Shows like Orange is the New Black and Blackish are showing networks how to get diversity right.
When Jenji Kohan was pitching Orange is the New Black to network executives, she knew that she had to sell it as a fish-out-of-water story; a pretty white girl’s story, that everyone in the room would find easy to follow. Orange is the New Black starts as Piper Kerman’s story, but develops into a blend of the more interesting stories of a large group of diverse women, who aren’t just interesting because they’re diverse. Rather, they’re interesting because they’re interesting.
Network and cable television should start buying more shows like Orange is the New Black to learn a thing or two about diversity
Orange is the New Black doesn’t try to fill any gender, sex, age, class, ethnicity, or race quotas. It tells fantastic stories about people who seem so real that you may have passed them on the street before. The show walks the delicate balance between delivering social justice messages and delivering human messages. It suggests that maybe political messages are human. There’s no reason a show like Orange is the New Black wouldn’t work if it came out of a cable box, and network and cable television should start buying more progressive shows like Orange is the New Black to learn a thing or two about diversity on TV. That is, that diversity isn’t about political correctness, it’s about authenticity.
Diversity issues aren’t solved unless people start talking about them. Some networks are taking this hint, and Orange is the New Black’s lead, by taking on shows that encourage conversation. ABC will this autumn premiere two shows, Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, both comedies about race and ethnicity in America. Fresh Off the Boat’s creator Eddie Huang has said he was adamant about including slurs, including “chink”, in the show’s pilot. These are Huang’s experiences, and the show will explore how he identifies with slurs and other aspects of being a minority.
It’s not all for edginess’s sake, but rather the realism that’s often glossed over in mainstream pop culture. Political correctness is inauthentic. It forces writers, networks and audiences to dance around the issue. What’s more, it dismisses audiences as dumb. Shows like Orange is the New Black, Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat at least give their audiences some credit for being smart enough to detect and enjoy their irony and nuance. Creators, writers, directors, and everyone else involved in the television process shouldn’t be forced to dumb it down for audiences, at least not in the content.
These shows effortlessly confront bias and prejudice through the fact that they exist in an otherwise white-washed TV guide
That’s the entire point of getting shows like this on the air. In some respects, they effortlessly confront bias and prejudice through the fact that they’re beginning to exist in an otherwise white-washed TV guide. It’s not exactly that simple, but it’s something. The very existence of them shows that they can exist on mainstream channels, and shouldn’t be herded to over the top services or a niche network that corresponds to the race of the stars. It’s difficult to tell exactly what these shows will become, but for now it’s safe to say that these shows may begin to prove that shows about different genders, races, and ethnicities aren’t niche, they can make money, and that people want to see them.
Featured image: Netflix
Inset image: ABC