Warning: Spoilers Ahead
On this blog, I’ve talked about the Bechdel Test and the mythical existence of media that passes it with flying colors. The Bechdel Test can also apply to a multitude of other groups, including LGBTQ characters, people with mental and physical disabilities, people of color, etc. The following is a list of TV shows that master the spirit of the Bechdel Test as it applies to people of color. Similar to my list on female representation in media, it’s all TV shows, but I do want to talk about one film: Dear White People.
Dear White People
While it has its bumps and flaws (it’s the director’s first film), Dear White People is a dramedy about the various experiences of African American students at a very prestigious, predominately white, university. Or, as Dear White People‘s clever PSAs say “being a black face in a white place.”
Justin Simien has created a diverse cast of characters–not just ethnically, but characters with a diverse range of perspectives. His characters come from privilege and from poverty, some are political animals and others are willfully oblivious. That said, I do think that Dear White People‘s viral YouTube campaign might actually function better on its own than it does as a film. Here are some examples of its best work on YouTube:
But the film touches on such important issues–cultural appropriation, racial identity, political correctness, white privilege–so well, that it was one of my favorite films of 2014.
Everything else worth watching is on the small screen.
Shows Worth Watching That I’ve Actually Seen:
Note: I’ve recommended all but one of these before, but many are worth calling out in a new context.
- Avatar: The Legend of Korra: I’ve talked about Korra before, in the context of awesome lady characters, but it also has some interesting portrayals of race. While Avatar: The Last Airbender has a slightly more ethnically diverse core cast, Korra‘s protagonist is dark-skinned–a rarity in mainstream media (though, for all its cult popularity, Korra isn’t exactly what one might call mainstream). What’s more, the creators have clearly done some thinking when it comes to the racial identities of some of its main characters:
For more on the decision-making process of Korra’s exact skin tone, I would check out this tumblr post by Bryan Konietzsko, co-creator of Korra. I would also recommend reading it in contrast to the experience of this comic book colorist.
- Orange is the New Black: Duh. OITNB is one of the best shows out there on so many levels, but especially regarding gender and race.There just aren’t any other shows–certainly no mainstream shows–that are discussing race so boldly, and so broadly. Season 2 amps it up a lot, and even diminishes the use of its “Trojan Horse” character in Piper Chapman.
- All The Shonda Rhimes Shows: My favorite thing about Shonda Rhimes’ shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder) is that many of her characters of color have strong, interesting roles that have nothing to do with the color of their skin. At the same time, Rhimes by no means ignores their race–in fact, all of her shows have dealt with issues of race quite powerfully at some point or another. Scandal in particular has this intense discussion of power:
And recently, the show has started to provide some commentary on Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter.
Other shows that are by no means amazing, but still have some great diversity in casting, include Castle as well as Bones.
Recommendations That I Haven’t Seen:
- Black-ish: A sitcom featuring an upper-middle class African-American family, particularly focusing on the father figure, who is concerned about his children’s cultural assimilation in their white, suburban neighborhood.
- Cristela: Another family sitcom that chronicles the life of Cristela Hernandez, a Mexican-American law school graduate who is working as an unpaid intern at a law firm, while living at home with her family. Stand-up comic Cristela Alonzo is the star, as well as the writer and producer. She is the first Latin-American woman to star, write, and produce her own primetime show.
- Fresh Off the Boat: A comedy series that is inspired by the life of chef and food personality Eddie Huang and his book Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir. It is the first American sitcom to star an Asian-American family as protagonists on network primetime since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl, which aired for one season in 1994. I would recommend reading this review, from one of my favorite television critics.
- Jane the Virgin: A comedy series loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela of the same name, Jane the Virgin is about the events that take place in the life of Jane Villanueva, a religious young Latina woman whose vow to save her virginity until marriage is shattered when a doctor accidentally artificially inseminates her during a checkup.
- Empire: The only non-comedy on this list, Empire is a musical drama that centers around a hip hop entertainment company, Empire Entertainment, and the drama among the members of the founders’ family as they fight for control of the company.
I haven’t seen Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat or Cristela because they’re all family sitcoms–just not a genre that I’ve ever been interested in. But I’m glad they exist to balance out similar shows like Modern Family. I admit that despite its popularity, I hadn’t heard of Empire prior to doing research for this blog post, and I’m not sure if I’m going to try it out. Jane the Virgin, on the other hand, is a show I’ve been hearing about for a while and that has already garnered awards attention for its star, Gina Rodriguez. I’m looking forward to checking this one out.
Do you have any suggestions of your own? Let me know in the comments!