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Diversity in television: positive or problematic?

Recently Deadline published an article discussing the current diversity in television shows (i.e. “Empire,” “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Jane the Virgin”) as well as the roles in these shows being mainly people of color. The article also implied that diversity on television could be “too much of a good thing,” leading to “reverse racism” and passing over White actors for TV roles. Shonda Rhimes, writer of “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” and “Grey’s Anatomy” tweeted her outrage about the article, with others following suit about this issue.

Screenwriter Shonda Rhimes has received critical acclaim for writing diverse roles and shows in television, such as "Grey's Anatomy", "Scandal", and "How to Get Away With Murder."
Screenwriter Shonda Rhimes has received critical acclaim for writing diverse roles and shows in television, such as “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Scandal”, and “How to Get Away With Murder.” (Twitter)
(Courtesy of Twitter)
(Courtesy of Twitter)
(Courtesy of Twitter)

This past weekend Deadline Editor Mike Fleming Jr. apologized for the article’s headline “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings — About Time or Too Much of a Good Thing?,” stating that “our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.”

For Deadline to even publish an article saying that diversity in television can be “too much of a good thing” is problematic on so many levels. The article states that “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal.”

For someone to cry that there are not enough roles for White people in television anymore is ridiculous. So many hit shows (i.e. “Friends” and “Seinfeld”) have had an all-white cast, and if there were/are people of color, women, or LGBT characters in the cast, they are reduced or tokenized by stereotypes and TV tropes (i.e. “the sassy Black woman” and “the flamboyant effeminate gay man“). Call me greedy, but tokenized roles just don’t cut it for me.

Deadline’s article undermines all of the work that Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, Lee Daniels and many screenwriters are currently trying to accomplish. It’s another example of the false term “reverse racism” and discrimination, in which powerful players in television are crying about a medium that’s been about them for years.

In fact, there is even actress and producer Andrea Lewis’s successful webseries “Black Actress,” which pretty much tackles the issues of being a woman of color trying to make it into the entertainment industry. For a series to discuss the lack of diversity in television and film is CLEARLY saying something, Deadline.

Speaking from personal experience, I understand Rhimes’s frustration. For so long, I wanted to see actors who looked like me and spoke to my experiences as a queer Black woman. I wanted to see if the media could give fair representations away from known (and unknown) stereotypes. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised watching shows like “A Different World” and “Girlfriends,” but I wanted more.

These shows are giving realistic views and perspectives about the struggles, issues and successes for Black people in society, especially Black women. Even with Issa Rae’s hit webseries “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” I felt that Black women were (and are) being shown in a more modern and realistic light about women in color in the workplace, in public and in the home.

Another example of this benefit of diversity for me is the announcement of Trevor Noah as the new host for “The Daily Show.” I’ve been used to watching Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman during my teens that I never even questioned whether a person of color would host a late night show (that wasn’t cancelled quickly). This is already a big step in the diversity of late night television, as he will be the first person of color and South African to host an already successful late night show.

Diversity in television shows have been a big, successful trend; one that’s been a long time coming. For someone to undermine all of that shows that more work needs to be done for all marginalized groups, and there needs to be fair representation in the media. The new diversity in TV should be welcomed and loved with open arms instead of criticized and argued over. It should open a dialogue that myself and marginalized people have been feeling about their experiences and identities.