Ethnocentrism Rears Its Ugly Head in the Cancellation of ABC’s “Eli Stone”

by Guest Contributor Nina, originally published at Threshold of Your Own Mind

Last year during Christmas, ABC had the genius idea to cancel Eli Stone. And by cancel, I mean completely phase out mid-season. The show was in the primetime line up and it aired before Boston Legal.

Eli Stone was set in a San Francisco law firm. It was cleverly written and extremely progressive. Like San Francisco, it had a gamut of diversity. It featured Black and Asian actors cast in roles of doctors and lawyers. The lawyers handled cases with gay, lesbian and trans issues. There was a strong social activist element to the firm where ethics and humanity were prevalent in the all too cut-throat world of lawyers.

Most importantly, the show dealt with issues of spirituality & alternative medicine. Eli Stone, the man for which the show was named, was a prophet who was struggling with the gift of sight. He saw the future and his third eye chakra was off the chains.

His gift was nurtured by a Chinese acupuncturist herbalist who studied and expounded on Ancient Chinese healing practices. He had to adopt the stereotypical “ching-chong” accent to get his white customers to believe his practice was legit, which only added to the cleverness of the show. The Chinese acupuncturist turned the stereotype on it’s head by adapting the voice of what “someone like him” should sound like.

Of course, there was the obligatory Black mammy secretary who served as a mother figure to Eli, but she was far from the happy slave type. Naturally, she was a single mother and former alcoholic of a pre-med daughter who succumbed to cocaine to stay awake during rounds, but she kept Eli in line and guided him toward making wise decisions. Decisions that would save many lives in the process. Often with a LOT of attitude.

All of this was set to the tune of George Michael. Micheal’s songs were the catalyst for his visions. Visions that came at morbidly embarrassing times and usually featured characters singing and dancing in vaudeville like musical numbers.

It was witty, clever and full of diversity, which is exactly what I’d expect from a company who is notorious for their support of the GLBT community. (Hello, Disney Gay Days!)

However, in the area of being advocates for racial and spiritual diversity, ABC failed. They phased out the show mid-season. I will NEVER know what becomes of Eli’s brother’s ill fated marriage to the woman who took Eli’s virginity.

I simply will never know because the powers that be at ABC decided to cancel “Eli Stone” and replace it with yet another cop show featuring all white characters set in NYC with zero people of color in the cast al la Friends and Sex and the City.

Another gem they’ve been airing is the horrendous podunk shit program Surviving Suburbia about, well, I don’t know what it’s about. I know a Caucasian blond haired, blue eyed character on the show said she “hopped the fence like a fugitive slave” to gain access to the family’s backyard. *Cue laugh track* That is not, nor will it ever be, funny.

ABC failed me by canceling “Eli Stone.” I was, for once, relieved to watch a show where Black men with natural hair were lawyers. I thought it was very cool that there was a Chinese doctor who knew enough about spirituality and divinity to school the pasty Eli. I loved watching the episode with the female to male trans minister who was wrongfully terminated for having SRA surgery. Watching said Black lawyer walk side by side with him to rejoin his now diminished congregation was heartwarming.

The show was entertaining and I was moved more than once at its themes. It gave me something to look forward to in primetime. But no, ABC decided ethnocentrism was the way to go. To ABC, white characters in positions of power are the only way to go. Good Bye “Eli Stone” and your queer diverse smart cast of characters and Welcome back, Kotter!

I taught my kids about Ethnocentrism before teaching them Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

What kind of lesson is ABC doling out by canceling shows like this one?