That Deadline Article Hurt My Feelings (And is Racist)

I am coming off an amazing 5-day writer’s retreat taught by “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed, and expected my next blog post would be focused on detailing the experience and everything I learned.

But then I saw this: “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings—About Time or Too Much of A Good Thing?” And I have to speak on it.

If you haven’t read the article, it basically looks at Hollywood’s recent acceptance that non-white people exist in society, and concludes it is putting white people at an unfair disadvantage. The small steps the industry is taking toward rejecting homogeneity may be leading it down a dangerous path- so watch out!

My first reaction to this article was not anger, but hurt.

It literally hurt my feelings.

This woman completely marginalized my existence as a black person. My story shouldn’t be told, she says, because a white actress isn’t the right person to tell it. Sure, white people need hundreds—thousands—of TV shows to depict their lives, but I should be more than satisfied that How to Get Away with Murder, Blackish and Empire depicts my truth. She suggests that art like mine, which has minority characters, is in opposition to art that features white characters. The idea that all TV shows, whether they feature black or white people, are at their core, stories about humanity with universal themes are inconceivable to her. The concept of people identifying with characters not of their same race is beyond her (unless, of course it’s non-whites identifying with whites because their stories are always universal). Honestly, it was so insulting.

My second reaction was an intellectual (as opposed to emotional) one. That reaction was that the article is racist.

If you follow this blog, then you know that I don’t go around calling everyone racist. Nicholas Sparks, for example. I said he was an asshole, but I’m not comfortable calling him a racist. The Sony chick who joked about Obama watching Kevin Hart? A person who said something dumb, not a racist. The reporter who asked if Fresh Off the Boat would feature chopsticks? Ignorant, but not racist.

This Deadline article was actually racist.

It’s racist because she turns the celebrated idea of diversity in television into something that is adversarial to white people. She turns it into a zero sum game, engaging in the age-old technique of using racial division to advocate for a white, male-dominated status quo.

How does she do this? By suggesting that Hollywood is using affirmative action in its hiring decisions, knowing this is a trigger. The problem is that she presents no real evidence that anyone is actually using quotas, and if they are that it’s nothing more than anomaly. She completely dismisses the concept that the directed focus on increasing diversity and having color-blind auditions is a) a response to demand and b) an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity present in this moment to finally be able to hire the best actor, instead of the best white actor.

Any attempt to reinforce structural racism is, to me, racist. Any attempt to capitalize on our nation’s racial trigger is, to me, racist. So the Deadline article is racist to me. And frightening.

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Thoughts on Fresh Off the Boat

I’ve got something to say about Fresh off the Boat.

First of all, I’m not JUST watching it because it’s the first network show starring an Asian American family since 1994. That caught my attention, sure, but I need more than political reasons to watch a show.

For example, a large part of me really wanted to watch Selfie to support a show that cast an Asian male in a romantic lead (which NEVER happens), but I couldn’t. Because the show looked so bad.  FOB on the other hand actually looks funny. And, more importantly, it takes place in my favorite decade (the 90s) and the main character is obsessed with B.I.G. and Nas. How could I not give it a chance?

That all said, let’s be real. Minorities in books, movies and TV is my favorite topic on this blog. Here are my thoughts on FOB:

1. There will be growing pains, and that’s OK. This is the first time we’ve seen an Asian-American family on TV since the one season of All American Girl (starring Margaret Cho) 20 years ago (wait, was that 20 years ago?!). That means there are going to be growing pains. By growing pains, I mean moments when nice people say things that are really embarrassing for them.

For example, a journalist asked the FOB cast if he will get to see chopsticks in the show “or will it be more Americanized?” Another example of a “growing pain” is when Joe Biden described Obama as “articulate.” In both cases you’re just like, huh? And then you’re like “he-did-not-just-say-that.”

