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Primetime Emasculation

March 6, 2016

Unless you’ve been busy living under a rock or perhaps in complete denial you’ve noticed that Hollywood, the film/TV industry, currently has a diversity crisis. While we live in one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world we are routinely entertained by corporate standards regarding casting and themes for most of our TV/film adaptations.

Despite the fact that we have a large pool of very talented artists from varying ethnic groups, casting, by in large is primarily made up of  Caucasian actors. This practice leaves most studio’s to fill in one (sometimes 2) spots for a minority artist. We know it is not a corporate mandate, but because it has traditionally been happening for years, it’s hard to prove that it isn’t a legitimate casting rule.

Why do most TV series routinely cast an unlimited amount of Caucasian actors/actresses while only casting a limited number of their minority counterparts? Not only does it bother me that this practice is considered normal, but when anyone, fans or minority artist themselves, make a mention of it, they are considered a racist or playing “a race card!”

What is even more offensive is the notion that when any studio tries to rectify the situation by casting minority artist in primary roles or adding more diversity it is suggested that it’s an affirmative action, as if the minority artist somehow didn’t earn the right to be in that position! Many people who use this “affirmative action” rhetoric fail to understand that there wouldn’t even be a need to rectify or overcompensate if minority artists as a whole were treated equally and respectfully.

I read more than a few post from fans who had no issue with the fact that the academy continued to neglect the work of minority artist at this year’s Oscars by refusing to nominate one minority in any major category. These fans suggested that next year’s Oscars was going to go out of their way to nominate minorities which suggest that these will be “token” nominations.

In the backdrop of the fallout of all of the “diversity” concerns, we have a subtle trend on primetime TV which strategically casts women of color (varying African American, mixed race, Hispanic, Asian, etc…) with Caucasian male leads as the primary love interests or partner.

To many people, these trends seem like good efforts towards diversity, but I feel that these moves just maintain the status quo of White dominance and limited opportunities for minority actors.

Even the notion that the position of a female minority artist in a primary role is only solidified if she is paired with a Caucasian male is offensive to me. Is this the only way in which we can portray diversity today?

How can this single standard be the new “default” premise for diversity when it leaves so many possible minority artist on the outside looking in as potential “love interests”? By promoting this new trend are studio’s subtly suggesting that minority actors aren’t even viable love interests for these women of color?

There clearly is a need for these particular ethnic groups on primetime TV and for casting directors to begin deliberately this new trend suggest a clear and deliberate agenda to pair these individual men and women, but why?

How can this pairing be a win for diversity if it leaves so many minority artists still on the outside, but looking in? Interracial dating and marriage is a popular and regular concept, but why are these relationships only trending on primetime TV in the particular pairing of White men and women of color primarily?

If it was only happening once or twice I’d be the first one to say that this is just my paranoia talking or perhaps it’s all mere coincidence, but it’s now a trend and just because I may sound paranoid to some naysayers, doesn’t mean it isn’t currently happening!

Madam Secretary
The New Girl
Sleepy Hollow
How to Get Away with Murder
Minority Report
The Haves and Have Nots
Modern family
The Mindy Project
The Good Wife
Second Chance
Truth Be Told

These are just a few of the past, current and new shows that use this concept with its lead or supporting characters. The fact that many popular shows use this concept is not necessarily the issue, what makes it an issue is the fact that these trends are not only considered normal, but they are sold to the public as “diversity.”

The real rub of this entire trend is that White TV fans have no real issue with any attractive women of color being paired with a White leading or secondary character. Unfortunately, when CBS had the audacity to not only cast Mechad Brooks as DC character Jimmy (he prefers James) Olsen, who was White in the comics, all hell broke loose!

Even comic book purists were seemingly masking their racial issue with the decision behind jargon like Jimmy is supposed to be nerdy and uncool, not hunky and attractive! Some fans even hated the fact that Supergirl is apparently attracted to him while the White nerdy sidekick is pining for her affection.

Are these fans satisfied with minority men routinely typecast as the thug, drug dealer, or gang member? Is the idea that they can play the confident, charming good guy that gets the attention of the attractive White main character of the show is too much to fathom?

We live in a TV fantasy world in which a White president cheats on his wife with an African American mistress, but we have an issue with a fictional comic book character being African American and teasing a potential hook-up between him and a White Superheroine!?!?

Let’s break down the realities of how minorities are used sparingly on primetime TV in comparison to their White cohorts. If we also apply to this mix the issue of stereotyping we can’t help but see how eliminating minority men as potential love interest for these women of color only further eliminates opportunities for minority actors, specifically men, on primetime TV overall.

So the White actor not only gets top billing, the primary and secondary roles in large part, but he also gets the girl, both the White girl and the woman of color? Is this right? Am I wrong for calling bullshit on this deliberate casting trend?

I remember the object lesson I was taught years ago in a college class I took on the history of cinema. The professor was breaking down the concept of how racism in our overall nation helped to establish it’s existence in Hollywood and how the standard of the “White Messiah Complex” was originated and maintained til this day.

She showed us a documentary linking film classics such as A Man Called Horse, Lawrence of Arabia, on up to Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, and Avatar. They are all interchangeable in theme and concept. A White man enters a long standing culture and not only civilizes them but assimilates, and somehow becomes their savior or their leader.

Perhaps the real reason White men always save the day and get all the women is simply because they are the ones writing the stories or, at least, the ones that are getting greenlighted for TV/film? Is this merely a byproduct of writers, or does it point to a higher source of who approves what stories get told and the details of those stories?

In that same class, we got into a debate one day when I was asked about one of my favorite films, Cry Freedom, starring a young Denzel Washington, who portrayed South African apartheid activist Stephen Biko.

I shared with the class my disappointment that the film chose to focus on the White journalist that told his story. A White student sitting right next to me explained that he preferred that the movie focused on the White journalist because it made him care more about the character. He claimed, it made him want to watch it because he was White so he cared more about the White character.

The professor actually thanked him for his honesty, but I was stunned at how he was thanked for being a bigot! I remember thinking to myself “I don’t have to be Jewish to count Schindler’s List among one of my all-time favorites” so why is this idiot congratulated for his narrow-minded views?

When our resolve is rationalized through our ethnocentric beliefs, we tend to support many outdated concepts on both race and culture. These skewed ideologies tend to gravitate towards the established system which often excuses itself for maintaining its flawed traditions regardless of how wrong they appear.

I love a good story, and I am a sucker for films based on true stories. A part of me can understand what that guy in the film class was saying about identifying with a character because he looked like him. If we afford him the right to want to see someone look like him saving the day and winning, in the end, where is our same right as minorities to see our heroes saving the day and getting the girl?

As a kid, I grew up loving Star Wars, can you imagine a Black kid loving a Science fiction film that didn’t have one minority in it? So when Billy Dee Williams showed up, it only helped me to invest in it more.

I can’t be wrong for earnestly wanting to see more opportunities for all minorities on TV/film. Nor can I be vilified for criticizing the unwritten rule of one minority per cast, or the trend of pairing women of color with White leads/supporting characters.

Whether it was the origins of my ancestors in this country as slaves or the tumultuous climate of the civil rights era, the overt hatred of minorities in this country has seemingly faded into distant memory, and what remains is now a subtle more covert approach.

As minorities, we constantly try to remind ourselves that not only do we matter but that we belong on equal ground with all other groups. How is it possible that there is such an ethnically diverse group regarding how we worship, who we marry and have kids with but we’re still stuck in an outdated concept concerning the images we entertain ourselves with and the trends that we promote?

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