemployed single mother returns with her kids to their Mississippi Delta hometown, where a kindly uncle teaches them about their rich heritage. Alfre Woodard.

American Son (2008); While at home for Thanksgiving, a 19-year-old Marine begins a romance, clashes with family and confronts his fears about his deployment to Iraq. Nick Cannon.


Actually, I lied. Racism Roulette isn’t fun! What I’m trying to point out here with this exercise is what roles, themes and so on are the “acceptable” ones for Black people in mainstream entertainment. So much so, that even Black movie writers, directors, creators find it hard to shake those bonds. Especially Black males *coughtylerperrycough* when they depict Black women and girls especially. But that is for another post.

Nine times out of ten when a Black person shows up they are a musician, or a sports player, or a soldier, a preacher, or in prison or an ex-con, a servant/slave, or pop up just in time to rescue/help/save/create moment of catharsis for the white protagonist. The Magical Negro.

Or they are a token thrown in to colorize up the place and earn diversity brownie points.

Worse I think than under representation, and being boxed into the “accepted” roles is the misrepresentation and stereotyping. I’d rather not see myself at all on the screen than show up as neck weaving, gum popping single mother from the “inner city”. See what I mean? Or then the only other recourse is the morality play where we herded back into the straight and narrow by the Grace O Gawd. Black women (and WOC in general) get stuck in the Virgin/Whore syndrome thing so much more than their white counterparts.

My List Of Movies Without That Other Stuff:

Snowmen (2011); In this family-friendly drama, three small-town boys hatch a plan to be remembered forever by setting a world record for building snowmen. (One of the three boys is Black, according to the movie poster).

I’m not interested in watching this movie, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Black boy is tokened out completely.

The Red Violin (1998); When the long-lost “red violin,” a rare instrument crafted during the Italian Renaissance, shows up at a modern auction, it reveals its mysterious history — and the lives of its previous owners — in a series of flashbacks spanning three centuries.

I only mention this movie because I watched it, and I know Samuel L. Jackson plays a character in it that “normal” ie based on Non-Traditional Casting (Google it!) methods his race is not germane to his character. He’s just a guy doing a job – investigating the authenticity of violins – and rounds out the movie nicely, no muss no fuss. The movie poster is a picture of a violin so you wouldn’t know a Black person was cast just going by the “rules” of my little made up game.

All About You (2001); Heartbroken from a failed relationship, Nicole makes a fresh start in San Francisco but must overcome personal obstacles on her way to happiness.

This looks on the surface to be refreshingly “normal”. I do note that it is a “Black movie” meaning a pretty much all-Black cast. As are more offerings of “normal” that I could post up here. Interesting, that, isn’t it?

I’m happy to see that when we yank the reigns out of mainstream Hollywood’s hands and do our own stories, we can, more often than not, shake the bonds that tie us down and just do movies about us going about our lives. Normal lives like the hundreds of movies I scrolled through that did not feature any Black people in them.

Also, note what “true life” stories are chosen. Sure there was that one about the heart surgeon. That one. More often than not it is the music star, the sports hero, the real life slave or servant, the infamous gangster and so on. And everything is under constant white washing. Or shown from the point of view of a white person.

You may have thought I was skewing my results somehow. I wasn’t. Like there were tons more mainstream movies out there featuring Black people that were outside my criteria. There are more, to be sure, but not tons more. Maybe I could have found a couple more that weren’t “Black movies”, but truth be told, I stopped before scrolling down the whole list. I’d already gotten through 100’s of movies, and the “fun of it all” started to wear thin.

You can of course, go ahead and play your own version of Racism Roulette and see for yourself. You can also do it with any other race and broaden or thin down the criteria. Above all, I want you to have learned something. A fellow blogger breaks it down quite succinctly and says it best:

WET: White Entertainment Television by Abagond. He tackles television specifically, while I have dealt with mostly movies. Same difference, really. The results are nearly identical. Go ahead, click that link and read that blog post. You’ll be glad you did.


