Hollywood has a little talked about problem with diversity that’s been coming up more and more recently, particularly in a series of videos released on Tumblr called “Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color” which cuts together every word spoken by a minority in major movies. The results are pretty telling and reiterate problems with casting diversity that have been brought up time and time again, but which don’t always recieve as much attention as they deserve.
So rather than reexamining film, we’re turning our eyes to television in order to suggest shows that have actually succeeded in casting more diverse casts, or created a more diverse line of characters. Admittedly TV and film both play very different rolls in Hollywood, so the critique and credit has to be taken with a slightly different mindset, but it’s still nice to see shows that either feature a diverse cast, or work hard to include diversity in the writing.
1. Orange Is The New Black
OITNB has been critiqued for misrepresenting the female prison population, and fairly so. The characters in the show are from a large variety of backgrounds and have committed an interesting combination of offenses, which makes for good TV, but doesn’t accurately represent the 48.6% of inmates that are imprisoned for drug offenses.
Even so, the show has done an impressive job taking on ignorance about sexuality and prisoner rights violations, and its cast is nothing if not diverse, both in real life and in its characters backgrounds and viewpoints. The show is one of a limited number that takes on same-sex relationships head on and shows just how far the United States and Hollywood have come in the last decade — not that there isn’t still room for progress.
2. Parks and Recreation
While not all of the actors on Parks and Recreation were scripted to have such major roles at the start, most of the actors that began with the show have only grown in importance. Aziz Ansari, who plays the role of Tom Haverford in the show, and is a well known stand-up comic, addressed the issue of race brought up doing the roast of James Franco in 2013.
“Those stereotypes are so outdated,” he said of his fellow comedians’ jokes. “My God. There’s more Indian dudes doing sitcoms than there are running 7/11s. We are straight up snatching roles from white actors. My last three roles were Randy, Chet, and Tom,” said Ansari.
3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Andy Samberg’s cop comedy, which, in its own way, has been very good about hiring a diverse set of actors. Perhaps more importantly, the show successfully creates unique characters that are inclusive without being stereotypical, a risk the show’s creators are aware of and cautious about. One such character is Captain Ray Holt, a black head of the police station who is also gay, two facts which have led his character to a very difficult time in the police force over the years. Andre Braugher, the actor who plays the part, spoke with The Backlot about his character and his initial feelings about playing a captain who is gay.
“I had a long conversation with Dan [Goor, Executive Producer and Co-Creator of the show] in which he reassured me that this would not be a character that would embarrass me or embarrass any of the people that I love or people that I know so consequently I thnk we’re going to have something that’s going to be full and rich,” said Braugher. According to the Huffington Post, Braugher says it’s about making a point to play “a police captain that’s gay” rather than “the gay police captain.”
4. The Mindy Project
Perhaps sitcoms and workplace comedies are becoming an obvious trend here, but The Office has introduced a number of minority stars into the comedy scene that have since gone on to make enormous dents in the comedy and television world, not least among them being Mindy Kaling, who went on to star in her own comedy, The Mindy Show. Kaling has actually spoken about being frustrated by the role her race has taken in her career — mostly in that she’s been forced into a position in which she feels people expect her to represent Indian females, and that this puts an unfair pressure or scrutiny on her work and what it “means.”
“I sometimes think that I’m speaking for all Indian-American women, so I’m kind of like, damn it why wasn’t this 75 years in the future, when you’re like ‘enough Indian-American women, we’re sick of it, too many!'” explained Kaling in an interview at the Paley Center for Media. Likely being specifically listed in a post about race would make her uncomfortable, which makes this entry rather ironic. But she says something important here about the idea of race being used as such a specific category for success, or force actors who are members of a minority to be spokespersons for their ethnicity, or defined by it in some way. Which is why this post needs to be titled “5 Great TV Shows” that also just happen to be more inclusive than other television shows.
Black-ish has been described by NPR critic Eric Deggans as “a broad comedy that really smartly looks at how an upper-middle-class black family navigates race and culture in modern life.” But the show has also received a variety of other viewpoints, some positive and others highly critical about is portrayal of the African American experience. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of few shows that addresses these topics and creating these conversations, even if the feedback isn’t always positive.
Did I miss a show you feel should be included? Tweet me your input!
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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @CSAntheaM