About that Deadline article: There will never be "too much" diversity on television
There is almost always a rage-spiral happening on Twitter. Some days it’s called for, other days it’s not, but right now the Internet hot topic is a worthy one: a very controversial article published yesterday on Deadline. The article tackles contentious subject matter — whether or not television has gotten too diverse. In her own words writer and Deadline TV editor Nellie Andreeva asserts that the recent uptick in more diverse casting on television makes it seem like, “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction.” As in, television is too diverse now. Naturally, hordes of people online are weighing in on her assertion, including television’s queen Shonda Rhimes. What’s our consensus? We cannot stand by her article’s argument. No way, no how.
The piece titled “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings – About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing?” lays out the argument that we might indeed have “too much of a good thing” when it comes to diverse casting. In the piece she makes very controversial statements like, “replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer.” And, “Because of the sudden flood of roles for ethnic actors after years of suppressed opportunities for them, the talent pool of experienced minority performers — especially in the younger range — is pretty limited.” Quotes like this perpetuate an upsetting idea that there is such a thing as “too many” minorities on television, and also that white people are somehow now being underrepresented (which is not and never will be the case).
Shonda Rhimes, creator of many of our favorite television shows (that also just so happen to be diverse) like Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder, and Scandal, had a swift and pretty definitive response to the Deadline piece.
Without even linking to the piece, Rhimes says more in one tweet than the article does in so many words. If any type of diversity quota counterpoint were needed, Rhimes is it. Her shows are hits, her casts are diverse, her plot lines nuanced on issues of gender and race and sexuality. And just because her shows feature diverse casts does not mean that white television actors are now somehow out of work, as the Deadline piece seemingly suggests.
Our hope is that Deadline’s Andreeva was writing her article from a place of goodness, intending to chide viewers and critics who hail TV’s current diversity renaissance as something unsustainable. She affirms our hope when she writes, “A lot of what is happening right now is long overdue. The TV and film superhero ranks have been overly white for too long, workplace shows should be diverse to reflect workplace in real America, and ethnic actors should get a chance to play more than the proverbial best friend or boss.”
But the crux of her piece, the idea that diverse representation needs to be capped, is upsetting. Rather than basking in the successes of shows with minority-led casts like Empire and How to Get Away With Murder she worries about their ramifications on the rest of television: “Trying to duplicate those series’ success by mirroring the ethnicity of their leads is a dubious proposition.” I mean sure, but what??
Over at the Daily Beast writer Kevin Fallon’s response piece hit the nail on the head in terms of what we should be focusing on: not the over-abundance of ethnic casting but the importance of visibility in media. He writes, “With visibility comes normalization. With normalization comes nuance. And with nuance comes, we can only hope, an end to controversial stories like this. Because when all that work is done, ‘ethnic casting’ won’t be a phrase that exists or a phenomenon worth writing about. It will be an instinct, as it always should’ve been in the first place.” He is so dead right.
Diversity and representation matter in combating historic prejudices. The era of real, deep diversity in media is only just beginning, and we must continue to demand it, stand by it and encourage more positive change.
(Image via Fox.)