This post is a bit disjointed, and did not turn out exactly as I wanted it to. But I’m going to post it instead of trashing it, because I’m just now coming back from a severe writer’s block:
So you get the good, the bad and the ugly while I find my breath, my voice, my stride again.
And also to give hope to fellow writers out there. That you can get through a block, and when you do just write write write!
(And inflict the early results on your Constant Readers because they will Luff Yew anyways) Right? ;)

About Awake BW

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8 Responses to Netflix Racism Roulette

  1. i don’t see too many movies of black soldiers i would like to see some without it being watered down and having the soldiers without a love life. When i’ve seen war movies with whites they show the soldiers writing home to their loved ones but movies with black soldiers they don’t show that.

    As for true movies about black people i don’t see alot of those and when they do make them it’s usually about a black person living in the ghetto that got arrested for something they didn’t do or pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. I don’t mind watch documentaries about history though because its not as watered down and they interview real people that went through things.

    All the other stuff u listed i noticed as well, its always some spiritual movie showing church and choirs, or slave/ servant movies, and single mother and gangster movies. I saw a trailer for a movie with jennifer hudson and forest whittaker and it was 2 stereotypes i picked up on, one was the whole church thing then the other was jennifer was playing a single mother. I can’t stand alot of movies nowadays its always so predictable, i like old black movies from the 80’s and 90’s. hollywood messes alot of stuff up i think i’ll stick with reading.

    • Awake BW says:

      Even I didn’t realize how seriously prevalent those same old same old storylines were until I started playing Racism Roulette. I’ve done it for other genres too. Comes out about the same, sometimes worse in terms of just basic numbers of Black people – So much fewer in SciFi for example.

      If you think about it, the accepted roles are little different than the acceptable things we were “allowed” to do as slaves. Aside from soldiering, we got preacher, maid, cook, musician, sports could be the “hard working buck” or the slaves used as breeding stock: showing a vitality, prowess etc that was “natural to their kind” that sort of thing.

      I mean the parallels are very interesting. Always emphasizing the Otherness of Black people. And they do that with POC in general. I remember hearing about the code talkers movie; I was so excited to hear they were going to do a movie on them. I’d read everything, saw every documentary I could about them etc. I was into it. Something purely American that flummoxed The Axis and that code was never ever broken.

      Imagine my disappointment to find out it was about the angsty white guy and his issues, with the code talker story tossed in around the edges. Not surprised, but hugely disappointed. I seriously hate it when Hollywhite does that, absolutely hate it.

  2. Also, note what “true life” stories are chosen…More often than not it is the music star, the sports hero, the real life slave or servant, the infamous gangster and so on.

    And the video ho….can’t forget about the video ho.

    This gave me life. Gods, it is to shop on Netflix while Black. Everybody’s just gettin’ outta jail, someone’s being raped, someone else has a drug problem, Jim Crow this, slavery-era that, and Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

    It’s like Chris Tucker said in Rush Hour 2: Follow the rich white man. ‘Cause I bet you that if you follow the money trail on each of “those films”, the trail always leads back to vanilla folks somehow, somewhere.

    • Awake BW says:

      THIS all of THIS!
      I saw one film (Black Butterfly – 2010) that I at first saw some hope due to the cover art. But THEN I read the description: “Sixteen-year-old Ariel is training for a U.S. Olympics Swim Team tryout when she’s brutally raped. Now she must find the inner strength to deal with the pain and repercussions of her attack if she’s to make her Olympic dreams come true.”

      Why couldn’t she just be a kid striving for the gold in a under represented sport (That’s hard enough just dealing with THAT) like Lia Neal or Gabby Douglas? Why does rape gotta be thrown into the mix? What the Entire Fuck? I lost it, I tell you, I just lost it.

      The director and I presume writer is Mark Harris
      Thanks dude, really no, Thank You. Had a great opportunity to do a movie with a young Black girl going for her dreams as a swimmer IMO with plenty enough drama just on that alone, but then Maximum Fail.

      WOC have enough of that use and abuse of our bodies in film for him to be adding to it.

  3. Thank you for your post, as I have myself played a version of this game. Its very informative and educational, and I feel most White people aren’t even aware of this unfortunate neglect and misrepresentation.

