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the event

Really, NBC, Another Fictional Black President in Office During the End of the World?

It’s a long-held truism for hacky stand-up comedians and pop-culture observers: When a black actor portrays the president of the United States in film or television, the character will almost invariably be confronted with some manner of cataclysmic disaster. For a while there, the explanation seemed clear: because America had never come close to electing a black president, Hollywood producers only felt comfortable with fictional black presidents when some other insane thing — traditionally an apocalyptic insane thing — was in the movie to divert attention away from the Implausibility in Chief. Is that fair? No, no it is not. But for a while there, at least, it was defensible. Now that we have actually elected a black president, however, NBC's mysterious new show The Event — in which poor Blair Underwood has to serve while aliens may or may not be trying to take over — feels just a bit out of touch.

And, now, The Event (by the way, technically the second "e" in Event is supposed to be backwards, but we can’t find the backwards "e" on our keyboard). In the Lost-style rookie drama, Blair Underwood plays Elias Martinez (the character's exact ethnicity is yet to be revealed), an ideologically resolute young prez under siege. There have only been two episodes (the second aired last night), but Martinez has already been the target of an assassination attempt by plane, one that fails when the plane in question disappears in mid-air, an act that may have been perpetrated by the leader of a group of alien prisoners in a secret Alaskan prison that Martinez was planning on freeing (that all makes perfect sense, right?). As the show's ominously vague title and scary ad campaign hint, Martinez is clearly going to have some serious, possibly world-ending shit to deal with very soon.

And, now, The Event (by the way, technically the second "e" in Event is supposed to be backwards, but we can’t find the backwards "e" on our keyboard). In the Lost-style rookie drama, Blair Underwood plays Elias Martinez (the character's exact ethnicity is yet to be revealed), an ideologically resolute young prez under siege. There have only been two episodes (the second aired last night), but Martinez has already been the target of an assassination attempt by plane, one that fails when the plane in question disappears in mid-air, an act that may have been perpetrated by the leader of a group of alien prisoners in a secret Alaskan prison that Martinez was planning on freeing (that all makes perfect sense, right?). As the show's ominously vague title and scary ad campaign hint, Martinez is clearly going to have some serious, possibly world-ending shit to deal with very soon.

Deep Impact and its ilk have some coverage behind the "fictional black president were considered too far-fetched for anything other than sci-fi" reasoning — but what's The Event's excuse? There are a few likely possibilities here: (1) The Event — picked up for series on May 10, 2010, a full year and change after the inauguration — was actually trying to incorporate real-world events by hiring Underwood, completely ignorant of the "black presidents under siege" Hollywood trope they were perpetuating. (2) That Hollywood trope is so ingrained in the minds of producers that even Obama's election wasn't enough to break the habit. (3) The producers just wanted to cast the realistically presidential-seeming Underwood, and had never actually seen Deep Impact.

But wouldn't have it been refreshing if The Event had a regular old white-guy president deal with catastrophe? Wouldn't that have maybe even been a fitting silent tribute to Obama’s election? Will we have to wait until Cory Booker is in the White House to get a movie where a black president just goes on fun dates? Come on, Hollywood, make it happen!

Photo: Courtesy of NBC