Diverse Approaches to Diversity — From Getting Into a ‘Pissing Match’ to Embracing It as an Opportunity

Jul 9, 2012

It’s an issue that has long simmered on the back burner and intermittently moves to the front, as in these early days of summer that have brought a raft of criticism leveled at several showrunners for the all-white-ness of their casts. Specifically, Lena Dunham (HBO’s “Girls”) and Amy Sherman-Palladino (ABC Family’s “Bunheads”) have come under fire for being purveyors of white bread.

Dunham responded by reportedly adding a black cast member to her acclaimed freshman series for next season, although Donald Glover’s casting is apparently still unofficial. Meanwhile, Sherman-Palladino initially said she did not want to get into a public argument (OK, she actually termed their contretemps a “pissing match”) with “fellow” female showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who criticized her on Twitter for the lack of any people of color on the new program about young ballerinas.

For those of you who missed it, Sherman-Palladino, best known for creating "Gilmore Girls," said in an interview that she didn’t have a big budget for casting, was under a great deal of time pressure to cast the pilot and that she felt unsupported by other women in the industry.

Read between the lines: She was referring specifically to Rhimes, after pointing out the latter’s success with multiple shows including "Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and "Scandal."

"I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from. Someone said, ‘Oh god, I hope we don’t see the eating disorder show. You won’t because I don’t give a flying f— about that," Sherman-Palladino was quoted as saying, perhaps adding fuel to the fire but also planting her firmly on the short list of people in Hollywood who say what they really think.

The lack of diversity accusation cannot be leveled at Oxygen’s “The Glee Project," currently in the midst of its second season. For those who haven’t caught it yet, the program features contestants vying for a seven-episode guest arc on Fox’s “Glee” under the tutelage of its creator, Ryan Murphy, and other mentors including casting director Robert Ulrich, choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocal producer Nikki Anders.

The 14 contenders, currently down to nine, are culled through intensive rounds of workshops, singing, dancing and acting-based assignments as the creative forces of "Glee," including guest mentors such as Lea Michele and Kevin McHale, make judgments on who has what it takes to be one of the next new faces on the award-winning show.

Many of those faces are of color. One of contestants recently eliminated, Tyler Ford, epitomized several shades of census with his ethnicity — half black, half white, Jewish and transgender — and was considered by many to be an inspiration because of his diverse background.

To its credit, “The Glee Project” spotlights not only ethnic diversity, but also disability, with one of this season’s contestants confined to a wheelchair and another who is blind. Another aspirant has been diagnosed with severe ADHD and low-spectral autism.

Each episode has a theme, ranging from the initial episode’s “Individuality” to the recent “Vulnerability,” during which Oxygen aired an anti-bullying PSA starring “Glee’s” Cory Monteith as part of an ongoing partnership with The Bully Project, an organization dedicated to ending bullying.

In a similar show of commitment, this reality competition show seems dedicated to busting some stereotypes and giving opportunities to people who because of their disabilities may have been shoved to the margins of society.

Perhaps one of its talented performers could also join the cast of “Bunheads.”

(“The Glee Project” airs Tuesdays on Oxygen at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)

4 Comments

  1. Diversity is always good. It allows life to be shown as it really is in this country. Life is not all Black and not all White so lets engage in inclusiveness and allow talent (whereever it hails from) to shine and entertain us!

  2. It really is great that The Glee Project has embrace diversity so completely. But Sherman-Palladino’s comment about message shows strays far from the point. It’s not about “the eating disorder show” its about the subtle message that there is no one like you who loves the things you do. That you shouldn’t dream of becoming X, Y, or Z because you’re not white. I grew up being told that I was, essentially, being disloyal to my race because I was interested in something that ONLY WHITE PEOPLE DID because that’s all my friends saw on television and in the movies.
    It’s a crying shame that networks like the CW still practice the 1970s brand of casting. (One person of color in the regular cast does NOT a diverse show make.) The CW has been nicknamed “The Completely White Network.” Vampire Diaries, which films in Atlanta, is their most diverse show.
    It’s a shame that Sherman-Palladino became a target in what should be an open discussion across the industry, but it’s also clear that not having grown up on the other side of the situation, she doesn’t really understand why it is such and issue for people of color. I’m African American and have seen some major changes since my child hood. But I am acutely aware that Asian Americans and Native Americans are far more underrepresented.
    It’s also a shame that in 2012 we’re STILL having this discussion.

  3. There was an executive mandate in the 50′s and 60′s to edit all scenes with people of color out of TV shows before they were sent off to southern broadcasters. Same went for films, where scenes with non-white actors were edited out before screening in the Jim Crow south. This is Amy Sherman-Palladino’s mind-set; she’s telling the world that all white is safer and smarter than hiring people of color, but she doesn’t realize that her own all-white interpretation of television was created by networks that were trying to appease southern bigots back in the 60′s when she was growing up. It’s depressing, sad and incredibly dense of her considering that it’s 2012, but when no one complains ugly behaviors like Palladino just go on and on, with no one recalling why they started the ugly behavior in the first place. It comes down to jobs; she specifically not offering jobs to Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Persians; if you’ve got color don’t bother to audition for Bunheads.

  4. Please follow the guidelines of the Associated Press Stylebook
    and use the phrase “wheelchair user” when referring to someone who uses a wheelchair as opposed to either “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    The Limit-Less Campaign
    http://imageryproject.blogspot.com/

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