mtv shares 1983 film of bowie asking why it doesn't play more black artists
Bowie was asking questions about representation that we still need to echo today.
MTV has just released an archive video on its YouTube channel of a 1983 interview excerpt in which David Bowie grills presenter Mark Goodman about the lack of black artists' music videos played on the channel.
"It occurred to me, having watched MTV over the last few months, that it's a solid enterprise and it's got a lot going for it. I'm just floored by the fact that there's so few black artists," Bowie tells Goodman. "I think that we're trying to move in that direction… we want to play artists that seem to be doing music that fits into what we want to play for MTV," Goodman replied to a thoroughly unconvinced Bowie.
When the presenter tried to explain that, "the company is now focussed on 'narrow-casting'," Bowie quips, "That's evident," before explaining that the few black artists MTV does show are played in the middle of the night. One commenter on the YouTube video agrees on this point, saying, "I was going to school in the US at the beginning of MTV; he is right black artists were played at night time. Then there was Prince, later Michael Jackson took MTV to another level. Mark Goodman just gave the excuse that black people hear all the time."
"There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I'm surprised aren't used on MTV," Bowie adds, before Goodman suggests that some areas of the country are "scared to death" of black artists like Prince. "Should it not be a challenge [for MTV to take on] to make the media far more integrated?" Bowie asks. Goodman fobs him off a bit more before asking, "Does that make sense? Is that a valid point?" But Bowie's having none of it: responding, "I understand your point of view," and implying, "But I don't agree with you."
Although MTV has become a more equal network in the 30-odd years since, there are certainly still questions to be asked about how black and other non-white artists are represented by the major media outlets.