A Letter to the TV Industry: Keep Fighting the Good Fight

A Letter to the TV Industry:
Courtesy CW

The progress TV is making on the diversity front is more necessary than ever

Dear Television Industry: Don’t stop now.

We’ve had some time to absorb the fact that Donald Trump is our president-elect. It’s hard to imagine that those of you on the front lines are cheered by this fact. It’s more likely that most of you — writers, producers, directors, actors, artisans, executives, and assistants — still feel as though you’ve been kicked in the gut.

It’s difficult to imagine writing scripts, making production schedules, and honing pitches in this environment. But please, don’t stop now. We need the best of what the TV industry has been producing of late. We need it more than ever.

Lately I’ve been working on my end-of-year best-of-TV lists, and that has been a welcome distraction from, well, everything. I have to come up with multiple rosters, because there’s so much good TV, and when I look at each list, it’s impossible not to notice the numerous points of view that are represented.

Slowly, TV has begun offering a more varied array of protagonists and more ensembles featuring a diverse set of cultures, backgrounds, and classes. Black men and women, Hispanics, Asians, and LGBTQ folks are getting to star in their own stories, and more of them (not nearly enough, but more) are creating shows, and even commissioning them at some networks.

If you study representation statistics in almost any field — including TV — you notice right away that progress on the diversity front is incremental and fragile (when it exists at all). Progress is slow — it’s always way too slow — and Hollywood is quick to congratulate itself on the most glacial and minuscule markers of progress. But TV has been trying to change. And it’s working.

My son is 14, and his favorite shows are “The Flash,” “Black-ish,” “Supergirl,” “The Good Place,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Those shows, as the saying goes, look like America — the America I believe in, not the one sketched out by Trump in his divisive stump speeches.

You don’t need me to tell you that Trump’s election is partly a reaction to the long-overdue progress of men and women of color in America. It’s frightening that small improvements in a limited number of areas are so hated and feared, and that justifiable demands for dignity and respect have produced such a terrifying backlash. Even modest signs of progress have been greeted with ferocious pushback.

Those of you making, buying, and distributing TV need to push back too — with everything you have.

A recent Vox article by German Lopez delved into credible research on methods of combating racism. Lopez noted that “increasing contact between people of different races” has been shown to reduce bias. TV brings that contact home. TV has also helped further discussions on LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance, the issues surrounding immigration, explorations of consent and assault, and a woman’s right to choose.

As a nation, we work out social, cultural, and political issues via TV, a medium that can get into our hearts and minds in ways that other forms of entertainment can’t. We have long-term emotional and intellectual relationships with the shows we love, and those programs can alter beliefs, start conversations, and open hearts. Try as they might, the forces of exclusion and racism can’t stop that process.

They want you to stop, of course. They want to go backward, to a time when TV excluded and ignored creators, actors, and artists who weren’t white, straight, and middle-class. They want to return to some version of America that never really existed.

One thing’s for sure: As the “Hamilton” flap indicated, the culture wars are likely to get uglier than they ever were in the ‘90s, or the ‘60s, or maybe ever. If you’re a creative person with an original story to tell, or an executive who embraces an inclusive America, or if you simply cling to a moral agenda that does not advance hate and intolerance, many who voted for Trump will mock you. The supporters of a former reality star who lives in a golden tower will deride you as out-of-touch elites.

Never forget: They hate and fear you because what you do works. I know their hatred is scary. But it’s not a reason to hold back — it’s a reason to rebel. Keep going.

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  1. George Ebersole says:

    It’s good to show people of all sorts of social backgrounds presented positively, but I often feel that in the 21st century such efforts are ham-fisted and cliché to the point where all such the efforts wind up doing is fuelling the fires of prejudice based on those prejudices.

    Diversity in casting needs to either have a purpose to drive home a theme of a story, or not have a purpose at all such that a person of some social group functions in some professional role. Otherwise if you suddenly swap the gender and race of a well known character who is known to be otherwise, then you turn off your audience, who in turn tunes out, or watches your show begrudgingly not forgetting that you changed their favorite character.

    Race and sexuality really don’t bother people, but you need to be consistent with character backgrounds, and show that person A of group B is doing job C because that’s what they do. What I find is production companies cast a character and alter their social makeup for the sake of being socially proactive, but it comes across as amateurish and obvious.

    And I think that’s what the viewing public dislikes.

    But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

    • Thomas Williams says:

      Agreed. Choosing to include actors solely on their sex or race runs the risk of supplying them with cliche characteristics that ultimately do more harm than good in this so called battle for equal inclusion. The TV/film industries obvious fear of not seeming progressive is potentially ruining the foundation that many series had worked hard on.

  2. John Hooper says:

    You lost me at the most awkwardly contrived euphemism “people of color.”

    Let go of this and move on. The rest of us aren’t making a big deal about it.

  3. podgladacz says:

    You try to push your stupid rhetoric into fiction and you are suprised nobody is buying that? If you ban everything you think is “bad”, because case of rasism and other things is really subjective in fiction, from entertainment mediums the only thing you are doing is hurting it. Let fiction be fiction. Let show people that there are things that dont go always good way. People need to be confronted with harsh reality of the world. Other way around you are only censoring the medium that has potential to be beautiful and expressive but only if we can show two sides of the coin. One side of the coin is boring and not interesting without the other one that makes it look better.
    Until you understand it, you should not be involved into any creative process, because you have no idea how creation of greatest artworks, films, books, games works.

    • Me says:

      Man, are you okay? Like, do you think by critiquing these shows this article has banned them? Do you not know what a “TV critic” is? It’s okay, you don’t have to worry, that’s not how this works. You can still watch your shows. This is simply a kind of analysis.

      Or if u actually do understand, I guess you just hate free speech? If so, why do you hate america??

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