Pop culture doesn't reflect the diversity of day-to-day life in America, especially in urban centers. Lena Dunham's new series Girls on HBO -- so wonderfully, awkwardly realistic when it comes to depicting bad job interviews, the vagaries of friendship, and bad sex -- flails like a dying fish when dealing with race. Its world is so homogeneous that the show would be more accurately titled White Girls. NBC's The Office, set in Scranton, Pa., is more ethnically-mixed than Dunham's Brooklyn; so is the Seattle of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, which led the charge with color-blind casting in 2005. According to the New York Times:
Grey's Anatomy has differentiated itself by creating a diverse world of doctors -- almost half the cast are men and women of color -- and then never acknowledging it. ...
When [Shonda] Rhimes wrote the pilot [of Grey's Anatomy], she didn't specify the characters' ethnicities, so her casting process was wide open: Mr. Washington, who once played a gay Republican in Spike Lee's Get on the Bus, was nearly cast in the role played by Patrick Dempsey, who is white; his Dr. Burke was to be played by a white actor who was forced to drop out at the last moment. Ms. Rhimes imagined "The Nazi" as a "tiny, adorable blond person with lots of ringlets," until Chandra Wilson walked through the door ("I thought it was endearing," Ms. Wilson said of her part. "Endearing as the word 'Nazi' can be."). And even though some network executives assumed Ms. Oh's hypercompetitive character would be white, Ms. Rhimes did not -- in the pilot's script she wasn't even given a last name -- so all it took was one "fabulous" audition from the "Sideways" star to christen the character Cristina Yang. ...
Ms. Rhimes has also worked hard to extend diversity to her show's smallest roles. Determined not to have a program in which "all the extras are white, except the lone janitor," she has created one of the most colorful backgrounds in television, a hospital in which punked-out bike messengers and suffering Hasidim roam the corridors. "Shonda's only rule is drug dealers and pimps cannot be black," said Dr. Zoanne Clack, a black writer for the show who also practices medicine. Even the episodic roles -- a gay African-American, a young Hispanic couple -- are multicultural.
Rhimes' choices of seven years ago were bold but incredibly successful. Why haven't they been replicated? After all, following the enormous impact of Twilight, young adult bookshelves exploded with copy-cat novels about vampires and virgins and the occult in general, and one fully expects "Mommy Porn" to become its own genre in the near future now thatFifty Shades of Grey has sold 3 million paperback copies in April alone.
One answer is that Rhimes, as an auteur, breathes rarefied air. Like other writers/directors/producers -- a talented but small and exclusive fraternity that includes Alan Ball, Joss Whedon, Matthew Weiner, David Chase, and David Simon -- she has an unusual amount of creative control over her finished product. If diversity is a priority for her, she can make it happen. Dunham, as this frat's newest pledge, is still trying to figure out what her priorities are, and some of them are stellar, like being funny and worth watching. As Jenna Wortham of the Hairpin writes, part of the reason that Girls has become a lightning rod for the frustration that people of color don't get to see their experiences reflected on screen is because it "is actually good. It gets So. Many. Things. Right. It's on point again and again, hitting at the high and low notes about being in your twenties ...."
Dunham prioritizes reflecting her own life experiences and those of her friends in an authentic, engaging way, and apparently this is her world: part Jewish, part WASP-y, and overall 50 shades of pale. She is hardly unique in having a friend circle that reflects her own heritage, although she may be the first well-known person to be publicly shamed for it. Salamishah Tillet in the Nation points out that this larger issue needs to be addressed, since many of us live segregated social lives, and it affects us whether we realize it or not.
Still, we can sympathize with Dunham's choice to remain true to (her) life and simultaneously be disappointed, because it implies that Dunham, for all her creativity, ambition, wit, and skill, lacks imagination. How hard is it, after all, asks Sarah Seltzer in the New York Times, to at last break free of the traditional paradigm where "characters written as racially neutral (or even as nonwhite) are virtually always cast as white even though movie-watchers and TV-watchers of all backgrounds will search for a mirror, an entrance point, among the faces they see on screen."
Dunham is far from the only auteur, though, with this failing; as Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic points out, why should a 24-year-old just starting out be blamed for not diversifying media when the problem is a systematic one? Judd Apatow is one of Hollywood's most successful producer-writer-directors. He's prolific, too: a typical year finds him involved in two to four high-profile projects in one capacity or another. And he's not afraid to take risks, including, most recently, working with newbie Dunham to bring Girls to the screen. Yet no film of his has had a single leading character that Joey Drayton would have to think twice about bringing home to her parents. (Unless Tracy and Hepburn have a problem with emotionally-stunted man-children.) The few nonwhite characters in Superbad, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, and the others in his stable, even 40-Year-Old Virgin -- featuring Apatow's most diverse cast and his smartest script -- exist on the fringes of the story and are there mainly for comic effect.
His most recent foray into relationship comedy, The Five-Year Engagement, which I recently reviewed with writer Adam Freelander for the Billfold, wastes the talents its few nonwhite actors by rendering them as depressing stereotypes: the bespectacled, socially-awkward Asian guy, the dick-obsessed black man, and Mindy Kaling, who, as Adam puts it, plays "Mindy Kaling, which is technically not an ethnic stereotype, though I'm concerned it soon will be." The movie's inability to deal with race in any kind of sophisticated way distracts from its otherwise poignant, interesting exploration of real-life problems.
Is it better, ultimately, to write minority characters, even when you end up making an ass of yourself, or should you stick to what you know at the expense of relegating minorities to the margins, if you remember to include them at all? Put simply: Try and maybe fail, or don't try?
