When White Audiences Have Problems With TV Diversity

empire

The 2014-2015 television schedule has been hailed as a breakthrough for television diversity. Not only did networks unroll an unprecedented number of shows featuring predominantly mixed race or non-White casts of colour, but many of these shows have outperformed the schedule’s more conventional — and thus more conventionally White — fare. Although some shows have flopped (Selfie), others like Black-ish, How To Get Away With Murder, CristelaJane the Virgin, and Fresh Off The Boat have performed beyond expectations to carry this year’s television lineup.

The year’s breakout star is, of course, Empire — a delightfully soap opera-ish musical epic about an ambitious ex-con hip hop producer and her business mogul husband, who must identify a successor for their musical empire among their three wayward sons. Empire has been demolishing its Wednesday night competition in the ratings — remarkably, the show has increased in viewership every week — to finish with 21 million viewers who tuned in for its 2-hour Season 1 finale last week.

Not everyone is thrilled about television’s new age of diversity however. Last evening, Nellie Andreeva, television editor for entertainment blog Deadline penned a lengthy screed on “ethnic casting”, asking of it: “about time, or too much of a good thing?

“The pendulum may have swung a bit too far,” says Andreeva in the text of her post, before launching into a tedious list of actors of colour who have landed roles through colourblind casting, or who won roles initially conceived of as White. Instead, Andreeva implores us to think of the plight of White actors, who now face a field of growing roles written for a person of colour.

“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,” complains Andreeva.

The world’s tiniest violin is playing right now, and it can only play sad songs.

The Huangs of ABC's new sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat.
The Huangs of ABC’s new sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat.

It goes without saying that Andreeva’s post is just ass-backwards wrong.

Andreeva makes the inflammatory suggestion that networks have established some sort of definitive quota on actors of colour cast as leads in primetime TV; there is literally zero evidence that such a quota exists. Not only has there been no reports — beyond Andreeva’s unnamed and anonymous “talent representative” — of such a policy emerging out of any major television studio, but studies of television casting fail to corroborate the assertion. In 2013Think Progress compiled statistics on the leads of all primetime TV shows for four major networks, and found that the majority of characters are White men; a scant 5% of characters were Black, and a mere 1.9% were Asian or Latino.

There are no data to support the quote given by Andreeva’s unnamed “talent representative” that networks are applying a mandate that “50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic”. There is literally zero evidence to suggest that FOX, ABC, CBS and NBC executives ever got together in a smoke-filled backroom to screw over their fellow White man.

Yet, Andreeva doubles down on her Great Primetime TV Diversity Conspiracy Theory by offering an anecdote from an unnamed source that appears to buoy up the claim that networks now mandate that pilots should feature 50% actors of colour. She references a scenario where two White actors were allegedly considered for two lead roles, one was not cast because the show wanted 50% of its lead cast to be non-White. I can’t help but notice that this all sounds eerily like a prosaic fictionalization of Think Progress’ interview with Brooklyn Nine-Nine producer Michael Schur, who said, “the New York City police force is roughly 50 percent Caucasian and roughly 50 percent non Caucasian. So we used that as our guideline. If we want this to look like a Brooklyn police precinct, that’s what it needs to look like”; in that interview, Schur later emphasizes that the show achieves a diverse cast through colour-blind, not “quota-based”, casting.

Andreeva fails to make this distinction, however.

Instead, Andreeva proposes that the only reason anyone would cast a person of colour on a television screen is because they had to; ergo, there must be a quota, right?

Andreeva is fundamentally infuriated that television diversity efforts have put too many racial minorities on her television screen. Her insipid list of racially cross-cast characters communicates an unmistakable message: actors of colour are taking all of these roles away from White actors, and this has just got to stop. The racism of this assertion is obvious: the actor of colour — a seething mass of Brownness Andreeva euphemistically refers to as “ethnic” — cannot ever be more legitimate a casting choice than a White actor. They are assumed to be illegitimate, less talented and inferior: the Hollywood equivalent of an affirmative action baby; Or, alternatively, only there to be capitalized on by skin tone alone, as Andreeva suggests in criticizing 2015’s fall lineup for attempting to replicate the success of a show like Empire by “by mirroring the ethnicity of their leads” in new endeavours.

Much of the logic of Andreeva’s writing is simply faulty. Rarely do White actors find themselves excluded from playing a specific role based on their race. In fact, history demonstrates the opposite: a remarkable willingness to cross-cast White actors — but not actors of colour — into roles originally written for characters who do not share their race. Consider the White-washing of The Last Airbender21, and more recently, Ghost in the Shell. Meanwhile, even actors of colour cast to play characters of their own race face backlash; never mind the hate that the rare actor of colour cast to play a race-neutral or White character becomes target for.

