By Patrice Peck
If there were a required quota to fill for television lead actors, writers, and directors each season, then television executives would have to come to terms with the lack of diversity in television networks, and, in turn, be held accountable for the subsequent television line up. Of course, similar to the guidelines held in the education field, the quality of these shows would all be at the very least on par with the other shows vying for a prime time spot.
Yes, some shows might flop, but at least they’ll have the chance to flop just like every other show that manages to make it on to a major network. Also having the guaranteed spots would prompt writers and producers to take chances and create series that go beyond the stereotypical or appropriating content sometimes found in lasting series led by people of color. In order to ensure diversity in terms of content, behind the scenes roles such as producing, writing, and directing must also be included in this action and enforced at film schools and television companies across the nation through the admission, recruiting, and professional training process.
To be clear, we are not asking for handouts. In addition to bum rushing main stream television, the Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American communities should also establish distribution companies and studios, such as Tyler Perry, so that we retain full control of our resources, harness our consumer power, and make the most of the dynamic star power at our disposal. And while some may be swift to cry “reverse racism” or “prejudicial treatment,” affirmative action does not only benefit those at the lower end of the playing field. Adding an element of diversity to any situation, whether it be television casts or college campuses, does not only benefit the claimants of affirmative action, but every person in that environment as well. For how could a more tolerant, sensitive, and open environment possibly truly harm economic, and more importantly, social progress?
How about something like the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires football teams with head coaching vacancies to at least interview a candidate of color? When the rule was first instituted, people thought it was the league’s efforts to pay lip service to diversity initiatives. (They may have been right.)
But an interesting thing has happened with the Rooney Rule: teams are now hiring black head coaches. It turns out that all these candidates needed was an opportunity to get their foot in the door. Their qualifications spoke for themselves, if they got the opportunity.
Could this work in television? Require the networks to at least LOOK at some shows featuring people of color? Could it work for auditions? Hires?
Before some conservative starts crying about government coercion, the studios and networks could adopt quotas voluntarily. Given how they're losing audiences to other forms of entertainment, it would be a smart move.
Or the government could require quotas as part of licensing broadcasters to use the public airwaves. For the major TV networks, at least, broadcasting is a privilege, not a right. If you don't like using a UHF channel with restrictions, you can go to cable or the Internet to exercise your First Amendment rights.
For more on the subject, see Indian TV and Film Center Flops and WGA Panel on Native Representation.
Below: The failed TV show Undercovers.