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Old January 10 2009, 07:24 AM   #1
captainduprix
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SF and People of Color

I just finished watching the finale of Atlantis and decided to go out to the website, as I was feeling a bit saddened by the news...and then it hit me.

All of the regular Earth-born characters on both SG-1 and Atlantis are Caucasian. And all the People of Color on the show, Ronin, Teyla, Teal'C, are off- worlders. The one regular character of color on the first season of Atlantis, Lt. Ford, was not on very long.

Then I remembered how, on Enterprise, Shran referred to Humans as "Pink Skins," though most humans are brown-skinned, even in the 21st Century!

Then I noticed that BSG has NO black regular characters, unless you count Dualla, who is hardly ever on screen.

I am reminded of the story told by Nichelle Nichols, about how she was so frustrated with her character that she was going to quit after the first season until she was admonished to remain by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; he felt that her being on television would present a positive image of black people for the whole world to see.

Call me a Commie or whatever you like, but isn't variety a good thing? Whatever happened to Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations? Doesn't saying you "don't see color" just mean that you can't see anything but white? What's wrong with intentionally casting a strong, African American male in a position of leadership, or a beautiful Afro-French femme fatale (France has the largest population of Blacks in Europe, by the way, which is why I used this example)?

Some might called that "tokenism," and dismiss it as patronizing, but characters are cast for a variety of reasons. Chekov was originally cast to appeal to younger female viewers. Almost every show on television has a sexy Blond, to appeal to the sexual appetites of White males, and/or at least one strong female character, to appeal to women. And almost all shows have a White guy in command, for the obvious reasons. All of these type-cast roles are done to appeal to a certain demographic. Why not take it a step further by casting a young, urban male, for example, to appeal to young black males and females? Isn't this a potential growth market? And don't give me that "a white person can't write authentically for a black character" crap. That's like saying a man can't write for a woman.

There is the argument often made at these posts that the writers and producers are simply hiring the best actors for the job. First off, most of the actors on genre shows are HORRIBLE actors (BSG being an obvious exception). A good-looking average actor trumps an average-looking great actor almost every time. And there is always the comedy relief, the old wise man, the young ward, etc. These are all examples of deliberate casting. And forget the "stereotyping" argument as well; I would rather see a controversial black person on TV than none at all.

How many Alfre Woodards, Will Smiths, and Denzil Washingtons (all Oscar- nominated actors who got their starts on television) are out there, waiting for their chance to shine? Or maybe the folks who make these shows are just too insecure to cast more people of color for fear that they might be diminished in the comparison. Maybe it's all just back-lash (or should I say Black-lash) for the successful blacks who went on to greater heights.

I miss TOS. Now that was a Left-Wing, Patronizing show for ya!
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Last edited by captainduprix; January 10 2009 at 07:37 AM.
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Old January 10 2009, 07:37 AM   #2
Trent Roman
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Re: SF and People of Color

captainduprix wrote: View Post
Or maybe the folks who make these shows are just too insecure to cast more people of color, for fear that they might be diminished in the comparison. Maybe it's all just back-lash (or should I say Black-lash) for the sucessful blacks who went on to greater heights.
I was with you up to here. First of all, none of the people doing the casting are actually going to appear on the show, so there's no comparison happening; nor would there be any basis for a fear of being 'outshone', since good actors and bad actors come in every ethnicity. Resentment over succesful blacks doesn't seem at all likely, since, like I said, there's by and large no direct competition between casting/producers and that lot and the people actually onscreen. The usual excuse given for the monoblepsic casting in many of these shows is that the audience has such stunning dearth of sympathetic imagination that they can only relate to people 'like them' , and apparently skin colour is an aspect of such similitude (so, in the case of genre fans, predominantly white, young/middle-aged males). Frankly, I would hope that this is utter crock, but I imagine that the casting people aren't all secret Klansmen and actually have statistics and research to back this up. So we can fault the casting people for general cowardice, but we also need to fault the large part of the audience that apparently remains mired in the 1950s (not that anybody would ever self-identify as such).

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Old January 10 2009, 07:41 AM   #3
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Re: SF and People of Color

You know, this kind of thing gets brought up from time to time, and I honestly don't have an answer. There could be any number of reasons for these kinds of things.

What is the demographic of most scifi shows? Is it mostly white people? If so, maybe there just aren't that many colored people auditioning for roles. Do white viewers relate better to white actors? I'd wager they do, even if they don't realize it.

Maybe the creators have ideas in their heads about the ethnicity of characters before they even start casting. I know a lot of scifi films in places like Canada. Is the population of Canada mostly white? I dunno, but it sure seems that way sometimes.

As for characters like Ford...well, sorry Rainbow, but you were easily the weakest actor on the show. And Dualla, she may not have been around much in this last chunk of Season 4, but she had a fairly large role in previous seasons. Not to mention the fact that Edward James Olmos is hispanic.

I doubt there is any malicious intent.
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Old January 10 2009, 07:45 AM   #4
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Re: SF and People of Color

Trent Roman wrote: View Post
captainduprix wrote: View Post
Or maybe the folks who make these shows are just too insecure to cast more people of color, for fear that they might be diminished in the comparison. Maybe it's all just back-lash (or should I say Black-lash) for the sucessful blacks who went on to greater heights.
I was with you up to here. First of all, none of the people doing the casting are actually going to appear on the show, so there's no comparison happening; nor would there be any basis for a fear of being 'outshone', since good actors and bad actors come in every ethnicity. Resentment over succesful blacks seem at all likely, since, like I said, there's by and large no direct competition between casting/producers and that lot and the people actually onscreen. The usual excuse given for the monoblepsic casting in many of these shows is that the audience has such stunning dearth of sympathetic imagination that they can only relate to people 'like them' , and apparently skin colour is an aspect of such similitude (so, in the case of genre fans, predominantly white, young/middle-aged males). Frankly, I would hope that this is utter crock, but I imagine that the casting people aren't all secret Klansmen and actually have statistics and research to back this up. So we can fault the casting people for general cowardice, but we also need to fault the large part of the audience that apparently remains mired in the 1950s (not that anybody would ever self-identify as such).

Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
I would imagine that the audience's relatability to people "like them" is a subconscious thought. Animals naturally flock to their own kind.

If I saw a preview for 2 identical shows except one had a white cast and one had a black cast, I'd probably watch the white show first out of habit more than anything...and the fact that most all-black TV shows are awful (Tyler Perry, please stop making shows!) .

I did love me some Family Matters when I was younger, though.
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Old January 10 2009, 08:06 AM   #5
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Re: SF and People of Color

Diversity is a good thing, but often I think it just boils down to the personal choice of producers and casting directors. They go with what they know or they think are the right actors for certain roles, and that sometimes (if not frequently) leads to actors of color being cast in the roles of aliens or roles that are more physical in nature [stand or sit in the background] and require little dialogue. I don't think it's malicious or even deliberate, but I do think it's still human nature for people to go with what they relate to and the producers and casting directors of science-fiction shows and films are no exceptions.
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Old January 10 2009, 08:22 AM   #6
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Re: SF and People of Color

OK...I'll say it... what about Avery Brooks, Cirroc Lofton and Penny Johnson from DS9? That was by far my favorite Trek/scifi show. Patrick Stewart is a great actor, but Brooks took his role to a whole new level with phenomenal performances! If it makes any difference, I am caucasian, but my liking a show isn't based on the casts' color, rather their abilities.

And yes... Tyler Perry needs to stop...LOL
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Old January 10 2009, 08:35 AM   #7
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Re: SF and People of Color

^um, Michael Dorn
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Old January 10 2009, 09:53 AM   #8
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Re: SF and People of Color

The arguement about people not relating to people different to them is bullshit. I'll check out any show that looks interesting, and I can relate to a show that has a full black cast as easy as I can to a full white cast, I can relate to gay characters as easy as straight, but then maybe people like me are the minority.
There is something to be said for the pool of actors, remember a lot of these shows are filmed in Vancouver, which seem to have a pool of actors so small that if you watch the shows made there they practically seem to have a revolving door.
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Old January 10 2009, 09:54 AM   #9
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Re: SF and People of Color

DRMidnite wrote: View Post
OK...I'll say it... what about Avery Brooks, Cirroc Lofton and Penny Johnson from DS9? That was by far my favorite Trek/scifi show. Patrick Stewart is a great actor, but Brooks took his role to a whole new level with phenomenal performances! If it makes any difference, I am caucasian, but my liking a show isn't based on the casts' color, rather their abilities.

And yes... Tyler Perry needs to stop...LOL
I don't think anyone is saying that we would like a show better because of a white cast, but we might be initially drawn to a show if we see a cast where the majority is the same ethnicity as us, all else being equal. I love DS9 as well (though I think Avery Brooks is horribly overrated by Trek fans. He belongs on a stage, not in front of a camera).
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Old January 10 2009, 09:55 AM   #10
RoJoHen
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Re: SF and People of Color

Bob The Skutter wrote: View Post
The arguement about people not relating to people different to them is bullshit. I'll check out any show that looks interesting, and I can relate to a show that has a full black cast as easy as I can to a full white cast, I can relate to gay characters as easy as straight, but then maybe people like me are the minority..
Again, I don't think people do it deliberately. Subconsciously people are simply more comfortable around "their own kind." It's just the way our brains work.
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Old January 10 2009, 10:00 AM   #11
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Re: SF and People of Color

RoJoHen wrote: View Post
Bob The Skutter wrote: View Post
The arguement about people not relating to people different to them is bullshit. I'll check out any show that looks interesting, and I can relate to a show that has a full black cast as easy as I can to a full white cast, I can relate to gay characters as easy as straight, but then maybe people like me are the minority..
Again, I don't think people do it deliberately. Subconsciously people are simply more comfortable around "their own kind." It's just the way our brains mwork.
Maybe, but still I couldn't give a flying fuck who's in the cast so long as the show interests me and they are good in their role.
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Old January 10 2009, 10:12 AM   #12
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Re: SF and People of Color

I tend not to be interested in shows that don't have spaceships in them, though recently I have branched out and embraced shows with vampires and mysterious islands filled with polar bears and hatches.

I'm growing as a person.
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Old January 10 2009, 10:23 AM   #13
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Re: SF and People of Color

RoJoHen wrote: View Post
I tend not to be interested in shows that don't have spaceships in them, though recently I have branched out and embraced shows with vampires and mysterious islands filled with polar bears and hatches.

I'm growing as a person.
I was the same not too long ago, if it wasn' Sci-fi it was shit, then I realised that's basically what bothered my about other people. They assume sci-fi is shit, so I branched out and have found many shows that I think are fantastic.
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Old January 10 2009, 10:32 AM   #14
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Re: SF and People of Color

I just don't want much TV in general, so when I do, I go for what I know I already like. I never assume non-scifi shows are shit; I just don't have time to give them a chance unless someone forces me to.
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Old January 10 2009, 10:36 AM   #15
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Re: SF and People of Color

RoJoHen wrote: View Post
I just don't want much TV in general, so when I do, I go for what I know I already like. I never assume non-scifi shows are shit; I just don't have time to give them a chance unless someone forces me to.
Well yeah, I never actually assumed they were shit, just boring.
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