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TV shows by Black showrunners you should watch

The landscape of television has been changing for the better over the past couple of decades, but the fact of the matter is, Hollywood still isn't nearly as diverse as it could be. People of color lead shows far less frequently than white actors, and if you look at any lists of influential and powerful executives and showrunners, the makeup is still predominantly white.

However, the only way to change that is to keep seeking out and supporting shows created by people of color, from streaming hits to prestige television dramas and long-running network staples. Over the past few decades, Black showrunners have crafted some of the most influential and beloved shows on television, creating more diversity and inclusivity in front of and behind the camera as well as paving the way for future Black creators and showrunners. If you're looking for a new show to binge, here are some excellent, varied television shows — all by Black showrunners — that you should absolutely check out.

Grey's Anatomy & Scandal

In 2005, a mid-season replacement created by Shonda Rhimes called Grey's Anatomy, which seemed like nothing more than another medical drama, premiered on ABC; at the time, nobody could have ever guessed that this little show that could would eventually surpass 350 episodes and smash a record set by ER to become the longest-running medical show in television history. Led by Ellen Pompeo as Dr. Meredith Grey (the title is a play on Gray's Anatomy, a famous medical textbook), Grey's Anatomy has spent years featuring extraordinary Black actors, including original cast member Chandra Wilson as fan favorite Dr. Miranda Bailey, and you may remember it as a showcase for Sandra Oh, who won acclaim for Killing Eve after her tenure as the powerful Dr. Cristina Yang. Elevated by Rhimes' commitment to diverse storytelling, LGBTQ+ representation, and a creative team led by women, Grey's Anatomy remains one of the most inventive and gripping shows on television.

During Grey's, Rhimes also created Scandal, which aired alongside Grey's on ABC from 2012 to 2018 . The show starred Kerry Washington, who would become the first Black female lead on network TV in nearly 40 years (and the first Black actress to earn an Emmy nod in the leading category in 18 years) as Olivia Pope, a political "fixer" in Washington. Between Scandal's commitment to camp and Washington's extraordinary performance, this is a binge-worthy watch you won't want to miss.

The Flash

One of the CW's many shows developed by mega-producer Greg Berlanti, The Flash, which began its run in 2014, was originally led by Aaron Helbing and his brother Todd Helbing. However, after its fifth season, Black showrunner Eric Wallace took the reins after serving as an executive producer on the show under the Helbings.

The story of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), who works as a crime scene investigator before he discovers that he has superpowers that give him warp speed, The Flash is a part of the CW's series of comic book shows; thanks to Wallace's oversight, the show has shone more of a spotlight on its Black characters in later seasons. In early 2020, TVGuide noted that Iris West (Candace Patton), Barry's wife — who is white with red hair in the comic books — embraced her Blackness more and more, with episodes focusing on her past, family life, and struggles. Even if early seasons don't give characters like Iris the close focus she receives later, it's still worth checking out all of The Flash and watching the way it develops once Wallace takes over.

Insecure

Throughout the 2010s, a new form of antihero began to emerge in the wake of characters like Breaking Bad's Walter White and Mad Men's Don Draper — the messy, immature woman who just can't seem to get her life together. That character type is perfectly on display in HBO's Insecure, created by star and writer Issa Rae alongside executive producer and Daily Show alum Larry Wilmore. The show, which began its run in 2016 and was renewed for a fifth season in May of 2020, is based on Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl and led by Prentice Penny, who has served as the series' showrunner since its inception.

On the show, Rae plays the lead role of Issa Dee, a young woman in Los Angeles trying to juggle her messy love life and her intense friendships with her often lackluster professional life. A pitch-perfect portrayal of the Black female experience, Insecure also features standouts like Jay Ellis as Lawrence, Issa's ex-boyfriend, Yvonne Orji as Issa's best friend Molly, and scene-stealer Natasha Rothwell as Molly and Issa's friend Kelli. All in all, Insecure is a joyous, celebratory, thoughtful watch that feels uproarious and true to life all at the same time, making Issa's experience accessible to everyone who tunes in.

