Minority groups enjoy higher profile on US television

Minority groups, notably African-Americans, are front-and-centre​ on US television like never before this season, a sign of an industry in change.

Critics are welcoming what the Emmys website televisionacademy.com is calling “one of the most diverse on-screen slates in over a decade.”

Thirty years after the groundbreaking “The Cosby Show,” ABC has launched “Black-ish,” a family sitcom that takes a humorous look at African-American identity. (You can watch the trailer below.)



Black-ish stars Anthony Anderson as Andre “Dre” Johnson, a fast-rising advertising in a mainly white firm who frets about his family losing its black identity.

“How to Get Away with Murder,” also on ABC, is a thriller starring Viola Davis, an Oscar nominee for her role in “The Help,” as a brilliant black attorney.

Robust ratings 

The first episodes of both prime-time series enjoyed strong ratings, with nearly 11 million viewers for “Black-ish” and 14 million for “How to Get Away with Murder.”

The latter is produced by Shonda Rhimes, whose other projects notably include “Scandal,” now in its fourth season on ABC, starring Kerry Washington as a woman of power in the US capital.

“There is a definite effort to show African-Americans in a much broader range of settings that it used to be the case.”  - Tim Brooks, a historian of US television

African-Americans gained a solid foothold on television in the 1970s with shows like “The Jeffersons” that sometimes touched on social issues.

But their profile fell somewhat, before making a comeback in recent years, Tim Brooks, a historian of US television, told AFP.

 Hispanic cast

One much-anticipated series, “Jane the Virgin,” on The CW, brings together a majority Hispanic cast for the story of a religious young teacher who is accidentally inseminated during a visit to the doctor.

Set in Miami, the show – based on a Venezuelan telenovela, “Juana la Virgen” – is one of the latest in a string of US shows inspired by foreign productions.

And a rare actor of Asian origin, John Cho, stars in “Selfie,” a comedy series, on ABC. He starred as Harold Lee in the Harold & Kumar films, a rare franchise with minority lead actors.   

Actor John Cho speaks onstage at the 'Selfie'' panel during the Disney/ABC Television Group portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Association at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 15, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.

During a press conference in July, Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group, called depiction of diversity part of the Disney-owned network’s “mission statement.”

“We think that’s our job, and in a way that’s not so much diversity as authenticity if you’re reflecting America.”  - Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group

Cable plays a factor

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies at Duke University in North Carolina, credited the rise of cable television for greater racial and ethnic diversity on the small screen.

“The biggest thing for network television – particularly the four major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox) – has been the impact of cable TV, which has done such a better job of presenting both diverse programming and programming that features diverse casts,” he said.

With around 30 cable networks, and more places in Hollywood to get a show produced, “there’s a lot more opportunity, a lot more platforms – and the creative community is taking advantage of that,” added Brooks.

“TV is a commercial business, for better or worse,” he noted. “It reacts to how we are going to sell stuff” through advertising targeted at minority groups." - AFP

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