Dear ‘Deadline,’ Diversity Can Never Be Too Much Of A Good Thing
Oftentimes, when one wields their bullshit, they do so with an unadulterated vigor and no shame, but in the case of Deadline.com’s latest article, Pilot 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings About Time Or Too Much Of A Good Thing?, this kind of foolery has reached unprecedented levels of ignorance.
Writer Nellie Andreeva begins her piece by addressing the very noticeable shift of minority faces on primetime television, as in the case of How To Get Away With Murder, Black-Ish, Jane The Virgin, Fresh off The Boat, and FOX’s runaway hit Empire.
And while Andreeva sources unnamed talent agents who are excited they can now pitch any actor for a role—actors who would have otherwise been overlooked because of the color of their skin and not the actual depth of their talent—Andreeva seems to think things may have gotten out of hand.
Let her explain:
But, as is the case with any sea change, the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal. Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered. “Basically 50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts,” one talent representative said.
Andreeva, beloved, your first error in judgment was the headline. Minority faces on television—whether black faces, brown faces, Asian faces or mixed race faces—isn’t “too much of a good thing,” it’s the real thing as these faces exist in the real world and should be reflected in entertainment.
To allege seeing too many people—people who don’t look like you—may not be a good thing speaks volumes to your robust tone deafness. Just because the faces on shows such as Black-Ish or Being Mary Jane don’t mirror you or the people you encounter daily, does not mean the stories being told cannot mirror your own experiences, or better yet, cast a human light on the plight and experiences of others, which in turn, would open you up and help to diversify your portfolio as a human.
According to Variety, at least 350 new and returning scripted series aired in 2014 and will air in 2015, with about (and we’re being generous) 17 of those shows having a minority cast as the lead. So while Andreeva may believe the pendulum has swung too far to the right, the numbers prove the pendulum hasn’t swung far enough.
What Andreeva tried to articulate was a feeling. The feeling of what happens when change, even a small one, takes place. There are but a handful of shows showcasing minorities in lead or recurring roles, but what Andreeva is feeling is the impact and the welcome celebration of it. Whether it be the millions of fans live tweeting during Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder, or Lee Daniel’s Empire being the talk of the town week after week, Andreeva and others who agree with her sentiments, are being swept up in the current of transformation.
While Hollywood only allowed white actors and actresses to flourish in diverse roles, the window may have been left slightly ajar, allowing viewers and fans to feel an undeniable cool, fresh breeze being ushered in by a worthy crop of diverse actors and actresses, equally talented (and in most cases) more so than their white contemporaries. Our thespians have always had what it takes, now people can see it. And you know what? They like it!
But by no means is this change penetrating other realms. The Academy Awards still have yet to truly acknowledge the power of diverse storytelling. Lest we forget Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a beautifully crafted piece of art that depicted the violent series of events leading up to the Voting Right’s Act of 1965. David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man often reduced by many to four words, was nothing short of breathtaking, but with his Oscar snub, the Academy proved it would behoove us to not hold our breath if we waited for them to give us our just due.
But back to television. When you have diverse characters, you have diverse stories, and when you have diverse stories, you are giving the audience an option to see another side of the human experience, which is equally as complex, humorous, beautiful and flawed as the narrative so commonly portrayed in years past. The palate of some TV viewers has been dry for some time, let Taraji, Viola, Gabrielle and Kerry quench their thirst.
There can never be enough diversity, because diversity is truth, it’s fullness and it’s the totality of the story. To rob the viewer of that truth is simply poor storytelling.
And Hollywood has done enough of that already.