What should be a celebration of the amount of faces of color we’ve been able to experience on prime time TV has turned into a whine session on Deadline about Black actors in lead roles of shows that are killing the ratings game right now, as if we don’t deserve the roles in the first place. With this bold inquiry: Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings – About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing?, we’re left waiting for Nellie Andreeva at the do’!
Ethnic casting? Ethnic. Good thing Andreeva defined what she mean by that loaded word: “a casting term used for non-Caucasian thesps.” The flaw in this explanation is that White actors stand alone as “Caucasian,” as every other actor of color is grouped into the convenient label of “ethnic.”
It looks like Andreeva’s agent friends have been complaining to her about not being able to get roles for their White talent and she took those complaints and formed this opinion, veiling her knowledge with lists of TV shows that now have diverse talent in them, of which she expertly throws shade.
Andreeva was off to a good start when she said:
“A lot of what is happening right now is long overdue. The TV and film superhero ranks have been overly White for too long, workplace shows should be diverse to reflect workplace in real America, and ethnic actors should get a chance to play more than the proverbial best friend or boss.”
Thank you Andreeva, we do deserve leading roles! But then, she revealed her true feeling behind this article:
“But replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer.
But, as is the case with any sea change, 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, some agents signal.
Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered.”
How sad! Black actors are finally able to get their beyond the threshold of the doorway and have made it to prime time shows, but we’ve only done so because we’re unfairly taking these roles from White actors?
Prime time shows like “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder” truly set the tone for leading Black actresses with a diverse supporting cast. Viola Davis‘ role in “HTGAWM” wasn’t originally for a Black woman, but Shonda Rhimes knew that she would be perfect for the role. Davis told Essence, “I think women want to see themselves on TV. I really do. I think we’re in the 21st century, I think we have to woman up. I think a lot of women have womaned up and we want to see ourselves and it feels great. And Shonda Rhimes, too, is the one who is fearless with it. You see it with Chandra Wilson, with Sandra Oh, Kerry Washington. She does it. She walks the walk.”
And that walk has been successful, showing up in record numbers. According to the LA Times, “HTGAWM” averaged 9 million viewers total over the two hour finale. “Scandal” comes in at a close second, averaging about 8 million viewers per episode.
Andreeva’s words are haunting, “Replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer.”But it is the answer. Casts need diversity because audiences crave it. “Empire’s” record-breaking numbers, averaging between 15 and 17 million viewers per episode was all the proof Hollywood needed to see that diversity is king. “Empire” is following closely behind and at times lapping shows like “The Walking Dead,” which also boasts a diverse cast. 17.3 million people tuned into the season finale. We obviously love color!
If shows like “Scandal” and “HTGAWM” set the standard for Black actors to lead casts, then “Empire” was the door opener to proving that Black makes green and can bring an astronomical number of viewers. Ethnic casting? Try ethnic struggle–which is the reality many actors of color have had to face when they couldn’t even get their foot in the door to be considered for a role. But as Andreeva stated, the tide is turning.
This a a frightening new reality in Hollywood and they weren’t readyyyy! “Empire’s” incredible viewership has forced Hollywood to think about who is qualified rather than who looks charming and digestible (read: White) enough for the role. There is plenty of mediocre talent who have gotten all the roles and now they have been challenged by actors of color who are fully talented and they don’t know how to handle not being first up for roles. It’s hilarious actually. This is what disenfranchisement feels like White people!
“Empire” was tabled for two seasons–the network TV powers that be at Fox sat on it. When Taraji P. Henson was laid off from “Person Of Interest,” she talked about doing a project (“Empire”) with Terrence Howard, but she wasn’t sure if it would get picked up. Such is the same with many other well-qualified Black actors. Many of them don’t even get the chance to sign on a project because historically, there have been no roles for us.
“Empire” broke the mold and presented Hollywood with an issue they never saw coming. The chart positions proved that Black wins and now, the television networks want more. It’s like those cartoon dollar signs are in their eyes, causing them to react and hire Black. And we will always celebrate that, no matter how much White actors and agents whine that Black people are stealing leading roles. It’s about time.
As long as TV networks keep following this revelation that Black actors can play successful leads, then the pilots for 2015 and beyond will raise the bar that’s been set by the Viola Davises, Kerry Washingtons, Gabrielle Unions and Taraji P. Hensons of the world. We’ve evolved and while it feels good to watch our reflections on screen, we’d be remiss if we pretended the hating doesn’t exist. Andreeva is speaking for many when she so eloquently complains about Black people staring in prime time TV. White people are nervous because Black lives really do matter. Oh well, we’re here, we’re Black, get used to it!