‘Amos ‘n Andy Anatomy’

(Above: Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams as ‘Amos ‘n Andy’)

For Black History Month, The Film Detective features a daily “achievement in African-American cinema.”

Today’s film, Amos ‘n Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy, is acknowledged as “one of the more intriguing titles on the list.”

The hour-long documentary examines the phenomenon of The Amos n’ Andy Show, a sitcom that ran on CBS from 1951 to 1953 and was “the first television series to feature black actors playing main roles.” When the syndicated documentary first aired in 1983, it had been 30 years since Amos n Andy’s cancellation and nearly 20 years since CBS pulled the popular show off the rerun market.

So why was Amos ‘n Andy controversial?

As the NAACP noted in 1951, “Every character in this one and only TV show with an all Negro cast is either a clown or a crook…Millions of white Americans see this Amos ‘n” Andy picture of Negroes and think the entire race is the same.”

By 1983, however, blacks had long played all types of roles on TV and in movies – from serious parts to Amos ‘n Andy-like caricatures on Good Times (JJ Evans “Dyn-O-Mite”) and Sanford and Son (whose star Redd Foxx appears in the documentary). And Amos ‘n Andy seemed like just another creaky black-and-white relic from the early days of television.

You can watch Anatomy for free on The Film Detective or right here:

CBS, which produced 78 episodes of the sitcom, has somewhat loosened its tight grip on the program in recent years. You can now stream nearly every episode free at Uncle Earl’s Classic TV Channel, and slightly fewer episodes on YouTube.

The Film Detective streams free, with ads, at thefilmdetective.tv, and on iOS Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV. You can also get the service ad-free for $3.99 monthly or $34.99 annually.

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About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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2 thoughts on “‘Amos ‘n Andy Anatomy’”

  1. I interviewed Charles Barton, who directed the entire run of the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” TV series, and Jester Hairston, who was a supporting player on the show. Each man had only warm memories of the experience. Many talented black performers were able to appear on a network TV show, an opportunity they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. The show featured black people as doctors and lawyers; they were not all “buffoons.” The Kingfish is essentially W.C. Fields, while Andy is basically Lou Costello. Also, the radio version of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” marked the first time that white people in America really began to think about the black community. During a story line when Amos was ill, thousands of get-well cards poured into NBC’s Chicago offices, most of them from white listeners.

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