December 30, 2008

The 2008 TV season so far

This has become a good season for Indians on TV. In fact, you could argue that it's one of the best in a long time. Here's a partial list of Indian appearances and mentions--the ones I've seen or heard about:

  • Indian references in the 2008 presidential campaign, at the DNC convention, and in Obama's speeches
  • A mention in The New Adventures of Old Christine
  • Tamara Feldman's guest-starring role in Gossip Girl
  • 4Real episodes set in Peru and Pawnee
  • Sherman Alexie on The Colbert Report
  • Gary Farmer in Easy Money
  • Pseudo-Native Taylor Lautner in My Own Worst Enemy
  • August Schellenberg in Grey's Anatomy
  • References to the Poospatuck tribe, the NMAI, and more in Ugly Betty
  • Pseudo-Native Summer Glau's starring role in Terminator
  • Modoc and Cabeza de Vaca references in Terminator
  • The Evil...and His Brother Ziggy episode of Life
  • Crystle Lightning in Days of Our Lives

  • Better than Beach?

    You could even argue that it's better than last season with Adam Beach as a regular on Law and Order: SVU. Sure, Beach got more face time than all the Indians put together this season. But he referred to his Mohawk background only a couple of times all year. The rest of the time, he was a generic Indian.

    You could argue that the wide diversity of appearances and mentions--of different tribes, at different times, for different reasons--is better than a single set of appearances that ends up going nowhere. Beach hoped his role would be a game-changer...but of course it wasn't. It takes more than one actor to change the game; it takes a village.

    This is what I've been talking about. Sure, it wouldn't hurt to have a few prominent roles played by Indians. But given their small population, Indians don't deserve more than 1% of the time on screen. No one--well, practically no one--expects an Indian series every year or an Indian actor on every show.

    Changing slowly but surely

    Nevertheless, this "drumbeat" of low-level appearances and mentions might just have an effect. The reasoning goes like this:

    We want Hollywood to convey that Indians are an everyday part of life. Not in your face with a stereotypical wing and a prayer--a hawk wing and a spirit prayer, that is. But there in the background, going to school or work. Maintaining their cultures with powwows, museums, and casinos, but also participating in "normal life." And that's what's happening--at least this season.

    I don't know if some guild or committee or group is having an effect on the studios, or if this plethora of appearances is a fluke. But whatever the cause is, keep up the good work, people. The next time I criticize you for screwing up, don't say I never said an encouraging word. <g>

    For more on the subject, see Diversity Lacking in Television.

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