Unfortunately, as long as "don't try" is an option, too many filmmakers and showrunners will quail at the prospect of doing it wrong and getting criticized and will revert to what feels easier. We need a sustained outcry against having movie after movie and TV show after show that is as white as a New Yorker cartoon. This is not about Lena Dunham; this is about our culture, and how much more we will all benefit from color-blind casting in our media and, hopefully, in our lives. Studios needs to stop considering it an option to have a totally vanilla cast, or one that pretends to be a sundae just because it has a couple of sprinkles here and there. Producers need to insist on better minority characters, and to recruit minority writers, directors, and producers to help them and their staffs see around their blind spots. Everyone will be better for it.
And writers, have a little courage! Expand your boundaries. Good faith efforts are often rewarded, especially as long as the quality is there. Just ask Shonda Rhimes, whose show was just renewed for a ninth season. Channel the advice of one memorable minority character from a 1977 classic: "Do or do not. There is no 'try.'"
Eva Longoria has dismissed rumors the leading ladies of Desperate Housewives deliberately excluded Teri Hatcher from the series finale crew gift, insisting the actress has always preferred to do "h...
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NBC has canceled "Harry's Law." Series star Kathy Bates tweeted the news to her followers.
The legal drama from "Ally McBeal" creator David E. Kelley was one of NBC's highest rated shows in the Nielsen ratings, except in the coveted 18-49 demographic. The second season of "Harry's Law" debuted to 7.5 million viewers and has fluctuated between 7 and at one point 9 million viewers in the ratings since. The May 4 episode of the series had 7.7 million viewers but a 0.8 rating in the 18-49 demographic.
The series was considered on the bubble because of its low 18-49 demo rating, but its overall numbers worked in its favor.
NBC has previously canceled "The Firm," "Prime Suspect, "Free Agents," "The Playboy Club," "Awake" "Bent," "Are You There Chelsea?" and "Best Friends Forever."
Click through the slideshow below to find out the fates of your other favorite shows.
Well, it seems like Alaric on The Vampire Diaries may not bounce back as easily as Elena come television 2012-2013 because his portrayer, Matt Davis, shot the Cult pilot for The CW, and today the network decided they want...
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NBC has had mostly good tidings for fans of its comedies so far, renewing 30 Rock and Community, and now it's also given additional seasons to Parks and Recreation, Whitney, and Up All Night. However, we've also got some cancellation news to report: Are You There, Chelsea, Awake, Bent, and Best Friends Forever have all gotten the ax. All four shows were midseason entrants, and I'm not terribly surprised to see them go. In the meantime, I plan on celebrating the Parks and Recreation news (especially since it's also getting a full 22-episode order) the same way the gang gave it up for Leslie's election victory on the season finale.
Photos courtesy of NBC
Lots of TV series are wrapping up their seasons in the next few weeks, and we've got peeks at a lot of the episodes. There are more than a few weddings (like on The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly), some intense-looking shots you know are leading to cliffhangers (hello, Once Upon a Time and The Vampire Diaries), and several truly out there costumes (looking at you, Community). Click through to see the wide variety of season finale photos.View Slideshow ?
Is Jennifer Lopez leaving "American Idol"? Currently in her second season as a judge on the Fox reality singing competition, the big question is: Will she be back next season?
"I don't know," Lopez admitted in an interview with E! News and "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest. "I have some movie things in the works and I have the tour. I love the show and it hurts me to think about not doing it, but I'm just taking it kind of day by day. We'll see."
"Mob Wives" firecracker Drita is about to get really angry ... but at least she's trying to deal with it!
In our exclusive clip from the season finale of "Mob Wives" (above), Drita D'Avanzo heads to anger management to deal with her upcoming meeting with Karen, her arch-nemesis.
Unfortunately, Drita's session doesn't prove to be much help -- especially when it comes to the "rat machine," which clues Drita in on how she's really feeling. The machine's constant beeping coupled with her therapist's goading causes a little freak out.
"He's supposed to be keeping me like a f---ing Mother Mary, but instead he's keeping me f---ing bent," she says.
As for the other wives, Renee decides to purge the negative energy that has permeated her life and home through a spiritual healer, while Ramona heads to a pyschic to gain clarity about her past relationships, and Big Ang throws a dinner to bring everyone together.
The season finale of "Mob Wives" airs on Sun., May 13, 8 p.m. ET on VH1.
Carrie Bradshaw is returning to TV ... on The CW ... and a lot younger. "The Carrie Diaries," the "Sex and the City" prequel, has gotten a series order from The CW. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Arrow," "Beauty and the Beast," "Cult" and "First Cut" have also received series orders.
"The Carrie Diaries" stars AnnaSophia Robb as the young Carrie Bradshaw. The series follows Carrie in the 1980s as she survives high school and falls in love with Manhattan. The series is based on the books by Candace Bushnell.
"Arrow" stars Stephen Amell and is based on the DC Comics character "Green Arrow." The series hails from Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim. Check out a photo of Amell in his superhero duds over here.
"First Cut" stars "The Good Wife" scene-stealer Mamie Gummer as a former nerdy girl who hopes to leave her past behind ... only to find out working in a hospital is a lot like going to high school. "Smallville's" Justin Hartley co-stars.
Kristin Kreuk headlines The CW's "Beauty and the Beast." The new series is loosely based on Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman CBS show from the 1980s.
"Cult" follows a young production assistant and a blogger as they investigate crimes that appear to be based on a popular TV series.
The five shows join "Nikita," "Supernatural," "The Vampire Diaries" and "90210" on The CW's 2012-2013 schedule. More renewals will be announced.
Find out the fate of other returning shows in the slideshow below.
Lesley Goldberg , Lacey Rose
UPDATED: The renewals give Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage an impressive four series on the network's 2012-13 schedule.