Saturday, January 31, 2015

American TV, Does it Capture the Diversity of America Yet?

As humans, we are addicted to stories and the Hollywood entertainment industry caters to our thirst for these stories by providing us with an endless stream of them. Whether it be theatrical films or Television shows, we live vicariously through the pain and pleasure of the multitude of characters presented in these productions. We in a sense try on their predicaments for size and in the process of doing so we reflect on who we are, who we are not, and who we hope to be.    

Historically speaking there has been a dearth of gender, racial and ethnic diversity in film and television, both in front and behind the camera. This reality has meant limited access to employment for women and minorities and to a truncating of the domain of media images available for circulation in contemporary society. 

After many years of watching television change, I had to ask my self, does American TV capture the diversity in America?  Sadly the answer at least in my opinion is a resounding no. We are however making changes that could lead to it finally becoming a Yes.  

Take for example Saturday Night Live, which has been on air since 1975 has in its life time only hired on three black women and had only featured one other black women, Yvonne Hudson in 1980, this says more about the show than about the talent pool. All three women casted over the four decades only lasted for a season or less.

In this context its no wonder that a prime cast member Kenan Thompson launched a debate in early November of 2013 explaining that the show is dearth of black women. Most people know that Saturday Night Live was built on the premise that the actor weren't quite ready for Prime Time TV, but this doesn't mean that the show’s executive producer is racist or is discriminating, just that he doesn't see the value in having a diverse cast. It begs the question, is television to white? 

In contrast Jay Pharoah, who predominately plays President Obama on the show does see the value in having a more diverse cast. He has reach out and argued with "SNL" that they should hire Darmirra Brunson a comedian on Tyler Perry's sitcom "Love Thy Neighbor.” When Pharoah was asked why they should hire her, his pointedly response was " Because she's black, First of all," but he also went on to praise her talent.

The majority of Prime Time television fails in truly representing the country that the majority of its stories are based in. When marginalized groups in society are excluded from the stories a nation tells about it self, or when those images in the media are rooted so deep in stereotypes, inequality is normalized and is more likely to be reinforced over time through our practices and prejudices.  

Recently ABC has taken a stand and Paul Lee the networks entertainment programming head states  "We really do think ABC reflects the new face of America", "America has changed. It's the right thing to do.".  The new 2014-2015 line up host 10 new shows featuring non-white characters and/or show creators, numbers that have not been seen since the days of the Cosby show and the flux of people trying to clone it. Don't think that this change is about fairness or altruism; over looking the fact the America has been a largely diverse country for a while now.  Can the network keep its agreement to make diversity a priority?, or will they screw this up?

Nothing and I mean nothing can reverse the efforts of trying to make television more diverse then epic failure.  But let us not focus on their potential failure and take a look at the ground breaking new season.  ABC came in strong by handing off their Thursday night spot to Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. Then they scheduled Rhimes newest show How to Get Away with Murder to air right after her two hits. Giving the most powerful black woman in scripted television her own night in primetime, with two shows starring black women. Which has never ever happened before in the history of television. 

ABC network has a whole slew of new shows that are ethnically and racially diverse, Black-ish, Cristela, Fresh Off the Boat, American Crime, casting more black, latino, and Asian people than any other network for the 2014-2015 season. 

Fox has also stepped up by casting more non-white character in shows like Red Band Society, Bordertown, Empire, State of Affairs, and CBS is hosting Extant which features Hally Berry. 

Could television really be changing it tune about diversity of the roles it casts? Is this change going to last after the 2014-2015 season? 
What are your thoughts? Does American TV capture the diversity of America yet?


  1. Very interesting topic. I think that as time goes change will surely happen progressively but it's baby steps right now.

  2. I think it's lacked that kind of concentration in the past few years but now I agree that they are starting to make some major changes. However I believe they have a lot to work on going forward!