Andreeva’s writing is just regurgitated White fear of becoming a numerical minority, rearticulated in the same old boring reverse racism rhetoric. Never mind that people of colour — or, as Andreeva puts it, “ethnics” — are not exactly the same. That’s not how math works.

Once again, it seems, we find manifestation of America’s newest Culture War: the war on diversity. Whether we’re talking about movies, television, comic books, video games, the tech industry, or higher education, we see the same arguments being repeated over and over again: Minorities are underqualified. Minorities are unwanted. Minorities are not allowed. Diversity initiatives — that seek to break down barriers towards access — are discriminatory because they can no longer be privileged over the racial and gender underclasses.

For these people, equality is defined as the privilege to equally oppress everyone else.

Andreeva ends with a bizarre plea for television to end their diversity casting quota — a quota that appears to exist only within Andreeva’s own head.

While they are among the most voracious and loyal TV viewers, African-Americans still represent only 13% of the U.S. population. They were grossly underserved, but now, with shows as Empire, Black-ish, Scandal and HTGAWM on broadcast, Tyler Perry’s fare on OWN and Mara Brock Akil’s series on BET, they have scripted choices, so the growth in that fraction of the TV audience might have reached its peak.

This point relies on the faulty assumption that Black actors playing Black characters make for Black shows for Black audiences; and that no discerning White person would want to tune in to see a non-White face helm their favourite show.

Well, that all-White-all-the-time approach might be how it works in Nellie Andreeva’s living room, but I think Empire’s 21 million viewers — including its 7 million non-Black viewers — would disagree.

And, yes, I’m totally embedding this song just ‘cuz.

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  • Poollllll

    U cite one white person as ur evidence for “white audiences”

  • Eve

    God I wish she was in the minority. But I know casting agents who are mind-boggling racist, even while pretending to be pro-diversity. (i.e. “Yes, let’s get a black guy! He can be a hobo! Let’s get a Filipina! She can be our nurse! Do we have more Hispanics? We need some gang bangers.”) Actual diversity among LEAD roles will pop their tiny brains.

  • Guest

    Conqueror!!!

  • JanJan

    Conqueror!!

  • This post connects the thesis of Andreeva’s article to the larger Diversity Culture Wars throughout contempirary pop culture. So no, it’s not citing just ‘one white person’.

  • Poollllll

    Ah no
    Andreeva is one person, she wrote an ignorant and hatefilled piece, she should be called out on it yes!

    But u want to make a generalization about an entire race and that is problematic

    Perhaps u just heard about the Chinese woman in Kenya who owns a restaurant that won’t allow Africans in the restaurant after 5 pm, only whites and Chinese. Would u have a problem if there was a headline that stated “Chinese have a problem with Africans based on one lady’s actions?

  • You still seem convinced that Andreeva’s article represents a singular, unique reaction; I argue it is representative of a larger Culture War. I don’t know what else to say to you but ‘go back and read the post’.

    Also, are you really posting on an article where you agree that Andreeva’s claim of reverse racism is absurd while simultaneously accusing her critics of reverse racism?

  • Poollllll

    Do u have any evidence that it’s what white people feel in general?

    Also, u don’t seem to have a comeback about how u would feel if the headline said “Chinese people have problems with Africans” based on one woman’s behavior

  • KantIGetaBreak

    It may indeed be the case that the opinion is part of the collective opinion. However, the title says “White Audiences,” implying multiple people, yet cites only one reaction. There is a small paragraph that relays the putative sentiment of the majority…except there is no source. The problem is SUBSTANTIATION. You say that the article implicitly indicates a widely accepted opinion, but the issue is that a title like “When White Audiences Have Problems with TV Diversity” requires explicit sourcing with such a bold claim. Again, not saying that it is not true that Andreeva is but one instantiation of a larger group. But, when arguing for something, it is correct that your claim be backed up by sufficient evidence.

    On another matter, consider the implications of such a belief that there are a lot of white folks who oppose diversity in media. Such a position (on the part of the whites) is racist (I think you’ll agree). A lot of people will understandably despise those who hold such a worldview i.e. hate them. I hope you see that a standard for evidence for such an effect is highly important (demonizing a particular demographic is never good), which is why we must make sure that our methodology, our logic, and our evidence are correct. <—consider the justice system accepting accusations of murder, rape, etc. as proof in and of themselves (or think historically of McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials).

    What I see a lot of nowadays is words like "racist", "misogynist", etc. being thrown around a lot without much justification. It's quite depressing really. So much hate, so little thought.

  • disqus_uY4qdf1Xbx

    I find the title of this article to be a racist generalization. It pushes a stereotype of white people as racist by default. It’s obnoxious and flat out wrong.

  • This article connects this example to a larger social phenomenon — the anti-Diversity Culture Wars.

