Originally posted onto Newsaratti.com 2/9/16
Can There Only Be One?
There can be an all-white cast on any television show or film and the norm is that it does not raise any eyebrows. However, when there is an introduction of a black actor as a cast member, especially more than one black actor as a cast member, the show now is considered diverse–very diverse if the casted actor is not just a side personality but a main character.
Having multiple black actors on a predominantly white show is how showrunners can have their work be applauded for its progressivism that a white show contains such strong representation of minorities. On the reverse side of the token, it is a fine line in that too many actors of one single minority other than white may have a danger of changing the show entirely, making the show into a niche show directed at a particular demographic. For example, if there are too many black actors in the cast, the audience will wonder if they accidentally hit the remote and are now watching BET, and if the cast has too heavy of a Hispanic casting, the show will appear to look like a telenovela. In other words, you can’t outnumber the white actors with non-white actors, or things just look odd.
The best example is seen is Aziz Ansari’s Netflix hit, “Master of None”: About to be cast on a sit-com about three guys living together by one of the showrunners, it’s down to Aziz, who is Indian born and dark skinned, and another Indian. “There can’t be two” the paraphrased showrunner states. “There can only be one Indian on the show, because if there are too many, then it’s an Indian show.”
It brings up a point that we must consider: Can there be too much of a diversity representation in any show or film? How much is too much, and where is that fine line?
The converse of this is that while we do try to find the sweet spot for creating an equal looking media landscape, many will view the act of forcing diversity into shows and movies and pushing “mixed race” casting into pop culture as “anti-white”; that is, taking away and demeaning to Caucasian actors and personalities.
Do we watch TV and movies to watch white people be white people, or to enjoy their stories?
The truth of the matter is that it may very well be a risk, but when it comes down to it, it’s the stories that are inside of the representation that matter. Actors are actors, and a story is a story. If the character is meant to be black, then cast a black actor. If the story is set in Egypt and about Egyptians, then it would be best to hire an actor who is Egyptian. Not too hard when we as movie goers think about it.
The push of this article is not for white actors to be put out of work, but rather for there to no longer be stereotyping in casting, not to beat up on white actors and charge them with the crime of boxing out black, Asian and Hispanic actors when it comes to snagging gigs. The point of this article is to place the idea of what would be so wrong with a black actor being cast in a role that is identical to one a white actor could be placed in? Within reason and keeping the integrity of the story in mind, casting is about how the story will be better told. Through this actor, or that one.
A Disturbance in the Force
The idea that our current societal climate is “progressive” is a statement that I will have to see to believe. In October 2015, a hashtag on Twitter listed as “#BoycottStarWarsVII” hit the top trending list with the primary objective of being “Social Justice Warriors”.
The makers and supporters of the hashtag sought to spread disapproval that there was a black actor (John Boyega) as one of the central characters in the then upcoming installment of the hit sci-fi saga.
The Twitter user’s dissatisfaction stemmed from their raging disappointment that their beloved “Star Wars” was now no longer predominantly white.
The presence of this Twitter campaign is a horrible but ongoing example of the media landscape we all currently inhabit. The presence of such a hatred, sadly, is a right to have and share, but the fact that it exists as a mindset and a belief system still lingers as strongly as it did at years ago with little to no change is truly a disheartening realization.
A New Hope
In television, there are now several shows that celebrate an alternative to the all-white cast. ABC’s “Fresh of the Boat”, “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Blackish” were groundbreaking in a sense that in the last 5 to 10 years there just hasn’t been successful prime time television programs that have starred predominantly all non-white cast. 20 years if you count the lack of Asian presence on television.
It’s a step in the right direction for Hollywood to be taking, and hopefully is a precursor to a stronger presence that is to come of a more diverse selection of actors and actresses casted in film and television.