I wrote a piece defending the writing of Arrow’s Felicity Smoak this season, because I think her storyline this season has been oversimplified by viewers who think that all of her actions have had to do with Oliver’s waffling over their relationship.
Badass Digest recently wrote a piece explaining how Arrow has “failed” Felicity Smoak in its third season. It brings up a lot of great points about the ways in which her character has changed, but I think it unfairly places the blame on the Oliver/Felicity relationship, when I think things are a bit more complicated than that. Sara’s death, pieces of Felicity’s (of the admittedly little) backstory that we know, and the overall darkness of the season all help push Felicity to a darker place this season. And I think that’s okay for the show overall.
Stephanie Beatriz of Brooklyn 99 is awesome and blogs for Latina.com and shares her feelings just before she got cast as the second Latina actress on Brooklyn 99--a sight all too rare on TV. Check it out!
Andrea Lewis put together this awesome roundtable on the state of Black TV with various black, female content creators who have turned to the web to circumvent the difficulties of breaking into mainstream media. These ladies, Andrea Lewis, Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, Ashley Blaine Featherson and Numa Perrier have all made some sort of name for themselves through indie means, mainly meaning using the Internet to widen their fanbase. It’s really inspiring to see and hear their opinions because they make so many great points. It’s not an end all, be all discussion, but of course it gets a conversation started in the minds of those who watch it. How can we further the success of black content makers both online and in mainstream media. Watch it below.
Below are some of my favorite bullet points and thoughts.
Numa says that she doesn’t often feel like she’s surrounded by stereotypes because she actively works to watch content at contrasts the mainstream stereotypes. Shows like Love and Hip-Hop definitely portray a stereotype and is seen as mainstream media. “I’m not consuming the content that feels anti to my sense of truth.” I don’t watch those shows either, and while sometimes I do hate on them (sorry), the ladies make the excellent point that, “some people watch that content, why should they be discredited for who they are.” While the kind of behavior presented on those shows isn’t what I enjoy, others do, and I shouldn’t always be so derisive about it. I just wish there was more variety to the representation of black women (and other underrepresented groups).
Issa says she does watch some of the L&HH type shows, but there’s not enough of the other stuff. “We’re relegated to one stereotype. We watch the shows and know that there’s more to black women than this, but the general public doesn’t know. and opportunities are limited.
They point out that it’s about balance. There are two extremes. The Love and Hip-Hop types and the Olivia Popes. Either pristine, suits, wealthy or L&H characters. Bougie vs ratchet. We’re missing the middle ground. It’s an excellent point made that our two extremes are unbalanced as well. There’s only 1 Scandal, but multiple L&H’s shows. I’m a bit surprised the ladies don’t discuss the problems people have with Scandal, but I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.
It’s up to BET to step their game up and show people that the “middle ground” type black woman exists. But they’re trying to reach their base. Unfortunately, the middle ground doesn’t fit into their demo, “but what about Netflix and IFC and Sundance?” Those looking for new and interesting. It seems indie is the best place for a black content creator to go.
“Our tastes are being partitioned.”
How do you reach people worldwide who want to see this content? The internet has certainly been the best place for this for these ladies.
“Some people are going to have to get old and die before things change.” It’s a shame that this seems to be the truth about a lot of things.
“We need to continue to find ways to reach the world-wide audience, reach black people in Korea, etc.” Everything is so global these days. and “international eyeballs matter too.” Even movie Box Office numbers are increasingly including and discussing the international box office revenue.
Is online working better for you than mainstream? People are certainly grateful for content that represents them (esp when its free), but it’s hard to find/create content without sponsorship or support, to translate that community to a larger space.
“Keep doing the work and the right people will come.”
“We have to value ourselves more.”
“People are inspired and impressed when they find out I’m doing it online rather than just a “guest star” on a show.”
Don’t wait for things to come to you. Be driven.
Your work has to be something people are talking about and connecting with.
How do you develop your fanbase online? You can’t do it with 2 followers. Make sure you talk back to the fans. When people realize you’re gonna hit them back up, you build relationships. It helps when people can trust you and the content is something they like.
All these ladies all “share in being a black women, but have such different voices”. It is definitely important that we get that across in the mainstream–we are not a monolith of Olivia Popes or Real Housewives of Atlanta.
It’s all about trial and error. Be strategic about collaboration. Be unapologetic about what you are and who you want to write for.
“This is black women not fighting.”
It’s a funny way to end the piece, but a sad fact that most shows, especially the reality shows which are born and bred on conflict, must show black women fighting all the time. That might be some people’s truths, but it’s not everyone. And if we have representations of black women not fighting with each other, but rather, supporting each other, perhaps there can be less fighting in the actual black community?
Finally, check out a webseries my friend created and I’ve helped work on, called Blacktress (I promise it was conceived before we ever knew about Andrea Lewis’ Black Actress webseries). It’s still a work in progress and we’re looking to expand very soon. But watching this was certainly inspirational for us to keep going and expanding and just getting more content out in the universe.
Ramou Sarr wrote this article, which I found via justwriteray, which speaks about the importance for representations of black women on television. She bring up some really great points about the need for better representation in the media.
In such a social society, television is one of the things that really brings people together. Many of my friendships and conversations began after I realized someone liked a show that I did. It warms you up to another person because now you have something in common. It’s a strange feeling when you’re left out of a conversation because you’re the only person who doesn’t watch that show. This happens even on social media.
I didn’t even know what any of these people were reacting to, and yet I still needed to watch; I still wanted to be included somehow. That’s the power of television.
This communal aspect of television is layered, and perhaps the most significant facet of it is the idea that television often acts as an agent of socialization, offering us a glimpse into how we are both different and alike, and informs how we view and interact with one another. Television also has the power to impact how we view ourselves and, by seeing portrayals of people like us on television, tells us how society views us. Children’s shows often have lessons and exercises about diversity and inclusion because most of us want children to know about these things, and yet this portrayal of the world as a diverse and inclusive one is sorely lacking in the current state of television catered to adults.
And we also have to remember that children don’t just watch children’s shows, they watch adult tv shows too. Whether because their parents let them, or they sneak it, or it’s on simply while they’re in the room, kids watch grown up TV as well. Someone in a class about children’s books said that kids only read books about kids their age or older. After a while, kids want to watch adult TV shows and adult TV shows don’t have the same messages of inclusion and diversity, as Ramou mentions, that kids shows do. So kids stop learning the lesson. I’m in no ways saying regular network TV should have lessons or that they all need family values, but there are ways people learn from television. It’s in our homes every day; if there were more people of color on television, adults (and the kids who see these shows too) would have a better understanding of the wider world around them.
In terms of relatability, black women can, of course, establish connections with white television characters, and they do…
White people, and Asian people and Hispanic and every other nationality should find that they relate to black characters too. They shouldn’t (finally have to) create a black princess and then only see black children using that doll. If Rapunzel (who I love dearly) is a universal princess and is found everywhere, then Tiana, Mulan, and Pocahontas and Jasmine should be too. Same goes for television. Black shows shouldn’t be considered a risk for only drawing black audiences (which is a bigger market than given credit for); plenty of people who weren’t black grew up watching the Cosby Show and Fresh Prince and currently enjoy shows like Scandal. Black should be given the chance to be see as universal.
Representation of black women on television is important because black women are important.
This is so important. Black women often grow up not seeing themselves as important because they don’t see positive representations of themselves in the media. More representation means more people, of all colors, get to see more sides to the black experience: both the ways in which we are unique and the ways in which we are the same.
Check out Ramou’s full piece here: The Conversation | Honest Talk with Amanda de CadenetThe Conversation.
It’s so very rare to find a show with more than one character of color. Some notable tokens off the top of my head include Angela from Boy Meets World, Lisa from Saved by the Bell, Martha Jones from Doctor Who, Charlie on The West Wing and Gunn on Angel. 30 Rock subverts the trend by having Tracy Jordan in the main cast, but also Twofer, who is both black and nerdy. Some of the disappointment behind Agents of SHIELD came from the team claiming diversity and internationality (yup, I made that up), but only having one character of color, Melinda May.
For the most part, the characters listed above were main cast members, but even when I Googled “Token Black Character,” a lot of the examples were recurring characters, if that. When we begin to include 1-episode black characters as “token” characters, it doesn’t look good for the diversity of television.
Some shows this season, however, are trying to buck that trend. Mostly they’re on FOX, who started and seems to be maintaining a diversity initiative this season. Brooklyn 99 has one of the most diverse casts out there, up there with Grey’s Anatomy in terms of variety, which makes sense due to its New York Police Department setting. FOX also airs Sleepy Hollow, which has 2 black main cast members and up to 4 black supporting characters. Then there’s John Cho’s recurring character and the sometimes seen Abbie ex-boyfriend Det. Morales.
