Issa Rae’s new Seen & Heard HBO doc premieres this Fall

HBO is producing a new two-part series on the history of Black television. On August 5, HBO announced that they are teaming up with Issa Rae, the star and co-creator of Insecure, a television series nominated for eight Emmy Awards. 

Along with Issa Rae, Seen & Heard will be produced and directed by Phil Bertelsen (Who Killed Malcolm X?) with other talents such as Montrel McKay and the Emmy-award winning team at Ark Media, Rachel Dretzin and Esther Dere. Just that talent line up is enough to get us excited. Seen & Heard promises to be an in-depth look at the “history and legacy of Black television,” and it’s coming at just the right time. 

What is Seen & Heard About?

Issa Rae says Seen & Heard will “center and celebrate the achievements of those who paved a way for so many of us to tell our stories on television.” It will take a look at Black people who wrote, produced, conceptualized, and starred in some of the most beloved—and influential—Black television series over the past several decades. 

Not only will it feature Black creators who have influenced television, it will also focus on how Black storytelling has been represented on TV. Seen & Heard is not only about the television shows of the past but also about what Black entertainers and artists are doing right now. They’ll talk about their own experiences performing as well as experiences watching Black characters represented on television.


Individuals or sitcoms we might see featured in Seen & Heard

There haven’t been any announcements as to who will be interviewed in this documentary, and no word on what television shows will feature. But taking a quick look at Black television history, we’ve put together a list of people and series we’re likely to see featured in the documentary, in no particular order:


  • Family Matters (1989-1998): A popular family sitcom in the nineties, Family Matters was one of the longest-running sitcoms with a mostly African American cast. While the story centers around the Winslow family in Chicago, almost every child of the eighties and nineties recognizes Family Matter’s most iconic character: Steve Q. Urkel. 


  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996): When rapper and Grammy award-winner Will Smith decided to try acting, NBC gave him a starring role in a sitcom “loosely based on his own life,” and his co-producer, Benny Medina. Medina grew up in a rough neighborhood, then moved in with wealthy family members in Beverly Hills. 


  • Julia (1968-1971): An earlier television show, Julia stars Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker. Julia’s husband died in Vietnam, and she was left to raise their son on her own. Many critics attacked Julia for its lack of a male role model, but that’s really what makes it a trailblazer in television. 


  • The Proud Family (2001-2005): Yes, it’s an animated television show, but The Proud Family takes Black pop culture and embraces it in every way. The story focuses on Penny’s relationship with her family as she navigates life as a teenager. One of the first animated series to feature a Black family, The Proud Family was incredibly popular on The Disney Channel, airing 53 episodes. 



  • Oprah Winfrey: Her talk show has become a cultural phenomenon. In reality, she could be considered a cultural phenomenon. She established her own TV and film production companies and is now one of the richest and most influential women in the United States. 


  • Nat King Cole: While his television series was a bit of a flop, Nat King Cole must be mentioned as he was the first Black entertainer with his own network television series (from 1956-1957). 


  • Shonda Rhimes: You’ll know her best for her writing for Grey’s Anatomy, which has been on the air since 2005, but Shonda has several television sitcoms under her belt as a writer and producer. She’s been nominated for three Primetime Emmys, and we expect to see more great things from her. 


  • Spike Lee: He really does it all, doesn’t he? Not just on television, but Spike Lee has been a producer, writer, director, actor, editor, cinematographer, and part of “miscellaneous crew” for decades. 


  • Sterling K. Brown: He became the first Black man to win Best Performance by a male actor at the 2018 Golden Globes and the same award at the 2018 SAG Awards for his work on This Is Us. One of the most popular shows of the decade, Sterling has made quite an impact on 21st-century television.

As more and more people are looking for Black role models in the entertainment industry, Seen & Heard will provide the perfect opportunity to see them not just in front of the screen but behind it as well. With powerhouses like Issa Rae and Phil Bertelsen taking the wheel, Seen & Heard promises to be a “window into the larger evolution of Black storytellers across television history.” And it’s right on time.

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