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Text Commentary

The Negative Aspects of I Love Lucy's Racial Portrayal
by American Studies 125 `

When I Love Lucy premiered in 1951, it became an overnight success for Dezi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. They were the first interracial couple to ever appear on television, an important landmark for race relations on tv. The two actors were able to achieve what no one had before through an important mix of several factors. Firstly, the Arnaz’s in real life were seen by the American public as bicultural, not biracial. As Mary C. Beltran, a scholar of Latina/o popular history in the U.S., puts it: “He was promoted as a white foreigner rather than a radicalized American, and that the Arnaz-Ball marriage was not viewed as violating taboos of miscegenation.” This interpretation of Arnaz’s race allowed the television couple of the Ricardos also to be see as not violating societal taboos, the biggest hurdle to getting interracial couples on the air in that period. Secondly, the Ricardos portrayed the image of a happy American family with their sitcom, this allowed the 1950’s American to relate to the couple’s life on and off screen since the idea of the nuclear family had become so important at the time. In the clip above, Ricky creates a song for his new baby, blending his identity as a Cuban bandleader with that of a father, making it him more identifiable. Lastly, when Ricky does address his race, it is either treated as a joke (for instance his accent) or it was portrayed as simply latin rather that tied to a specific country, becoming less specifically threatening to American culture too. All these factors came together to make a show that was originally created to preserve a marriage, into a groundbreaking event for American visual media too.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
I Love Lucy Promotional Photo by Desilu Productions (1951) I Love Lucy banner