Diversity in Television: The Shows Changing TV
It’s no secret that society in America has a history that involves a very distinct hierarchy. This is in regards to anyone who is different from the “norm” which has clearly pointed towards being young, white, straight, rich and able. So understandably, it reflects in both television and film. But over the past decade or so, the American entertainment industry hasn’t only acknowledged the apparent racism in America but many have made a strong effort to combat the stereotypes that society has created. Diversity in television has shifted. Here’s how:
If you haven’t at least heard of this show, you may be living under a rock. Empire premiered its first episode at the beginning of 2015 and the show’s success has continued to rise. The cast is made up of primarily African-American actors, which is unfortunately rare in show business, that is up until last year. The show follows the dysfunctional Lyon family in their efforts in trying to run a multi-million dollar company. The show, now in its third season, also features incredible music by not only the main cast, but guest stars like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Sierra McClain, Courtney Love, V Bozeman, and many more. Empire successfully tackles issues dealing with race, mental illness, homophobia, familial relationships, romantic relationships, addiction and a multiple of other problems that I’m sure I’ve left out.
Fresh Off the Boat (2015-)
Asian-Americans have proven in past decades as one of the least represented ethnic groups shown on television regardless of the fact that there are millions of Asian living in the U.S. But, Fresh Off the Boat breaks the mold in the best way. Set in the 1990s, the show follows the Huang family and their struggles with fitting into a predominately white Orlando, Florida. It successfully showcases authentic Chinese culture without scrutinizing it with stereotypes and does all of this through humor.
This show centers around the DiMeo family facing the challenges that come with raising a son with special needs. JJ DiMeo, played by Micah Fowler, has cerebral palsy like Fowler himself which is only such a big deal because showcasing someone with disabilities is unfortunately rare on television. The best thing about JJ DiMeo, played by Micah Fowler, is that he is no different from any other average teenager going through average teenage problems in addition to issues he and his family face due to his disability.
Inside Look: The People v. O.J Simpson: American Crime Story (2016)
As one of the biggest television events of the year, The People v. O.J Simpson revealed the blatant issue of race in society, specifically towards African-Americans, through the telling of the O.J Simpson trial that took place in 1994. It’s not until their 5th episode titled “The Race Card” when the show tackles the issues of race head-on with all of its complexities. Although the series gears towards O.J being guilty, O.J’s legal team known as “The Dream Team” points out problems between African-Americans and the police as well as using it to their advantage.
Master of None (2015-)
The premise of the show may seem just as simple as any other sitcom; it centers around the personal and professional life of a 30-year-old actor in New York. What it’s turned into however is a show that deals with a multitude of cultural topics ranging from race to gender to religion. The second episode titled “Parents” demonstrated the sacrifices, hopes, and fears of Dev and Brian’s parents from India and Taiwan respectfully without offending them. Dev’s parents on the show are shown as Muslim but it is done in such a nonchalant way which completely combats against the stereotypes that America has unintentionally created for Middle-Eastern Islamic people.
Just looking at the promotional poster for it, you can see why I’ve included this show on this list. The show is a retelling of the both the 1990 movie and 1997 television show, both titled, La Femme Nikita. It’s actress Maggie Q at the forefront, who, if you don’t know, is mixed with both Vietnamese and Irish. Yes, the rest of the main cast members are all white but in the show, Nikita, Q’s character, is the imperfect heroine of the story fighting against the evil secret government agency, Division. Usually, it’s the ethnic character who plays the villain of the story but in this show, it’s reversed; the big bads of the entirety of the show are both white and the actors, Xander Berkeley and Melinda Clarke, play their parts brilliantly.
This is Us (2016-)
This show has proven to be a success not only in numbers but with critics all alike. Premiering only in late September, it’s already racked up a Critics Choice Television Award, an African-American Film Critics Association Award, and an AFI Award. In addition to that, it has also been nominated for multiple awards including but not limited to 3 Golden Globe Awards, American Cinema Editors Award, Image Awards, and many more. This is Us is about a family which seems like a simple premise but it is effective simply because the characters are human. This show contributes to the diversity seen on TV by making a point out of the fact that Randall and his family are all different from the rest of the family because they’re African-American.
Switched at Birth (2011-2017)
Before watching this show, I was uneducated in all things related to deaf culture despite the fact that there is one. The plot of the show is already interesting enough of a story to carry itself, but the brilliance of the writing goes beyond the plot by bringing in a deaf culture that is, what I assume to be unknown in most American households, in addition to talking about controversial issues in American society like other disabilities like down syndrome, rape, race, and many more.
Now in their second season, Quantico, the show follows Alex Parrish, as a young FBI recruit training at the Virginia base when one of them is suspected of being a terrorist. The series features a beautifully diverse cast including Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, Aunjanue Ellis, Yasmine Al Massri, and many more.
Jane the Virgin (2014-)
Jane the Virgin started as a show that follows Jane’s life as a pregnant virgin. Yes, a virgin who was accidentally inseminated who then became pregnant with the baby of a rich and handsome Rafael when she had initially come in for her first routine pap smear. The show features a predominately Latino cast following a traditional telenovela format.
If you haven’t heard of this Golden Globe winning show, it’s about an African-American family struggling to find their sense of cultural identity in a primarily white neighborhood. The show stars the hilarious Anthony Anderson and the queen that is Tracee Ellis Ross. It doesn’t just deliver comedic timing, but it also talks about racial issues facing African-Americans in society today.
Samantha Nguyen covers entertainment news for MFST. You can follow her on Twitter @thelegendarykc