Representation, inclusion, and diversity are pillars that broaden our understanding and deepen the quality of entertainment we enjoy. As this month comes to a close, we want to celebrate the rich history of Black cinema and television. Black/African American producers and filmmakers from the past and present continue to push the boundaries of the industry as they shift the narrative to tell their stories from a valuable perspective. Here, we gather several relevant productions On Air Design had the pleasure of working with.
Jordan Peele’s award-winning sci-fi is a thrilling production that represents African Americans as the central figures beyond the usual, limiting roles, giving them space in this supernatural film. Featuring an old ranch, On Air’s vintage western wallpapers gave this setting an authentic appearance while remaining subtle enough to let the larger themes, such as human nature and exploitation, play out. . Additionally, printed signage serves as a visual map for the fictional theme park central to the film’s storyline.
This ABC sitcom with a cult following was the favorite of many viewers during its eight-year run. Setting it apart from other productions of its kind, Black-ish seems to be the first to get the Black experience right. Following the middle-class Johnson family as they navigate their place in American society, tough topics are addressed and tastefully punctuated with subtle comic relief. On Air printed several wallpapers seen throughout the show, giving the suburban settings a “lived-in” feeling. These vary from the show’s neighborhood salon to the main office to the Johnson family’s home. Adding subtle touches of patterned wallpaper to various settings created authenticity and allowed viewers to become fully immersed in the experience of watching Black-ish.
The Harder They Fall
A new take on Old Western films, this production was written and directed by Jeymes Samuel. Although it has all the classic elements from the 1940s and 1950s, the story is told from a unique perspective. Featuring a nearly all Black cast, this film acknowledges the overlooked existence of Black cowboys and outlaws, ensuring the audience knows that they were a part of history by placing them at the center of action-packed scenes. On Air printed several vintage wallcoverings and fine art paintings that complement the Old West elements of the story.
Created by Quinta Brunson, this award-winning mockumentary tells the story of an underprivileged public school primarily attended by Black and minority children. Brunson draws from her own childhood experiences in Philidelphia to make Black stories appealing to a white audience. Focusing on the perspective of mostly Black educators, she seeks to portray the stories of the people, not the color of the people. Unique to Abbott Elementary, Brunson produced and laid the blueprint for “blackstories” in a way that is not trauma-based but entertaining for all. On Air’s capabilities are seen throughout the fictional elementary school, giving it a sense of authenticity. These elements extended beyond wallpaper, including wood flooring, school logo seals, and branded felt pennants.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Often called the “Mother of Blues,” Ma Rainey was the trailblazer this film portrays. This production is set in the late 1920s mid-west and explores Black America during this time. Director George C. Wolfe adapted this production from the original 1892 play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Known for its realistic depiction of the Black experience nearly 100 years ago, the newer Netflix adaptation keeps this legacy to expose the audience to this racial climate, as it tells the story of Ma Rainey’s perseverance through unjust power hierarchies. On Air printed the main backdrop of the film’s stage performances on a muslin material, featuring a bold pattern that complemented the Art-Deco aesthetic of this time. Additionally, other vintage designs appear throughout the film to give various sets a historically accurate appearance.