Monday, January 12, 2015

Black and White TV Set?

Gina Rodriguez
Last night's Golden Globes may have offered some encouraging news for people interested in television diversity. Gina Rodriguez won a "globe" for a comedy called Jane the Virgin and later said that her award "represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes." Yet she was the only actor of color to win a globe last night. (Presenter Don Cheadle, was the only actor of color to win last year, also for a TV comedy).

And last year, a Writers Guild of America report on women and minorities in television offered what some also see as encouraging news. In the past 12 years, for example, the number of minority writers has roughly doubled moving from 7.5% of all writing jobs to 15.6%. The biggest increases were in the number  of Asian-American and Latino writers, especially those working in "multicultural dramas."

Similarly, the number of women writers has risen from 25-30% over the past decade, promising, perhaps, but still far less than the 50+% of the population women actually represent. Perhaps this is why, the authors of the report had considered subtitling the report "Pockets of Promise, Minimal Progress." Overall, the numbers look better — more representative of what our country looks like— but are these numbers truly encouraging?

Is there reason to be optimistic? Let's look closer at some of the numbers: "only 9% of pilots had at least one minority writer attached [to their writing staff] and just 24% of pilots had at least one woman attached, according to the report." Shockingly low, no?

A monolithic line-up of Emmy-nominated writers?
Here is a recent picture (above) of a panel of Emmy-nominated writers. Ask yourself who is represented? Who is not?

And the numbers are even more stark when you behind the camera. According to Think Progress, in an article called "TV Directors get Whiter and More Male," the percentage of episodes of television in the 2011-2012 television season directed by white men rose from 72 percent to 73 percent. White women directed 11 percent of episodes, the same as last year. And women of color and men of color basically traded work: men of color directed 13 percent of episodes, down from 14 percent last year."

With a disproportionately high percentage of white writers and directors, it perhaps not surprising that news for actors of color is similarly frustrating. Among actors on TV there had been reason to hope in 1998 when Andre Braugher took home a leading-actor Emmy in 1998 for his work on "Homicide: Life on the Street," becoming only the third black actor to win in that category (Bill Cosby and James Earl Jones got there first). But in the last 14 years, there has been only one minority nominee: Braugher again, for the swiftly canceled ABC medical drama, "Gideon's Crossing."

10 comments:

Thomasina R said...

I feel that the fact that there was only one person of color to win a Golden Globe fits in with the idea of "TV Tokenism"--at least one person of color had to win so everyone could point to her and say "Look! Diversity!" There are also not many roles written for people of color, as the majority of writers are white men. To truly gain diversity in films and in television, there needs to be as much diversity off screen as on.

Rayna K said...

I thought the fact that writers are lacking in diversity was very interesting. It makes perfect sense. I suppose a show would only need a "token face" of a minority and then feel like they have diversity. The one minority woman writer that comes to mind for me is Mindy Kaling. Kaling is an Indian writer and actress who started her career on the sitcom "The Office" as a writer and an actress. On screen, she was constantly poked fun of as being the "token" minority in the office. However, she recently just got her own show "The Mindy Project" in which she plays a doctor and is the leading lady. Hopefully, this little bit of progress will soon become a trend in the world of Hollywood both on and off camera.

David Y. said...

I think you really have something great when you quoted those statistics about the low percentage of episodes directed by women/men of color and linked that to the fact that there are currently very few actors of color. I can really see the connection there. We can only really progress or move away from mere T.V. tokenism if we first hire more directors of color. That could really change the tide in the T.V. business. As for progress in the "writer" stats column, I kind of feel as though that is not such a big deal. My perception of that situation is that maybe there are just more white writers applying to those jobs or even in the field entirely. I don't think the race issue with writers is that strong of evidence of progress because I don't feel that writers are a part of tokenism. I think that if race played a part in hiring your writers, that would just be overt racism. That said, I don't know their hiring standards and am purely speculating on the whole situation. My question is, why are we pushing so hard for equality in the medium of television/movies? Yes, media is a strong weapon in terms of reaching out and affecting peoples views, but I feel as though we are just causing tokenism because we are pushing so hard for a diversity in casting.

