Black and Asian Images on Television

Published by Sage Publications, London, in 2002, ‘Representing Black Britain: Black and Asian Images on Television’ written by Sarita Malik provides a critical history of the representation of Asian and Black communities on British television, beginning from the first days of broadcasting to recent times. Within a span of 216 pages, the author deals with a wide variety of related topics including the history of ‘Black Britain’, racialization of the black subject, cultural diversity in television and the struggle for the definition of ‘blackness’ (Malik, 2002).

The experience gained by Sarita Malik in the course of her career makes her the ideal candidate to write a book dealing with this social issue. Being a scholar involved with both the professional and the academic sphere, Malik’s term at BBC provides the reader with essential insight into the decision-making process behind the scenes of one of the most significant media outlets in the world.

Malik’s style of writing varies considerably from the large group of scholars who write objectively from a distance, fulfilling the role of a scholar commenting on a world they do not belong to or a cultural critic. But the time spent by Malik at the British Broadcasting Corporation, the British Film Institute and the Waterman Arts Center has helped her create ‘Representing Black Britain. Her accounts and experiences have helped define the book as a seminal work on Asian and Black representation in television in Britain.

The method through which Malik analyzes and traces the history of a “racialized regime of representation” happens to be theoretically advanced, intellectually nuanced and thorough in its analysis. The introductory chapters of the book deal with vital issues such as the limitations of the term “black”, the increasing shifting television landscape in the postmodern age of media along with the problems of approaching the subject in a critical fashion. Malik is able to intuitively recognize that the connection between the television industry and the British viewership is at a crucial stage at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The author states that no clear demarcation exists between the “now” and “then” in the history of racial representation on television and she manages to understand properly the metamorphosis and fluidity of racial imagery and stereotyping in general.

In the next few chapters, Malik goes on to segregate programming on television in terms of genre, devoting entire chapters to comedy, television news, sports, light entertainment, black films and drama as seen by viewers on television. The approach is realized in a brilliant manner as she serves as a guide to the reader in every genre to explain the history of racial representation. Moreover, the book offers a discursive examination of the various issues pertaining to each genre along with a commentary on the interrelationship existing between financial factors, the contemporary political scenario and the control of institutions in the medium.

The analysis offered by Malik in the book transcends the model of negative or positive imagery that, however unfortunate, is responsible for the determination of the structure of several works dealing with similar topics. Malik utilizes the theories put forward by critics like Richard Dryer, Kobena Mercer, Stuart Hall, Laura Mulvey, on the subject in order to use the best postmodern theories in an effective manner so that they remain grounded in the actual realm of television broadcasting (Butters Jr., 2003).

The notion of ‘black Britain’ presented by Malik in the book has been developed from the essential political term assigned to the alliance of the British-Caribbean, British-African and South-Asian communities since the 1970s while at the same time, coinciding with the opening up of the slogan along certain cultural lines in recent times. In spite of the decrease of its immediate potency since the contemporary period, the moment a concept of political blackness arises in relation to a largely white society as well as its structures; it has become important to engage with power issues and the way in which they articulate with representative regimes. Thus the concept of black Britain, even though it is changing, happens to be relevant even now.

But Malik’s contention does not involve simple accusatory claims through which it becomes gradually easier to term every black representation found on British television as being racist. In fact, she tries to uncover and examine the work on her own terms (Anon., 2006).

The best chapters in the book are the ones dealing with the British sporting culture on television and the portrayal of black masculinity, and representation of race in television drama. The chapter on British sports culture enables Malik to demonstrate the ongoing hardships faced by athletes, especially Black citizens, to prove their sense of being British. She is a position to analyze the popular black-British masculinity tropes seen on television and the language of British broadcasting. Malik reveals that an overt sexualisation of black athletes such as Linford Christie remains in operation in the realm of sports programming; the sportsmen who question or oppose this sort of signification are termed as being uncooperative and troublesome.

Malik shows a greater deal of optimism in the chapters dealing with the examination of black representation present in television drama. She successfully guides the readers of her book through the periods of structured absence (1950-1970) and marginalization (1965-1980).

She is capable of demonstrating the fact that the black subject holds little significance than mere window dressing even though white subjects in Britain have turned a critical eye towards their personal brand of colonial dominance and imperialism. Even the approach used by most screenwriters and directors showcases a dominant white subjectivity.

Malik puts forward the argument that it is only during the last decade that programmes like The Final Passage, Prime Subject and This Life have been aired on television, revealing the total complexity of Asian and Black life. Malik cautions the readers who suppose that multicultural broadcasting will remain in vogue by indicating that the most popular and most viewed foreign imports on television are mostly all-white Australian television series like Home and Away, Neighbours or American situational comedies like Frasier and Friends.

In the final chapter of the book, Malik offers a criticism of the liberal British people who form the majority of the supporters of multicultural programming and casting. She focuses on the fact that liberalism can be treated as the “dominant paradigm through which British broadcasting works”. The author states her opinion that liberalism that is actually well intentioned does not result in anti-racist programming and that this sort of mentality of “sitting on the fence” is responsible for keeping several talented Asian and Black directors, cinematographers, actors and screenwriters from working in British television. They are either frustrated by the liberals into submission or politicized into forming visual art that might be successfully produced but find no distributors or be exhibited to a large audience group (Butters Jr., 2003).

But there are times when Malik probably goes too far in the course of her explorations pertaining to institutional racism. The intent behind some statements made by the media seems to have been warped to suit the author’s purpose. Another weakness which is evident in Malik’s study is her sole focus on the way in which male ‘Blackness’ has been produced and constructed in the context of ‘social Whiteness’. On the other hand, the way in which Black feminist and feminist issues has been treated in the book might have expanded the theoretical scope of the work to examine the interconnections between ‘race’, ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender’ (Rott, 2002).

But, overall, the work done by Malik on the book is phenomenal; she has managed to successfully create a thought-provoking guide on the best method of writing an analysis of racial representation in the present day multi-channel, satellite-driven and cable world which has been saturated by the media (Butters Jr., 2003).

Works Cited

Anon., 2006. Book reviews. European Journal of Cultural Studies, IX(1), pp. 121-123.

Butters Jr., G. R., 2003. Representing Black Britain: Black and Asian Images on Television By Sarita Malik. [Online]

Available at: http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/bookreview.php?issue=nov2003&id=462§ion=book_rev [Accessed 23 May 2013].

Malik, S., 2002. Representing Black Britain: Black and Asian Images on Television/ Edition 1.

London: Sage Publications.

Rott, S., 2002. Mediating Gender 2. [Online]

Available at: http://www.genderforum.org/fileadmin/archiv/genderforum/mediating/rott.html

[Accessed 23 May 2013].