There was a time when the presence of a black person on television was cause for celebration.
In the early days of TV, black families would crowd around the set to catch a glimpse of the representation.
Now that reverence for some has taken the form of being extremely protective of black stars, especially when they are accused of wrongdoing.
From Michael Jackson to Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, the response from supporters of the men who have been accused of sexual misconduct has been almost as explosive as the allegations they all denied.
There’s good reason for the skepticism over such allegations.
This country is well known for wrongly accusing and convicting black men.
And Hollywood, like the rest of the country, has never been a level playing field for people of color.
Take, for example, the instance of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004.
The little sister of Michael Jackson was performing with Justin Timberlake when he reached over and ripped her dress, exposing her right breast, the nipple of which was covered by a starburst-shaped shield.
Timberlake escaped the incident unscathed, while Jackson suffered more serious consequences.
According to Billboard, she was blacklisted, had her music and videos removed from rotation from some stations and had to pull out of a planned movie project.
It is for those types of incidents in entertainment – combined with injustice in the culture more broadly – that many people of color wearily approach allegations against black stars.
When Cosby was accused by dozens of women of drugging and sexually assaulting them over decades, the response was swift from some of Cosby’s fans.
Cosby, they said, was being targeted because he was such a powerful and beloved entertainer.
And, of course, critics of the accusers said the women were out for fame and fortune, using the allegations to try and make a name for themselves.
In the case of R. Kelly, his accusers have also been shamed as being fame seekers “grown” beyond their years (Kelly is alleged to have had inappropriate relationships with young girls).
Both Cosby and Kelly have faced legal consequences after allegations.
Last September, Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in a state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home 15 years ago.
Kelly was indicted on charges of aggravated sexual abuse against four women, three of whom were underage at the time of the alleged incidents, last month.
In 2008, the singer was acquitted on child pornography charges.
Cosby and Kelly have consistently maintained their innocence.
Michael Jackson is not here to defend himself, though his family is.
The Jacksons have condemned “Leaving Neverland,” a documentary about allegations that Michael Jackson sexually abused children. His family has called the film a “public lynching” and his accusers “admitted liars,” in reference to sworn statements made by the film’s subjects, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, that Jackson did not molest them.
In a statement, the Jackson family said that “Michael was subjected to a thorough investigation which included a surprise raid of Neverland and other properties as well as a jury trial where Michael was found to be COMPLETELY INNOCENT.”
Even before the film’s premiere on HBO this week, Jackson’s supporters protested the project and others they believed supported it. (CNN and HBO share parent company WarnerMedia.)
Director Ava DuVernay found herself being flamed on Twitter Sunday after sharing an article about “Leaving Neverland.”
“Michael Jackson super fans are really going hard in my comments for simply sharing an article by a cultural critic who shared his opinion on the doc. This is one of the kindler, gentler comments,” DuVernay wrote, along with a re-tweet reading, “Sellouts like you don’t deserve our respect you can kindly go to the trash with Oprah. #MuteAva.”
“I mean, Annie, are you okay?,” DuVernay added.” ‘Cause this is a lot.”
The criticism was especially striking given that DuVernay is the director of the forthcoming Netflix series “When They See Us,” which is based on the case of the Central Park Five, a group of black teens who were famously unjustly accused of a crime in New York City.
Jackson supporters have also criticized Oprah Winfrey over her “After Neverland” special, a discussion with Safechuck, Robson and the documentary’s director, Dan Reed.
One of the most interesting things to witness in the Jackson case is how the allegations levied by Safechuck and Robson have been viewed as almost a flip side to the Kelly controversy.
A common theme in the case of Kelly has been that talk of his alleged misconduct was ignored because the girls and women were black.
While Jackson has been beloved by fans of all races, some of Jackson’s supporters have suggested that the accusations raised in “Leaving Neverland” have received heightened attention because the accusers are white men.
Writer Ernest Owens pointed out the dichotomy in that reasoning.
“Some of the same men saying we should protect Michael Jackson’s legacy because two white men are now publicly accusing him of sexual abuse were also saying we should protect R. Kelly when he was accused by Black women,” Owens tweeted. “I’m not protecting abusers, period. #LeavingNeverland.”