Does the TV Industry Need Affirmative Action? A Response

Makiah asks, “Does the TV industry need affirmative action?” and looks at how the nuanced storytelling on television can feed the sophisticated American viewer’s hunger for good shows. Check out the post on her blog, makiah-isms. I’ve reposted my response below.

Affirmative action doesn’t really map on to the entertainment industry as it does to education. Every body has a right to education. Not every one has a right to having their narratives being represented diversely in media.

She writes, “Every Hollywood executive has the right to fabricate the truth or to create their own.” Does Hollywood itself represent the population of people who watch their fabricated truths? Not really. Should Hollywood represent the population? Again, not really.

She’s right. We want to see more nuanced stories. But how nuanced can we get if most of Hollywood looks like each other? For better or worse, the way your color of your skin is perceived plays a big part of your American experience (same goes for your gender or your religion). A white man’s story is necessarily limited by his privilege in ways a Latina’s story is not.

The trend I’m seeing is instead of looking to those diverse American stories, television is relying on fantasies. Like, real life fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast, Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Arrow, to name a few). It’s a good formula, for now, but pretty soon the American audience will get bored. What next?

I’m a fan of looking for alternatives to the mainstream outside of Hollywood, and of not relying on or trusting any Hollywood executive with my truths. Telling your own stories is kinda my thing. But I recognize the historical and structural impacts inequality has had on all our institutions from education to entertainment and everything in between. I also recognize that we have been telling our own stories, but we lack the infrastructure to distribute them to the people who need to hear it.

And that’s where Hollywood wins and stays winning. The distribution mechanisms are formidable. That’s why the stories that are trafficked through them must continually be challenged, especially when they are one of Americas largest exports, especially when they re-write, mis-represent and straight up lie about the stories and lives of marginalized people.

Is the goal of our stories to become mainstream? I don’t think so. The goal of our stories is to be heard, to be witnessed and thus to be validated. Even if we did have fair representation (which I assume is the point of affirmative action), our stories will still be co-opted (see Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone).

It’s messy and there’s still work to do. I’m excited for the moves we’re already making!