A Letter to the TV Industry: Keep Fighting the Good Fight

Maureen Ryan
Variety

Dear Television Industry: Don’t stop now.

We’ve had some time to absorb the fact that Donald Trump is our president-elect. It’s hard to imagine that those of you on the front lines are cheered by this fact. It’s more likely that most of you — writers, producers, directors, actors, artisans, executives, and assistants — still feel as though you’ve been kicked in the gut.

It’s difficult to imagine writing scripts, making production schedules, and honing pitches in this environment. But please, don’t stop now. We need the best of what the TV industry has been producing of late. We need it more than ever.

Lately I’ve been working on my end-of-year best-of-TV lists, and that has been a welcome distraction from, well, everything. I have to come up with multiple rosters, because there’s so much good TV, and when I look at each list, it’s impossible not to notice the numerous points of view that are represented.

Slowly, TV has begun offering a more varied array of protagonists and more ensembles featuring a diverse set of cultures, backgrounds, and classes. Black men and women, Hispanics, Asians, and LGBTQ folks are getting to star in their own stories, and more of them (not nearly enough, but more) are creating shows, and even commissioning them at some networks.

If you study representation statistics in almost any field — including TV — you notice right away that progress on the diversity front is incremental and fragile (when it exists at all). Progress is slow — it’s always way too slow — and Hollywood is quick to congratulate itself on the most glacial and minuscule markers of progress. But TV has been trying to change. And it’s working.

My son is 14, and his favorite shows are “The Flash,” “Black-ish,” “Supergirl,” “The Good Place,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Those shows, as the saying goes, look like America — the America I believe in, not the one sketched out by Trump in his divisive stump speeches.

You don’t need me to tell you that Trump’s election is partly a reaction to the long-overdue progress of men and women of color in America. It’s frightening that small improvements in a limited number of areas are so hated and feared, and that justifiable demands for dignity and respect have produced such a terrifying backlash. Even modest signs of progress have been greeted with ferocious pushback.

Those of you making, buying, and distributing TV need to push back too — with everything you have.

A recent Vox article by German Lopez delved into credible research on methods of combating racism. Lopez noted that “increasing contact between people of different races” has been shown to reduce bias. TV brings that contact home. TV has also helped further discussions on LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance, the issues surrounding immigration, explorations of consent and assault, and a woman’s right to choose.

As a nation, we work out social, cultural, and political issues via TV, a medium that can get into our hearts and minds in ways that other forms of entertainment can’t. We have long-term emotional and intellectual relationships with the shows we love, and those programs can alter beliefs, start conversations, and open hearts. Try as they might, the forces of exclusion and racism can’t stop that process.

They want you to stop, of course. They want to go backward, to a time when TV excluded and ignored creators, actors, and artists who weren’t white, straight, and middle-class. They want to return to some version of America that never really existed.

One thing’s for sure: As the “Hamilton” flap indicated, the culture wars are likely to get uglier than they ever were in the ‘90s, or the ‘60s, or maybe ever. If you’re a creative person with an original story to tell, or an executive who embraces an inclusive America, or if you simply cling to a moral agenda that does not advance hate and intolerance, many who voted for Trump will mock you. The supporters of a former reality star who lives in a golden tower will deride you as out-of-touch elites.

Never forget: They hate and fear you because what you do works. I know their hatred is scary. But it’s not a reason to hold back — it’s a reason to rebel. Keep going.

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