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Deadline editor likes blacks on TV so long as it’s not ‘too much’

Deadline’s article Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing poses the question of whether white actors are somehow losing out on roles as networks scramble to cash in on the success of “ethnic” shows like How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, Fresh off the Boat and Empire.  In framing her argument, the author who happens to be the site’s TV editor , completely contradicts herself.

On the one hand she asserts that “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction …instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors.”

On the other hand she asserts “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.”

You can’t have it both ways in the quota game.  You can’t argue against a quota for actors citing merit as your reasoning and then say that there may need to be a quota for black shows based on the percentage of blacks in the U.S. A quota is a quota no matter how you slice it.

The flawed internal logic of the article undergirds my suspicion that the article was meant to inflame and polarize more than inform, so I will take this opportunity to add some information that the article omits.

Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and The Cosby Show are not “black’ shows.  Just because the shows were created by blacks, include black writers and showcase black talent as the lead doesn’t make them “black” shows.  The insinuation is that shows that have a black presence at any level of prominence somehow will only appeal to a black audience which is patently false.

Even shows that have a predominately black cast and deal with issues related to black life and culture like Empire and Black-ish still deal with universal issues that are prevalent in American culture that go far beyond the scope of race and ethnicity.  These types of shows have the ability to appeal to anyone regardless of race.

The television business is just that, a business, and very much a copycat business at that, so let’s not pretend that executives are making casting decisions by engaging their moral compasses.  They are going to do what makes them money and according to this current trend it seems that they are finally finding out that diversity can feed the bottom line.

The best way to influence Hollywood’s decision making is to utilize the only two things that America understands – money and votes.   Watch the shows you like and buy the products they’re selling. It’s that simple.

In the wake of this article, the black community should not concern ourselves with justifying our place at the media table in the name of diversity.  Our place doesn’t need to be defended. However, in light of this supposed broadcast bonanza we should be concerned with a different type of diversity.  As more and more blacks earn and are afforded the opportunities to create, write, direct and star in this new world of media we should strive to make sure that the stories that we are telling and the characters that we are portraying are fully representative of the full breadth and depth of the black lives, in particular, and the American lives, in general, that we embody.

When the images of non-whites are equally as diverse (socioeconomic education, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) as the images of whites –  in essence mirroring the plural society that we live in – there will no doubt be an economic benefit to the bottom line of broadcasters and a residual benefit to the country as a whole – less polarization.

Andre Kimo Stone Guess is a contributing writer for theGrio.com and cultural critic. He is a former CEO of the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh and former VP and Producer for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Follow him on Twitter – @aeducatedguess and visit his blog at aeducatedguess.com

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