Hollywood/Madison Ave & Tokenism & Minority TV

OK, Let’s say you are a member of a minority and Hollywod and/or Madison Ave. is ignoring you. Your minority group makes a fuss by protesting or boycotting. Now, a commercial is produced for a commonly used product that prominently features a member of your minority group.

The question: do you feel vindicated that you are being represented or do you feel offended, thinking the only reason the company has made this commercial is to make you and your group back down?

I bring this up in the light of the new TV season and the alarming lack of minorities. Which is worse: good TV w/a few minorities or bad TV (Homeboys in Outer Space, anyone) that features lots of minorities?

In the 70’s, most minority-based shows (Sanford & Son, Jeffersons, Good Times, etc) were written by whites.

Is there a market (key word: money) for reality-based minority shows?

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece today indicating that, on the three major networks, 12% of actors and actresses are African-American- almost exactly the same as their percentage of the U.S. population.

So, where did the notion of underrepresentation come from? Strictly from this season’s NEW shows, none of which had much minority representation. If you look at ALL network shows, not just the new ones, the networks have done a fairly GOOD job of including minority actors.

When presented with these numbers, of course, spokespersons for leading African-American groups changed the subject and said, in effect, “Not good enough- we want proportional representation at ALL levels: producers, directors, writers, executives, etc.”

A reasonable desire, of course, but it would be nice if even ONE of them would acknowledge that therir earlier complaints were a lot of hot air.

In response to the original question, yes I do feel offended by the tokenism. If they really cared about the representation about us, they should have done it right in the first place. But I think that we should protest our way on TV. We need to help ourselves in the creative processes and get a good show ON the air.

Astorian, I’m interested. What are the numbers on people of other ethnic groups in prime time television.
I have noticed that there are more blacks and minorities on dramas than comedies. Dramas have much larger casts than comedies and ted to OVERrepresent minorities (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Why are blacks the only ones we talk about when it comes to minority representation on TV and movies? Blacks are 12%, but Hispanics are 9%, Asians are 4%. The other two have much higher growth rates and have nearly equal numbers in TV cities like New York and Los Angeles.

At least blacks get BET, WB, and UPN…

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

The point made about the discrepancy between dramas and comedies is very valid.

The leading TV dramas, especially the ensemble shows, tend to have substantial ethnic diversity (think of “E.R.”, “Law & Order,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Practice,” “NYPD Blue”). On the other hand, the leading sitcoms of the last ten years (“Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Third Rock From the Sun,” etc.) have been all-white.

Why should this be? I have no definitive answer, and can only speculate. Perhaps it’s because a large, ensemble cast makes it easier to include some token minorities (even on the shows I cited, black characters aren’t the STARS, after all). Perhaps it’s because relatively few prodducers make almost ALL of TV’s sitcoms, and they tend to like using the same (white) actors over and over.

Or… think about this. Maybe TV comedy producers are terrified of offending people. SUPPOSE that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David had wanted to make a black comic a regular on “Seinfeld.” WHICH character could have been made black without prompting outrage? If the zany wacky Kramer role had been given to a black comedian, I GUARANTEE that the NAACP would have protested (“Kramer is an offensive, stereotypical Stepin Fetchit…”). Or what if Newman the postman was black. Would Seinfeld be accused of racism when he sneered “Hello… NEWman”)?
If Jason Alexander had been replaced by a black comic, Spike Lee would have started a riot (“George is a stupid, inept, loser- how typical they gave that role to a black actor”).

Get the idea? People on comedies tend to be stupid, or at least, to do stupid things. Now, an all-black show on the WB can get away with that. A predominantly white show with a white producer on a major network CAN’T get away with that kind of thing. They may find it easier to play it safe, and not include black people in comedies at all.

Very interesting point, astorian. Now that I think about it, I notice that on most “white” sitcoms, if there is a regular black character, he is usually the intellegent or the wise-cracking one, and rarely the butt of jokes. I am thinking of Benson from Soap, Lionel from All in the Family, the guy on Designing Women, Roz from Night Court.

Excellent point, Astorian.

In one of Dilbert’s books, Scott Adams was asked why his comics initially didn’t include more women or minorities.

He said it was easier to make fun of white males than be accused of possibly stereotyping.

I’d imagine a lot of the choice, for the artist and audience, would be how the role was presented.

