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Deadline Publishes Mea Culpa After Backlash Over “Ethnic Diversity Castings” Piece

Deadline Publishes Mea Culpa After Backlash Over "Ethnic Diversity Castings" Piece

I’m actually somewhat surprised by the apology. It’s not Deadline’s style, is it? Or maybe I’m thinking of the site’s Nikki Finke days – the seemingly uncompromising founder, known for her snark, cynicism and, at times, harshness. Did she ever apologize for anything she wrote, even if it was something that upset many? I wonder if she would have apologized in this case (she’s not with the site anymore), or if she would’ve just simply brushed it all off, shrugged and moved on. 

But current Deadline editors/contributors Mike Fleming Jr and Peter Bart did publish a mea culpa yesterday, which was contained within an extended conversation between the two of them; although the apology kicked off the session.

Titled “Bart & Fleming: A Mea Culpa; Frank Sinatra Re-Cast; Tent Pole Assembly Line,” here’s the crucial piece of it:

FLEMING: I need to start off on a serious note. Deadline ran an article last week that generated controversy and hurt feelings. An unfortunate headline–Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?—created a context from which no article could recover. My co-editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva’s goal was to convey that there was such an uptick of TV pilot casting of people of color that it pinched white actors who’ve historically gotten most of the jobs, and to question if this could last if it was being treated as a fad. All this was undermined by that headline (which we changed after the fact) and a repetition of the word “ethnic” that came off cold and insensitive.

BART: When you and I worked for years in print, we were stuck with what we published; it was there forever. Did you consider taking the story down when you realized how it offended people?

FLEMING: That story was up all night. It was 12 hours before I awoke to numerous e-mails, some by people of color who are sources, who trust us, who were rightfully incensed. At that point, the damage was done. I don’t believe you can can make an unwise story disappear and pretend it didn’t happen. I observed how Amy Pascal raced around with knee-jerk apologies to anyone who’d listen, after those stolen Sony e-mails surfaced. Her actions felt like panicked damage control to me; we decided to face the consequences and take our lumps. We did that in the comment tail following that story, where over 700 readers teed off on us. Nellie is trained in the sciences and used those sensibilities to analyze a data sample; the word “ethnic” is commonly used by casting agents. None of that works when talking about people, and race. Our writers, and editors, can be so focused on the trees they sometimes forget to look at the forest, or in this case, the readers who are much more than statistics. A perfect storm of events left us vulnerable, including me choosing the worst time to be zonked from a 22-hour return flight from New Zealand, and normally smart editors on duty failing to respond decisively even after a torrent of hostile comments rolled in.

BART: I have always nodded off at the word ‘diversity’ – it somehow sounds blandly corporate. The dictionary defines it as “composed of distinct forms and qualities” and I find hope in the notion of distinctive. People who are distinctive deserve the opportunities, irrespective of their color. Having said that, casting people tell me the good news that enormous opportunities have opened up for distinctive actors of color thanks to the success of several new shows. The big question: Will that phenomenon extend to the domain of show runners, which seems more like a fraternity? I would like to see the industry launch a drive to recruit a more distinctive (and diverse) array of show runners who, in turn, could nurture a more distinctive (and diverse) creative community. I don’t think the broader opportunities for actors will continue unless that trend is fed by a truly distinct and varied group of writers and producers and, yes, even executives.

FLEMING: I agree with all this, but after our turn in the barrel, I wanted to say a few things to our core readers who felt betrayed. That original headline does not reflect the collective sensibility here at Deadline. The only appropriate way to view racial diversity in casting is to see it as a wonderful thing, and to hope that Hollywood continues to make room for people of color. The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.

THE END.

Read the entire conversation here.

So, do you accept their sincere apology? Or maybe you just don’t care. 

But addressing something they brought up – as in whether the current TV diversity casting push is here to stay, or just a fad… as I’ve said before on numerous conversations, there’s still much work to be done. Casting is just one piece of a much larger pie. As recent reports from the WGA, the DGA, the UCLA Ralphe Bunche Center and others have shown, the writers, the directors, the showrunners, producers, decision-makers – essentially those who work behind the scenes to bring these new series to the screen – are still predominantly a white man’s domain. So until we really start to see change there, the uber excitement over the long list of pilots with black characters in starring roles ordered, may die a very quick death, and prove that it was all indeed just a fad. And as for how many of those 75+ pilots will actually make it to series – likely just about 10% to 15% of them. And of those that do make it to series, how many will last en entire season, let alone return for a season 2? Time will certainly tell. 

These are all matters I’ve discussed in the past on this blog, so hopefully none of it is new to you. In short, temper your excitement for now, and let’s see where we are a year from now.

Let’s face it, if certain TV series centered around the lives of black characters, which premiered during the last few TV seasons weren’t huge successes for the network’s that house them (ratings successes that translate to increased advertising revenue), would there be this much interest in building new projects around black actors?

The question is whether this is all just a repeat of the late 1960’s when Hollywood, in order to help get over a near economic collapse of the film industry, amidst political struggles, responded to rising expectations of representation of African Americans, by producing black-oriented content. And thus the Blaxploitation 1970s were born, jettisoning old stereotypes, certainly, but maybe enforcing some new ones, while still finding subtle, masked ways of devaluing African American life on screen. And when Hollywood eventually recovered financially, and felt that it no longer needed our (black) dollars in order to survive, so ended its creatively explosive black movie boom!

How long will this current ride last? In case you haven’t been paying attention, the industry is in the middle of another crisis, thanks in large part to the rise in availability of broadband internet access, as competition for eyeballs becomes absolutely fierce! Fewer of us are going to the movie theater these days, meaning dropping ticket sales; piracy of TV shows and movies is at its highest levels ever; originality is mostly out the window, as studios rely on tried formulas and existing brands – remakes, sequels, adaptations, reboots, etc, etc, etc; and nobody knows with certainty what film and TV content production, distribution and exhibition will look like in another 10 years. 

There’s an uncertainty that I think is holding studio executives hostage at the moment, and suddenly, black is in vogue all over again! At least, for now…

Read Jai’s response to the original, controversial Deadline piece, “For White TV Writers Who Have Considered Racism When *Ethnic* Diversity Is Too Much.” 

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