Over the years there have been more than a few black presidents portrayed on screen, and not just on the small screen. Sometimes they’ve appeared in comedic films like Chris Rock’s Head of State (2003) and the 1933 musical comedy short Rufus Jones for President, in which Sammy Davis, Jr., then a child performer, is elected president. The 1972 film The Man starring James Earl Jones as President Douglas Dilman explored race in a serious manner, a rarity at the time. Dennis Haysbert’s portrayal of President David Palmer on 24 was so iconic that many viewers believed that it helped make the nation comfortable with the concept of a black president. For the most part, Palmer was universally accepted as president with no real regard to race.
In real life, we haven’t witnessed that same sort of color-blindness. With Tea Party extremists brandishing hate signs and hate speech at demonstrations and agitators like Glenn Beck calling the president “racist” — race is very much a factor that some Americans just can’t get over in this age of Obama. For the most part, film and television have presented idyllic scenarios for a black president. With race largely absent from the discussion in the dramatic films or television shows, fictional black presidents simply had to do their job with no challenges to their citizenship or their capabilities.
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