Growing pains outrage many, but not me, usually. I actually think they have value as long as the person wasn’t malicious. They force the conversations that communities have been having among themselves for years—decades—out into the open. They alleviate some ignorance. And, let’s face it, they’re also inevitable. If you’re going to start diversifying things that historically have not been diverse, expect to deal with some growing pains.

2. I don’t understand how they could not find an Asian-American person to write the show. Stuff like this annoys me. Like really annoys me. This is what should have been popping up all over my newsfeed instead of the chopsticks growing pain. It’s far more outrageous in my opinion.

Ok, the writer is a Persian-American whose experience as the child of immigrants informs her writing. Great, I’m not knocking her.

Buuuut, are you seriously trying to tell me that there was not one Asian person who could have written this show? You know, the one about the Asian-American experience?! Because if you are, I’m here to tell you that I don’t believe you. The assertion that a qualified Asian American didn’t exist for this position is impossible.

Literally, impossible.

Someone just didn’t care enough to find her. And I find that incredibly annoying. Why does it have to be a revolutionary thing for minorities to tell their own stories?

3. Unsurprisingly, the inspiration for the show isn’t completely happy with it. Eddie Huang wrote a memoir by the same name and sold the rights over to network TV. He agrees with me re: point number two and has a few other complaints as well.  In NY Magazine he says that ABC took his very specific, individual experience and turned it into a “universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans resembling moo goo gai pan written by a Persian-American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane.” But he’s still glad the show is on TV.

I’m glad the show is on TV too (and not just because I got to hear BIG Poppa in the background). Holllerrr.

What I Learned from the Sony Hack

I’ve been meaning to talk about the Sony hack.

I think it’s fascinating. As an attorney, I’m confident their lawyers will have a steady workflow for the next year or two. As a person attempting to enter a creative field that is frequently tainted by structural biases and business priorities, I couldn’t help but eagerly grab the popcorn and watch as secrets were spilled.

Before I continue, let me say that I understand that this post, like many of my posts, concerns the movie/television industry and not publishing. That said, I think many of the issues affecting one are relevant to the other (e.g., the overexposure of certain plots/stories/tricks, the lack of diversity at every level, the assumption that consumers are generally stupid and bland, the high risk/high reward of pursuing a career in these fields, etc.).

Ok.  Here’s what I learned from the Sony hack:

1. Everyone is frustrated by the dumb shit that is actually made into movies. I came to this conclusion based on the Adam Sandler comments. Neither employees nor executives seem to like him or his movies. Yet…they still make them.

Do they not realize that they are the ones who actually have power to do something about it? I’m allowed to complain- not them! If they want to make better movies then…make better movies!

2. People are still comfortable being sexist. The gender pay gap that the hack revealed was really messed up. All of the male stars in American Hustle get a higher percentage of profits than Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence? How does that make sense? But what really bothered me was Aaron Sorkin’s comments that it’s easier for a woman to win an Oscar than a man because male performances are just harder to pull off.

O.m.g.

First, again- if you’re mad that women aren’t performing the way you would like, then maybe you should help create better roles (you know since you are a famous screenwriter with lots of power).

Second, I’m not convinced that just because Aaron Sorkin can’t appreciate the performances of women (the way he can those of men) that means they are actually worse. I’ve posted here before that one of the reasons it’s important to have diverse publishers, agents, etc. is that an old white man, for example, may not be able to appreciate all the nuances displayed in a young, black woman. I think something along those lines is happening with Sorkin.

3. People know better than to be blatantly racist, but there is probably still a race problem. Frankly, I thought the Obama comments were like whatever. They were joking, I get it. Buuut, I find it hard to believe that if these blatantly messed up gender issues exist at Sony that there also aren’t some questionable racial disparities and views floating around as well.

My only hope is that as the Sony execs embark on their apology tour (meeting with Al Sharpton, Judy Smith (the real Olivia Pope), etc.) they actually use the opportunity to try to internalize some of the issues and make some changes.

That’s all for now.

Happy new year!