Which TV network got an F on its diversity report card?By Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LOS ANGELES—For the first time in the 12 years that the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) has been issuing report cards, grading the four major American TV networks on their efforts to include Asian-Pacific-Americans in their shows and business negotiations, one network got an F.
According to a statement issued by APAMC, Fox earned a failing grade because it didn’t give the 2011-2012 season data the coalition asked for. NBC, ABC and CBS complied with the request.
In the same statement, APAMC co-chair Marilyn Tokuda said, “This is especially disappointing, because Fox had some very positive stories to tell about its diversity initiatives under its new Audience Strategies department.”
APAMC noted the irony that Fox was the only network to meet the coalition’s challenge to have at least one Asian-Pacific-American (APA) actor to headline a TV show. Indian-American actress Mindy Kaling stars in “The Mindy Project,” which has been on air since September.
Among the networks, NBC, with a B-, again ranked highest overall in this year’s APAMC report card. CBS went from a B- to a C+. APAMC noted, “Although Masi Oka was added to the opening credits of ‘Hawaii Five-O,’ he and fellow regular, Grace Park (and possibly DanielDae Kim), got less screen time than unofficial regular, Lauren German. And, despite the coalition’s repeatedly expressed concerns, the show has continued to cast APAs mostly as suspects or villains, and most of the guest stars (including cops, sympathetic victims and their families) are white and from the mainland.”
APAMC added, “CBS also continues to get dragged down into this category by the problematic Han Lee character in the sitcom, ‘Two Broke Girls.’ Despite promises that the character would be ‘dimensionalized’ over time, Lee continues to be the recipient of emasculating, racially tinged put-downs (‘a well-behaved boy,’ ‘a woman’). As a result, CBS’ actors grade rose from a C to C+. However, CBS continued to tie with NBC for the top grade of A- for network commitment to the diversity initiatives.”
ABC earned an overall grade of C+. APAMC expressed its concern that since “the diversity-filled series ‘Lost’ ended its run, ABC has continued to lag behind the other networks in APA actors in regular roles in prime time. Also alarming, they fell a full grade (B- to C-) in development deals with APA writers/producers.”
APAMC did credit the four networks in one area: “Since the initial 1999/2000 meetings, the networks have implemented many initiatives to increase the presence of people of color (POC) in front of and behind the camera. These include programs to train writers, to fund diverse staff writers on successful series, to facilitate relationships between diverse directors and established directors and show runners, to train casting executives, and to provide showcases for minority actors, writers and directors to display their talent to the creative community.”
We asked several Asian-Pacific-American actors and some of the networks to comment on APAMC’s annual TV report card:
Rodney To has appeared on TV in “Modern Family,” “The Whole Truth,” “Conviction,” “Victorious” and “The American Mall.” He recurs as Dr. Bangachon on FX’s hit show, “Wilfred,” starring Elijah Wood and Jason Gann.
“First of all, I’m so grateful to the APAMC and applaud their efforts in encouraging diversification in network television—the results of which actors, like myself, are direct beneficiaries. I currently have a small recurring guest part on the show, ‘Wilfred,’ which is on FX (an extension of Fox), and I have felt nothing but acceptance and have enjoyed working for them. When I was cast two seasons ago, the part didn’t initially call for an Asian actor, and I remember being encouraged by such progressive casting. So, my specific experience with Fox/FX has been positive.
Ellen D. Williams is currently seen as recurring character, Patrice, on “How I Met Your Mother.” She has many stage credits to her name, most recently, “Flipzoids,” written by Ralph Peña and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera at the Los Angeles Theater Center. She was also one of the three directors this year for ABC’s Diversity Talent Showcase.
“I was sad to hear that Fox received an F. As an Asian-American actress, I can only speak from my own experience. I’m currently a recurring character on a show (‘How I Met Your Mother’) that is produced by Fox, but airs on CBS. One of the things that I love to share about how I got started on it was that the part was written by an Asian-American writer who specifically wrote the part for a Filipina. This part could have been played by anyone of any ethnicity, so it’s great that it was as specific as it was.
“I go on auditions throughout the year that calls for an array of possibilities, from ‘all ethnicities’ to ‘Asian-Pacific’ to something as specific as ‘Filipina.’ I feel that we are getting to a place where we’re seeing that there are more casting calls that are open to ‘all ethnicities,’ but we do have a long way to go in representing that on television.
“As a director this year for the ABC Diversity Talent Showcase and actor participant in 2008, I know that many of the networks are trying to do their best in giving actors with diverse backgrounds a chance to show their talents in a showcase setting in front of the major networks. Again, this is a great way for actors of color to be seen, but if that isn’t changing onscreen, I think it’s something that we, as a diverse talent community, specifically an Asian-American talent community, must work harder to make our presence and talent known.”
Brian Kamei is an actor and award-winning screenwriter. He is also the CEO/Founder of Roar Films.
“Judging by the grades on this report card, it seems as though the four networks have yet to adopt Asian study habits. While Fox should be sent to the dean for participating in Senior Ditch Day, the fact that they turned in ‘The Mindy Project’ will likely save them from being expelled. In hopes of motivating these ‘students’ to continue to raise their performances, a quick peek into statistics class will remind them that Asians are now the fastest-growing racial group in America, with a current record population of 18.2 million.
“We are in every job sector in the United States and also average a higher annual household income of $66,000 versus $49,800 among the general population (according to the NY Times). It is time these figures are reflected in the television shows we watch.
“The onus, however, is not solely on the networks to include more APAs in their business strategies. After all, any entity has difficulty succeeding in areas which they do not fully understand. Part of the responsibility lies with us, the APA community, to educate the entertainment industry on our various cultures, as well as the positive impact and successes we continue to achieve in this country. We’ve made our voice heard loud and clear on social and digital media sites, such as YouTube.”
CBS Studios International, through Robyn Abzug: “Our commitment to diversity at CBS is unwavering. We’re proud of our initiatives across the network designed to increase diverse representation in every part of our business. We value our ongoing dialogue with the APAMC and we will continue to work with them closely.”
Craig Robison, EVP, Chief Diversity Officer NBCUniversal: “We’re proud of our progress and appreciate APAMC’s acknowledgment of our ongoing commitment to diversity in front of and behind the camera!”
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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