The examples I’m thinking of are Sidney Poitier and Billy Dee Williams, with Will Smith and Eddie Murhphy in the same category. Was the role written as a “black role” or was it just a great role and be damned the skin color of the actor. IIRC, Billy Dee Williams insisted on meeting George Lucas to see if he was being cast as the token black as Lando. Same with Sidney Poitier in “To Sir with Love”. With a lot of Will Smith’s roles, and Eddie Murphy’s recent roles, they could easily be white, Asian, hispanic, whatever.

That’s movies and not TV, so I apologize for wandering off. But the distinction, I think, is a good one. They are headliners, and the focus. There are “black” shows that could speak to that distinctive experience, and they could only be credible with black actors. (Though wasn’t there a flap about Ben Kingsley being cast in a black role? Sorry! That’s wandering off again…)

The only hispanic TV I can think of Freddie Prinze in “Chico and The Man”. Hmmm. Sorry, folks, I shouldn’t free associate on line…

Anyway, I guess one test would be if the role is just a solid ROLE, and be damned the color of the skin of the actor.

BTW, I love the fact that commercials now routinely have black and other ethnic groups in them. When a commercial is all white, it raises a subliminal bell: “wait a minute, everybody looks like they’ve been bleached. Duh whuuut…?” There’s one for car, I think, that always made me itch unitl I figured out that everybody in it was pure white bread and mayo. It just looked WRONG.

Sorry. Rambling.
(In migraine hangover)

I find Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, and Whoopi Goldberg among the most skillful and competent actors around. Not “black actors” just “actors.” I want to see Wilson Cruz, who has very high reviews, but haven’t had opportunity to watch something he’s been in.

Yeah, but it’s also painful to see just how far commercials will go to make sure that all possible combinations are represented. Take a close look at almost any commercial in which a group of twenty-somethings is hanging out or a bunch of kids are gathered for a party or something.

A couple of friends and I would play a game by which we tried to spot the most forcibly diversified commercials. “There’s the black kid–1 point!” “Hispanic female–2 points!” “Oh, look…myopic Chinese girl in wheelchair–4 points!” I think the winner was usually McDonalds, although I’m sure lots of clothing ads would score big time.

My point is a simple observation; I’m certainly not saying advertisers are wrong to be inclusive. Actually, I’m sure it is very smart demographically. And whether TV commercial diversity accurately represents what you see every day in real life depends on where you live and the crowds you hang with.

And nothing can compare to the diversity of criminal gangs on TV. Talk about representing something not often seen in real life. As far as I know, real life gangs tend to be grouped by obvious racial/ethnic characteristics (Crips/Bloods; Skinheads; Latino gangs; Asian gangs, etc…). TV gangs make sure to pick at least one from each group.


Not only that – remember the McDonald’s ad where they had a bunch of teenagers speculating about what they wanted to be when they grow up? One particularly handsome and “cool”-looking teenage boy quipped, “I just wanna get married.” I’m 99.999996% sure that that line was originally given to a girl, before McDonalds’ anti-stereotype editors got their hands on it.

Visit the Internet Stellar Database at www.stellar-database.com

TV Producers are a spineless bunch. Afraid of offending a minority in less than stellar representation. So they feel NO
representation is better.
Great reasoning and logic.

Yeah, there probably would have been protests on the first week if Cosmo Kramer played by Martin Lawerence was the
only representation of an integrated cast on an NBC situation comedy, but if “diversity” were scattered more randomly in
TV land it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course I’m being too idealistic again. Should I go to become cynical, realistic, or what?

I think I’ll settle for a counterpoint.

Who here remembers “The Jeffersons.” Movin’ on Up! To that Deluxe Apartment in the ski-i-ie. . .
Remember George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley). How would you describe him. Pompous. Obnoxious. Racist even. Amazingly
that show somehow enjoyed huge modest popularity for by much of the population during the late 70s and early 80s. O.K. so it
wasn’t the most diverse, though it had one regular white character, so it already has one up on “Friends.”
My point is that you don’t have to have the minorities always being the saints of virtue.

My Second point of contention is the fear of offense. It may be more of inertia. I saw that interview with Larry David on ET
sometime back in August. They had about a half-dozen producers talking about this issue. Most of them said something to the
effect of “We didn’t really think about it.” “We didn’t really pay that much attention to it.” or “We didn’t realize.” (Which would
more explain the rush to add token minority parts.)

