It's never a surprise when new shows on television lack diversity. Someone writes about how awfully white a show is, it stirs up some commotion on the Internet but people continue watching, (*cough* Girls *cough*) and that's about the extent of it. And it's not so different for Amy Sherman-Palladino's new ABC Family show, Bunheads (except maybe it's less addictive than Girls). I mentioned a few weeks ago in an On Our Radar post that Grey's Anatomy creator, Shonda Rhimes criticized the show (via Twitter) for its lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Totally relevant and very much called for. This has been blowing up all over the interwebs, and of course, Amy Sherman-Palladino responded, but it surely wasn't what anyone wanted to hear.
Trigger warning for transphobic language at 4:30
For the sake of accurate and informed cultural criticism (which is why I watch most TV shows), I bit my tongue and watched the first episode of Bunheads. In the office. On my birthday. The show begins with a scene of dancing Las Vegas showgirls. Two of the dancers dressed in red are bickering about how the women dancing in front of them—the dancers who take their tops off—are paid more. They continue to criticize them, saying they are ugly, comparing one dancer to Muammar Gaddafi, amongst other sorely inane comments. A dancer of color walks through and snidely says, "I heard that Gaddafi comment." They shrug off the confrontation, while one contemplates where she'll be getting drunk that night, and the other (whom we will soon learn is the show's protagonist) refuses to go out drinking because she needs to be perfect and glowing for her audition for Chicago the next morning, and accepts a bouquet of "African roses" from her "stalker" sweetie. Great start, right? Hmmmmm, not so much. I'd continue, but I don't want to bore you and/or make you cringe. I'll tell you this though: She marries the guy, moves in with him and his mother, and ends up co-teaching ballet with her. Super.
Ballet is already a notoriously privileged and white-dominated form of dance, so we might expect the cast of Bunheads to be mostly white, but why why why do we need another show about upper-middle-class white women? There's nothing cutting-edge about that. Yes, it is important that we have shows on television created by women, for women, but blatantly disregarding issues of race within a TV series (and then disregarding criticism of this blatant disregard) is not okay. These issues are intersectional, let's not forget that. Visibility: It's important, but not just for women. It's important for all oppressed groups, be that women, people of color, people with disabilities, those who are not wealthy, not heterosexual, not cisgender, and all intersections therein.
In reference to her criticisms, in a sad effort to turn the issue into something else, Palladino is quoted saying, "I've always felt that women, in a general sense, have never supported other women to the level that they should." Well, Amy, how the heck should women support women? Tell me. Or maybe I should tell you. First off, in order to be a woman who is a supporter of women, you should probably be supporting all kinds of women, not just white ones. And maybe check your privilege as a white lady, listen, and respond in a way that doesn't silence anyone. Also, pointing out flaws (such as a lack of diversity) IS support. It's highlighting what you could have done better, and ideally, you'd take this constructive criticism and improve your show in the future.
In Palladino's defense, the interviewer is the one who turned this into a woman showrunner vs. woman showrunner showdown. That said, Palladino could have addressed Rhimes' actual concerns had she cared. But no, Palladino chose to steer clear of the issue and continued to speak about how difficult it is to put a show on the air—which I'm sure it is—and how time constraints, budgetary issues, and other "bullshit" gets in the way, and that is understandable, but please, DON'T SKIRT RACE.
She continues to say about the female characters she writes, "They don't hate men. There's no point in hating a man. Why? They are nice. They take us to dinner, every now and then you get a purse, or a nice pair of earrings... women who don't like men, I feel sad for them." Who said anything about hating men? Anyone? Even so, she's saying we should respect and appreciate all men because they all fit this description, and misogyny isn't a thing, and because some women hate men this is why women aren't getting ahead, and women shouldn't be allowed to criticize other women, because God forbid we have opinions. Also, she's assuming that all women date men. Not to mention, men who have money. Oh. OH. Let me call my invisible man friend (who is super nice and wealthy) and we'll go to dinner, and we'll talk about how I've never ever felt oppressed by normative gender roles and power structures.
Alright, I'm going to reel this back a bit. What Rhimes said was not an attack of "woman hate." It wasn't an attack at all, she was merely drawing attention to the racial issues that plague popular media, and often supposedly feminist media or media that is meant to "empower women." In fact, Shonda Rhimes continued by saying that she appreciates other aspects of the show, it was just that whole thing about race or whatever that Rhimes was upset about. Palladino didn't seem to get this though. Criticizing a show by, for, and about women for its lack of racial and ethnic diversity is not misogyny. Okay? Glad we have that cleared up. And with that, I hereby declare Amy Sherman-Palladino a total douchebag. She might redeem herself one day, but not now—not with her garbage arguments and pathetic excuse for a show about women's empowerment. I certainly don't feel empowered. Do you?
Want to see a longer version of the interview? Check it out here.
Photo of Amy Sherman-Palladino courtesy of Getty Images. Bunheads photos courtesy of ABC Family.