Photo: "Black-ish" protagonists Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross). Source: Bustle.
Despite all the existing information on diabetes, the disease still manages to mystify a significant number of people. Some individuals could also believe that their life is over if they receive a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Similarly, third parties may also think that diabetes patients are these frail, brittle individuals that can’t partake in any activities without their disease acting up and causing significant harm. However, while some of these beliefs might have an ounce of truth, most of the time, they consist of myths that are blown out of proportion, which are created and subsequently spread by people who might not understand what the disease truly entails.
Fortunately, there are media outlets and TV shows that work hard to debunk these myths and help spread awareness on diabetes, as well as other chronic illnesses. ABC’s "Black-ish", in particular, is helping to demystify diabetes by diagnosing one of their main characters with the disease.
How "Black-ish" tackles diabetes
For those who don’t know, "Black-ish" is an American sitcom that premiered in 2014 on the ABC network starring world-renown actor and comedian Anthony Anderson alongside Tracee Ellis Ross. The plot is centered around the happenings and mishaps of a typical upper-middle class African-American family. The show first aired in the US on September 24th, 2014, while in Spain it premiered on April 12th, 2015 on the Neox network. The show is currently in its fourth season and has around 75 episodes to the date.
The characters are your typical relatable bunch of personalities. Anderson’s character, Dre, is the vice president of an advertising firm, while his wife, Bow, is a surgeon. A typical episode of the show would be similar to any other family sitcom in the United States, where the problem is set up in the beginning and its resolution would be at the end. The resolution would usually be a lesson or a moral to the story for their viewers.
The show itself has received positive remarks from many important review outlets. Rotten Tomatoes, a source that is known for its harsh criticism, has given the first season of "Black-ish" an 86%, based on 56 other reviewers. Meanwhile, on other sites, the show has achieved average ratings of 7.3/10. Its biggest criticism is that it’s not quite clear what the show’s target audience is, as it provides values and acts out stereotypes of several social groups. Regardless, it has been widely acclaimed as a show that can be enjoyed by anyone, which is important when considering the influence it might have on its viewers through its morals and the misgivings of their characters.
In a much more recent episode, the show’s protagonist, Dre (Anthony Anderson), has recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in its midseason final. This comes as a shock to the character, as it has been made clear through the whole show that he has a massive aversion to any and all types of healthy eating habits. In an effort to help his husband, Bow had been zealously monitoring his habits and using her medical expertise to assist him in adapting to his condition. However, her consistently overbearing presence and insistence on that a proper diet can cure any disease without the use of medication pushed Dre to the other extreme. Later on, he fell under the impression that, in order to manage his disease, he could try fasting, and only fasting.
For viewers that are not entirely aware of what the disease entails, this is especially important, since it demonstrates an unhealthy way of dealing with type 2 diabetes that could ultimately end in disaster. Understandably enough, Dre eventually faints in during his work holiday party. After waking up, he was confronted by Bow, who asked him if he didn’t think about his kids or family and how they would suffer if he were gone, to which Dre responded that he only ever thought of himself and no one else.
This conflict added to Dre’s growing insecurities about being a middle-aged man who now had to watch what he ate, constantly monitor his blood sugar levels and make time to exercise, which threw him into a dreamlike state. In this fantasy world, Dre saw from a third party perspective what a world without him would be like: after his departure, he was quickly replaced by “New Daddy” Rick Fox, with whom his wife and kids are having a great time, seemingly not missing Dre at all. After the nightmare ended, our protagonist concluded that he would not want to live in a world where he wouldn’t be able to live with his wife and miss out on his children growing up, all because of a disease that can be easily managed by making several lifestyle changes.
After his episode of his blood sugar dropping at his work party, Dre begins to take his health and life with diabetes more seriously. He concluded that, since he has the monetary means, and a family that supports him unconditionally, his life won’t change that much because of his illness.
What's also interesting about this is that Anderson's portrayal of a diabetic Dre is very believable because the actor himself is actually diabetic, too. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 2013, Anderson commented that he had to pick up new lifestyle habits back when he first received his diagnosis in order to keep his blood sugar levels in check. At first, he stated that he didn’t make any drastic changes. However, after a family tragedy where he witnessed his father slowly deteriorate and struggle with the disease, he promised that he wouldn’t make his own wife and kids experience that. So, just like the character he now portrays, Anderson had to make some serious amendments to his routine in order to protect his health.
The reality that "Black-ish" currently portrays is particularly important, considering that, due to disparities in common meals and desserts, the average African-American family is more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasian families. This episode is of the utmost importance since it demystifies the disease and elevates it from its current ‘joke’ status in pop culture, to a serious condition that can be addressed through simple means that, if left unchecked, can cause serious consequences to someone.