Black-ish

Created by Kenya Barris, Black-ish, which started its run on ABC in 2014, tells the story of Andre "Dre" Johnson (Anthony Anderson), a Black man struggling with how to best raise his family in a wealthy California suburb. After growing up with very few advantages, Dre and his wife Rainbow (Tracee-Ellis Ross), also known as "Bo," have embarked on successful careers as an advertising executive and a doctor, respectively, but when it comes to raising their five children — Zoey (Yara Shahidi), Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner), twins Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin), and baby Devante — they don't always agree on everything. Ultimately, Dre tries to make sure that Black culture is a large part of his family's life even as his children experience a whitewashed, upper middle class upbringing, in the hopes that they'll learn from his experiences as well as those of his parents Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) and Earl (Laurence Fishburne).

Throughout its six seasons and the spinoffs Mixed-ish (a prequel which explores Rainbow's life growing up in a biracial family) and Grown-ish (where Shahidi's character, Zoey, heads off to college), Black-ish has explored serious issues within the Black experience while balancing its thoughtful approach with whip-smart jokes. If reading this makes you want to get to know the Johnson family, check out Black-ish today.

Black Lightning

As the first Black superhero to earn his own TV series within the DC Comics universe, Black Lightning is one of the most important characters in DC's canon, and his CW show is carrying on his legacy. A part of the CW's Arrowverse, which encompasses several comic book adaptations for the small screen, Black Lightning — led by Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil — has run since 2018 and tells the story of Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), a high school principal who has left his alias of Black Lightning behind for a simpler, peaceful life with his family as a single father to two daughters. However, when a local gang called the 100 starts terrorizing Jefferson's quiet community, called Freeland, he realizes he must assume his Black Lightning persona again to help fight crime and protect not just Freeland, but his family.

By balancing Jefferson's side gig as a vigilante with his family's experiences and growth, Black Lightning presents a complex portrayal of a Black man juggling two vastly different but equally important parts of his life. Whether you're already into the Arrowverse or looking for a good entry point into the CW's vast array of comic book shows, Black Lightning is well worth watching.

When They See Us

A gripping fictionalized version of a devastatingly true story, Ava DuVernay's miniseries When They See Us, produced with Netflix, tells the story of the "Central Park Five," a group of young men falsely accused of a heinous crime. In 1989, five young Black men were accused of a brutal rape in Central Park and sent to prison; though four of them served juvenile terms, one, Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome), was 16 at the time of the incident and served a sentence in an adult facility. 

Throughout four episodes, DuVernay presents an unflinching, stark look at the utter miscarriage of justice experienced by these five young men, examining their time in prison as well as the effects their respective incarcerations had on their adult lives. When They See Us, which eventually received 11 Emmy nominations and a win for Jerome, isn't a particularly easy watch, but everyone should know exactly how these young men suffered at the hands of a corrupt, biased justice system. Once you've watched When They See Us, don't miss DuVernay's other television creation, Queen Sugar, which airs on OWN.

Atlanta

Whether you know him from Community, are a fan of Childish Gambino, or loved his scene-stealing supporting role in Solo: A Star Wars Story, there's no denying that Donald Glover is one of the most multi-talented and hardworking players in Hollywood, further evidenced when he co-created FX's Atlanta. The show stars Glover, who also occasionally directs, as Earnest "Earn" Marks, a college dropout trying to help his cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) launch his rap career. Alongside his professional goals, Earn tries to keep his family together and he does his best to be a good father to his daughter and a good partner to his on-again, off-again girlfriend Vanessa (Zazie Beetz).

Thanks to daring episodes like "Teddy Perkins," a grounding central performance from Glover, and the show's willingness to reinvent itself from season to season, Atlanta has become a critical darling, earning even more accolades for Glover. In fact, Atlanta helped Glover make history; after winning multiple Emmys as the show's leading actor, Glover became the first Black director to win an Emmy in the award show's history. Glover has been on a winning streak for pretty much all of his career thus far, and Atlanta is no exception.

