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Shonda Rhimes Calls Out “Ignorant” Deadline Hollywood Article on TV Diversity

Who will think of the poor white actors?!

shonda rhimes

Deadline Hollywood‘s Nellie Andreeva wrote a post yesterday called “TV Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time Or Too Much of a Good Thing?” and Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder creator Shonda Rhimes was not having it. She took to Twitter to express herself, as she is wont to do.

She soon started retweeting other folks on Twitter who seemed equally upset by the article, including other TV writers at other media outlets:

And my personal favorite:

The original Deadline piece is wrong-headed on so many levels. For example, Andreeva criticizes the fact that there have been a couple of instances where, while the real-life inspiration for characters were all white, they were cast in a more ethnically diverse way for television. Like this:

ABC’s medical drama pilot The Advocate was based on the story of former CAA agent Byrdie Lifson-Pompan and Dr. Valerie Ulene, who launched a healthcare consulting company. While the real-life inspiration for the two central character are both Caucasian, the show cast them with one white actress, Kim Raver, and one black, Joy Bryant.

As the photo of the 1972 graduation of the first 12-women class of the Boston Police Academy indicates, they appear to be all white, as were the members of the original Broad Squad, Rachel Keefe and Patricia Murphy, Boston’s first all-female patrol team. That is no surprise as non-Hispanic Whites constituted 80% of Boston’s population in 1970 versus 16% blacks. While set in the 1970s, ABC’s drama pilot Broad Squad, inspired by the real-life events, has a lead cast more consistent with Boston’s current racial makeup of 45% white non-Hispanic and 27% black as one of its four female leads was written and cast as African-American, Wesley.

I wonder if Andreeva’s made the same stink when stories that actually are about people of color have been whitewashed? Because that happens ALL THE TIME. But we’re all supposed to be color-blind, right? As long as “color-blind” defaults to white. That’s the problem with “color-blind” thinking. If you’re trying to not see color at all… you usually don’t, and it’s that much easier for a white person to cast another white person. The answer isn’t “color-blind” casting. The answer is making it a point to see color and put it on the screen in a way that is accurate and representative of the real world.

Lest there are some readers out there who wonder if Andreeva and the agents quoted in her piece are onto something with her “too much of a good thing” angle, allow me to put her information in a little perspective. She says this:

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.

Now, according to the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report, the first in a series of studies done by the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA which focused on 1,061 television shows from the 2011-2012 season, minorities have 14.7% of the leads on cable television. Notice I didn’t say black people—I said “minorities.” Meaning that this 14.7% figure includes blacks, Asians, [email protected], etc. So, on the whole, minorities are underrepresented 2 to 1 on cable. It’s worse on broadcast television. Minorities make up 5.1% of the leads on broadcast television, making them underrepresented 7 to 1. They have the highest representation on reality television, sadly, at 24.5%, and that’s often in an exploitative way (see Real Housewives of Atlanta, or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding).

The point is, the current state of diversity on television might seem like “a lot” or even “too much” to someone who’s used to being catered to. It is not, however, an actual problem. In fact, it is only the beginning of what needs to happen in order for television to actually be representative of its audience.

(via The Wrap)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.