Roles for Minorities Still Lag on TV

Print Friendly

Network stations say they’re trying to change

By AsianWeek Staff and Associated Press

More than a year after civil rights groups demanded more ethnically diverse programming from major broadcast networks, blacks alone have been the beneficiary of the four major network stations, largely to the detriment of Asian Americans, Latino and other minorities.

Karen Narasaki of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium offered a dismal “report card” grading networks on their inclusion of Asian Americans.

The grades ranged from a D-plus for NBC, which features a handful of actors such as Ming-Na in ER, to an F for CBS. ABC and Fox both received D-minuses.

However, Narasaki said Asian American women do better than Asian American men. “There has been a tendency of generally less stereotypical roles, for instance, Lucy Liu.”

CBS, with the cancellation of Martial Law starring Sammo Hung, fared worse than last year when it came to including Asian Americans on screen, Narasaki said.

She blasted the networks for missing opportunities to make the casts of shows such Welcome to N.Y., which is set in a conspicuously multicultural city, more diverse.

The groups also criticized the lack of significant growth in the number of Asian American writers and directors at most of the networks.

“To be fair, why would I expect a non-Asian writer to write about us,” said actor Paul Ong. “What we really need are Asian American casting directors, producers, directors and writers.”

Ong, however, said he has seen more progress for Asian American actors, but added that the diveristy is “strictly tokenism.”

Raul Yzaguirre, representing the National Latino Media Council, said progress for Latino American actors has been equally dismal.

The NAACP, while lauding the increased hiring of blacks in acting and other behind-the-scenes jobs this season, said the coalition remains united in its effort to make TV truly inclusive.

“We don’t want them [the networks] to think hiring African Americans will appease the entire minority community,” said NAACP spokeswoman Debbie Liu, adding that there is still room for improvement for black representation.

The coalition said it intends to keep the pressure on networks and expand its attention to smaller networks, the cable industry, advertisers and talent agencies.

Last winter, the coalition secured agreements from the four networks to increase both the number of minorities on-screen as well as development deals with writers and producers.

The agreements were reached in January and February through separate discussions between coalition groups and networks. But these agreements lacked specific numbers that could provide a benchmark for progress.

The networks opened negotiations with civil rights groups after the NAACP floated the threat of a TV boycott or legal action because of the absence of minority actors on the fall 1999 schedule of new shows.

The networks say they are trying to change.

“Diversity remains an important initiative for us here at ABC,” said John Rose, who is directing the network’s diversity effort. “We’ve done a lot and made significant progress, but we realize more has to be done.”

He said the network has, among other programs, started a talent development initiative that has enlisted educators and nonprofit groups to “nurture and support writers and directors” of color.

“CBS appreciates the ongoing concerns of the coalition and applauds its role as an agent for change in our industry,” said Josie Thomas, senior vice president of diversity for CBS Television.

She noted there had been a 20 percent increase in the number of minorities cast in CBS’ primetime shows and a threefold increase in minority producers.

NBC said in a statement that it has created more primetime minority roles this season, and that its 2-year-old minority writers program “will lend a perspective, which will lead to further diverse character development.” The statement said NBC also was establishing high school and college programs to recruit minority students to pursue television industry careers.

“We are confident that by putting these programs in place today, we are making great steps toward increasing diversity both now and in the future.”

About the Author