Where’s The Racial Diversity On Mainstream TV Shows?

When it comes to mainstream TV shows, racial minorities are extremely under-represented. Particularly with regards to the American dramas that my friends and I watch regularly, (90210, The Big Bang Theory, One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars, Desperate Housewives) there’s always an overwhelming majority of white actors holding down all of the main parts, something that I’m sure producers and writers are very much aware of. And so just to ensure that they’re being politically correct, most of the time they’ll throw in one/two actors of colour (almost like an afterthought) to occupy the comedic, and largely unnecessary, parts in their storylines. There is rarely ever a role-model-type black/brown-skinned character who steals the show and captures the viewer’s full attention.

Yes there are the odd few exceptions. Ugly Betty, The Mindy Project and Scandal are all shows which feature women of colour occupying leading roles. But the fact is that programmes like these are a dime a dozen and they come no way near close to rivalling the amount of dramas in which we see blonde-haired, blue-eyed actors undertaking all of the major character parts. For example, the most popular shows that dominate pretty much all TV channels right now, like: How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Sex & The City and Two and a Half Men, show zero cultural diversity. Furthermore, whilst South Asian and black actors are usually first choice when it comes to the irrelevant character roles, at least we get to actually see them on our TV screens, in some shape or form. Those of East Asian-Chinese/Japanese descent, however, are pretty much non-existent in the world of mainstream serials and dramas!

Is this fair? Do contemporary TV shows provide an accurate representation of the cosmopolitan society that we all live in today? The simple answer is no. And something definitely needs to be done to change this.

16 replies

  1. And then there’s the lack of diversity in ALL of the entertainment industry. Unbelievable that Amber Ruffin is the VERY FIRST black woman to have been hired to write for a late night talk show. Yay. We’re happy. But … it’s kind of mind-numbing, too. :\

  2. At a recent baby shower, one of my husband’s friends–a TV writer–talking about casting for show business. She explained that calls for “all ethnicities” are interpreted (by agents, actors and otherwise) as “for Caucasians.” It was only by marking a casting call “ell ethnicities except Caucasian” that they received non-Caucasian submissions. I wanted to engage more deeply in the conversation, but my son was getting tired and so I left with bunches of questions.

    I saw things like TV whiteness differently before I had that first conversation with my husband about how our son would experience racism someday. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of people waving off the idea that representation is important. Notably, these are people who are well represented in TV shows, movies and otherwise. How are such people confident enough in others’ experiences to speak to what is or is not globally acceptable? I love Doc McStuffins because it’s full of sweet representations of diversity. It’s what I want my son to grow up knowing about the world: that there are so many ways to be, and each is lovely and right. I just wish I didn’t have to look to a small handful of shows to represent for him the world as it actually is.

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