And when they brought Damon Wayans Jr back to New Girl, I was pleasantly surprised that Lamorne Morris wasn’t going anywhere. (Though, just through a quick google, there don’t seem to be any new cast photos with Damian– I have to wonder how the conversation went down when they told Lamorne Damon was coming back. Was there a “don’t worry, we’re not replacing you with him like we did him with you” conversation, or was it just we’re adding him to the cast everyone, no one is leaving. With this trend so prevalent, I would have been a little nervous my time was up.)
This article, from Time a few weeks ago, discusses FOX and other networks beginning to break the 1 black friend trend, which we could hopefully include other nationalities of color too. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article.
But it’s also a welcome change because it makes New Girl a rarity in TV today: a major-network sitcom with more than one African American character in its regular ensemble–a comedy about friends in which “a black friend” isn’t “the black friend.”
The big networks have had a notoriously sketchy track record on casting diversity–better some seasons, terrible other seasons. The reaction has tended to be adding minority characters to shows with largely white casts. That affects the overall math, of course, but it has the side effect of replicating a universe in which black–or Asian, Latino, &c.–characters are scattered, uniformly and singly.
The exceptions are scarce: Troy and Shirley on Community; Glee, if you count that as a comedy; Parks and Recreation, depending on your definition. (That is, Rashida Jones is biracial, but having seen every episode I can’t recall Ann Perkins’ ethnicity.)
Brooklyn 9-9, the diversity is very conscious, not for p.c. reasons but simple realism. As its co-creators have said, it’s a New York City police show, and New York’s police department is about half minority. So you’ll see two Latina detectives who are very different personalities, because why not? You’ll see Andre Braugher and Terry Crews (who had a fantastic episode this week), sharing a subplot about Crews’ character’s annoying brother-in-law–not because they’re bonded as the precinct’s black characters, but simply because they work together, and it’s life–and, you know, in-laws, amirite?
But there’s another reason: sometimes, a show should just have two black women on it, because sometimes in life, there just are two black women in the same place. (Again: or men, or Indian, or Middle Eastern, or…) TV should be diverse because of fairness, but above all because it should reflect the world.
“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another. And I don’t believe that that happens out of any specific racism or sexism or prejudice. People hire their friends. They hire who they know. It’s comfortable. You want to be successful, you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t want to rock the boat by hiring people of color because, well, look at us,” she said. “Both Betsy and I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in. Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”
[…] The DGA, by the way, is the only Guild giving out this type of award in an attempt to draw attention to the problem, which I think is kind of badass.”
Shonda’s right, there doesn’t need to be an award, but maybe if more guilds/associations in the media gave out these kinds of awards, more people would strive to be more diverse? That’s really hard to say, and you don’t want people doing it who aren’t really in it for simple diversity, but it might help.
If nothing changes in the next year, Shonda might be getting the award again. Thankfully FOX seems to be sticking with it’s diversity initiative and shows like Sleepy Hollow (for network) and maybe Orange is the New Black are two other shows with diverse casts that might be honored for such a feat. But there simply needs to be more diversity in the media, but especially an everyday sort of medium like television. Diversity needs to be in people’s homes so they accept it more in the world.
What type of creator may I feel the pull to become?
Perfecter. Synthesizer. Innovator.
Which type of creator are you?
Writing and the Creative Life: Three types of creators | Go Into The Story.
I think I am Synthesizer.
I like to look at different genres (usually speculative in nature) and find ways to combine them with things they haven’t been combined with before. I’ve thought a lot about fairy tales and updating them to different eras (an idea that I had and haven’t really been able to get right is the fairy tale Bluebeard set during the Harlem Renaissance with Cyborg wives– a lot, but there’s something I really like about those combination of things that one day I want to get right).
I like fairy tales and myths and legends and, as much discussed on this blog, diversity in the media is hard to come by. So why not take those tales and adapt them to Harlem or make the main character black? I think that’s a great way to synthesize things that weren’t connected before and discover new stories (or at least a new lens through which to look at an old story–which is all any writer is trying to do).
