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« Shatner's game show is soooo bad | Main | Someone to top Barack Obama? »

November 30, 2006



For shame... Heroes is one of the best new shows this season on TV! Anyone who watches Lost and Battlestar should appreciate it, but you do have to stick through a few episodes to get the heavy-handed exposition and setup out of the way, before things start to get interesting.

On topic, I really see this as a freedom of speech issue... you can't tell a story about slaves in Africa, without casting blacks in the roles. You can't have "The Last Samurai" without Japanese (or at least Japanese-looking) actors.

If I told you that you couldn't write the book "The Grapes of Wrath", because there weren't any black characters in it, that would be absurd. Now, tell me why casting a movie version of the book is different? While one could certainly 'bend' the plot and add some racial diversity without affecting the story, it makes me a little nervous to think that Title VII could start affecting someone's ability to freely speak out in movie form.

IMO, Hunter Tylo's case was a bit different - she fit the role she was cast for, and unfortunately (for the producers!) got pregnant. It was treating a person differently on account of their sex, for a reason wholly unrelated to the artistic/free expression of selecting that particular character's gender, race, etc.

Tung Yin


I think the point about artistic freedom has some merit, but only to a point. If I'm casting for a movie version of, say, "The History of the KKK," it's not likely that I'm going to have racial diversity among the cast, apart from the victims.

However, if you're casting generic characters for a show like "Friends," let's say, do you *intend* to be making it non-diverse, as a statement about racial balkinization? Or are you simply discriminating?

That's why I think the sinister Asian guy on "Prison Break" is a good example. He doesn't have to be Asian, or white, or any race in particular. He's a sinister guy who happens to be Asian.


However, if you're casting generic characters for a show like "Friends," let's say, do you *intend* to be making it non-diverse, as a statement about racial balkinization? Or are you simply discriminating?

I think it depends on whether the actual casting instructions specify the race -- I understand they sometimes do (sometimes even with a view to filling up the non-White quotas), and probably sometimes don't. If the race is specified before actors even come in to read lines and do test shots or however it is casting works in the TV industry, then I think it might actually be discrimination.

There's a lesser form of that one can imagine, though, that you sort of point to when you mention the possibility that interracial romance might not play well on screen -- casting directors may, when looking at putting different races together in various combinations, be sensitive to different ways those combinations could be read with intentionality. Putting a Black man together in a romance with a White woman, for example, might trigger all the nasty accusations of racism that came out after that one attack ad against Harold Ford where the White ditz invites him to call her -- the merest suggestion of Black-White romantic combination is apparently enough to trigger both the MISCEGENATION! flag, and the reaction: "You dirty racist! Stirring up fears of miscegenation!" And putting, say, an Asian female with a White male makes many people think of Cio-cio from Madame Butterfly or American sex tourism or whatever. I'm embarassed to admit it, but I felt a flicker of that early on in the Galactica TV series when I realised that (a) Boomer is a Cylon spy => the Asian as the insidious Other, undermining society from within rides again! and (b) Boomer romance with Helo => Hello, Lt. Pinkerton!

Portrayals of interracial romantic combinations are charged in a way that same-race combinations generally aren't. A lot of this is just our hysterical hypersensitivity to racial issues in these modern times, of course, but that doesn't make it any less real, or any less important for TV shows that are, after all, all about image.

Just to round off, on a show like "Friends," even though, ostensibly, they're all just friends, the romantic combinations go (if I recall rightly) between the male and female characters in all kinds of ways, and even (if jokingly) between the male characters too. Don't people even get married? So the introduction of multiple races into the central cast could potentially lead them to step into something awfully politically charged inadvertently -- kind of needlessly risky for something that is, fundamentally, just supposed to be lowbrow fun.

So, well, yes, this is discrimination too, and might be against the law, etc. etc. But it's a natural outcome to expect these days, even if only unconsciously, because making something interracial sends a message in the racial environment of 21st century America, and it sends a message you really can't control, a message someone may latch onto and use to slime you as a racist. Making something all one race -- all White or all Black, say, may be discriminatory, but at least it stays more or less neutral.

As far as Asians go, though, I suppose Asian-Americans are in short supply on TV, but for any Asians who just want to see people who look like them on TV, the local Korean or Japanese channels (if you have them) probably have loads of dramas airing all hours of the day for your enjoyment. And there, you get Asians taking every role you could want. On the other hand, people (like me) consistently chosing foreign pap over domestic pap probably doesn't help the Asian-Americans get over the "Asian = unassimilable Other" stereotype much. So perhaps not.


If you are cataloguing Asian characters on regular TV shows, you probably need to add the Asian psychologist from Law & Order: SVU. He seems to get a regular spot almost every show and a show or two a year that are designed to make him one of the principle characters. I think he was a Priest on the HBO series OZ before Law & Order.


I just wanted to add to your list of Asian characters. Kristina Yang (Sandra Oh) on Grey's Anatomy, and Agent Lee (fairly minor character) on NCIS.

Racy Li

It's funny that I came across your blog right now because the actor who plays Agent MacCallan on Fox's 24 ( Vic Chao ) just posted a request for fans to mail in for the writers to expand his role. Somewhere, I forgot where, he answered a question about why an Asian-American was playing an agent with a non-Asian name and I think he said the part hadn't been written with an Asian-American in mind but that he got it.

Jason K.

Asian male was just announced on the next "The Apprentice." I thought you'd find this interesting. Let's see how he does.




Sebastian Holsclaw

Kristina Yang is one of the key players in Grey's Anatomy. Interestingly enough for the conversation, her character has an inter-racial romance with a black doctor.

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