Deadline Hollywood‘s Nellie Andreeva came out with an article back in March that was hilariously stupid, offensive and depressing all at the same time about the rise of “ethnic casting” in the television industry. It talked about how “there was a noticeable shift toward minority castings last season, with more parts opening up to ethnic actors”, which I’ve heard some other writers or people refer to as a “diversity epidemic” that is running through Hollywood. It also commented on how white actors, who might have been cast in pilots during the 2014-2015 TV season after Empire, were having “trouble” finding parts because there aren’t enough roles being created for them right now. The piece featured several anonymous quotes from talent agents who were unhappy that there were too many parts that had already been designated for non-Caucasian thespians, as well or that roles that had been traditionally performed by white people were now going to feature mainly people of color. We’ve seen this happen in the fast few years with movies like Annie, or the recasting of Johnny Storm in Fantastic 4 with Michael B. Jordan.
It’s fairly easy to see the reason behind the complaints and the information being fed to the writer of the article from agents in the business. They are clearly not making enough money or are scared of not making enough money, mainly because they don’t have enough non-white actors or actresses on their rosters to fill these parts being created. They may not have anyone to recommend for a new season of Blackish or Fresh Off the Boat.
There are several things wrong with this article. From the use of the phrase “ethnic actors” to asking whether or not “we’ve gone too far” or asking if “this is a bad idea” because of the dramatic swing away from casting white actors in new TV shows. The article makes it sound like casting directors and show creators are slamming the doors in the faces of white actors which I find hard to believe. At the same time, it also makes me wonder why anyone would think it’s a bad idea to have shows that give a proper depiction of the world we live in today. Considering how much things have changed in the last 40 years with the world becoming more of a global village and being able to interact with so many different people from different cultural background; honestly how bad of an idea can it be to have a show that has aspects of reality tied to it?
The problem with television in 2015 is on some TV shows/networks, you can almost feel the diversity allowance being met on certain network shows that include one token black actor or actress either just being there or playing a stereotypical character. The issue here isn’t with TV shows having all white characters. There are shows that work today or in the past that have been perfect for the story they have to depict. Girls, which airs on HBO, works well for the story it’s telling and the major demographic it’s trying to reach. The problem is having a major network that has decided, knowingly or unknowingly, to have a lineup of all-white shows.
Even now, with last year’s pilot season including shows like Empire or How To Get Away With Murder and the like; projects like this show that things are moving in the right direction but there’s still more that can be done. These shows need to make sure that the casting actually does matter because ironically, one of the reasons I’m not scared of seeing an all-white show is that I don’t have to worry about a team of white writers wondering what to do with a non-white actor. Which is why I love Empire (created by Ilene Chaiken, who is white) because it tells an African-American story unabashedly. I mean… Lucious Lyon said “thot” on mainstream television. Based on the past ten years, considering the cast and the story being told on Empire, there’s no reason this show should work. However, they’ve struck gold, because this is amazing television and one couldn’t have asked for a better first season. It shows that there is success to be had in this field and obviously there’s a market for it because it was the most successful show on television during its first season run. I would rather see a story that was based in some sort of realism that mirrored the diversity of the world we live in today, as opposed to the 20th remake of Friends set in all-white New York (which doesn’t exist).
I mean, look at the talent on the show. This show is filled with Academy Award nominees, as well as Oscar winner, Jennifer Hudson. But you don’t just find them working on your average network television program or movie. You don’t see these actors work as much otherwise. In a sense, Empire has given these actors and actresses a place to work in the same way Tyler Perry movies did. When was the last time you saw Malik Yoba have such a big role, as damn good of an actor he is? Or Gabby Sidibe? This is probably the best role that Taraji P. Henson has had in her career. I would love to see more shows like this or Fresh Off the Boat that tell different stories that the real, culturally diverse world can relate to, and I would love to see them on mainstream television. The Deadline Hollywood article would the average reader believe that “trendy casting” is causing a problem in the industry, rather I feel that it is actually correcting one.