A rift between the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP and the organization's national leaders has put a hold on the local branch's protest against eight TV comedies that it claims portray African Americans in a buffoonish manner.
The local NAACP branch--in conjunction with the Brotherhood Crusade and the Mothers in Action community group--criticized the series two weeks ago and said it would be requesting meetings with executives at the Fox, WB and UPN networks to call for "a cleanup" of the depictions it found offensive.
But due to pressure from the national NAACP, the coalition is now taking a few steps backward in its attack. Brotherhood Crusade President Danny Bakewell said that instead of moving ahead with calling for meetings at the networks, the groups now want to do more research and organize more efficiently with the national NAACP before proceeding with their campaign.
"We want to make sure we are all in sync in this pursuit," Bakewell said this week. "We want to make sure we have a dialogue with the black writers and producers that own these shows to make sure we are exerting our influence where it is most effective. Most importantly, we will do nothing else unless we are all in harmony, and we will do nothing unless we have the blessing of the national NAACP and President Kweisi Mfume."
Although Mfume indicated earlier this month that he was in some agreement with the concerns of the local chapter, he could not be reached for comment this week, and the national branch has yet to comment directly on the subject of the eight TV shows.
Instead, the national organization has come down hard on the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter, saying internal policies had been violated and would be investigated.
In her criticism two weeks ago, Billie J. Green, president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch, compared Fox's "Martin," WB's "The Wayans Bros." and "The Jamie Foxx Show," and UPN's "Homeboys in Outer Space," "Goode Behavior," "Sparks," "In the House" and "Malcolm and Eddie" to "Amos 'n' Andy." In addition to asking for more input on the series from black writers and producers, Green called for the establishment of a monitoring system that would take a hands-on approach to the portrayals of African Americans on television.
But though some NAACP leaders privately agreed with some of Green's statements, others maintained that the timing of the criticisms was embarrassing, coming on the eve of the organization's annual Image Awards honoring black entertainers, particularly since "Martin" was nominated for best comedy series. The Image Awards had honored the Fox comedy and its star, Martin Lawrence, several times previously.
Mfume and NAACP Chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams issued a stinging rebuke of the chapter at a press conference that day, and some actors, writers and producers involved in the targeted shows blasted the coalition for not contacting them with the complaints before making their grievances public.
The local chapter, NAACP executives said, violated national regulations by targeting the series without notifying state or national NAACP executives, and by forming a coalition with the two other groups without the national organization's approval or permission.
Since the Feb. 8 Image Awards ceremony, Green has not spoken to the press, but insiders with the NAACP said her comments reopened a long-standing conflict between the branch and the national NAACP over the management of the awards. The national branch seized control of the ceremony from the local chapter in 1991, and branch leaders have previously accused the parent organization of trying to destroy the local office. NAACP officials said the branch declined to participate in last year's ceremony.
Referring to this year's controversy, Joe Madison, chairman of the Image Awards, said Green's statements and the timing of them were an ambush on the awards ceremony.
"I was somewhat taken aback, embarrassed and disappointed by what I think was a well-planned and deliberate scheme to grab attention away from the Image Awards," Madison said this week. "We had worked so hard to put together an Image Awards that everyone could be proud of."
He said Green asked him last fall if the branch could participate in this year's awards ceremony. "They had more than five months to express their concerns," Madison said. "But this was the first indication of discontent that we had. Why would you wait until the day before the awards to raise this issue when there is a process and well-defined procedures to raise questions?"
Of the ongoing national-local rift, he said: "It's no more than it has been. It's not insurmountable."