By Guest Contributor Patrice Peck, cross-posted from Zora & Alice
How can you notice that something is missing if you never even acknowledged that thing to begin with? The lack of racial diversity on the major television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and The CW—clearly illustrates how an omission can actually be rather glaring. Yet, whenever critics draw attention to the lopsided numbers of lead minorities in television, writers, producers, and casting directors are quick to cry color-blind in hopes of white washing the issue with a fresh coat of guiltless naivete. When addressing this issue, television executives always point to profitability and markets as the main reasoning behind their casting while uncomfortably skirting around their propensity for narrow thinking, country club-style hiring, and disregarding racial diversity.
Then, this September, NBC inadvertently shed light on television’s homogeneity by picking up J.J. Abrams’ newest project, Undercovers, a show surrounding a married couple who leave retirement to rejoin the CIA. Abrams (Lost, Alias) and co-creator Josh Reims (Felicity) made headlines with their unorthodox casting of Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, both black actors, making Undercovers the second NBC show to feature a black lead couple (The Cosby Show being the first.)
Nonetheless, at a panel for Undercovers, Reims still insisted that when it came to casting the leads, both he and Abrams considered novelty as opposed to color as if the two weren’t synonymous in Hollywood. “[We said] Let’s just see every possible incarnation of person [so we won’t end up with] the same people we’ve seen on TV a million times … Boris and Gugu came in, and we sort of knew immediately, these are them. We didn’t go out of our way to say we are hiring two black people to be the leads of our show, but we didn’t ignore it either.”