A few said, “It wouldn’t fit with the setting.” (The setting being a super exclusive boarding-school in New England, Manchester
Some blamed casting. If it doesn’t specifically mention a race, would you assume white? If it takes place in New York?
Washington D.C.? Detroit? I remember “Homicide: Life on the Street” had a Lt. Giardello. He was written as a Italian-Amer.
character. Casting had assumed white, but chose Yaphey Kotto, a black. He was the best at audition. But how often would
that happen.

Another question? How do you write black? Apparently that is a bigger problem now-a-days than back in the Norman Lear
years of sit-comedy back in the 70s and 80s. Many white writers fear writing for black characters. Some of their fears are
understandable. Several sitcoms on the big three that attempted to have majority black casts were canceled. (Who remembers
Brandy’s first sitcom. Nooo, not “Moesha” [sp?] it was “Thea”! Who remembers? . .) I’m not sure if the converse is true, if
black writers fear writing white.

Of course, the last group (I’m sorry, I think I turned this into a blame list. I didn’t wish to.) are the advertisers. They make it a
big deal (or at least the networks say they do) to want to court the uncourtable 18-49 year-old demographic. In particular, the
white 25-34 year old latte drinking crowd. Which is the cast of most any situation comedy on ABC and NBC. (the WB skews
younger, Fox, if they have any sitcoms left, also skews younger. CBS skews older.) Apparently, the older faces they can’t
mindwash anymore. The Blacks have their own shows and channels (they assume) as do the Latinos.

Now that I’m done, may I ask, why exactly do Whites and Blacks have different viewing habits? “Fraiser” being no. 1 comedy
but in the 80s or so among black audiences. Likewise “Steve Harvey” was in the top among blacks but doesn’t break the top
100 overall.
That would be a question that would probably be posed to me (I’m black, I guess), but I don’t like the “black” shows in general.
(I don’t like that many TV shows in general, but you get the idea.)
OK, race tends to be one of the only issue we treat like a landmine field. Most of us risk NOT being blown up by saying
something that could risk being labeled “Racist”. Which is why I like this place. There have been more meaningful discussions on
race, where people expressed their opinions and feelings without some of the demogogueing (sp?) or uneasiness of fear of being
labeled bigoted.

Anyway, I’m glad we brought up the issue of comics. I haven’t seen Franklin in over a month in “Peanuts.” Where is he. Why
are the only minorities I see are the kids in “The Boondocks,” and “Curtis,” and Hector from “Tits!”?

I meant “Zits!” Zits. . .

not tits.

What was I thinking?

Apparently, you were thinking about, well, tits. :wink:

Well that’s what you get when you try to talk about prime time television nowadays.

(It’s nice to know that you’ve got my back, Dave).

In some areas Hispanics are well represented. For instance in Chicago we have 10 commercial channels. (not counting PBS & Home Shopping). Hispanics form 800,000 approx in the metro are of 8 Million (approx) that is 10% of the population. Of those 10 commercial stations 2 are full time Spanish stations. This means they control 20% of commercial stations while only 10% of the population.

And in terms of Music (just number one hits alone) blacks have always been proportionally represnted.

I LOVE the all-Spanish stations here in New York, even though I have not a word of the language.

Best T&A on broadcast television.


Excellent point! Now that I think about it, all inner-city gangs on TV and movies have white guys in them. Even if it’s a group of three muggers in an obviously inner-city setting, there’s always a white guy included.

Someday, perhaps gangstas in real life will take this cavalier attitude toward diversity! If we all work together, people regardless of skin color can get through that “wannabe” glass ceiling :wink:


“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

Just to pick a nit with Sterling’s post, “The Jefferson’s” had three regular white characters: Bentley, the English next-door neighbor; Tom Willis, whose being in a mixed-race marriage infuriated George (and whose daughter married Lionel Jefferson); and Ralph the Doorman.

Also remember, George (and Lionel) were the foils to Archie on “All in the Family,” perfectly reflecting his attitudes from the other side.

Oddly enough, the WHITEST network in all of television is probabaly (drum roll)… Univision, the Spanish language network. American soap operas are a veritable Rainbow Coalition conmpared to the Mexican soap operas! Wouldn’t you think there was ONE Mexican actress who ISN’T a blue-eyed, fair-skinned blonde?