How many shows at the moment have someone non-white at the center of the program? Let me clarify: I don’t mean as the co-star, the sidekick, the best friend, the arch nemesis or the occasional comic relief.
I’m talking the star. The protagonist. The person who is front and center in the promotional campaigns.
Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, not very many.
There just aren’t many non-white leads on TV. Sure, there’s Mindy Kaling and Kerry Washington and Lucy Liu, but Tyler Posey of Teen Wolf and Avan Jorgia and Kylie Bunbury of Twisted are the primary people of color who have top billing in shows geared towards the teen demographic.
When I was a teenager, That’s So Raven was one of the few shows that I loved that starred a young black woman. When I was even younger, there were a lot of sitcoms on the air that starred black families. As nice as that was, there’s nothing like that on the air right now and those are only a couple of shows out of the dozens of others. Don’t get me started on the lack of Latina or Asian or Native American representation in television, either!
Are non-white characters destined to be sidekicks forever? Am I and other non-white chicks supposed to be satisfied that we’re given any representation at all?
This demand for diversity isn’t new or anything that hasn’t been said before. But it’s the fact that we’ve heard it all before, year after year, that makes this even more sad.
When it comes to racial and ethnic diversity in the media, we’ve still got a long way to go. Television has always been at the forefront of breaking barriers, so I’m definitely looking at that medium to really become a game changer.
In the UK, there is a show called Some Girls that actually–wait for it–stars a black teenager. Can you believe it? A show about a black girl and her friends on the air in 2013! Diverse friends at that! Wow, we’ve come such a long way in 2013, haven’t we?
In all seriousness, it’s a great show, but it’s sad that every time I watch it I long for something like it on the air here in the US. Yes, I’m longing for a show staring a girl who isn’t white. Why? Because we have stories to tell, too. It’s hard to explain just how alienating it is to constantly see people who look like you relegated to the sidekick position. From Miranda in Lizzie McGuire to Santana Lopez on Glee, non-white characters certainly have a place but it’s always so limited.
It’s important for us to see ourselves represented in media, in roles that are as dynamic and different as we are. We’re more than just a white person’s best friend, we’re more than just sassy bits of comic relief and we’re more than just tokens! But will the people–white men, mostly–who are in charge of what goes on the air really care about improving representation? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath. That’s one reason why so many young actors of color have bypassed major networks and have taken to the Internet to star in their own webseries. The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl is one such example of a web show that has gained a huge following, but more are emerging.
Nevertheless, even in the Internet age, the exposure and reach of television is still relevant. Until big network execs agree that the stories of young, non-white folks deserved to be told, too, we’re going to continue to savor any and all crumbs of representation we can get. Sad, but true.
Did you notice more diversity in television when you were younger or today? What do you think needs to be done to increase diversity in the media? Tell us in the comments!