Deadline recently published an article entitled, Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing? As if the title isn’t problematic enough, writer Nellie Andreeva goes on to suggest that by casting more minorities, TV networks are discriminating against white actors, and labels “ethnic casting” as a trend.
It frustrates me that instead of writing my thesis, which happens to be a TV show about racism, I’m writing to defend the need for diversity on primetime television in 2015. Before I dive in, I’d like for all of my readers to imagine how it feels to be told that your people, your culture, your beauty, and your pain, is a fad. Picture spending years on a script only to be told that your story isn’t relevant because Black and brown girls are no longer “in.”
I found the Deadline article particularly troubling due to the fact that white people have had the luxury of being multi-dimensional and overrepresented on screen since the beginning of the moving picture. White actresses have enjoyed the freedom to play everything from psycho to promiscuous without prompting society to wonder if all white women are “like that.” And white men continue to play ruthless murderers, science teachers turned drug dealers, and simpletons without ever having to think twice about whether they are stereotyping their entire race.
Due to white supremacy, the notion that whites are innately superior, there is an undeniable abundance of varied whiteness on television. Even with shows like Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Black-ish, Empire, Jane the Virgin, and Fresh Off The Boat on the air, there is still an overwhelming lack of minorities on TV. The fact that I can name most of these shows off the top of my head is disturbing, as it would take me weeks to catalog all of the current shows that feature white protagonists. In fact, if Hollywood decided never to cast a white actor again, the world would never run out of white content. What the world has yet to see, however, is a Hollywood that embraces diversity, not for ratings, but for real.
In addressing the complex issue that is TV diversity, I can’t help but to compare this conversation to the highly controversial affirmative action debate. When the concept of affirmative action was introduced, many people opposed minorities’ right to “take” college spots, as if white people are inherently entitled to higher education. Before students of color could begin to reap the benefits of educational reparations, white students began filing lawsuits in the name of “reverse discrimination.”
Needless to say, white supremacy won and affirmative action as we knew it is no longer legal. Universities still have unofficial diversity quotas that they strive to meet each year, but it is no longer mandated. I won’t bore you with a history lesson, but I highly recommend reviewing the history of affirmative action in order to contextualize the current TV diversity debate. But what does college admission policies have to do with TV? Everything.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why white people are so quick to cry, “reverse racism,” every time Black people manage to advance through society. After much thought, I’ve concluded that such attitudes are side effects of white supremacy. In addition to enslaving, colonizing, and exploiting entire demographics, it has convinced America that whites have somehow earned their spot at the top. And thus, any group that threatens to dismantle the racist structure that affirms their identity (and revenue stream) must be stopped.
But by refusing to acknowledge the modern manifestations of racism in this country and consequently, Hollywood, studio heads, network executives, and people like Nellie Andreeva are participating in classic oppression.
Have you ever wondered why white is considered to be the default skin tone for everything? From stockings to protagonists, white is considered to be the norm, even when it’s not. More than 40% of the U.S. population is non-white. By 2060, it is projected that minorities will comprise 57% of the population. (U.S. Census) Why then is it so revolutionary to suggest that a Black, Latina, or Native American woman should play the lead on not one, but a range of primetime shows? And why must the content of said show automatically involve race? Why aren’t men and women of color given ample opportunities to be villains, heroes, anti-heroes, and knee-slapping comedic forces at the same rate as white people? It certainly isn’t due to a lack of talent.
Why are shows and movies that feature predominately Black casts labeled as “Black shows,” while shows that feature all white casts are never classified by their racial composition? The answer is simple. White people are supported by the most intricate system of power in the world. And as we all know, the people in power get to write the rules, the history, and the shows. Luckily for us, the landscape is beginning to change. But don’t be fooled by the growing number of Black faces on TV. The true measure of Hollywood’s success in regards to diversity, or normalcy as Shonda Rhimes put it, can only be determined once people of color are no longer “in style.
Contrary to popular belief, we have always been and will continue to be in demand. Our ability to create quality content and draw large audiences has never been in question. The question is whether or not Hollywood will allow us to fail at the same rate they’ve allowed white artists to fail. But regardless of what they decide, we will be heard and seen on our own terms. Thanks to the Internet, people of color have created their own lanes. We are telling our stories, reaching our audiences, and building our brands independent of our oppressors and it is a beautiful thing.