Commentary: NBC's Appointment of Pearlena Igbokwe Is Right Step

The major TV channel has taken a big progressive step, but it can’t end there.

Posted: 07/12/2012 09:36 AM EDT

(Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

It’s a well-established fact that Hollywood’s upper echelons don’t have a lot of Black faces in them. So-called "Black Hollywood," while in existence, is a tiny group of ultra-successful African-Americans, including Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman and Shonda Rhimes. Most of the rest of Hollywood is composed of white people. So when another Black person gets added to the ranks of Hollywood elite, that’s always reason to celebrate. Today, Black Hollywood is celebrating.

That’s because NBC, one of the biggest and most relevant TV stations in the country, and thus the world, just appointed a Black woman, Pearlena Igbokwe, as executive vice president of drama development. Igbokwe comes to NBC from Showtime, where, according to the NBC press release, she was no slouch when it came to picking and developing winning dramas:

During her 20-year tenure at Showtime, Igbokwe was involved in developing the pilot and overseeing every season of “Dexter,” Showtime’s most popular hit ever. She also developed the pilot to the upcoming new Showtime series “Masters of Sex” starring Michael Sheen. She also supervised the Emmy Award-winning and critically-acclaimed original series “Nurse Jackie” and “The Big C,” as well as shepherded “Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union,” “Damon Wayans’ Underground,” Kirstie Alley’s “Fat Actress,” and the television adaptation of the hit feature film “Barbershop.” She was additionally instrumental in the five-season run of the hit Showtime series “Soul Food,” a two-time NAACP Image Award winner for Best Drama Series.

While NBC is of course going to cheer its newest employee in the press release, it’s important to acknowledge that Igbokwe’s hiring is a big deal in a town that so often ignores Black people who aren’t as well-known as, say, Tyler Perry. But it’s also important to acknowledge that NBC hiring a Black woman into an important position is hardly the last step toward equality in Hollywood.

Real equality comes the day Igbokwe is allowed to greenlight a show composed of all-Black characters to a primetime slot and not hear a word about it from her superiors. Shows of all-white people are par for the course on TV, so why not an all-Black show on NBC? Of course, we all know that a predominantly Black show is simply not going to show up on a station like NBC anytime soon. Even if executives went for it (highly unlikely), it’s doubtful many advertisers would.

Putting Igbokwe into a power position in Hollywood is a great start, but it will be a weak victory if it’s not one that allows Igbokwe to use her taste and sensibility to diversify other parts of NBC. That will be the next important step, and only time will tell of Igbokwe and NBC take it.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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