Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Racial Diversity in Television

Anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog knows that I believe strongly in racial equality as opposed to discriminatory (and thus hypocritical) "affirmative action".

In today's Toronto Star, there is an interesting article that explores the difference between these two ideas.

The headline "Colour Commentary: Diversity's on the agenda, but do World TV Fest delegates care?" almost scared me off. I figured this was going to be another über-politically-correct article about the need for diversity and how execs still just don't get it.

Oh, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Seems there was a panel at the Banff meetings (where a full quarter of my company's workforce is spending the week - does the fact that we are still moving along smoothly say more about Banff, my company, or the state of the TV industry in Canada?), and this panel was meant to discuss racial diversity on network television.

I don't think the organizers got the response they were looking for.

Not only were there only 18 people in the room (bad enough), but some of the panelists, including Paul Scheuring (executive producer/creator of Prison Break) and Ali LeRoi (co-creator of Everybody Hates Chris) seemed determined to blow the whole thing up.

Here is a section from the article by Vinay Menon:

Williams attempts to draw both LeRoi and Scheuring into the mushy terrain, but they refuse to accept the argument. Skin colour, LeRoi says, has nothing to do with it. The only thing that matters is quality, talent and hard work. You could be orange so long as your show attracted viewers.

"You don't have a right to be in show business," says LeRoi, halfway through the session. "You have to prove yourself."

In the crowd, a few curious glances are exchanged.


In another wing of the hotel, I meet LeRoi to talk about Everybody Hates Chris. Of course, given the cast, the diversity issue is impossible to ignore.

LeRoi, bedecked in hip-hop suede and a white bandana that gives way to a mane of dreads, believes "commercial" is the operative word in commercial TV.

"At the end of the day, marketers are trying to find a way to sell socks or coffee or hamburgers or a Ford," he says.

Everybody Hates Chris is broadcast in dozens of countries. And LeRoi has talked to fans in Germany, Finland, Sweden and elsewhere who say they relate to the show. The reason is simple: LeRoi and Chris Rock set out to create a show about class, not race; about family, not ethnicity.

"You have to sell the program like it's a bigger program," he explains. "If Lenny Kravitz was sold like Usher he'd sell two albums a year."

So Everybody Hates Chris was sold as a comedy with universal appeal. Period. (At the diversity session, LeRoi makes the point another way, wondering aloud if anybody could possibly know that Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy, is black by simply watching an episode.)

"Was everybody who watched Archie Bunker a bigot? No. Was everybody who watched Will & Grace gay? No. Is it a good show? Yes. That's all. It's not about being the people on the program; it's about being able to understand the people on the program," LeRoi observed.

I'm reminded of something Paul Haggis told me earlier: "Multiculturalism is a wonderful thing, to celebrate how we're different. But at the same time, I think it's very important to celebrate how we're the same. And that sometimes gets lost."

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
~Yiddish Proverb

1 comment:

Char said...

From Chasing Amy -->

Hooper: For years in this industry, whenever an African American character, hero or villain, was introduced - usually by white artists and writers - they got slapped with racist names that singled them out as Negroes. Now, my book, "White-Hating Coon," don't have none of that bullshit. The hero's name is Maleekwa, and he's descended from the black tribe that established the first society on the planet, while all you European motherfuckers were hiding out in caves and shit, all terrified of the sun. He's a strong role model that a young black reader can look up to. Cause I'm here to tell you, the chickens is coming home to roost, y'all. The black man's no longer gonna play the minstrel in the realm of comics and sci-fi fantasy. We keepin it real, and we gonna get respect by any means necessary.

Holden: Ah, come on, that's a bunch of horse shit! Lando Calrissian was a black guy. You know, and he got to fly the Millennium Falcon, what's the matter with you?

Hooper: Who said that?

Holden: I did! Lando Calrissian is a strong role-model in the realm of science fiction/fantasy.

Hooper: Fuck Lando Calrissian! Uncle-Tom nigger!


All blood is red. The truth might not be popular, but it's still the truth.

And MAN do I ever love bagels! YUM!