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Extra: Wealthy Black Kids Can Be Douchebags Too
Good grief, BET.
First, the Black Entertainment Television network embarrasses black college students across the country with College Hill, a show that proves a house full of black college co-eds can be as useless as a house full of white ones. Now the MTV-show-dipped-in-chocolate experiment kicks into overdrive with last night's premiere of Baldwin Hills, a new single-camera docudrama that proves that when it comes to effortlessly reinforcing stereotypes, BET still reigns supreme.
Promoted as an all-black version of MTV’s Laguna Beach, this show takes place in the “Black Beverly Hills,” the hillside Baldwin Hills community of South LA. Only instead of vapid, superficial WASPs, we're treated to 11 vapid, superficial black kids, and the one poor girl who lives outside the neighborhood. But any positioning of 18-year-old Staci as a heroine is undone when she casually dismisses all of the hillside residents as simply "bougie," that ridiculous catchall frequently used to describe any black person who just happens to have money.
Actually, it's hard to like any of the characters on this show. Rather than destroying racial stereotypes by showing a cross-section of black wealth, these kids drill those stereotypes into our heads so we don't forget them. A quick scan of the cast bios reveals that half of the 11 hillside denizens have some involvement in basketball. That’s either the offspring of a former NBA player, a student basketball player hankering for a b-ball scholarship, or some combination of the two. You mean the show's producers scoured all the black kids on the hill, and couldn’t find one non-athletic, black nerd counting down the days to his road trip to ComicCon? Or a single granola-eating, dreadlocked black hippie who whiles away the hours doing poetry readings in Leimert Park? Or one black kid whose musical preferences skew more towards rock than hip-hop? According to Baldwin Hills, even when black kids are well off, dribbling a basketball is still their key to upward mobility. Wha?
Photo by Arnold Turner
I guess the black nerds, hippies and rockers didn't have enough "flava" to merit inclusion on the show, because most of the cast spend their time throwing around colloquialisms like "it's gonna be crackin'," "what it do?" and "what's happenin', boo?" like they're trying out for a role as Black Friend #1 in a teen slasher flick. Except, of course, for the derided private school girls who channel Alicia Silverstone in Clueless as they laugh about going to the opening show's central party, where they'll get to see real black people. Perish the thought! Wait a minute, don't these girls already live in Baldwin Hills, a neighborhood that is predominantly black? Double-Wha?
By the way, a note to the show's producers and cast. Badlwin Hills was the black Beverly Hills once, back when black people couldn't live anywhere else. Ray Charles and Tina Turner lived in the Hills. Sam Cooke lived just down the hill in Leimert Park. But nowadays, most super wealthy black people live the same place super wealthy Asian and Latino kids live...right next door to super wealthy WHITE people. Hancock Park, where the Wayans clan and other prominent black Angelenos have a beachhead, could just as easily been the focus of a show about youthful high-rollers of color. But of course, that show would have to deal with the reality that their neighbors are white and Asian, which just doesn't feed this "we've got the same stuff as white folks, only dipped in chocolate," motif that BET remains determined to promote. That seething insecurity is evident from the opening credits, when a voice chimes "not all black folks live in the ghetto." Yeah, we know that already, BET, but do you?
The Baldwin Hills neighborhood is distinctive today not for being exclusive, but for being one of the most affordable hillside communities in the city. It's the only hilltop 'hood where a new home can be found for less than a million dollars, which is why it draws large numbers of poets, writers, etc. And it really is a steal for what you get. You know that iconic photo of downtown Los Angeles regularly used in books and magazines (the one with the snow-capped mountains in the background)? Taken from a park in Baldwin Hills.
So the greatest insult of all is that Baldwin Hills the television show completely ignores what Baldwin Hills the neighborhood really is; a solidly middle-class enclave in a city that is increasingly super wealthy or super poor. That these middle class kids are as narcissistic as their sheltered brethren down the 405 is a double slap in the face to the many impoverished community members that also reside in parts of the neighborhood, and that walk alongside them down the corridors of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall every day.
Seriously, would we not laugh at a show about the "Chinese Beverly Hills" called "Monterey Park" or "Alhambra"? Another question...did they tell the entire cast (who mostly attend private schools, despite the implication that only the Clueless girls do) to basically hide all of their white friends and not allow them to come around for the duration of the show?
Perhaps I'm being unnecessarily harsh. In fact, if you loved Laguna Beach and thought to yourself "the only thing that would make this show better is if all the kids were black," then your dream has just come true. Otherwise, give the Baldwin Hills kids a wide berth, because just as in the O.C., these egos need a lot of space.