  4. Madeline says:

    Happy to find your post. I’m a young white woman and am just recently opening my eyes to the pervasiveness of modern-day racism. I think I have been one of those radical/progressive/liberally-minded white people who goes about their lives with an attitude of “color blindness” and calls it a day. But, shit, there is not yet “equal opportunity for all people” in this world. Not even close.

    Anyway, I’ve been trying to educate myself further and brought up Netflix this evening with the intention of watching something with a black-led cast. I searched for the show “Empire,” (though apparently that’s centered around the music industry and does not pass the Racism Roulette test! Plus it looks to be heavily patriarchal), but it was not available for instant view. No other shows came to mind after that, and I didn’t think that it would work to type “black people” into the search box, so I returned to the home page.

    I didn’t expect to find anything with a black-led cast in the scrolling posters of suggested titles, but I was kind of astounded to realize as I flipped through title after title that there were No. Black people. Anywhere! Okay, there was the “comic relief” supporting character standing behind Amy Poehler in Parks and Rec, and there was a really weird cover to something called “Psych”, which depicted a white character placing his fingertips pseudo-aggresively atop an annoyed-looking black character. Fuck!

    I found your site by googling “shows on netflix featuring black cast.” The first result for that search is the imdb page for the show “Orange is the New Black.” Fuck! Isn’t that about a sweet little white woman who somehow ends up in prison where sweet little white women aren’t supposed to be?

    Your site is the eighth result in that search, and what do you know, it’s about this exact issue.

    Shit’s fucked up. I’m sorry. I hope you keep writing.

    • Awake BW says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)
      Empire is a brand new show, so you know Netflix won’t have it up anytime soon lol. But I do recommend watching it if you can find it streaming somewhere. The first season just wrapped, so who knows? While yes it doesn’t go on the list via the rules of this game it’s absolutely groundbreaking on many levels so don’t miss out. As a nascent show it’s not perfect, but it’s a well-done attempt IMHO. At first I didn’t want to watch it due to yes ok it’s MUSIC and BLACK PEOPLE (again!) – but it fights it’s way out of that box and becomes something very intriguing.

      I watched Psych for like half a season. The Black guy is the side-kick dude so yeah you called it LOL It’s amazing how sometimes movie and show posters will tell on themselves. I find your opinion about OITNB very interesting! I actually watched the whole first season, reluctantly mind you because of YES exactly what you said. And I knew the back story; and I believe as of even today that original person who she was siphoning those “jail house stories” off of has never been fully compensated – including getting a piece of the earnings from that show.

      Needless to say I’m not watching any further seasons. As a fellow Black woman blogger said when it first came out: “I’m not interested in watching a show with a bunch of Black women behind bars”. Yeps. I had initially watched it all to take one for the team and do this big blog post about it, but then I just kinda gave up. Sometimes it’s just too depressing.

      But I just hope the Black women actors get to use that show a springboard for further work and success, even if they have to use this tropey show as foot in the door.

      Shows I could recommend with Black women/people in it:
      Scandal – though I’ve stopped watching for reasons I might add to my Why I Love Scandal page on here soon.
      How To Get Away With Murder – Starring Viola Davis. Need I say more? :)
      Sleepy Hollow – the first season is amazing. It gets ruined bit by bit as the second season goes on and I have no idea if I’ll watch the 3rd.
      Black-ish – Charming! I love that show :) A few bumps in the initial epis but gets on course as it goes along.
      Critical (UK) – Has a lot of Black and Brown folks & it’s fascinating to see UK medicine in action, however dramatized. A bit too real the way they show the surgeries but you can squinch your eyes shut with me! LOL
      The Walking Dead – I love zombies! And well MICHONNE :)
      iZombie – fun new show that has potential I think
      Powers (2015) – it may have been cancelled but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the Black female officer. I hope she get’s more work!
      The Flash – wow they cast Black folks in a super hero show! lol
      Gotham – if only to watch Jada Pinkett Smith. It’s kinda gone downhill though.

      As for Netflix stuff currently streaming there? Yeah it’s so HARD to find diversity. Sometimes I’ll type in a Black actor’s name in their search and see what they might have. Could try that :)

      Good luck and again, ty for commenting and also for letting me know how you found this post. It’s consistently been my most read/clicked on/etc post ever :)

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