Forums The Young and the Restless When Black Characters Speak: Do They Need to Watch What They Say on TV and in Movies?
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    Profile photo of Anonymous
    38 Posts

    My thoughts on Harmony, “Miss Phyllis” and The Young and the Restless:

    Profile photo of josserjosser
    36 Posts


    Good article. But in the real world, very few people speak grammatically correct English. People use slang. People have dialects. People use contractions. People aren’t well educated. For example, how often do you hear people use ‘who’ and ‘whom’ correctly?

    In particular, for African Americans, there is a higher standard it seems for how they speak. How often are African American given a condescending congratulations for being articulate.

    I can’t dismiss the valid criticism of the characterization of Harmony but I do think that the character is not irredeemable. way Harmony speaks is similar to the way a large chunk of African-American speak (minus the “Miss Phyllis thing). Call it black American dialect or accent or Ebonics, it’s widely spoken as a primary or secondary language.

    Prior to Harmony’s introduction, Y&R only featured wealthy, upper class college educated Winters. Harmony reflects another segment of African-Americans, working class and less educated. What’s wrong with that? In the past, soap operas would feature more economic diversity. All My Children’s Jesse and Angie came from different classes. He was poor and she was upper middle class. Jesse was an American Dream success story. He worked hard and rose to be chief of police.

    Do I disagree with some of Debbi Morgan’s acting choices? Yes. However, I also see how important it is to see more diversity of African-Americans on Y&R.

    For much of Y&R’s recent history, the show only hired light-skinned, biracial/multiracial African-Americans. Julia Pace-Mitchell was hired and brought a successful, intelligent dark-skinned woman to the show. How many black American woman in the audience secretly rejoiced when seeing someone who looked a little more like them on TV?

    Similarly, for other African-American women could now see more of themselves in Harmony? Can they identify with a woman who’s overcoming her past mistakes? Can they listen to her voice and relate a little more? Does Harmony remind them of someone they know? One of the oft spoken criticisms of Lily Winters is that she speaks like a Valley girl and never refers to her African-American cultural heritage. Does the inclusion of Harmony help to fill some the void felt by those who want greater African-American authenticity in Y&R’s characters? To some extent, I think so.

    Of the criticism of Harmon, what disturbs me the most was some of the sexist comments equating her addiction to crack to her having to be a prostitute to support her habit. Why the automatic stereotype? Y&R’s canvas is littered with alcoholics: Katherine, Nikki, and Neil to name a few.

    Profile photo of Angie LucyAngie Lucy
    64 Posts

    If the dialect fits the character, then that’s the dialect that should be used. However, one has to know how to write for that dialect, and MAB & Co. clearly do not. Also, it sometimes sounds jarring coming from Debbi Morgan. Finally, it would be helpful if the “Black” dialect wasn’t the only “other” dialect presented. But by having everyone else speak so-called proper, with the exception of Victor’s occasional “ain’t”, it draws much more attention to Harmony’s speech.

    Profile photo of Anonymous
    38 Posts

    All excellent points, josstheguy, particularly the one about the way the rest of the characters on the canvas speak. I think Harmony’s grammatical shortcomings would seem less gratuitous to me if there were other characters on the show who spoke the way people speak in real life. And despite my problems with some of Debbi Morgan’s vocal choices, I think she’s doing an otherwise great job with the character. I just wonder if the “Miss Phyllis” bit was something that was in the script or something that Debbi ad-libbed. It seemed fairly consistent with the character as presented since Debbi’s debut, but it also was a very specific choice that I don’t necessarily see MAB coming up with on her own.

    Profile photo of Anonymous
    38 Posts

    My sentiment exactly, Angie Lucy!


    Josstheguy@ You’re not getting the point of The Young and The Restless. All My Children and One Life To Live were built as brands based on people from working class backgrounds. That was Agnes Nixon’s social relevance stich.

    Bill Bell went in another direction when he rebranded the show in the mid-80’s to focus on the successful world of business class people. He rebranded and refocused the show to center on business rivalries and corporate intrigue. Y&R’s successful move to #1 was because of that. Fans and the soap critics did not look at Y&R as the soap that was going to tell tales about life of the have-nots or the working class Joes’. It was the soap to tell the story of Wall Street and corporate America better than they could tell it. It was seen as the Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest of daytime. And in that realm was the usual mix of love and lies that have kept the genre popular for decades.

    Bell also repeated this success with the creation of The Bold and The Beautiful. So if we are going to discuss Y&R let’s first get correct how Bill Bell Evolved his soaps and where they fit in the niche of daytime.
    Agnes’s soaps were socially relevant and touched on topical social issues. Bell’s soaps were about the glamorous lives of the upper-crust of America and the ways they make their money. Yes from time to time a social issue was thrown in but Bell’s soaps were not as well known for those types of storylines as they were for the fact that the Forrester’s were in the fashion industry, the Newman’s a corporate conglomerate and the Abbotts a cosmetics giant. So you have to measure these soaps right.

    Now that brings me to diversity. Frist off Victoria Rowell made her character work despite the fact that Dru was brought under contradictory circumstances. And if it weren’t for Rowell as an actress the character would not have made it through a year on the show.

    Yes Neil and Olivia were professional’s. And yes that would be more in-line with the way Y&R was at and was continuing to head from that time on. And the writers who took over from Bell continued that. Even LML made sure to elevate the black cast members. Under her reign Damon Porter (Keith Hamilton Cobb) was a scientist working on cosmetics products, Dru was elevated to executive status, Neil had become a Newman Board member and frankly the African American storylines at times were the center of the show as were the characters. There was no if you cut away the AA’s that the show that nothing would be out of sync. More importantly when the original Yolanda was cast the character was played with the type of dignity and gravitas that had the actress inline to be the next VR. Plus Devon’s mother was only in her early 30’s at the time. With Debbie they aged her almost 20 years. But that’s beside the point.

    The problem is that with a soap like Y&R (a Bell brand) focused on glamorous well-to-do citizens who battle in the boardroom and the bedroom. We have grown tired of the fact that under the current regime that African Americans or POC’s in general have to be struggling. That white actors can get cast as CEO’s from day one of their own company and that Black actors get cast as women from the hood or corporate lackeys. That we can watch Phyllis, Tucker etc. mix it up as executives day in and day out. And yet African Americans are given the career titles and played on the backburner as if they are not as intelligent or that there is no wish to explore black people in power (Obama for Christ sakes! MESSAGE!)

    So African Americans (when screaming for diversity) were not asking for (and I’m gonna be blunt) poor and working class black people on Y&R. They were asking for a Dominique Deveraux, they were asking for the type of sistah’s that existed on show’s like Girlfriends and The Game. The type of brotha’s that existed in films like The Best Man and The Brotha’s. Or the men and women you see in Uptown, Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazines. And from that sector alone you can find a diversity of character arch types to play.

    And so they wanted the type of diversity that represents black people whom are equally on the level of their white counterparts as it relates to this show. That was the kind of diversity most were asking for. And if you took a survey you know I’d be right.

    So before we can even get to discussing Harmony and the fact that a stellar actress like Debbie Morgan was given such a bad role to play… Shit she could have taken the role that Denzel wanted her for instead of this mess.

    Then you need to ask yourself this? If the soap has been about business rivalries and corporate intrigue then why do you go casting black people in less than glamorous roles.

    Y&R is not AMC, OLTL, or GH or any other soap for that matter. It’s show grounded by business rivalries and corporate intrigue.

    So i’m tired of black people having to walk in the back door, not sit near the audience and pee in a Dixie cup! No wonder why VR let them have it!

    And just to drive my point home we wanted this for Debbie:

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