Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dear Amy Sherman-Palladino

Dear Amy Sherman-Palladino,

Congratulations on your new show!  It's great to see a successful woman making her way through Hollywood, and it's great that you're bringing more women's stories to TV.

The story you're telling, however, lacks some key elements of diversity.  You know that.  Shonda Rhimes pointed it out, and you've been asking about it directly.

Here's what Shonda Rhimes said:
Hey @abcfbunheads: really? You couldn't cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?
And here's what you said:
Palladino didn’t directly comment on the diversity issue, but indicated that any shortcomings were at least in part a result of lack of time and casting limitations.
You didn't directly comment on it?  You had no real reply to that?  You could've said, "She's right, I'd love to see more people of color on the show.  I look forward to bringing in more dancers of color as the series progresses."  You could've said, "That's definitely a weakness in our show, and we've been discussing ways to incorporate more dancers of color."  You could've said any number of things.

Instead, you took the time to say this:
“[But] I’ve always felt that women, in a general sense, have never supported other women the way they should…I think it’s a shame, but to me, it is what it is.”
...with the increased demands on showrunners — particularly while getting a new program on the air — there’s no room for criticism among peers. “I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t go after another woman. I, frankly, wouldn’t go after another showrunner,” she said.
That's what you spent your interview time on.  That's what you decided to discuss instead of the whiteness of your cast.  Criticizing a woman of color for having the gall, the rudeness, the ego, to criticize you.  How unkind of her.  How unprofessional.

I wonder why you see her statement as "going after" you.  As if it's an unwarranted personal attack and not a criticism of ongoing, persistent, systemic racism.

You're scolding her.  Telling her to shut up and get back in line.  You want her to be a woman first and foremost, to put solidarity with other women ahead of all other things, to deny the rest of her identity.

She shouldn't have to choose between one aspect of her own self and another.  She shouldn't have to be silent on race to support women.  Supporting women means supporting women of color, because women of color are women.  Where are those women in your cast?

It's hard to speak up.  Pointing out instances of racism makes one vulnerable to push back, harassment, humiliation, and further discrimination.  Speaking up can cause people to be fired, beaten, abused.  Passed over for promotions, belittled, rejected, shunned.  In most cases, speaking up comes at a price, even when you or they aren't initially aware of what that price is.

Shonda Rhimes spoke up.  Instead of embodying the solidarity you talk about, you turned on her.  Instead of supporting another woman, another showrunner, you scolded and shamed her.

Whose place is it to criticize?  If not hers, whose?  How else will change happen?  If no one said a word, would your show hire dancers of color?  Obviously not.  Now that people are speaking up, it might.  And the next show might.  Other networks, wanting to avoid bad publicity, might make an effort to create a more diverse cast.  Change comes from criticism and encouragement and people agitating for it.  Progress doesn't come from silence and complacency.

You can't say that she was wrong.  Only that she was wrong to speak up.  You won't address what she said, only the fact that she said it.  It sounds like another case of "being called racist is worse than being racist."

In your words, I see a hint that you might have fought for a more diverse cast, but the machinations of the business squashed those efforts.  It's possible that you genuinely would have stocked the show with more dancers of color, but that you had to make a few nasty compromises to get the show on the air at all.

Maybe you think that you can't talk about those things openly.  Maybe you believe that it's better for your own career if you don't air those grievances and point out the racism and other problems in the industry.

Speaking up may not have been the best move for her career, either.  But it was the right move, regardless.  Instead of criticizing her, criticize the racist, misogynistic industry you both work in.

With love,
Frank Lee

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