This article, by Beejoli Shah dishes out some of the real workings of what is basically Affirmative Action in the TV writer’s world. She discusses what it is to be a “Diversity Staff Writer” (DSW) on a show and the pluses and minuses that come with obtaining that title. It is a bit of a long read, but definitely worth it. [Below became a long read as well.] There are many great insights in this article, I’ve quoted blocks of text below and appended further thoughts on the issues raised.
Most every writing room has one—an entry level, non-white staff writer, explicitly hired due to their race. (If you’re really lucky, being gay or a woman might just suffice, in lieu of not being white.) […] Perversely, Hollywood’s genuine attempt to remedy the overwhelming whiteness of the industry has instead led to a place where networks pat themselves on the back for hiring a token writer by institutionalizing those sotto voce complaints.
This is going to be a major issue (again) as of this week, since the hiring of Sasheer Zamata to be the first Black Female cast member to be on Saturday Night Live since Maya Rudolph left 6 years ago. It’s great that they’ve hired her, but it was only done so after major backlash after the current season was newly staffed and it is very clear that she is the token; the diversity hire. They didn’t look at her in the pool of everyone who auditioned, they’re looking at her in a pool of other black, female comediennes (an issue which Beejoli discusses further down). They’ve seen her in a pool of people like her and seen her as the best, but she shouldn’t be boxed in to a subset. More on this later.
It will then tack on some extra cash earmarked solely for a diversity hire, so that the studio budget can instead go towards everything that’s “integral” for the show to function.[…] Showrunners don’t have to worry about wasting their studio budget on a token hire that may not be so great in the room, a young colored writer gets a shot at the dream, networks proudly get to proclaim their commitment to diversity, everyone wins!
She kind of make it sound like an internship. The intern is the bottom of the office food-chain (in this case, the intern thankfully gets paid, but the same amount of respect). The show doesn’t really have to put any mental effort into hiring this person (they should, obviously, if they want a person who will creatively contribute, but it can be anyone and they lose no money for the choice).
Beejoli goes on to tell us that not a single new show brought in this season (2013-14), was created by a person of color. And I’m not even sure how many veteran shows are; Beejoli mentions Shonda Rhimes (because how can you not), but the fact that no one can ever name anyone else? That’s a problem. Essentially, Shonda is the showrunner diversity hire. No one has to hire a show runner of color because we already have one on TV.
Fox can guarantee a person of color a job to return to in future seasons, but also cleverly hold a person down at the level of diverse staff writer, even though they may be far too qualified to remain there.
It also seems to me that this could prevent new DSWs from getting work on a show because a show already has one that will remain on staff for that second season, while being paid with the diversity money rather than the regular staff writer’s allocation?
Beejoli says that some shows try to circumvent the issue by allowing “diversities” in traditionally white, male writers that aren’t usually considered diverse. A man reached deep into his family tree to discover he was a part Mexican, while another writer was given the position due to his heart murmur. I have a rare extra superior vena cava in my heart, can that count in my diversity points (besides being a nerdy, black, female obviously)?
there was a known stigma in the TV writing world that diversity hires are never quite as good, so much as they are just there.
This is my fear for Sasheer (I’ll probably post on this more later), but it’s also a problem in other Affirmative Action environments, like schools, etc. There is a lot of fear when being a black student at an expensive, possibly Ivy-league (/quality) school, that the other kids will look down on you because they see you as less intelligent. You got into the school because you are [black, Indian, Asian, etc], not because you “belong” there. And sometimes, when you feel overwhelmed in those environments, you have no one to talk to about it, because then it seems like you really don’t belong there (when in fact everyone feels the same way).
But in practice, the diversity hires are traditionally seen as slightly lower than plain old staff writers. The showrunner had to really want the staff writer there to be willing to part with $70,000 that could be spent on production or a different writer, whereas the diversity staff writer was a free gift from the network.
Like I said, kind of like an intern.
“Do you want to be writing partners? This white male writer not in a partnership thing isn’t working out.” “Listen, you’re both good writers, but he needs you more than you need him. He’s never read you before—he just wants an easier shot of getting staffed, because you’re diverse.”
I feel like this has come up in my life or the lives of my Friends of Color. Where someone attaches on to you because, “you’re black, they’ll let you in because they have to.” I don’t have a specific example, but it’s always strange to think of times when you have more possibility of doing something because you’re a person of color, since usually it’s (/you fear) the opposite. OR, as the article sort of talks around, people look down on you because you got in because you were diverse, but once you’re in, it’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.
