Rush Hour Diversity
Courtesy of CBS

With African-American and Chinese stars, CBS’ upcoming action-comedy “Rush Hour” boasts the network’s most diverse cast to date, but on Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., the show’s cast and producers were hounded by a reporter who questioned the series’ portrayal of diverse characters.

“When the ‘Rush Hour’ movies were out, they took criticism for being centered on two characters who were really stereotypical,” the journalist said. “Watching the pilot, I see you haven’t done much to change those archetypes. At a time where shows are really trying to have a nuanced discussion about race, these characters still feel very stereotypical to me. How are you going to try change these archetypes a little bit so that they don’t feel so rooted in these longstanding stereotypes?”

“I’m African-American, I’m a comedian and I crack jokes,” star Justin Hires responded, disagreeing with the reporter’s notion that “Rush Hour” promotes a poor, stereotypical representation of the African-American community. “It’s not just that it’s a stereotype, this is the reality of who I am as a person. It depends on who you are. Some people like comedians who are loud and talk fast, other people like comedians who are more of a Jerry Seinfeld. There are some people that like comedians that are more Chris Tucker and Martin Lawrence. I do not think we are showing negative stereotypes at all on this show. I think we’re showing truth about what America is and who we are. A part of that is showing diversity.”

Noting that other TV shows with diverse casts, such as “Empire,” have also received backlash for their representation of the African-American community, Hires politely explained, “I really think it just depends on your perspective on what you enjoy. I think we’re showing pretty much an accurate portrayal.”

Explaining that his own standup comedy routines are similar to the humor of his character, Hires said, “I don’t think I’m being negative to myself or the African-American community during my standup or during this show.”

Continuing to prod, the reporter kept on with his questioning about the use of stereotypes, causing exec producer Bill Lawrence to jump in and defend Hires.

“I’ll say two things,” Lawrence said from the stage. “The first one: you’re coming at the question from a very negative angle. It’s designed to put us on the offensive, but that’s your prerogative. You’re a journalist. The second thing is, you’re talking about diversity on the show.” Lawrence went on to talk about his own track record, explaining that he’s “very proud” of the diversity of the writing rooms, cast and crews he’s facilitated throughout his career.

“I think your question though does lead to an answer that I think is important to us,” Lawrence added, saying the show’s progression after the pilot results in “honest, accurate storytelling.” “We see slowly and surely, the archetypes you see in the pilot, you can’t do the movie over and over for five years.”

Lawrence also highlighted the importance of showcasing representations of diverse communities. Pointing to Hires and African-American co-star Page Kennedy, the EP said, “I like relationships when I see how these two grew up.” He also brought up Aimee Garcia’s character being a single mother, which he is proud that his show represents. “I’m pretty proud of the trajectory. I expect the show to be on next year … I’m pretty confident.”

Before the heated conversation began, cast member Wendie Malick unintentionally used ill-chosen words to describe her character, saying, “There are a few chinks in my armor.” With a laugh, she noted her error, garnering some laughter from the room.

Also before the diversity conversation erupted, Lawrence cracked a joke that was met with positive reaction from the press-filled room. When introducing the show at the start of the panel, Lawrence — sitting beside exec producers Blake McCormick and Steve Franks — said in jest: “My first thing was that on a show with this much diversity, we had to get the three producers to be the whitest guys ever.”

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