Too Much Diversity On TV? Deadline Thinks So. Then Feels Kinda Bad When People Think That's Racist

Geeks Out readers might be aware of an article written by Deadline a couple of weeks ago that caused a firestorm all over the internet, including a takedown by Shonda Rhimes on Twitter, and caused Deadline to change the title of the article and issue an apology to the people that were offended (aka everyone). The article in question is “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings.” You might be thinking to yourself ‘okay, that doesn’t sound *too* bad’ –while sort of side-eying the word “ethnic.” However, that’s the NEW title. The original was: “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings-About Time Or Too Much Of A Good Thing?” So now you are probably like “…..oh.” Yep. A friend of mine (who runs a paper in her town) remarked, “Why didn’t the editor just cut off the title after ‘About Time’? Idiots” assuming that the reason people were incensed was the terrible title. I had to burst her bubble and insist she read the article. Unfortunately, the title is the LEAST of the problems with the piece. Here are some highlights of what else is wrong with it.

Hint: it’s super racist.

  1. The use of the word “ethnic” used approximately 3000 times throughout the article. With no explanation of what that even means. Apparently it means “brown.” In some way.

  2. The conclusion that some of the “ethnic” casting for TV shows was “organic” while the rest was apparently forced?

  3. The writer stating that the “Broad Squad”—the first 12 woman class from the Boston Police Academy—being all white made sense because in 1972 Boston was 80% “non-Hispanic whites” and blacks were only 16% of the population. Yep. I’m sure that was the only reason why they were all white.

  4. The article tries to weakly play both sides from the middle by stating in a brief paragraph that the increase in diversity is a good thing, long overdue, but then in a MUCH LONGER paragraph directly after goes on and on about how all these anonymous casting directors are saying it’s TOO MUCH:

A lot of what is happening right now is long overdue. The TV and film superhero ranks have been overly white for too long, workplace shows should be diverse to reflect workplace in real America, and ethnic actors should get a chance to play more than the proverbial best friend or boss.

But, as is the case with any sea change, some suggest that the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal. Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered. “Basically 50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts,” one talent representative said.

This is a sad, sad day America. Won’t someone please think of the white people? I mean, it’s so unfair how it’s sooo hard for white actors to get cast for roles they are qualified for because of calls for “ethnic” actors, which means they don't even get a chance. That must feel awful.

 kermit tea

5. Deadline tries to make it sound like they are totally NOT agreeing with all these barely-concealed cries of reverse racism by saying “Replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer, some industry insiders say.” Oh, “some industry insiders” say? 

6. Implying that diversity is only done as a ploy for ratings:

Television has been successful with shows that had both all-white (Friends, Seinfeld) and all-black (The Cosby Show) casts on the strength of their premise, execution and talent performances and chemistry. It is for the same reason that Scandal, HTGAWM and Empire have done so well with Kerry Washington, Davis and Taraji P. Henson as the respective leads.

Trying to duplicate those series’ success by mirroring the ethnicity of their leads is a dubious proposition — if that was the key, 2010’s Undercovers, a slick drama with two appealing black leads, Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, should’ve been a hit. 

7. And finally, actually implying that only black people watch so-called “black shows.” Someone presumably wrote this with a straight face and no sense of shame:

While they are among the most voracious and loyal TV viewers, African-Americans still represent only 13% of the U.S. population. They were grossly underserved, but now, with shows as Empire, Black-ish, Scandal and HTGAWM on broadcast, Tyler Perry’s fare on OWN and Mara Brock Akil’s series on BET, they have scripted choices, so the growth in that fraction of the TV audience might have reached its peak.

Man, a LOT of Empire viewers are going to be shocked, shocked I say, to learn that they are actually black and apparently became so the very instant they turned on their TV and watched Taraji P. Henson strut into a room.  The same way I become Asian when I watch Fresh Off The Boat, Latina when Jane The Virgin is on, and a meta-human when I watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. So awkward.

 After much internet dragging, totally deserved btw, Deadline issued an apology.  Sort of. In the course of an interview about a totally unrelated thing, the editor apologized for readers who were “hurt” by the title. Yes, Deadline thinks the problem with the article was the “insensitive” headline and not, you know, the entire thing. As he says:

 I need to start off on a serious note. Deadline ran an article last week that generated controversy and hurt feelings. An unfortunate headline–Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?—created a context from which no article could recover. My co-editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva’s goal was to convey that there was such an uptick of TV pilot casting of people of color that it pinched white actors who’ve historically gotten most of the jobs, and to question if this could last if it was being treated as a fad. All this was undermined by that headline (which we changed after the fact) and a repetition of the word “ethnic” that came off cold and insensitive. [And, you know, racist]

Okay. They recognize that using the word “ethnic” over and over was jarring and offensive and that the headline was terrible. Great! Surely they also get why the REST was problematic too, right? Well….

That original headline does not reflect the collective sensibility here at Deadline. The only appropriate way to view racial diversity in casting is to see it as a wonderful thing, and to hope that Hollywood continues to make room for people of color. The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.

 It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed

 Um. Deadline? I don’t think you understand at all why people felt betrayed. But okay. Thanks for playing. 










Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on March 31, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.