Photo: Ethnic Diversity Seen in Actors, but Not Storylines
The integration of minorities into mainstream television seems to be movinf forward (just look at America Ferrara on ABC’s “Ugly Betty”), but what is lacking is the diversity in the storylines, and the relevance of topics that aren’t just based on outrageous stereotypes.
Christopher Lloyd, co-creator of the wildly successful “Modern Family,” told Variety, “When you hear the dialogue or see the stories, the Asian guy could have been the white guy, the African-American guy the Latino guy. They’re the same characters. They’re just putting a different face on them.
Lloyd, as well as viewers and even other TV executives know that a change in faces does not necessarily mean the storylines are relevant to the ethnicity the actor is, or is portraying. He says the public is kind of “aware that they’re being manipulated” when they see a Latino actor, for example, who is meant to illicit a sort of “oh, he’s one of us” response, only to have the scripted character be just more of the same with only a darker skin tone.
Director of diversity at the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW), Kimberly Myers, said, “If you want those people viewing, they’ve got to see stories and people that are relevant to their lives.”
Realistic storylines are the key to true diversity, not just minority actors, with Sara Ramirez on “Grey’s Anatomy” as a prime example. Ramirez plays a lesbian orthopedic surgeon Dr. Callie Torres, and throughout the show, when the story allowed, Dr. Torres’ family is seen going through the process of coming to terms with her sexuality.
“She’s an orthopedic surgeon who went to college and represents Latinos who don’t have an accent, who are somewhat Americanized, because that exists. The maid, gardener or drug dealer—that’s played out,” Ramirez said.
But while the example in “Grey’s” is of a more serious nature, Lloyd’s “Modern Family” (ABC), which stars Sophia Vergara, highlights differences in backgrounds in a far more lighthearted manner.
Variety writer Kate Hahn wrote:
While dramas deal with diversity with a straight face, acknowledging differences brings laughs in comedies. When the grumpy white “Modern Family” patriarch lovingly referred to his adoptive Asian grandchild as “the little pot-sticker,” Lloyd knew they might step on a few toes, but, “He’s not being racist, but you can’t make him be all perfect all of a sudden because that’s not true to that character.”
So as viewers look to see themselves represented on television, whether in comedy or drama, networks and writers—who WGAW reports are only 10 percent minority – have some changes to make, but should be cautious and not create stereotypical and thus offensive characters and storylines.