As one of CBS's only shows with a Black female lead, it has visual representation but fails on authenticity.

Morgan Noll
August 21, 2020

CBS's courtroom drama All Rise is one of the network's few series with a Black woman in the lead role, but according to former writers, the show has failed on many accounts of authentically representing race and gender. Though a second season of All Rise is underway, a New York Times report published Thursday revealed that five of the show's seven original writers have quit over conflicts with the white showrunner, Greg Spottiswood. Three of those who quit were the program's highest-ranking writers of color.

The writers who left the show told The New York Times that Spottiswood ignored, rejected, or resisted their attempts to have the characters and storylines accurately reflect the experiences of Black people and other people of color.

"We had to do so much behind the scenes to keep these scripts from being racist and offensive," writer-producer Shernold Edwards, a Black woman, told the Times.

Edwards told the Times that there were multiple instances in which the main character's storylines or dialogue seemed false or offensively stereotypical. When she told colleagues that certain scenes seemed inaccurate for how a Black woman would act or speak, she was met with questions of why the character's race mattered.

"The fact that I'm still being asked that question tells me that there are people on the show who are incapable of writing for people of color and should not be writing for people of color," Edwards wrote in an email to the show's producers, according to the Times.

The shortcomings of the show are unsurprising considering that the casting of a Black woman in the lead role seems to have been more of a diversity stunt rather than a conscious effort toward authentic representation. According to the Times, All Rise is loosely based on a 2005 nonfiction book, Courtroom 302, about a white male judge in Cook County, Illinois. In an effort to make the show "of the moment" and respond to criticisms of CBS's lack of diversity, Spottiswood changed the lead to a Black woman, the Times reports.

Sunil Nayar, an Indian-American television writer who has worked on ABC’s Revenge and CBS’s CSI: Miami, has also been vocal about his conflicts with Spottiswood and reasons for leaving the show. Aside from his frustrations with having his feedback ignored on the show, Nayar also told the Times that he felt he was being used as a diversity stand-in.

"It became clear to me, when I left the show, that I was only there because I’m the Brown guy,” Nayar said in an interview. “Greg hired me to be his Brown guy.”

After complaints from staff members about Spottiswood's leadership, The Warner Bros. human resources department reviewed the show’s workplace between last August and November, the Times reports. When the review was complete, Warner Bros. decided to keep Spottiswood in place and provided him with a corporate coach, a Black woman, to advise him.

“As soon as we became aware of concerns in the All Rise writers’ room, we took steps to conduct a review of the work environment,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “While the studio identified areas for improvement, the findings did not reveal conduct that would warrant removing series creator Greg Spottiswood from the executive producer role.”

Edwards told The New York Times that she believes that CBS strategically kept Spottiswood in place because his approach to race is "safe."

“He makes race palatable for a CBS audience and the CBS brass because he doesn’t know anything about it,” she said. “So there is this strange tone of nothing being said, but the visual representation is there. It’s safe, and it’s empty. All the reality is absent.”