After the Oscars, My Man Les and I were having a conversation about the potential programming repercussions of Slumdog Millionaire winning all the Oscars. He argued-as he has for years-that this will show TV execs that, when you factor in the changing demographics of America, as well as the changing sensibilities of younger America, there is a market for shows with Indian characters and, thus, we can expect to see a bunch of new shows next year that will break up the Unbearable Whiteness of Television that is the norm. On the one hand, he was irritated that this move would bypass any chance of their being any shows with black leads (because, as we all know, when it comes to the Minority Roller Derby, it’s a zero sum proposition) but, of course, he was also happy because that means it would be something different besides another version of “David E. Kelley Presents Innocent Yet Spunky White Girl Comes To The Big City.”
I told him the entire conversation was an intellectual exercise because there’s nothing about Slumdog Millionaire that will have any bearing on the manner in which the big three networks, as well as, Fox and the WB program vis-a-vis minority representation. As good as the movie is and as deserving of Oscars as it is, for most of the mainstream, Slumdog Millionaire just served another example of a a culture being fetishized and exoticized for a Western audience. We like our minorities in their lane; poor, ethnic costumed, and foreign.
But an entire show wrapped around minority characters where the characters are, by definition, normalized? Not likely. I mean, let’s just do the roll call. We’ve been talking about the rise in the Latino population for the past ten years and, in all that time, the only successful show with full representation of that group has been, what, The George Lopez Show? I mean, my wife watched Cane for the three months that is was on but I think she was the only one. Don’t even get me started on representations of other groups. Pop quiz-how many television shows have had Asian casts? (Off the top of my head, I know Margaret Cho had a show and I think I’m the only one that remembers that karate/organized crime show Vanishing Son because, well, it was the mid-90’s and, if Asians were involved, of course it had something to do with martial arts and the Tong.)
No, I don’t care how much buzz Slumdog Millionaire got, when it comes to minority representation, all the Indian actors better go ahead and get the brochure the black actors have been giving out for years. If they’re lucky (and by, “they,” Indian actresses because there certainly can’t be any of those swarthy men, well, unless they’re flamboyantly gay.) they can be the worldy sidekick. Because, let’s face it, that Innocent Yet Spunky White Girl is going to need a more knowledgeable minority to help her navigate The Big City.