Amos and Andy can be described as a sitcom series with an entirely black main cast that brought unique verve to television humor. Given that the main cast included black actors and actresses, it is evident that the characters were bound to expose several ethnic stereotypes addressed by Ethnic Notions, a 1986 documentary that analyzes black caricatures in media. Such stereotypes arguably depict the life of black Americans while describing a certain level of contrast to the white race. Ethnic Notions lays a foundation for this contrast as it examines several plots and stereotypes relative to the African American community. In particular, the documentary summarizes the depictions of several historical films and television shows. By analyzing the plot and characters in Amos and Andy, it is clear that there is a significant level of continuance in the stereotypic nature of its black characters.
The television series featured six main characters, with each reflecting a certain stereotype described in Ethnic Notions. To begin with, Kingfish is a male character in the film who conforms to the stereotypic nature of sambo and a zip coon. His conniving nature characterizes him as he always finds a way to benefit from plotting schemes against his friends, especially Andy. For instance, Kingfish convinces Andy to buy land from him by claiming that the property contained refined oil and could profit Andy in the long term. In another case, he even sells invisible glass to Andy. Although Kingfish is witty, he forms parts of a group of characters, which includes Andy, that are presented as typical buffoons. Specifically, they dress in suits to imitate whites but use vague inarticulate language and are unable to solve simple challenges. Kingfish’s love for a good life and contended nature are what best describe him as sambo.
Andy is continuously stereotyped as a coon as he is characterized by his lazy character, constant idling, and inarticulate language. He depends mainly on his partner Amos to run the business and make vital decisions. He also is easily convinced by Kingfisher’s schemes and continually falls into his traps. Lightnin’ is a character stereotyped interchangeably as a coon and sambo, given his dependency and his loyalty to serving others. He is often used by Kingfish to accomplish his schemes, following his instructions blindly and is content with his minimum wages. He uses broken English and often makes ignorant suggestions and opinions. He is also slow in speech and walking and takes up demeaning roles in the show.
A typical zip coon stereotype is demonstrated by Calhoun, who acts as a lawyer and uses sophisticated language to argue his cases. He also dresses in neat suits and appears as an imitation of whites concerning dressing and communication. However, Calhoun is lazy and matches Kingfish’s conniving nature by taking bribes and picking the most expensive offers. In several episodes, he assists Kingfish in creating profitable deals at the expense of other characters such as Andy. Henry van Porter is also comparable to the zip coon in that he appears significantly overdressed in his attempts to assimilate into white culture. He does this by specifically dressing in white silk gloves, a topcoat, and hat with matching eyeglasses. His delivery is better than most characters as he uses more articulate English and is impeccably well-mannered.
The female characters that significantly demonstrated the continuance of black stereotypes include Sapphire, Kingfish’s wife, and her mother, Ramona. The actresses showed the stereotypical nature of a mammy and a sapphire. Ramona paid most of the rent for the apartment that she shared with her daughter, Sapphire, and her husband, Kingfish. She is depicted as a source of wisdom in her conversations with Sapphire and is often quick-tempered, especially when angered by Kingfish. Sapphire is very bossy and headstrong, evidenced by the demands she places on her husband. She seems to make most of the useful decisions and instructs her husband on many occasions. In a particular episode, she fiercely challenges Kingfish on the foolish friends he associates with and tells him to make more sophisticated acquaintances.
Consequently, the plot analysis of Amos and Andy also depicts significant continuance in the black ethnic characters’ stereotypes. For instance, the language used in most plots analyzed in Ethnic Notions is mostly inarticulate and broken. Black characters speak inaudibly, and some even stammer through their lines. Several actors, such as Lightnin’ and Andy, are compared to inarticulate buffoons who offer stupid solutions to problems. The film, Uncle Tom’s Cabana, is also highlighted in Ethnic Notions as one that portrayed black men as docile, lazy, and irresponsible characters often stereotyped as coons and sambos. This compares to most male characters in Amos and Andy, including Kingfish, Andy, and Calhoun. The gender roles are often reversed as the female dominates the male figure. For instance, Sapphire is often in control of household matters and Kingfish answers to her on most occasions. The setting in Amos and Andy portrays a middle-class lifestyle with many black characters taking up white-collar jobs in law and medicine while also dressing the part. This is reflective of the storylines in Ethnic Notions, where black characters strive for similar experiences with whites. Overall, the plot and characterization of Amos and Andy demonstrate a continuance of the black ethnic stereotypes founded in Ethnic Notions.