|Watch commercial here.|
This Dodge commercial caught my eye recently, as it features a handsome young white man flirting with his sister's pretty black friend in the back seat of his car. Great George Wallace's ghost!
And if you look elsewhere in TV commercials and magazine ads, you will see an increasing number of mixed couples. Meanwhile, prime time television series and even those on "edgy" premium channels such HBO remain rather segregated. (I know there are exceptions, such as the married couple played by Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. on Happy Endings. And I know past shows, such as Scrubs, have had diverse casts.)
The new HBO series Girls got a lot of press when it debuted, and it also caught some flak. One of the guests on the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour (which still has not asked me to be on the show!) put it well when she noted that the part of New York City in which Girls is set had been "ruthlessly whitewashed."
You could argue that the show is simply following in the Manolo Blohnik-steps of Sex and the City, which also perceived NYC to be less like a Big Apple and more like a Hostess Snoball.
Look around the most popular television shows and you will see this whitewashing is fairly common. For instance, of ALL the women Ted has dated on How I Met Your Mother, how many were not white? None that had speaking roles (at least that I can recall). Yet it is set in the same city as Girls. As far as Hollywood is concerned, New York City is as ethnically diverse as Marshall's beloved Minnesota.
Yet we live in a nation that becomes increasingly more diverse each year. The number of interracial marriages is on the rise, and white newborn babies were outnumbered by their non-white nursery mates in 2011.
I do not expect network television to start looking like a Benetton ad, but some more meaningful diversity would be appreciated. By "meaningful" I am thinking of something other than the one "black best friend" in a cast.
However, I realize I may be idealistic here. Perhaps America is not as diverse or unsegregated as I imagine. Many Americans work or attend school in diverse groups but go home at night to segregated communities. It would be nice if all of those communities were reflected on television, and, for me at least, it would be nicer if those communities were seen interacting on the same show.
Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed this topic recently for The Atlantic, lamenting the lack of diversity within shows and in TV lineups in general: "It is not so wrong to craft an exclusively white world--certainly a significant portion of America lives in one. What is wrong is for power-brokers to pretend that no other worlds exists."
Emily Nussbaum discusses race on prime time in a New Yorker article on Scandal, a show with something rarely seen on television: a black female lead. She cites a show on CW called The L.A. Complex and a scene in which a white female character auditions for a "best friend" role. However, the actress is told a black woman will be cast to "really reflect reality" -- “I mean, who has a black best friend, right? Like, in real life, if you’re trying to be all authentic?” She turns to the room full of unsmiling black actresses and asks, “Do any of you have a white best friend? No? Right.”
Is it funny because it's true?
I hope not. In the mean time I hope Hollywood follows the lead of Madison Avenue.