Fox TV is responsible for a litany of memorable programming, whether it's The Simpson's ubiquitous and longstanding Springfield suburbia, or more recently, Lee Daniels' fictitious portrayal of rap's royal family on Empire. Now, the network is looking to expand its programming with Fox Soul, a streaming channel targeting Black audiences. And while channels like BET, Centric, and TVOne already create programming with Black audiences in mind, the announcement of Fox Soul—and its incredibly antiquated assumption that "Soul" is synonymous with Black—feels particularly cringey in 2020.
The network says Fox Soul will "aim to celebrate Black culture and highlight the real topics that affect everyday lives of the African-American community through frank and insightful dialogue with local and national influencers." James DuBose, the channel's head of programming, says Fox Soul will "empower our viewers by meeting their needs for authentic conversations on topics relevant to our lives."
What will make Fox's attempt at providing a space for Black culture different than what currently exists? The network thinks the answer lies in engagement. According to the statement, "Audience participation is central to the mission of the channel," granting viewers the ability to engage with hosts through the channel's streaming app, along with social media.
Fox isn't just pulling from its locally syndicated programming, with shows like Dish Nation and Street Soldiers with Lisa Evers joining the platform, it's creating new content with some familiar faces like Claudia Jordan (Real Housewives of Atlanta,) Elise Neal (The Hughleys), and Keyshia Cole as hosts of their own shows. For now, episodes of the show live on the networks YouTube channel and there's no denying the gravity of the conversations held on the channel, like the intimate conversation Cole moderates with Tiffany Haddish and Hollywood Unlocked's Jason Lee about their experience growing up in the foster care system. But does a roster of six new talk shows on a streaming service compensate for the overall lack of Black representation on television? Not quite.
So far, Fox Soul's lineup does little to satiate the urge for a new channel that engages with Black culture in a meaningful way. By oversaturating its lineup with talk shows—each focusing on different sectors of everyday life, like religion, fitness, and entertainment—it doesn't give the impression that much thought went into the programming at all. Consumers have fallen in love with streaming services because they aren't beholden to the traditional formulas of cable television, and Fox Soul's ability to succeed will rely on its ability to shake things up.
In a perfect world, Black programming would be as wide and as varied as the wider sea of shows we are inundated with daily. Although Fox Soul seems to be thinking about how to leverage its platform with the machine of Black Twitter, it appears like it will be capitalizing on trends rather than setting them.
Dialogue isn't just spawned from hashtags or talking points, but by including Black faces and personalities in the same roles offered to white people. Watch HGTV or a show like Bravo's Million Dollar Listings, and count how many Black faces you spot on one hand. (The answer is very few.) Reality dating shows like The Bachelor have also historically shut Black people out of a chance at love, making Rachel Lindsay the show's first Black Bachelorette in 21 seasons. That lack of representation has been so egregious that the only major shows to give Black and brown people a similar platform have been VH1's Flavor of Love, I Love New York, and For the Love of Ray J, and OWN's Ready to Love.
True representation is about being afforded the opportunity to see yourself doing even the most mundane of tasks, like everyone else. The success of shows like Insecure and The Chi have put Black writers and directors at the forefront, with scripted series written in our natural language, like former Fox sitcom Living Single. If any network, new or old, truly wants to spearhead how people interact with Black culture, it's going to have to do more than shove a few talk shows down our throats.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for VICE.