“You know, you’re just like that girl from The Office. You could be the next Mindy Kaling!”
Whenever I mention my love of TV and desire to write for it, everyone says, “You could be the next Shonda Rhimes!” Which is cool, I admire Shonda for all that she’s done, but why can’t I be the next… Joss Whedon (another show runner I admire—Agents of SHIELD notwithstanding…) or Aaron Sorkin (without the drug problem). When it comes from other black people, I think it’s really just them wanting my name to be with hers (or something along those lines, my thought on this isn’t fully formed), but the fact that it comes from everyone who you mention it to… A friend of mine is a black actress who is producing a web series, so everyone says, “You could be the next Issa Rae!” As Beejoli mentions, it’s stuffing us in a “racial box.” She quotes Mindy Kaling herself, who said: “I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in?”
I was also starting to think of myself as only a diversity writer. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called my agents to tell them that I heard there’s a diversity position open on a show.
This has been so relevant to my thought processes. When thinking about writing (because I need to sit down and actually do more of it…), I’ve gone from saying, “I should write for [insert show with predominantly white cast/writers]” to “I should watch more black produced shows so I can write specs for those.” And while this is certainly something I should do, because part of my desire to write is to create more content for black people to watch on television, I shouldn’t have to feel like I could only write for the next The Cosby Show or Fresh Prince. And it’s poisonous to think you should only write for diverse groups and then “move up” to, say, network television.
It’s poisonous to think that you should be the “diversity hire” and then “move up” to regular staff writer. It’s putting diverse writers and diverse television shows on a lower rung than the “rest” of television. “Shows with PoC are lesser than network shows without.” Back when UPN and the WB existed, they were looked down upon compared to the other networks, and part of that had to do with their commitment to airing shows with black casts (I say partly because even now the CW is “lesser” than the big 4 even though the CW has long abandoned the WBs diverse offerings). We must get out of this thinking. It’s one thing for the white dominated studios and networks to see the diversity hire as being of less worth, it’s another for it to spread to our own ways of thinking. Then we’ll never rise above the way the system works now. But as Beejoli says, the higher ups aren’t making the change just yet (outside of severe pressure from audiences *coughSNLcough*), so how can things really change?
I think Beejoli’s article is one way. It’s better to go in understanding how things may work, so that if given the opportunity, you can change it. People can band together to make things run differently. The “diversity hires” need to stick together and help everyone realize that there’s more to a person of color joining your writing staff than filling your token quota.
Related links: More Than A Diversity Hire: WGAW’S Female Asian Comedy Writer’s Panel Notes
Click the link above and check out the article and transcript. I skimmed a lot of this, but basically a show got cancelled because more girls watched it than boys and the network didn’t want to adjust. Which is ridiculous.
Below are some quotes that jumped out at me:
and that the executives don’t value female viewers, because they don’t buy as many of the same toys that are aimed at boys connected to these series.[…]
DINI: “They’re all for boys ‘we do not want the girls’, I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, ‘We do not want girls watching this show.”
SMITH: “WHY? That’s 51% of the population.”
DINI: “They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. The girls may watch the show—”
[…] Like, just because you can’t figure out your job, don’t kill chances of, like, something that’s gonna reach an audi—that’s just so self-defeating, when people go, like… these are the same f***ers who go, like, ‘Oh, girls don’t read comics, girls aren’t into comics.’ It’s all self-fulfilling prophecies.
The part about it being a self-fulling prophecy is SO true! If you have girls watching the show, then those girls WILL want to buy toys. There are grown women who buy “boy” toys based on comics. If you don’t give girls a narrative they are invested in, then no, they won’t by the toys. But if they are, then they will! It is so frustrating that they say they wont when they won’t give it a chance. If this is based on past marketing strategies (from what, the 1950s?) then clearly they need to update their marketing team on modern-day girls and modern-day adult women who also may watch and buy the show and the toys discussed here.
[same goes for PoCs. If you think a young black kid (girl, even) wouldn’t buy your toys, so you don’t give them a character to relate to or you cancel the shows they ARE watching, then no, they won’t buy your toys. fulfilling prophecy.] via Paul Dini on Cartoon Network’s Programming Decisions and Why Boy Viewers Are Valued Over Girls – IGN.