Is HBO’s Roster of White, Male TV Creators a Problem?

Mar 7, 2014  •  Post A Comment

HBO has a diversity problem with its one-hour scripted dramas and miniseries, writes Maureen Ryan at The Huffington Post.

From 1975 to 2014, HBO only had two women represented among the 38 “narrative architects” of one-hour HBO dramas and miniseries, the story reports. (The story defines a “narrative architect” as either the creator, lead writer, chief adaptor or lead developer.) Only one person of color, Michael Henry Brown of 1993’s “Laurel Avenue,” is represented.

But in HBO’s post-“Sopranos” years, diversity has actually decreased, Ryan says.

“Guess how many women or people of color have been a creator or narrative architect on a one-hour HBO drama or miniseries since 2008 (the year after "The Sopranos" ended)?” she asks.

“None. Not one.”

The lack of female narrative architects may be one reason why so many “problematic female characters” exist on HBO shows, Ryan writes.”True Detective,” a crime drama that’s received critical acclaim, has depicted women in “a familiar array of cable-drama types: ‘crazy’ mistresses, nameless strippers, randy hookups, disgruntled daughters, dismayed wives,” she says.

Ryan adds: “To a lesser extent, critics have also noted the spotty depiction of ‘True Detective’s’ non-white characters. Two African-American detectives questioning Marty Hart and Rust Cohle have had a fraction of the screen time of [Woody] Harrelson and [Matthew] McConaughey’s characters.”

HBO said it’s trying to better. “We have just launched a new program called HBO Access that seeks emerging, diverse filmmakers … and we are currently developing new programming with such talent as Oprah Winfrey, Steve McQueen, Jenji Kohan and many others,” a representative said via email.

HBO isn’t alone in over-representation of white men. Among five major TV outlets — AMC, FX, Showtime, Netflix and HBO — Ryan counts 97 narrative architects, including only 12 women and only two people of color.

“Even as a snapshot of the industry, however, the numbers tell a clear story about who gets the keys to the fanciest car, culturally speaking. At the outlets responsible for many top programs, women and people of color are enormously under-represented as creators,” Ryan writes.

Research from the Women’s Media Center found that shows without women creators had casts that were 41% female, but shows with at least one female creator had casts that were 47% female.

“Given how few women and people of color are present at a show’s creation, is it any wonder we can’t escape this debate?” Ryan asks.

She adds: “We wonder why women are too often depicted as nags, flunkies or side salads. We wonder why women often get less to do, have less to say and so often feel the impulse to take off their shirts. We wonder why people of color aren’t often depicted with compelling emotional lives or as complicated characters. We wonder why non-white men and women are hardly ever the protagonists.

“I recognize that men are entirely capable of writing good female characters, and that white people can write quality roles for characters of color (but let’s not kid ourselves, it doesn’t happen often enough). But when networks go to the same wells again and again, it starts to seem like the narrative concerns of programs created by men are the only narrative concerns that matter. They’re not."

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