Claire H said...

I find the picture of the Emmy-nominated writers lined up particularly interesting. Out of the nine nominees, only two of them are women. Women make up around 22% of that panel; however, in reality, women make up around 50.8% of the population of the US. However, the picture tries to hide the fact that women are less represented by having one of the two female writers in the center of the photo. Because she is in the center, my attention automatically went to her, which gave the illusion that women are more represented than they actually are. Not only is there a lack of diversity in terms of gender in this picture, but also race, for every member of the panel is white.

Jen F said...

I agree with Claire as she is talking about the position of the women writers in the picture of the panel of writers. I too saw them first. However, I really liked the point about the directors. I think it is very interesting that white males dominate this field. I think when it comes down to it, the directors follow what the writers write, but it is up to the to stylistically show it how they envision the show. Not only are minorities not as well represented in this field, but women even less so than people of color. I think the director plays a key role in how the story line is told, and perhaps if that were diversified a little, we would be seeing different results at the awards ceremonies.

Ana D said...

I agree with David in that more directors of color should be hired. Perhaps one of the main problems with TV Tokenism and actors of color is that there are too many white directors. When a director is casting, I feel like he/she is more inclined to create a cast of white people, with maybe a person of color here or there. However, if a colored director were to take on that cast, I feel like there would be much more variety in who was cast. With regards to the writers, I think that it is interesting the the writers who are not white are working on multicultural dramas. Is this because they are not "fit" to write a script similar to what a white person would write?

Spencer James said...

The claim that more writers and directors of color will equal more actors of color is interesting. If that is true, then are you previous commenters suggesting that white writers and directors are prejudice against characters/actors of color?
That is possible and I don't want to rule that out, however, at least as I understood it, token minorities are only mere tokens in order to not make the majority white audience uncomfortable. In other words, writers, directors, advertisers, and producers are scared of showing too many minority faces in their programs. What might actually have the power to change this situation would be a pioneer drama of sorts that is highly successful but features a mostly or entirely minority cast. This would prove to directors that America is ready to not be a bunch of racists and appreciate a TV show for its quality of writing and acting, not for the white faces it shows on screen.

Julie R said...

With the Oscar nominations for 2015 just released, it is evident that movies lack racial diversity. Although Gina Rodriguez became the only actor of color to win at the Golden Globes, at least there were multiple actors of color nominated. In contrast, only white actors and actresses have been nominated for Academy Awards. David Oyelowo, who wonderfully portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma", was completely overlooked. I think it's ridiculous that so few minorities are being honored when it is clear that it is very difficult for people in the movie business to get very far if they aren't white. Overall, the media needs to stop pretending that it includes many people of color by using strategic "tokens." Instead, it needs to actually become more diverse.

Ellie L said...

For more people of color to be nominated for these awards, we first need to see a change on screen, as this is where the nominations come from. We need to see more minorities in prominent roles on television and in movies, which is very doable. After all, this is just a construction: writers and casting directors make choices about who is casted, who gets the most screen time, how the actors are depicted, etc. The Oscar nominations are a construction in the same way. If change is possible, why hasn't it happened? Perhaps we need to first diversify "behind the scenes," so that more people of color are seen writing, directing, nominating, etc.

Stephanie S said...

I find Ana's comment interesting and I agree that there should be more diverse directors in the entertainment industry. I have walked into auditions where I am surrounded by white producers, writers, directors, and casting directors. Perhaps then there could be a more diverse and fair casting system for actors to get cast onto a show. I think that getting more diversity behind the camera will also help get more diversity on the camera. It is interesting to see how writers can pin point you to one "type" of character or person. Usually because I am of a minority, it is almost never the main character, I am usually the supportive best friend. That has to deal with the writers and the physical description of the characters. Hopefully we can make more progress in the future so that there can be more diverse casts on the screen and award winners off the screen.