The Screen In Color : Minorities are Gaining More Recognition and Higher Television Roles


Photos by Jason Merritt

poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Blessing Aghimien, Features Copy Editor

As of late, ethnic casting in television seems to be in high demand. With the success of programs such as “Empire,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Fresh off the Boat,” primetime television shows starring minorities have received high ratings and reviews from critics and viewers alike.
Lack of diversity has been a norm in Hollywood for decades, but starting in the 1970s African-Americans began gaining notoriety for roles on the small screen. Sitcoms like “Good Times,” “Sanford & Son” and “The Jeffersons” helped to usher in a new age of entertainment, all while combining light-hearted comedy with political issues that create a sense of relatability among viewers.
“I remember growing up with shows like Good Times and The Jeffersons. Shows like those were entertaining and gave off a genuine feel. You can’t ignore their impact. Shows like that in the 70s paved way for future shows and their depiction of African-American families,” said Mercy Edo, Athens Drive parent.
From the 1990s through the early 2000s, some of the most iconic television shows have featured African-American main cast members. Shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Family Matters” are notorious for bringing African Americans to the small screen in the new millennium. By focusing on serious themes such as racial profiling, class identity and drug usage, these shows had minority families depict scenarios that viewers of all backgrounds could relate with and comprehend.
“Shows like Family Matters and Fresh Prince helped shed light on the black community in a way that wasn’t stereotypical or dehumanizing. With the incorporation of African-American culture and family life, the shows caught the interest of the majority audience in the 90’s and even to this day,” said Alafia Coker, senior.
Despite the recent rise in ethnic diversity in casting, underrepresentation is still present in shows. A 2013 UCLA select sample study of 16 “diverse” scripted television programs from the 2012-2013 season showed that minorities were ‘largely underrepresented’ by a factor of more than three to one, more specifically Latinos and Asians, with a mere 10.5% of actors in 2012-2013 sitcoms falling into those race categories.
“The Hollywood race problem documented in our report is nothing new. From the earliest days of the industry, Caucasian actors have dominated the plum positions in front of and behind the camera, thereby marginalizing minorities in the creative process by which a nation circulates popular stories about itself,” said Darnell Hunt, head of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, to
In an attempt to rectify the issue of minority representation in television, niche programming came to the small screen around the 1980s hoping to bring about significant change in Hollywood. Channels such as BET and Telemundo have been bringing minorities to television for decades, and with them comes praise and debate.
“Niche programming gives way for up and coming minority actors to gain experience in Hollywood. Channels like Fox or ABC are most likely not going to put a first-time Black or Latino actor on a show. There’s good reasoning behind niche programming. BET and Telemundo are great grounds to build a resume in Hollywood,” said Edo.
While many individuals praise niche programs for endorsing diversity, others feel that minority based channels simply are just channels for the sake of making profit off of African Americans and that the channels even promote racial segregation in Hollywood.
“We have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard,” said Stacey Dash, actress and FOX News correspondent, in a February FOX news broadcast.
Recent years of diverse programming has led to more recognition of minority talent in Hollywood. In 2015, Hispanic-American Gina Rodriguez & African-American Taraji P. Henson both received Best Actress Golden Globes for their roles on television, with Viola Davis becoming the first African American woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in that same year.
“Let me tell you something…the only thing that separates women of color from any one else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that simply aren’t there. So here’s to all the people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black,” said Davis in her Emmy acceptance speech.
In the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) 2015 diversity film study, it was conducted that ‘minorities will be the majorities in a matter of a few decades.’ With the expansion of new and innovative shows on television comes not only more diverse programs, but a sense of authenticity being delivered to viewers of all races on a weekly basis.
“We need to have a diverse workforce, reflecting the diversity in society, and we’re working toward that. Diversity on screen does not just happen. You have to have the intention to make it happen. You have to talk about it. And then you have to walk the walk,” said L.A. Film Festival chief Stephanie Allain to Vanity Fair.