Just a day after Stephen King came under fire for Tweeting that he “would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong” in response to this year’s Oscar nominees not being inclusive for women or people of color, HBO presented a panel for the latest adaptation of one of his works, “The Outsider.”
King was not in attendance — he had never been scheduled to appear, even prior to sending the tweet — but actor Cynthia Erivo, who received two Oscar nominations this year, responded to the question about diversity’s place in not only the art but also the business of film and televison.
“Hopefully more work gets seen by people who are making really good work, and I feel like this year we had a flurry of beautiful pieces by people who are diverse in nature — black women, women in general,” she said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel. “I think you’re seeing more of it on TV, HBO in particular [where] you have Regina King on ‘Watchmen,’ who’s incredible. And I think that opens the doors and opens our eyes to the people who are making the work. I am one, so if there’s room to play, then that’s what I’m going to do. And if I can create room for others, that’s also what I’m going to do.”
Erivo also noted the importance of inclusivity in art helping to “change the way people think.” She said she hoped that there would be continued change towards inclusion in “the way they cast things, change the way they line up producers and directors and writers.” Positioning different voices both behind and in front of the camera, she noted, would only serve to “reflect the world that we live in.”
King did follow up his first tweet with one that reflected similar sentiments, writing, “The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.”
“The Outsider” is Richard Price’s 10-part dramatic adaptation of King’s 2018 novel of the same name that follows Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendolsohn) as he arrests a local Little League coach for the brutal murder of a child in town. That man, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), maintains his innocence and there is video evidence to show he was in another location at the time of the crime. As time goes on, Holly Gibney (Erivo) is brought in to further investigate, and she discovers something supernatural is going on and Terry isn’t the only one to whom this has happened.
The character of Holly Gibney was not written as African American initially. The character, who is also portrayed in AT&T Audience Network’s “Mr. Mercedes,” is one who has trouble relating socially to others. Erivo shared she wanted to make sure her version of Holly “wasn’t a caricature.”
“There is enough separation in her already, and I wanted to make sure people could connect [with her],” she said. “There is an oddity about her. I was intrigued. As a woman of color, you never really get to see these women on screen so I wanted to make sure she was fully human, very much in charge, and you got to know her as you met her in each episode.”
However, Erivo also said she wanted to make sure to evolve Holly as the story went on because “with every connection, she’s learning to communicate and learning to thread her ideas and make people understand what she is also experiencing and believing.”
Of King, Price said, “He’s not an author, he’s an army. It’s like a brand name, like Jello. He transcends institutions. And he does give you a great setup, a great story.”
“The Outsider” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.