When our favorite shows were on hiatus for the holidays, my husband and I decided to check out a new show that we hadn't seen yet: The Mindy Project. Created by and starring Mindy Kaling from The Office, I was really excited to start watching the show because I am almost done reading her fantastic and hilarious book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Plus, she is such an inspiration! A minority woman (who is not a size zero!) starring in a show that she created? Hello, progress!
And before I say anything else, let me just say that I love the show. It's very funny and charming. I love seeing a minority woman portraying a successful doctor on TV. I want Mindy Kaling to be my best friend forever. BUT. But.
Besides Mindy, EVERY OTHER MAIN CHARACTER ON THE SHOW IS WHITE.
Alright, the obvious points: No, Mindy Kaling does not have any obligation to represent minorities or women or minority women. Yes, I realize that Mindy Kaling herself did not personally cast every single person on the show.
And on the one hand, I am hesitant to criticize Mindy Kaling because as a minority woman, I know she has to work twice as hard and defend herself twice as much. I hate that we live in a society where Hollywood depictions of healthy, fully-formed, successful, non-objectified women of color are SO rare that the few who do slip by have the impossible pressure to be everything to everyone.
It's as if her presence on the show filled the network's minority quota and they tried to compensate by putting as many white people surrounding her as possible. Were they worried no one would watch it because they have a non-white leading character? Did they try to "balance" her out with an entirely white supporting cast?
Look. It's 2013. I'm not even asking for diversity. I'm asking for reality.
I'm pretty sure this show is supposed to take place in New York. This show wants me to believe that a doctor's office in New York has ONE non-white person working there?? That an Indian woman in her thirties living in New York ONLY has white friends?? I'm just not buying it! It's noticeable and really distracting.
Now, from her book, I've gathered that because she is in the comedy/entertainment business (which is dominated by white men), Mindy in her real life is surrounded by a lot of white men. In her book she includes pictures of the writers of The Office and she sticks out like...an Indian woman in a room full of white men.
BUT. This show is not about writers of a comedy show. This is a show that primarily takes place in a doctor's office in (what I think is supposed to be) New York. Mindy's character does not work with any non-white people. None of her friends are non-white people. No one she dates is a non-white person. The few times you see a non-white person? An episode where Mindy and Co. take a trip to a nightclub and a bunch of athletes make cameos. Hm.
I have this exact same bone to pick with Modern Family, another show which I love dearly. This show is set in Los Angeles and yet the L.A. they depict on the show is not the L.A. I have known and lived in for almost eight years. Where are they living in L.A. where they rarely come into contact with anyone who isn't white?? L.A. is admittedly pretty segregated, but still one of the most diverse places in the entire country. And yet...why is it that a non-white person making an appearance on the show is so rare? And yes, I think it's awesome that we have Gloria and Manny and Lily on the show. But other than that, the extended Dunphy family seems to live in an alternate reality where you can live in Los Angeles and rarely interact with another non-white person. (Sidenote: When Kevin Hart had a small role as Phil's new neighbor, I was so uncomfortable! His race was mentioned in several jokes and they were just awkward. White people and non-white people can be friends! It's OK!)
I've never seen the show, but Girls on HBO has faced a heap of criticism due to its lack of diversity. Again, the show is set in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York and yet the predominantly white cast doesn't reflect that. Friends is another prime example. I'm going back through the entire series now and I see the exact same problem. Same could be said for Sex and the City as well. And these are just shows I've seen or currently watch. I'm sure there are countless examples of others.
All hope is not lost though! It can be done, my friends! Some shows are impressive with the way they accurately reflect racial diversity without it feeling forced. Here are some shows that do it better than the rest:
- Go On (NBC) - An extremely diverse cast is part of what makes this my favorite new show. Set in Los Angeles, the show follows Matthew Perry and his quirky grief support group. Not only is the group racially diverse (Hint, hint Modern Family), but the characters are diverse in age and body type!
- Bones (FOX) - Set in Washington, D.C. it would be laughable if this show were anything but diverse. Extra bonus points for female minorities in leadership roles!
- Community (NBC) - Again, a racially diverse cast that also has age and body type diversity. Race is joked about, but I feel it's in an intelligent way. Others could disagree.
- New Girl (FOX) - This show definitely could improve on it's racial diversity since it is also set in Los Angeles, but it's doing OK. I will give the show props for its most recent episode addressing the fact that Winston is the only black guy in an apartment of white people. I thought it was done with good humor and tact, but I'd be curious to hear what other people thought.
- Grey's Anatomy and Scandal (ABC) - Seriously, thank God for Shonda Rhimes. Racially diverse casts? Check. Minorities depicted in leadership roles? Check. The fact that Scandal is the first show in decades to have a black female lead says a lot.
- Castle (ABC) - Set in New York, the diversity on the show makes sense. Kudos for having a black woman as the Captain of the police station. Extra Kudos because the character makes everyone call her "Sir." Love it.
- Parks and Recreation (NBC) - This show is set in Indiana and it STILL has more racial diversity than the Mindy Project or Girls! C'mon now...
- Honorable mentions for shows no longer on the air: Awake (NBC), LOST (ABC), and The Closer (TNT). I am so depressed The Closer is no longer on TV, because it was amazing. The show was based in Los Angeles and to me, they raised the bar for racial diversity on television.
Of course, these are only shows I've watched before. But these are just a few examples of shows that have (more) realistic racial diversity and don't resort to super offensive racial stereotypes and jokes in an effort to be edgy (I'm looking at you, 2 Broke Girls. Why is that show still on??).
Listen, I understand how far we've come in television. The fact that we have television shows where non-white actors are not just the over-stereotyped sidekick is a vast improvement. But we still have a long, LONG way to go. Yes, there are places that are very homogenous and segregated. That's just the reality. But there are also places that are very diverse, where people of different races and ethnic backgrounds live together, work together, and love together. And I wish that reality was shown a little more often.
Oh and I love you, Mindy.
Have you noticed this on TV shows that you watch? Do you think it's a problem? Are there shows you watch that get it right when it comes to racial diversity? Let's start a conversation about this! Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.