You know how Scream was so revolutionary because it was a self-aware horror movie? It understood that at a certain point it became necessary for characters being killed off one-by-one by a relentless killer to admit that they'd seen that kind of thing before onscreen? Well it's sort of that way for journalism these days. There's no way anyone with a thimbleful of self-awareness doesn't understand that when he or she writes and publishes something, not only is it not being done in a vacuum, there's the ever-present potential for a vicious social media backlash.
Especially when the subject involves race, Twitter will be a crucible into which you'll have to submit your article and potentially see it incinerated, along with your good name. There's just no way that a professional writer for a website doesn't understand how it works in the year 2015, with online outrage-gasms and fights over identity politics being a daily occurrence.
This is what makes a piece like the one Deadline published on Tuesday evening so utterly astonishing. It's impossible to imagine someone sitting down and banging out an article with a headline like "Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings – About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing?" and thinking to herself that it was going to end well. Alas, Deadline TV Editor Nellie Andreeva wrote exactly that article and the response on social media is already everything you'd expect.
The piece she wrote tries to examine the boom in racially and ethnically inclusive casting that we've seen over the past year, which has helped to correct the "minority problem" that Hollywood's had pretty much since the dawn of time. So far so good, but then Andreeva gets to this part and everything that was barely hanging onto the rails finally just flies off of them:
But, as is the case with any sea change, the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal. Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered.
First of all, the use of the phrase "ethnic" in describing a certain kind of character, while really awful-sounding, is actually a legit casting term. That doesn't make it any better to know that Hollywood as a whole sanctions that kind of misguided terminology, but at least it's not a derisive term Nellie Andreeva made up and just enjoys alluding to over and over. Still, there's no way around how it comes off, and when you add it to everything else in the piece it just makes you cringe every time you read it.
Andreeva goes on to point out that more than a few upcoming period shows based on real-life events and situations are mixing up the races and ethnicities of their casts. She wonders if this is a good thing given that it can come off as shoehorning in diversity at the expense of authenticity. She also notes that while introducing more people of color may be "long overdue," "replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer." She writes, "Television has been successful with shows that had both all-white (Friends, Seinfeld) and all-black (The Cosby Show) casts on the strength of their premise, execution and talent performances and chemistry."
Sure, some of what she's saying is technically correct, but the arrogant expression of the very dynamic non-whites have complained about for years -- that Hollywood is a white industry and any intrusion into it by them will be seen mostly as a trend or a privilege granted by the white power structure -- is so unbelievably fucking tone deaf. In particular, comparing Seinfeld and Cosby feels a lot of like saying, "separate but equal." This is all the kind of thing it's hard to imagine someone writing and hitting "publish" on without taking a step back and thinking, "What the hell am I talking about?"
Nellie Andreeva and Deadline are already getting an earful over this. And while I'm generally the first one to criticize the rush to turn Twitter into a mass firing squad, it's easy to see why. Andreeva wrote one article that in the end isn't going to do a thing to halt the progress many non-white talents are now making in television -- but man does it provide a depressing little window into how some in the Hollywood establishment apparently view that progress.