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Is Diversity on Television Actually Improving?

December 11th, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

diverse tv shows

When I was younger, I remember watching an episode of “Hannah Montana” and thinking to myself, “Why don’t I look like Miley or Lily?” Of course, I loved this show but I couldn’t help and ask myself questions like this one often. How come the only diverse characters on the show were the two mean girls, Amber and Ashley who were African American and Spanish-Filipino, and the diabolical troublemaker was a Hispanic boy named Rico Suave? Most importantly, why were these characters always portrayed in a negative way? This realization that occurred at a young age for me also happened to actress Gina Rodriguez, the star of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” According to an article at the Washington Post, while watching the 90’s hit show “Full House,” Rodriguez began to think about how she rarely saw someone that looked like her, and if she did, they were normally represented in a negative light: “That lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in this world…[i]t really made me feel a certain way about myself, about beauty, what I could and could not be.” This lack of diversity on screen is a huge problem in the industry, although it may seem like it is getting better. You might ask yourself, what does this have anything to do with me? How can I help fix this issue if I’m not an executive producer or don’t even work in the television industry? So what can be done to solve this problem? The answer is simple and easy to accomplish. To promote more diversity on screen, people must first change what they watch on TV.

Lately, I have started to notice that a lot of shows I watch now include more racial diversity and star more women. I was extremely impressed with networks like ABC, NBC, and the CW, and specifically shows like, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Quantico,” “Chicago Med,” “Jane the Virgin,” and more, for achieving diversity. However, I still wondered how much the TV industry was actually improving in this area. While researching, I found statistics regarding minority writers underrepresented at major networks from a Writer’s Guild of America report: “During the 2013-2014 season…minorities claimed 16.1 percent of the positions at ABC, 14.2 percent of the positions at NBC, 13 percent of the positions at Fox, and just 11.3 percent of the positions at CBS.” These numbers were surprising, but reading about women like Viola Davis, the lead in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” and Rodriguez, who were breaking racial and gender barriers and essentially shaping history through their Emmy and Golden Globe wins, made it appear as though TV was finally embracing diversity. However, I was shocked to discover diversity in the industry was not actually improving that much.

The misrepresentation of ethnic groups on screen is due to the lack of diverse writers in the TV industry. Sometimes shows tend to stereotype certain characters and this can affect viewers in a negative way. Jessica Goldstein’s article refers to a report from the Latino Media Gap where statistics prove that in movies and TV shows, Latinos are usually portrayed as “criminals, law enforcers and cheap labor [and that] since 1996, 69 percent of maids in both industries are Latinas,” when in reality “only 44.3 percent of maids and house cleaners are Latino.” As a child, “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez grew up affected by this negative portrayal of Latinos and was inspired to change this representation by becoming an actress. Before accepting the role of “Jane,” Rodriguez declined a role on Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” because she, “[F]ound it limiting that that was the one that was available to [her]…[and] for the stories that Latinos have.” She continued by saying that “[B]eing a maid is fantastic [but] there are other stories that need to be told.” So why are diverse characters like the ones in “Hannah Montana,” unlike Jane from “Jane the Virgin,” who is real, relatable and not a negative stereotype being portrayed in unfavorable ways? It is because of the lack of diverse writers that are unable to tell real stories that translate onscreen, and frankly because people still watch these shows.

The key to success in the TV industry lies with diverse writers. In “Same Old Script,” Aisha Harris reveals that Shonda Rhimes’ commitment to casting people of color in lead roles in all of her hit shows, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” and writers’ rooms is believed to have paved the way for all of the new shows that successfully captured racial diversity last Fall. Harris even states that in 2012, Scandal became the first network drama with a black woman as the lead in nearly four decades! The 2014 to 2015 season introduced successful and diverse shows “Jane the Virgin,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “black-ish,” “Empire,” and now the new fall season this year has presented Fox’s “Rosewood” and ABC’s “Quantico” and “Dr. Ken.” Although it may seem that racial diversity on TV is improving, the statistics that prove the decline of diverse writers beg to differ if the television industry is truly embracing diversity. Harris’ article includes the Writer’s Guild of America report that states that between the 2011 to 2012 and the 2013 to 2014 season, the staff employment for people of color actually decreased from 15.6 percent to 13.7 percent, and the number of executive producers of color decreased from 7.8 percent to 5.5 percent. The report also adds that people of color occupied only 5.5 percent of the executive producer roles in the 2013 to 2014 season. “Even as the hottest show on TV boasts a majority-nonwhite writing staff, the work of vigorously recruiting non-white writing talent is still confined to a narrow pipeline: Diversity departments and fellowships help to fill one or two designated diversity slots on each staff.” (Harris 2015). To change these numbers, viewers need to stop watching shows that misrepresent or stereotype ethnic characters and shows that do not hire diverse writers too. There is really no way to determine which shows employ diverse writers besides looking at the credits. However, if the showrunner or executive producer is a diverse woman or man, they will most likely hire other diverse writers in their staff. By watching shows with diverse writers, they will become more popular and prove that it truly is because of the stories written by these staff members.

TV Networks are finally realizing that most successful shows are due to racial diversity. According to Alyssa Rosenberg’s article, “TV’s Slow Embrace of Diversity,” Paul Lee, the president of the ABC Entertainment group, revived his network by hiring more women and people of color to tell their passionate and real stories. ABC’s Thursday lineup of Rhimes’ three popular shows proves just how effective this strategy is and how no other network tries to compete with it on that night. Even NBC is starting to catch on to this movement and is now premiering two new shows next year in January called “Superstore” and “Telenovela” starring Latina women, American Ferrera and Eva Longoria.

To change what airs on television and promote the use of diverse writers in order to receive more accurate and diverse shows, people need to change what they see on TV. Stop watching shows that do not reflect correct stories and that do not represent true diversity. It is important for real and passionate stories of diverse people to be told on television, and changing what we see and support on screen is the only way that can actually improve the amount of diversity we get on TV.



Works Cited

Goldstein, Jessica. “How Gina Rodriguez Sees Herself.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 2 October 2015. Web. 9 November 2015.

Harris, Aisha. “Same Old Script.” Slate. Slate Group, 18 October 2015. Web. 12 November 2015.

Rosenberg, Alyssa. “TV’s Slow Embrace of Diversity.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 18 August 2015. Web. 9 November 2015.


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