I often post articles, blog posts, tumbler feeds that I find interesting to my newsfeed to share them with my cyberfamily and generate discussion and debate. It doesn’t always work, but, today, I had an interesting discussion about the lack of color on my television set lately. It all started when I read this article [we'll take a break while you consider following the link, but in the end decide not to because you know it's about to be partially summarized] which discusses the lack of minorities on the show “Girls” – a new HBO show set in Brooklyn, New York. The article pretty much hit the nail on the head for me. I’m tired of not seeing black, Latina, Asian, gay, lesbian, transgender, bicurious/sexual, male, female, twentysomethings on my television set, dammit. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that someone put them there.
I'm not attempting to make this a white v. non-white, gay v. straight issue. What I'm really focused on is how few people in the television/film industry make honest efforts to step beyond what they know and into new and exciting communities. Take a step beyond the default white, male, straight setting and experience some flavor so that you can write a new something that you know. The sad part is, people in those industries have the largest opportunity to do just that. They have the opportunity to broaden the scope of the world in the characters they create and the stories that they write - they just don't do it. James Cameron made millions of dollars off the backs of blue people – BLUE PEOPLE – and you mean to tell me we can’t put a Chinese woman on mainstream, American television? Of course we can, she just needs to be crouching like a tiger or hiding like a dragon. Black women have to be loud and sassy, fat and matronly, or thick and sexual. They can’t exist in a role in which their skin color, and the stereotypes that come with it, are afterthoughts.
The people that create these fictional universes, that create lives with a scratch of their pens or the swiftness of a keystroke, have the best opportunity to include the faces of those identities that we so rarely see. And when asked why their shows don’t include these people, they too often say “well, I’d like to include them. We’ll have to examine if there’s a place for that in the future.” Do I have to tell you that during the Civil Rights Movement, quite a few of its detractors said they liked the idea of desegregation, of giving second class citizens their rights as taxpayers in this great nation that is the United States, but they thought the Movement was asking for too much, too soon. They wanted the movement to slow down, and only change a little bit at a time.So, when I hear producers, scriptwriters, show creators and the like telling me “we’ll have to examine that in the future,” what I’m really hearing is the collective voices of all those people saying, “yeah, we need it, but not. Right. Now.” To quote “The Great Debaters” “The time is always, is ALWAYS, right now.”
I can’t tell you how excited I am to see Kerry Washington leading the cast on “Scandal.” And I can’t tell you how much it saddens me that I don’t have another show to watch in which a minority leads the cast. Still, minority actors in supporting roles definitely deserve their respect – Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Taye Diggs, Benjamin Bratt and, formerly, Audra McDonald on “Private Practice.” (Notice, all three of those aforementioned shows are created by a black woman – Shonda Rhimes). Gabourey Sidibe is holding it down on “The Big C,” while Tamala Jones and Jon Huertas have appeared in nearly every single episode of “Castle.” David Zayas and Lauren Velez on “Dexter.” (I can’t think of any shows off the top of my head featuring LGBT characters). I could go on, but the point here is that while so many people are saying “we’ll look at it in the future,” there are those that are just doing it. Right now. And the ethnic background of the characters I mentioned above rarely, if ever, comes into play (with the exception of Sidibe on “C”). What does this mean, Hollywood?
It means that inserting racial, ethnic, gender and sexual diversity into a show does not make the show about racial, ethnic, gender and sexual politics. It means that you don’t have to figure out if there’s a place for us in your script, you just put us there. What it means is that the next time you issue a casting call for the next great female lead – just ask for women or men of a certain age, of a certain height, maybe of a certain build. Step beyond the boundaries of your cookie-cutter nation and add some flavor to your melting pot.
Just DO IT already.