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?


Sabirah said...

I think diversity IS Important in different T.V. shows, A lot of times people see a certain race or group of people depicted in only one dimension and it's really great to see them out of that "box" albeit on TV. It just helps to break stereotypes which believe it or not affect us daily.
I think as a Nigerian its really hard to understand the African American Identity formation and how it affects general mental well-being, TV is a good tool. not every show will have a diverse cast but the more that do the better.
Also all you have to do is listen to an actor of color tell you how hard it is to find work to realise that a lot of these race dynamics affect people's options for work and employment. I'm rambling, but year it' bi directional, and Its important.

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