Shonda Rhimes has joined the many voices speaking out against the Deadline article, "Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings - About Time Or Too Much of Good Thing?" The tone-deaf column argued that the push to feature non-Caucasian actors has gone too far, particularly since "the talent pool of experienced minority performers ... is pretty limited."
Rhimes tweeted her outrage at the article Tuesday night.
1st Reaction:: HELL NO. Lemme take off my earrings, somebody hold my purse! 2nd Reaction: Article is so ignorant I can't even be bothered.— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) March 25, 2015
The Deadline article is a sad, but unsurprising reaction to what really was a breakthrough year for diversity on television, seeing the success of freshmen shows Empire, Jane the Virgin, Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder. But rather than understanding the appeal of these shows, the article refers to them as "ethnic programming," completely ignoring any qualities they possess beyond featuring minority actors.
The article proceeds to go through every time a pilot role was originally designated as white, but ended up going to a minority actor. It paints this as a trend that victimizes white actors and completely ignores the systemic racism that has allowed such a white-washed Hollywood to exist in the first place.
"Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal," Deadline writes. "Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered. 'Basically 50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts,' one talent representative said."
Deadline even goes so far as to imply that now that there are a handful of shows aimed to serve black audiences, the African-American community might be garnering too much attention from TV networks. "While they are among the most voracious and loyal TV viewers, African-Americans still represent only 13% of the U.S. population," the article says. "They were grossly underserved, but now, with shows as Empire, Black-ish, Scandal and HTGAWM on broadcast, Tyler Perry's fare on OWN and Mara Brock Akil's series on BET, they have scripted choices, so the growth in that fraction of the TV audience might have reached its peak."
This argument seems rooted in the idea that shows featuring black people can only succeed in limited qualities, as though only minority viewers watch shows featuring minority casts and never tune into shows featuring majority white casts. "Empire and Black-ish have managed to successfully to co-exist in the same time slot this midseason," Deadline marvels.
"Was I just wasting my time watching #GameOfThrones and #OrphanBlack and #BreakingBad, @Deadline? Were those shows not for me?" tweeted Eric Haywood, a writer on Empire. "'Pilots 2015: Haven't We Done Enough For You People Already?' - future @Deadline article" he wrote in another post.
The Deadline article comes only a week after Rhimes gave a powerful speech while accepting an award at the Human Rights Campaign about the way Hollywood makes "others" of minority actors. "I really hate the word 'diversity.' It suggests something ... other. As if it is something special, or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV," Rhimes said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I have a different word: normalizing. I'm normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain't out of the ordinary."