Note: For blog-friendly brevity, I’m only discussing ethnic diversity right now. LGBT representation on TV warrants a separate post I don’t feel qualified to write.
Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) – The Walking Dead
“Diversity on TV” was not improved simply by allowing all-black shows like Family Matters and Moesha to co-exist alongside Seinfeld and Friends, the latter two taking place in an alternate-reality New York populated almost exclusively by white people. Rather, in the 1990s we experienced “Segregation on TV.” Of course, large ethnic minorities want and should have TV shows that appeal to their lives and interests, but it’s hard to argue that most mainstream TV producers and writers were anything less than oblivious to the diversification of western culture in the last decade of the 20th century. Even most of the shows targeted at black audiences featured suburban families that were “relatable” to white viewers.
I bring this up because my friend Janna Noelle wrote on her blog today about a TV character that had a huge impact on her younger self. Not central to her theme, but still important, was what she viewed as a surprising amount of ethnic diversity—for a ‘90s series—on said show (read her post to find out).
Janna closed her piece by asking what TV shows her readers are watching these days. I responded with Doctor Who, Sleepy Hollow, and The Walking Dead, and it occurred to me as I wrote my answer that all three shows are notable for their diversity, at least in terms of a white/black dynamic (we’re still falling short with Asian and Hispanic characters on television).
The stars of Sleepy Hollow at Comic Con
3 of 6 principal cast members on Sleepy Hollow are black or, if you prefer, people of color (Lyndie Greenwood is mixed race). The Walking Dead, after a bit of a rocky start diversity-wise, has moved beyond tokenism and has given its black characters plot-central storylines. Former spare part Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green, top image) has become an integral player in season 5 and was essentially the star of last night’s episode.
Doctor Who still retains its white doctor/white companion dynamic. Only season 3 (of 8) featured a non-white companion, Martha (played by Ghanaian-Iranian actress Freema Agyeman, incidentally one of the prettiest people on Earth). That said, the modern era of the venerable British sci-fi show has featured numerous recurring characters and featured guest roles played by people of color and has also depicted mixed relationships (and LGBT characters) in a positive light.
Common to all these shows is the “colorblind” storytelling. That is, the ethnicity of the characters rarely matters. Their storylines and experiences are interchangeable in that way.
And some would say that’s a problem. It’s certainly complicated. For a progressively minded white feller like me, I might see this as a great sign. “Look, skin color doesn’t matter in time travel or in the zombie apocalypse. Progress!”
On the other hand, some people don’t have the privilege, like I do, of racism being a choice. People who have been on the receiving end of institutional racism might consider the colorblind approach to be so much BS. “That’s not how it would happen,” they could quite rightfully say. “Not progress!”
Still others of any background might argue, “We’re not going to get past this issue if we keep harping on it. Progress?”
What do YOU think?
15-year-old Courtney Woods, the first woman on the moon (according to a recent episode of Doctor Who entitled “Kill the Moon”)