The past three fall TV seasons have been amazing in terms of Stage 1 in Addressing Diversity in Entertainment. We’ve seen breakout shows like Sleepy Hollow (in it’s first season; for coverage on last season and the present one, click here), How to Get Away with Murder, Jane the Virgin, Elementary, the continuation of Scandal‘s dominance, etc., etc. But there something these shows, and other shows this season including Minority Report and Quantico have in common; they all include women of color with white men. What’s with that?
Now before anyone says anything, it’s not like I think there’s something wrong with it. I’m not trying to Hotep out here in these streets (if I’m even using “Hotep” right). BUT there’s something to be said for the fact that women of color are ruling the airwaves, but have a white man in tow. There are certainly some reasons for it, and I’ve got a couple of theories.
• The world is full of women of color with white men: National Geographic estimates that by 2050, America will look like this young lady:
According to National Geographic, this is what the average human will look like in 2050 pic.twitter.com/raqpSSDTmD
— Historical Pics (@HistoricalPics) April 9, 2014
And these people:
Clearly, some swirling has been involved.
National Geographic went more in depth with their reporting just than using this beautiful photography by Martin Schoeller. They went to the U.S. Census records.
The U.S. Census Bureau has collected data on multiracial people only since 2000, when it first allowed respondents to check off more than one race, and 6.8 million people chose to do so. Ten years later that number jumped by 32 percent, making it one of the fastest growing categories.
With such rapid change happening in the country, you can imagine that it would soon start getting reflected in our entertainment. The movie industry is currently more static than TV, so with TV being a much more conducive medium for immediate change, storytellers and casting directors have been able to portray a much more multicultural America here. Also, the successes of certain shows like Sleepy Hollow and Scandal paved the way for other shows like Minority Report and How to Get Away with Murder, both of which feature(d) the main woman of color character with a white man.
The limitation of this though is that TV still hasn’t moved beyond the binary idea of whiteness being a part of multicultural relationships. There are a few shows coming during the winter months that will probably turn this idea on its head, but we haven’t seen a show featuring a woman of color and a non-white man of color of another race in a long time. Technically speaking, since Gabrielle Union and John Cho in Fast Forward, which was a couple of years ago. (I guess you could could John Cho and Nicole Beharie in Sleepy Hollow, but it was a one-sided relationship). (EDIT: I forgot that Sleepy Hollow also had Nicole Beharie paired with Nicholas Gonzalez!)
• A feeling of specialness: The new procedurals, like Sleepy Hollow and Minority Report, have been especially keen in showcasing a woman of color with a white man. Usually, that white man is somehow “special,” such as with Ichabod being a man out of time (among other traits) and Dash being a Precog. There are two ways of looking at it.
The first side is that it seems like the reasoning for having a non-white woman with a white man on TV is based in the idea I mentioned above; that “interracial relationships” or even “interracial partnerships” mean “white/non-white.” Going with that, it seems like the magical qualities of white male characters like Ichabod and Dash is another way of saying that these white men are the caricatures of “good white people.” Or in other words, its another way the “white male superiority” ideology shows itself, but through the guise of progressiveness. These characters are the white men other white men either view themselves as or pretend to be, even if they actually aren’t. For some men, Ichabod and Dash could be unwitting outlets for their own WOC fetishism.
In reality, though, these men aren’t the Ichabods or Dashes, who try to do right. These men are the Fitzes of the world, who delve primarily in fetish. Yes, I said it; I think Fitz from Scandal delves in fetish. I really don’t like his character, and to me, it seems the biggest appeal Olivia Pope has for Fitz is being a black woman on a pedestal. Suffice it say, I generally agree with Papa Pope’s opinions about Olivia losing herself in white men who might only see her as a sexual object.
The other way to look at the appearances of Ichabods and Dashes in TV is that these characters are representatives of the New White Man. If we go back to the images shown above, there many white men who are in relationships with people outside of their own race. They are men who love women equally instead of conditionally through race. To me, these are the men Ichabod and other characters like him represent; men who recognize a good woman when they see one, regardless of what race they are.
• It’s a fad (or is it?): The cynical of the cynics would say that the WOC/White man trend is merely a fad. And, with the way FOX is treating Lara Vega by making her Abbie Mills 2.0, someone could easily think they’re right.
One of my readers, who inspired me to write this post, wrote about the ’80s trend of white cop characters getting paired with black cop characters after 48 Hours. That feeling of “opposites attract” is definitely alive and well in today’s sci-fi procedurals. Today, writers have built on that premise and made things much more complex than just “black” and “white”; now it includes “black and from the present” and “white and from the past” or “black and loosely affiliated with the Precog program” and “white and tortured by futuristic police.” There’s also Elementary, which is not just “white” and “Asian.” It’s “white and a genius in criminology without a degree” and “Asian and a doctor with guilt from a past mistake, fashion sense, and tons of patience.” Or, if you want to go dark, you have people like Sam from How to Get Away with Murder, who was also a fetishistic human being who preyed on the likes of Annalise, who was not only black, but a victim of past sexual abuse and currently suffers from what seems to be a type of working depression, among other things.
Making things complex is great, but, just like with 48 Hours, there’s the fear that this progressiveness will just go away, as it did after the ’90s’ big boom of black television shows. Hollywood likes to find a reason to not invest in something that they think the “majority” won’t watch, and generally, diversity is the first to go, since “diversity” has been viewed in the past as a niche market.
But, again, going back to the photos above, I don’t think diversity will be a fad this time. The one thing that we have going for us this time around is that there is documented proof that America is becoming more and more multicultural. Anecdotally, we know this, but with hard numbers out there, it’s going to be harder for Hollywood to deny the truth, especially since many of the families of the people working in Hollywood are probably becoming more multicultural as well. Diversity is no longer a “niche market.” It’s America, and America wants to see itself in what it watches.
These are just my thoughts, but what are yours? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
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Photo credit: Tina Rowden/FOX