June 26th, 2008

totally_sane, suzie

Racial representation in the media is complicated: film at 11

Here's a headline I never expected to see: Too many black and Asian faces on TV, says BBC Director Samir Shah. Shah apparently contends that the BBC has attempted to compensate for a lack of racial diversity in executive and creative positions by casting lots of minority actors, and that this has led to a "world of deracinated coloured people flickering across our screens - to the irritation of many viewers and the embarrassment of the very people such actions are meant to appease".

On the one hand, there's something in his argument - we've had lots of discussions over in Doctor Who fandom about how colorblind casting has led to a number of characters of color in minor roles who only have meaningful relationships with white people, for example.

On the other hand, I find most BBC shows quite refreshing in their contrast to the extreme whiteness of much U.S. television. And it's also nice, now and again, to have a show in which you have a character who is black or Asian, and it's not a big deal. (Well, there's a double-edged sword here. Casting actors in roles where their race or ethnicity is not a big deal is a great way out avoiding the racial or ethnic stereotypes that plague so much media. On the other hand, we still live in a world where people's race and ethnicity is a big deal a lot of the time, and television shows ought to portray that reality some of the time.)

On the third hand, I very much doubt that bunches of white BBC execs are sitting around saying, "Ooops, we're still too white. Better cast some more black actors, maybe no one will notice." Clearly the same forces that have worked to produce ethnic and racial diversity on screen haven't worked in the executive suite, though.