By Rashad Robinson Executive Director, ColorOfChange
With the wild success of hit shows like Empire, Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, How to Get Away with Murder, and Jane the Virgin, it feels like Hollywood is finally starting to get what so many of us knew all along; audiences want to see diversity. Yet somehow, at this exciting moment of progress for the industry, Deadline Hollywood found it appropriate to publish what can only be described as a call for regression.
The premise of Nellie Andreeva’s controversial article — in which she decries this rise in diversity on TV as “too much of a good thing” — is that our more ethnically diverse television landscape has come at the expense of white actors. Yes, you read that right. This endangered species of thespian — the white actor — just can’t seem to find work now that people of color have completely taken over Hollywood.
Research tells a very different story. According to the Ralph J Bunche Center’s 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, minorities are still underrepresented nearly 6-to-1 in lead roles on broadcast shows, and nearly 2-to-1 as leads on cable (relative to their share of the U.S. population). In other words, Cookie, Olivia, and Annalise notwithstanding, Hollywood still has much more work to do. White actors are doing just fine.
What’s truly unsettling about Andreeva’s piece is the quiet courage such sentiments can instill in network executives who will read her words, silently nod in agreement, and act on these biases. As offensive as her piece might be, she is not alone. Her sentiments are likely shared by others, many of whom sit in positions of power and authority in the entertainment industry, and may not want to put in the work necessary to build a more diverse media landscape.
In her article, Andreeva laments the fact that roles originally written for white actors are being retooled for people of color. Well, of course they are! As Kevin Fallon explained in a piece for The Daily Beast, “creating change is an active behavior.” Diversifying Hollywood requires this kind of intentionality. We are combating deeply rooted biases and decades of marginalization. So yes, some roles will need to be rewritten in the service of a fairer, more inclusive media landscape.
Of course, the blame for this piece doesn’t fall solely on Andreeva’s shoulders. By running an article like this, Deadline Hollywood is letting the world know that, at this exciting time for diversity on screen, they’ve completely missed the point. There’s no denying the importance of candid conversations about diversity; there’s just so many different angles Deadline could have taken. The piece could have praised these casting decisions, or pondered whether or not this moment will mean substantive change in Hollywood, or amount to a passing fad. It could have raised the all-important question of whom will be writing for these newly diverse casts. Will writers’ rooms continue to be largely white and male? And if the writers’ rooms don’t reflect the experiences and backgrounds of the characters for whom they are writing, will we get good and honest portrayals out of this moment of increased opportunity that deadline feels so comfortable attacking?
It’s clear Deadline wants a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. But this latest fiasco actually begs the question: what is diversity like at Deadline? For a major entertainment news outlet like Deadline Hollywood to provide a platform for such harmful rhetoric suggests a very serious breakdown in their editorial process, and a lack of diversity behind the scenes.
Instead of a smart, nuanced conversation about diversity in Hollywood, they chose to elevate a zero-sum game; the knee-jerk reaction that opening the doors of opportunity for marginalized communities will somehow hurt white folks. For this, Deadline Hollywood should apologize to all of us. And they should release their diversity numbers. Clearly there’s something very wrong with any mainstream publication that provides a platform for articles like this one.