Sarah’s (snarky blogger) take
Yesterday evening an article by Nellie Andreeva was posted on the industry trade website Deadline—formerly the bastion of hard-edged news harpy Nikki Finke—positing that the current pilot season is shaping up to be the most diverse in recent memory, maybe ever, with more roles opening up to “ethnic actors” following the success of shows like Empire, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and Black-ish. This seems like a good thing, like television is evolving to reflect actual society, but Andreeva’s argument is actually that maybe this whole diversity thing is going too far because—gasp!—white people are starting to be passed over for roles.
The article is infuriating and there is no defending it. It’s ignorant at best, vilely racist at worst. But I think we’re being trolled. I think Andreeva’s article is deliberately calculated to be inflaming and it’s a masterpiece of clickbait journalism. This article is the internet equivalent of those clipboard people on the sidewalk who try to start a friendly conversation with you before launching into their spiel about Greenpeace or whatever they’re selling that day. It’s an agenda disguised as a faux-concerned conversation, only that agenda isn’t really about diversity or racism, it’s about driving traffic—and thus revenue—for Deadline. It’s meant to provoke our outrage so that the article gets passed around, retweeted and quoted all over the internet—which it is—so that people will click the link and give Deadline more traffic.
But it’s out there now, and we have to deal with it at face value because the vast majority of people who read it will take it that way. They won’t see the clipboard, just the person who wants to have a chat about Issue X, and in this case, “Issue X” is diversity on TV. The source of Andreeva’s (manufactured) ire is that during casting this pilot season, some roles originally designated for Caucasian actors have been rewritten to accommodate “ethnic actors” who ultimately won the role. A high-profile example of this is Viola Davis’s leading role on How to Get Away with Murder, which was rewritten for a black woman after she expressed interest in the part. The outrage! A two-time Oscar nominee wants to be on a TV show and producers accommodated her! Anger anger rabble rabble anger rabble.
Andreeva’s entire argument—that diversity is fine so long as it doesn’t jeopardize the power of the default majority—is the same old attack we’ve been hearing about Affirmative Action for years, and in a more nebulous sense it’s basically “there goes the neighborhood’ing” TV. A few shows have been successful with diverse/minority-lead casts, prompting networks to want more diverse/minority-lead casts in hopes of replicating the success of an Empire, and suddenly TV is no longer “for us”. Suddenly it’s “about them”. There’s a lot of codified bullsh*t in this argument, with the (fake) fear that it’s not really about equality, it’s about taking something away from the default majority. To Andreeva, diversifying television means taking it away from white people—not making it more representative of ALL OF US.
But I don’t think she sincerely means any of this. Every example in her article is cherry-picked to back her position, and she ignores that despite an ever-widening pool of representation, television is still dominated by white people. Based on the latest statistics, even though ratings and economic figures indicate that diversity is just plain good business, representation remains woefully inadequate. On network TV over 81% of roles are white, while the generally more-progressive cable side is only marginally “better” at 77%. But those numbers don’t factor into Andreeva’s argument, because her argument is not about the reality of television representation, it’s about generating outrage for clicks. It’s about goading that latent fear that equality means a loss of power—of IMPORTANCE. And obviously it’s working because everyone is upset. But I’m just exhausted, and a little annoyed, and I kind of want to shove Andreeva’s clipboard into her face for dragging us into this manufactured fight.