Watching television is one of the most popular pastimes in the United States. According to the Neilson Company, in 2011, 96.7% of Americans owned TV sets. We tune in to our favorite shows each week for entertainment. It also is a way to escape the stress of our own life by delving into the lives of characters different from us, as well as those we can relate to.
However, there is a growing problem on television today that is slowly but surely catching the eye of many Americans.
The problem is the severe lack of diversity in mainstream television and media in general. According to NAACP reports in 2008, 1 out of 3 people in the United States were minorities, and the numbers continue to grow each day. Unfortunately, this large group of Americans, rarely, if ever, see people like them represented on television and film. If they do see someone even slightly similar to them, it’s either a negative, stereotypical representation and/or a minor (token) character. Most shows on television today don’t even bother to provide “tokens” anymore. Two shows, in particular, that premiered this year have gotten their share of negative press regarding this issue.
In April of this year, the new HBO show, ‘Girls’ premiered. The show was brought to us by 26-year-old Lena Dunham, a Caucasian woman, who bases her storylines on her own life experiences as well as those of people she knows. The show, which follows the chaotic lives of four young women living in New York City, began gaining media attention and heavy criticism even before it premiered. The criticism stemmed from the fact that not one minority is found in the whole cast, including the lead characters and minor characters as well. Critics questioned why a minority’s perspective was not considered.
Even more recently, ABC Family’s new summer series, ‘Bunheads,’ premiered and caught the attention of ABC super-show creator, Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes tweeted this week, “Hey @abcfbunheads: really?” You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?”’ Shonda Rhimes currently has three successful shows on ABC with one in development, and is known for having diverse casts from the lead characters to minor characters. Her newest show, ‘Scandal,’ starring Kerry Washington, made history this year. Kerry Washington became the first African-American female lead on any network television show in 30 years. Minorities all over the nation have the same concern as Shonda Rhimes:
“When are we going to see more people like us on TV? Why don’t we? What is this teaching our kids?”
There is not a lack of minority actors/actresses who need jobs in Hollywood, and there is not a lack of ideas for them to bring to life on the television or film screen. The responsibility to bring them to TV lies in the hands of the network executives and the audience as well. Network execs decide what shows get put on TV in the first place, and it is the audience’s responsibility to keep to keep the shows on the air by doing one thing: watching each week. Whether you watch the show as it airs, DVR it, or even tweet about it, the networks that air the shows pay attention to audience interest, and will cater to those interests. When it comes down to it, more ratings = more money, and that aspect is what matters most to the execs (we can’t forget that Hollywood is a business!). So, when diverse shows like ABC’s ‘Scandal’ or NBC’s ‘Community’ get picked up, it is the job of us viewers to keep tuning in if we want our colorful and diverse nation to be properly represented on television and film.