December 24, 2007
Written by C.N.
I’ve posted before about the power of media images in influencing how Americans see people of color, since our society is so visually-oriented and media-centric these days. In that context, does the current television writers’ strike open up new opportunities for a more culturally diverse representation of television images for people of color? My Vietnamese American colleague and well-respected writer Andrew Lam thinks so in a recent article at New America Media:
With no writers, an onslaught of reality shows are being scheduled for January. Fox will offer The Moment of Truth, something that mirrors Guantanamo. In it contestants are strapped to a lie detector and asked about their most intimate secrets, without, mercifully, waterboarding.
American Gladiators are also back and that show is self explanatory. Then there’s Oprah’s Big Five, an ABC show sponsored by Oprah Winfrey in which contestants are to give away a lot of money for the greatest benefit of society.
Next season, it seems now certain, will be the beginning of the non-fiction era of Hollywood, where documentary and “real” personalities, rule the airwaves.
Thus minorities, in many ways, should rejoice. People of color gain strong foothold in term of representation in the New Media. Reality TV – American Idol and Survivor top among them – is the programming genre in which real demographic is more fairly integrated.
Consider too: Characters of colors don’t just get on reality TV shows, many actually win them. Jun Song won Big Brother, Vecepita Towery and Yul Kwon won Survivor, Harlemm Lee won Fame, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino won American Idol.
Asians, traditionally excluded in Hollywood, in fact, are winning quite a bit considering being a small population in the US. Vietnamese alone counted for four. Chloe Dao sewed her way to the top in Project Runway, there’s also Hung Huynh, who won on Top Chef, using fishsauce as the base ingredient. Last Comic Standing got Dat Phan, a Vietnamese American who made fun of, what else, his mother’s accent.
I think Andrew has a point and his listing of the successes of contestants of color on various reality TV shows certainly is undeniable. So on the one hand, I think it’s a very positive development that people of color are apparently becoming more popular and successful on reality TV shows.
On the other hand, I think we as a society still need to address the fundamental problem — that “mainstream” TV dramas and sitcoms still systematically exclude or marginalize people of color, particularly Asian Americans. The writers’ strike will not last forever, and once it’s resolved, is it just going to be business as usual in terms of writing virtually all-White plots?
I applaud the success of contestants of color on reality TV shows, but I urge our communities not to lose sight of the real battle — more substantive writing and acting roles for people of color — particularly Asian Americans — on mainstream TV shows.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "New Opportunities for People of Color on TV?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/12/new-opportunities-for-people-of-color-on-tv/> ().
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