Yesterday, Nellie Andreeva, a writer for Deadline thought it would be a great idea to post the article “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of a Good Thing?”*. Besides being sloppily written the article was nonsensical, suggesting that there would be a backlash from the dearth of “ethnic” (her words, not mine) casting. Andreeva suggested that because of the success of these freshman shows parts are being rewritten away from Caucasian actors to people of color. She then goes on to warn of “mandates” or quotas that have studios looking to cast 50% of the roles to ethnic-only actors and that these mandates could potentially backfire as audiences may grow tired of seeing non-white faces on their TVs.
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.
From reading her article it seems as if it doesn’t even occur to Nellie that African-Americans are not the only people watching and enjoying these shows. Nellie also mentions the casting of leads became ethnic because stars of a certain caliber (Halle Berry and Viola Davis) became attached, not mentioning that these Oscar nominated/winning actresses have moved to television because of a lack of opportunity in their preferred medium of film.
Predictably the reaction was swift and negative with Shonda Rhimes giving a rather classy reaction:
1st Reaction:: HELL NO. Lemme take off my earrings, somebody hold my purse! 2nd Reaction: Article is so ignorant I can’t even be bothered.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) March 25, 2015
but that also did not stop her from retweeting some tweets that were less forgiving
Horrible Deadline article, you’ve left me no choice. I must go FULL FACEPALM, from ALL of Star Trek! Happy now??! pic.twitter.com/HC3FEY5CTW
— Mo Ryan (@moryan) March 25, 2015
There is this irrational fear that comes across in this article that is not based in reality. Let’s start with the fact that even with the shows mentioned the overwhelming majority of actors on television – broadcast and cable – we recently saw the whitest Oscar ceremony since 1998. The constant use of the word ethnic just shows how out of touch the writer is with reality. Though African Americans make up only 13% of the US population we have consistently proven to be the most reliable audience in TV. We watch and we watch a lot despite our underrepresentation. Asian American’s are terminally underrepresented in media and their representation can be so stifling and one dimensional that it is difficult to watch. Lastly, yes, Empire and Fresh Off the Boat can be considered “ethnic” shows but while Viola Davis is the star of How To Get Away With Murder and Kerri Washington is the star of Scandal, those are not “ethnic” shows and while they have diverse casts they are by no means alienating white viewers.
So where then does the worry that these well written and well received shows will alienate viewers from? This is push back against the status quo changing. As if changing something that needed to be changed (media under representation) is an attack or a step past what people are willing to take. This is a complete overreaction and underestimation of the American public. If the show is good we’ll watch, and unlike Ms. Andreeva, I doubt people are checking the demographics.
TL;DR = that article was complete and total bullshit.