Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Diversity Complaint


Every now and then America picks on something to either pick on or hype up. I'll give you examples. Oh 50 shades of Grey is fantastic, the whole nation gets 50 Shades fever. Oh Emma Stone is the next best thing, the whole nation goes crazy and decides they love her and cast her in everything. Most recently, a new show "Girls" written, directed and produced by 25 year old Lena Dunham debuted on HBO, everyone raved about it and it was the topic of discussion, both good and bad (still not sure why) but anyways suddenly the criticism that it lacked diversity came up and quite frankly I was surprised. A lot of TV shows "lack diversity" so to speak (anyone remember the "Friends" backlash), so I couldn't quite for the life of me wonder why Girls was being singled out. I usually don't care about how many minority characters are in a show but at the time I  think I read an Essence article that made me kinda see their point for a second but it quickly left my mind...till two things happened that made me actually think about the topic.

 There's this reality show on the Sundance channel called "Push Girls" about women who are paralyzed from the waist down and are in wheel chairs. I was watching an interview with them and one of the girls said she definitely feels that their "kind" are under represented on TV. I was like hmm. Then there is this new show on ABC Family called Bunheads, when it premiered Shonda Rhimes (writer and creator of Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal who is famous for having minority characters in her show) tweeted:

 "Hey @abcbunheads, really? You couldn't cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about  my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?"

 Harsh words?

 I don't know but it got me thinking. For one, let's be realistic, everytime someone bitches about lack of diversity, the first thought is "no black people" even though there are a bunch of other minority races. Based on what the Push Girl cast member said, the hard truth is every group of people cannot be represented on a 30 minute or one hour show. Everyone will have a complaint - the gays, the little people, people with downs syndrome etc etc. Some may say noone makes complaints when all black shows have no white people (come to think of it, there wasn't that much noise made when Kelly - the only white character from "The Game" was fired from the show). The response is usually that they already have enough shows and have more opportunities than their black counterparts.

 Speaking on Shonda's tweet, I actually understand where she is coming from. I think sometimes as Nigerians, we forget that African Americans have a different view point and upbringing. I've heard so many times by older African Americans how excited they were when they saw someone like them on TV and it gave them hope that they could pursue a dream. ABC Family caters to a younger teen/tween crowd and I can see how easily a young black girl might think being a ballerina is "just for white people", sometimes I think we underestimate how easily influenced young people are especially by the media.

 In conclusion, do I think TV shows have a social responsibility? Yes but there are limitations. I think for a show about adults like Girls or Friends, it's a bit silly to complain about no minorities because hopefully you have lived life long enough to form and know your own relationship with minorities. The argument about being realistic is moot because tv and movies are not reality. With a show that affects young kids/teenagers, I feel it can't hurt to make extra effort in showing more minority faces.

Some things to think about before I go though is, again noone can be pleased because I am pretty sure I read an article about how having the token black guy or girl in shows is cliche and we can't forget that it's a business and unfortunately, all black shows don't cross over to mainstream audience like they used to, so there's that to consider. What do you think? How important do you think racial diversity is on a TV show?

PS Looks like Girls succumbed and is bringing in Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino for S2. I don't see how he won't be seen as the token black guy to shut everyone up.

2 comments:

Vivi N. said...

I'm all for racial diversity but please, PLEASE, don't make it as cliche as having a token black/Latino/Asian person by force and then not use that character properly or give them stereotypical story lines. For example, I heart Tristan Wilds. He's such a talented actor. But, man oh man, he's been misused on "90210". It's to the point that he's become the token black person. I just want him to chuck up the dueces and bounce.

Even though I'm all for diversity, I won't stop watching shows that lack it. In fact, when I'm watching the shows, it never crosses my mind bout how 'white' it is. Say, "Girls". Never crossed my mind. In my head, if Lena is basing the show from her life and her friends, and if all her friends are white and all she's been surrounded by are white people, than that's her story. It's still a funny show. I remember someone saying to me, "But the show is based in NYC. NYC is filled with diversity. They can't have like one black friend?" True but, no, they don't need that one black friend just to fulfill some kind of quota. Just let it be.

Yeah, so, YAY for racial diversity on TV shows but let it come naturally.

(You bought up black shows not crossing over to mainstream anymore. I miss those days! And it makes me sad. "Fresh Prince of Bel Air", "Martin", "Living Single", "227", "Cosby Show", "The Jeffersons", etc. They tried a bit with "The Bernie Mac Show", "My Wife and Kids", and "Everybody Hates Chris" but yeah, totally not the same.)

Myne Whitman said...

Like you, I think it matters only for kids and their shows. As adults, most of us truly rarely have mixed core friends, maybe a recurring or guest character would do. But I do love Shonda's shows :)