Bunheads, a new television series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino of Gilmore Girls fame (and The Return of Jezebel James shame), premiered last week on ABC Family.
After the premiere, Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes tweeted this:
Hey @abcfBunheads: really? You couldn't cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?
Ms Rhimes also tweeted
@sassylassee @abcfBunheads I def don't feel bad when my kid watches white performers. Not at all what I'm saying.
@kwanfan1212 I did love seeing girls of all shapes and sizes. That was great. Am a huge Gilmore Girls fan. Just pointing out one issue...
Later, when Amy Sherman-Palladino was asked about the tweets, here was Ms. Sherman-Palladino's response:
“I’m not gonna get into a pissing with Shonda Rhimes, because she’s got like 15,000 shows on the air. She’s doing just fine for herself. … As far as the women thing goes.. I’ve always felt like women have never supported women to the level that they should. … I think it’s a shame… but it is what it is. I feel like maybe they feel it’s too competitive.”
. . .
“Let me put it a different way. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t go after another woman. I, frankly, wouldn’t go after another showrunner. It is so hard to get a show on the air…”
Which really misses the point.
Here is what I think Ms. Rhimes and Ms. Sherman-Palladino were really saying:
Ms. Rhimes: I like your work, Amy, and so does my child. Therefore, I expect more from shows that you create, and I am disappointed in your decision to make your entire cast white.
Ms. Sherman-Palladino: I feel attacked by a fellow female showrunner, who I see as currently more successful than myself. I refuse to acknowledge my privilege: the privilege to see people who look like all over every type of media in my country; the privilege to fill my shows with characters and actors who not only look like me, but also think like me, speak like me, and give importance to the things I care about; and the privilege to dismiss the valid concerns of people of different colors and ethnicities. I refuse to acknowledge the need for diversity in media, even though I am fully aware that my own television series are among the historically few series with both female protagonists and majority female casts.
These are discussions that need to be had, not brushed off as the Twitter rantings of some angry black woman, which multiple commenters on other sites have been doing. This is a prime example of fighting for slices of pie. There are statistics, that I won't bother looking up, about the demographics of writers and showrunners in the US television industry. Most television writers and producers are white and male. Amy Sherman-Palladino is one of the few white female showrunners working today, and Shonda Rhimes is one of the even fewer working nonwhite female showrunners, and one of the tiny sliver of people to have multiple shows on the air at the same time. Ms. Rhimes and Ms. Sherman-Palladino are sharing a tiny piece of the industry pie, a pie that needs to be enlarged and multiplied.
Shonda Rhimes has a noted history of colorblind casting for her shows. Amy Sherman-Palladino has a less-noted history, as many other white showrunners do, of hiring almost entirely white (and heterosexual) cast of characters.
I have watched all three of Ms. Sherman-Palladino's branded shows, so I do know of what I speak. I could accept that 12 years ago, the fictional small town of Stars Hollow in Connecticut could be populated mostly by white people, plus one Korean-American family and one black French gentleman. However, my belief cannot be suspended that far in 2012. I cannot blindly accept a showrunner conveniently creating a the fictional seaside town of Paradise (not to be confused with the actual inland town of the same name) in California, a state that used to be Mexico, with almost no people of color. According to the 2010 census, California is a "majority-minority" state, with a 40.1% non-Hispanic white population, while 37.6% of the population is Hispanic or Latino of any race. California also has the largest Southeast Asian, Indian American and Taiwanese American populations in the United States. Los Angeles, the home of the entertainment industry, has a population that is 27.8% non-Hispanic white and 47.7% Hispanic or Latino of any race. Which means that it takes some serious selective blinders for Ms. Sherman-Palladino to create her all-white version of Paradise.
I do agree that women should support each other, especially in entertainment. There are so few opportunities for us to achieve success and happiness in a world that rarely values who we are, what we want, and how we would like to express ourselves. However, that support should not come at the ignorance of other issues. As a black woman, a woman, and a person in general, I should have the ability to see more women, more colorful women and more colorful people positively and accurately portrayed in my media. It is not an either/or proposition. I need more pies. It is unacceptable to have only one speaking character of color on Bunheads (so far), then describe her as having a face like a Libyan dictator, and villainize her character by asserting that she unfairly gets "paid more" than the harder-working showgirls because she dances topless.
And we haven't even talked about the "marrying your stalker" plotline. ABC Family indeed.
Yes, I will still be watching Bunheads. It's about dancing! And look: Emily Gilmore!