Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes sparked a Twitter war yesterday. After the premiere of ABC Family’s new show, Bunheads (this title…) Shonda tweeted the following:
Hey @abcfbunheads: really?You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show?NOT ONE?
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) June 12, 2012
This tweet from Shonda was pretty much sent on blast and made a lot of headlines today. This issue isn’t anything new though; just a few months ago HBO’s Girls was pretty much castrated for only featuring overly privileged, white individuals. The aforementioned shows from Shonda are noted for being very inclusive of race and sexuality, especially her newest show Scandal featuring Kerry Washington, a female and African-American, in the lead role of a primetime show (this is a big deal).
This argument, statement, moment, whatever it may be, I think, is very important. At the same time, I don’t think it’s totally just. As an aspiring writer, or once aspiring writer, I’ve felt the need to include a spectrum of characters in pieces I’ve written. I’ll be honest, I’ve said that a certain character should be of color or sexuality just because there isn’t enough diversity in film and television. But what if that isn’t your reality? In my reality, I have one, very close friend, who is of color. Everyone else I know, personally, is white. My close group of friends are all white. White, white, white, white! It’s not my fault, it’s just how it’s been. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood, went to school within that neighborhood, and thus, friendships were made within that.
So this issue of diversity then becomes an issue of forced diversity. If I were to write a show, let’s say like HBO’s Girls, and I included a person of color, and I wrote their story, would that be fair? Would that be just? Can I write from that perspective if I don’t even know that story from someone else’s point of view, let alone my own point of view. What I’m saying is, I think you should include many types of characters in anything (Shonda is African-American and Grey’s & PP’s main characters are white and she is able to write their stories) but if you don’t know that, or you can’t properly represent that, if that isn’t your story, I don’t think you are obligated to include it. I think you do less of a favor if you force diversity and present the wrong type of story, or worse, a caricature.
Television right now is still very white. But there are small strides being made, but they come at a cost. One of my favorite show’s is NBC’s Parenthood which features an all white cast except for two characters. To compensate for all of that Braveman-whiteness, a lot of the extra’s on the show – doctors, bus drivers, lawyers, boyfriends, etc… – are oftentimes of African-American descent. I only noticed this midway through but was made more obvious when I heard someone say it. Now, what does that do for the audience, and moreover, that demographic by making the extras diverse? Does it point out how not-diverse the show really is or does it help the situation?
Will Smith’s daughter, Willow Smith, has been rumored to be cast as Annie in the remake of the film of the same name. Will & Jada are producers on the film and Jay-Z (see, the picture makes sense now) is looking over the musical treatment of the film (uh, this project kind of excitements for that alone). When it was announced that Willow was to play Annie, one of the most famous white characters ever, people kind of lost their shit. “Annie can’t be black!” Why not? In this case, where diversity is distorted to fit modern society, I think it not only works but SHOULD occur, more so than throwing in a random character of color to aid the viewers inclusion.