    If you are reading “reverse racism” into this post, you are bringing your own defensiveness and biases that would invalidate any conversation about diversity as “reverse racist” into the conversation. No one is generalizing that this is what “white people feel in general”. This post is discussing the White privilege of the anti-diversity Culture War debate that would leave some White people concerned about growing diversity within their midst — an idea that is brought up in Gamergate, movie casting, TV casting, and is even the foundation of the embedded joke by Hari Kondabolu regarding 2042.

    Go back and read the post. The cue words you are looking for are “when” and “some”.

    Also, u don’t seem to have a comeback about how u would feel if the headline said “Chinese people have problems with Africans” based on one woman’s behavior

    I’m haven’t responded to this because this hypothetical is inane, since headlines are prompts to read articles, and you haven’t provided the subsequent article. To judge the merits of an article by its headline is to confess that you’re the kind of person to judge a book by its cover alone.

    Meanwhile, your example is further ridiculous because you seem completely disconnected to the fact that conversations about Asian Americans and anti-Blackness is thriving in our community right now, and therefore this example is neither particularly shocking or offensive to me. Conversations about how Asian Americans might or might not be complicity in reinforcing anti-Black oppression vis-a-vis the failure of some within our midst to challenge Model Minority stereotypes is a significant focus of conversation; so, an article that talked about some example of bias as a way to connect to larger patterns of behaviour isn’t exactly somehow earth-shattering.

    In your silly hypothetical, I can have no opinion until I read the article, because I read things fully before judging them.

    If you dislike this article because you want to point out that #NotAllWhitePeople agree with Nellie Andreeva, go ahead; that would be a total and deliberate disengagement about the larger point on television diversity in order to defend the politics of Whiteness, anyways.

  • Again, not saying that it is not true that Andreeva is but one instantiation of a larger group. But, when arguing for something, it is correct that your claim be backed up by sufficient evidence.

    I believe sufficient evidence is given by providing backlinks to similar arguments being made in reaction to diversity in movies, video games, and the comic book industry.

    On another matter, consider the implications of such a belief that there are a lot of white folks who oppose diversity in media. Such a position (on the part of the whites) is racist (I think you’ll agree). A lot of people will understandably despise those who hold such a worldview i.e. hate them. I hope you see that a standard for evidence for such an effect is highly important (demonizing a particular demographic is never good), which is why we must make sure that our methodology, our logic, and our evidence are correct. <—consider the justice system accepting accusations of murder, rape, etc. as proof in and of themselves (or think historically of McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials).

    … so your concern is that the diversity conversation will result in “reverse racism” against White people.

  • Skeet Duran

    any evidence that it’s what white people feel in general?

    https://www.yahoo.com/tv/shonda-rhimes-blasts-ignorant-article-114597753615.html

    I read all 386 comments from this Yahoo counter article, and I also read the 673 comments from the original Deadline article, totaling to over 1000 comments. The vast majority of those people’s comments agreed with Nellie Andreeva.

    A lot of the pro-Andreeva commenters claimed that the White population in the United States is still 78%, so they can whitewash most of the TV and movie character roles.

    My counter to that is, they forgot to subtract the 15% Latino population, 78% minus 15% = 63% , so 63% is roughly the actual White population currently.

    We all know who is over-represented and who are under-represented for the past decades.

  • Poollllll

    Fair enough
    Go to google news and type in
    Zhao and Kenya
    I am not able to link the article

    So please answer my question:

    Would you be offended if the headline read “Chinese disallow Africans from Restaurant”
    Based on the actions on Ms. Zhao

    I look forward to a response after u read the many articles

  • You missed the point. You need to provide your -hypothetical- article attached to your -hypothetical- headline. Asking me to Google news articles doesn’t address this, since you’re talking about a hypothetical culture criticism essay.

  • Skeet, what heroic endurance to read 1000 comments on any subject, let alone this one…

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    I read tha article too, and the author’s claims that white actors are being displaced by actors of color are just plain stupid, and just plain BS. Especially when you look at TV and see that it’s still basically majority-lily white, and that shows like Empire,Fresh Off The Boat, Black-ish, and Jane The Virgin, and Cristela and just barely a handful of shows. As white-dominated as TV (and the movies) are, white folks aren’t in danger of losing any parts to actors of color any time soon. She also didn’t even bring up the fact (oddly enough) that the main reason these shows exist at all is because they were made by black producers and writers—in the case of Fresh Off The Boat, it was a number of Asian-American TV executives that shepherded the show into getting on the air in the first place. So TV isn’t getting more multicultural because white folks all of a sudden decided it was finally time to show it—-it’s because a lot of minority producers,directors, and writers behind the camera (and behind the scenes) made these shows happen.