Power

After cutting her teeth on prestige dramas like The Good Wife, showrunner Courtney Kemp struck out on her own with Power, a Showtime series co-created with rapper Curtis Jackson (who you might know better as 50 Cent). Since 2014, Power has told the story of James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a drug dealer who goes by the name "Ghost" and has big dreams of opening a nightclub. As he tries to balance his opposing lives as well as maintain a dissolving marriage, James' existence only gets more and more complicated.

Kemp does a perfect job of encapsulating James' complex life, and her attempt has paid off handsomely for Showtime; over the years, Power has become one of the most-watched shows on the premium cable network. At the end of 2019, Power began airing its sixth and final season, but there's still time to relive the entire adventure from the beginning if you want to see a layered, thoughtful portrayal of a man trying to sort through an impossibly complicated life.

The Chi

You might know Lena Waithe from her scene-stealing supporting role as Denise, a friend of Aziz Ansari's Dev on his Netflix original Master of None, but you might not know that Waithe, who made Emmy history by becoming the first Black woman to win an award for writing, has created multiple shows of her own, including Showtime's The Chi.

A semi-autobiographical show set in Waithe's hometown of Chicago, The Chi takes place in the South Side and focuses on the lives of three boys, Emmett (Jacob Latimore), Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), and Brandon (Jason Mitchell, who left the series after season two). After a community deals with a series of events that connects all three boys, the group must learn from each other as they struggle to make their way in a tough neighborhood. If you already love The Chi, Waithe also has two shows on BET that are currently airing, 2019's Boomerang and 2020's Twenties.

A Black Lady Sketch Show

Until Key & Peele came along, most televised sketch comedy skewed pretty white, but in 2019, showrunner Robin Thede followed in Key & Peele's footsteps with HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show, further diversifying the genre. With a main cast that includes Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis, Quinta Brunson, and Thede herself, the series tackles the Black female experience through a comedic lens, bringing in high-profile guest stars like Loretta Devine, Gina Torres, Laverne Cox, Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, Patti LaBelle, and even megastar Angela Bassett during its first season.

With sketches about everything from camping trips to church potlucks gone awry and a fresh new take on the story of Romeo and Juliet, A Black Lady Sketch Show centers its comedy on the experiences and takes of its stars and writers. By using their perspectives to make the series super-relatable, Thede and her team ensure that the show is absolutely universal, accessible, and most importantly, hilarious for audiences of any background.

Random Acts of Flyness

Created and led by showrunner Terence Nance, HBO's 2018 series Random Acts of Flyness blends animation, social commentary, musical performances, documentary-style vignettes and more to create a comprehensive, thought-provoking rollercoaster of a show that's unlike anything else currently on television. Nance appears throughout each episode of the show he crafted for the premium cable network — and is also listed as a writer and director on every episode — and acts out skits where he's stopped by police, goes to therapy, and more in an attempt to represent an enormous range of Black experiences.

Aided by high-profile guest stars like Jon Hamm, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lakeith Stanfield, not to mention Nance's inventive approach to every single issue he approaches, Random Acts of Flyness has already established itself as one of the most innovative shows on television, providing a perspective that encompasses different aspects of being Black in the United States — and as a reward for those efforts, the series won a Peabody Award in 2018. If you can handle the trippy, even erratic style of Random Acts of Flyness, you'll definitely be rewarded.

Dear White People

Based on the 2014 film of the same name, which he also wrote and directed, Justin Simien's Netflix original series Dear White People picks up where the film left off, focusing on a group of enterprising young Black college students trying to dismantle systemic racism from within the fictional Winchester University (an Ivy League institution within the series' universe). Led by Logan Browning as Samantha White, a student trying to open the Winchester community's eyes to the racism that runs rampant throughout its halls, the show features an extraordinarily talented young cast, including John Patrick Amedori as Samantha's boyfriend Gabe, Antoinette Robertson as Samantha's nemesis Coco, and Brandon P. Bell as Troy and Marque Richardson as Reggie, reprising their roles from the film.

Bringing such a complex story to the small screen after making his original film perfectly suited Simien's storytelling style, and with thoughtful, intimate stories, social commentary, and sharp humor, Dear White People — which was renewed in 2019 for a fourth and final season — is a must-watch for anyone who wants to educate themselves about the Black experience.