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TV Land's Throwing Shade Is Great, Except for One Little Thing

Hot mess

Malcolm Venable

TV Land's new late night news/chat fest Throwing Shade has a noticeable, glaring omission -- as people on Twitter have been pointing out since the show debuted this week: Where are the people of color on this show?

The question is posed not because "diversity" and "inclusion" have become Hollywood buzzwords. It's because the phrase "throwing shade" itself was created by gay black and Latino youth, and not seeing them represented in some way on a show that borrows the slang for its very title looks like textbook cultural erasure.

Throwing Shade is funny. It's smart. Based on Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi's 5-year-old podcast, Throwing Shade's very good schtick -- a gay dude and his female buddy dish on current events, politics and pop culture, as well as LGBTQ and women's issues -- works. Safi is spirited, consistently enjoyable and riotous. Bits like "Have You Heard of This Bitch?" (with bitch used as a term of endearment, in keeping with the gay tradition of subverting and reclaiming language), which praises amazing women, offers up a unique point of view in a crowded late-night commentary landscape. Gibson and Safi make a good pair.

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And yet. Pushing back against homophobia and sexism is part of the show's mission, but sadly, there's no refutation of racial discrimination to be found in the premiere -- or people of color, for that matter, save for a quick mention of Hidden Figures. This makes the show look tone deaf and oblivious.

"We definitely try to focus on things affecting women and LGBT people," host/creator Safi said recently at the Television Critics Association winter previews. A conversation about diversity, or the origins of the show's name, didn't seem like a priority at the panel discussion, and from the looks of things it's not going to be one.

Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson, Throwing Shade
TV Land

In an era where "cultural appropriation" has worked its way into the everyday lexicon and a megastar like Katy Perry can reference high-minded social topics like intersectionality and "misogynoir" to her 95 million Twitter followers, the absence of people of color here seems... egregious.

Throwing shade (the term, not the show) is explained in the fascinating 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning -- the film responsible for "shade" (and voguing) being mainstream today. There is no way anyone can watch that film (which you should, if you haven't) and not be floored by the creativity and resilience of the poor black and Latino gay kids in it; nor can one ignore how prejudice and being ostracized shaped these youths' entire life experiences. You can't appreciate the slang without appreciating that part of the story. You can borrow it without acknowledging it though, which is exactly what Throwing Shade's galling whitewashing looks like.

Of course, people are entitled to name their shows whatever they want. No one can build a wall around language. Words and colloquialisms are meant to be shared and repurposed, and to evolve. But it would be odd, and in poor taste, to name a show "Hey Nuyoricans!" and not have any Puerto Rican New Yorkers on it, or "That's So Daebak!" and not feature any Koreans at all, wouldn't it?

Yes. Yes it would.

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In fairness, Throwing Shade has had people of color as guests: Broadway starJennifer Holliday was recently on the podcast (although the timing is super unfortunate given her recent inauguration fiasco). But guests aren't enough. A program that uses a name created by an already marginalized group should offer somebody from that group a more permanent seat at the table. Perhaps Throwing Shade can do like The Daily Showdid in employing Larry Wilmore as its chief "Black Correspondent," to incorporate another stripe of color into its banner -- and fast.

But honestly though, a show that has the idea of speaking up for the disenfranchised in its very DNA should've known to do this from the start.

Throwing Shade airs Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30c on TV Land.