I’m bothered by the fact that this current diversity push by TV networks is being called “Affirmative Action,” or “meeting quotas,” by some. It suggests that TV decision makers are casting more black actors during this pilot season, simply because there’s a mandate of some kind, and they gain absolutely nothing from doing so; that it’s all in an effort to increase representation of groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented.
Maybe that’s of some influence, but there’s an essential financial aspect to all this that needs to be made central in any conversation about the diversity (read: black actors cast in starring and lead roles) in TV casting. 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 fad that will eventually pass – 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…
This all came to me as I listened to the below conversation with 2 casting directors during the Wednesday edition of Southern California NPR affiliate, KPCC’s show “The Frame,” which examined TV casting – how much it has, or hasn’t changed in Hollywood. And more specifically, they shared their thoughts on the now infamous Deadline piece that I’m sure we’ve all read by now.
The casting directors were Risa Bramon Garcia, whose TV credits include “Roseanne,” “CSI: New York,” and Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”; and Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd (who you would already be familiar with, since we’ve interviewed her twice on this blog), a casting director for BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” “Fruitvale Station,” and much more.
I thought it would be good to hear about this entire fiasco from casting directors specifically, since they’re essentially like middlemen, connecting the talent with the producers, providing them with a unique POV of the matter.
Listen below (and if you missed it, read Jai’s “For White TV Writers Who Have Considered Racism When *Ethnic* Diversity Is Too Much” piece which was published yesterday). For the original file, visit KPCC here: