The Golden Age of TV Doesn’t Begin or End With White Men
Dubbing the sudden absence of predatory men as the categorical dimming of some bright, new era rings of a false equivalency for many marginalized viewers.
If you have remained plugged into our daily Hollywood news cycle, it might seem as if each day brings a newly exposed sexual predator. While that may sound like hyperbole, the sentiment is actually not that inaccurate: since news of Harvey Weinstein‘s history of assault broke via major press in early October, dozens of celebrity abusers have been publicly identified by their victims.
As an audience, our responses to the steady stream of stories have run the gamut – especially for those of us who have our own experiences with sexual abuse. Though some remain focused on the specific trauma (and to be clear, the well-being of the victims ought to be our collective priority), others have their sights set on the potential aftermath. What does all of this mean for Hollywood and the state of entertainment, in general?
As we witness the rightful takedown of critically acclaimed men like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., many have wondered how this continued exposure of Hollywood’s predatory culture will affect the entertainment landscape, especially within television. Recently, TV critic Ben Travers of IndieWire noted Hollywood’s current purge as a mark of permanent change to, in his words, “the new golden age of television.” To his credit, Travers is careful not to cite the onslaught of shamed men as the end of premium entertainment, but rather a potential opportunity for a more inclusive industry. That specific hope echoes those of many BIPOC creators who have been working diligently against the very climate that has systemically boxed them out of opportunities.
The widely deemed “golden age” of any industry has largely been identified by some tangible, yet highly subjective moment of innovation. Following instances like the introduction of commercial broadcasting (pegged as the golden age of radio), or Rogers and Hammerstein’s immortal fingerprint on Broadway, this era of television is apparently being defined by the rising credibility of original content from cable and streaming platforms like Netflix. The large viewership of programs like House of Cards and Louie render their ability to entertain on a wide scale undeniable.
But to dub the sudden absence of these predatory men as the categorical dimming of some bright, new era rings of a false equivalency for many marginalized viewers. Because, frankly, there is nothing innovative about white cis men in power. Their utter monopoly of opportunities isn’t fresh, even if the platforms have evolved. For many of us who have been conditioned for decades not to recognize or even seek televised versions of ourselves, our golden age looks remarkably different. For us, our renaissance arrived rather recently and is still emerging.
For instance, my golden era of television began when ABC dedicated an entire night of their schedule to Shonda Rhimes’ landmark dramas, making her the undisputed queen of Thursday nights. It blossomed when Empire broke ratings records weekly during it’s inaugural season and Ava DuVernay created a stunning haven for female directors of color with Queen Sugar. It flourished when I felt a certain kinship with Insecure‘s Issa and Chewing Gum‘s Tracey.
We’re experiencing a time where two entirely different, yet deeply genuine Juneteenth episodes of TV exist thanks to Black-ish and Atlanta. With the likes of Claws, Andi Mack, Master of None, Luke Cage, and the soon-to-end East Los High on Hulu, we’re finally beginning to see varied depictions of life that include people of color. My golden era of television did not arrive nor leave with the likes of Spacey or Matthew Weiner; it came when I finally felt like I had choices that recognized my humanity.
This certainly won’t feel like the case for everyone. Native and disabled folks at just about every intersection are still woefully underrepresented. Behind the camera, white creatives still dominate a majority of prominent writer’s rooms. There is still massive work to be done in order for BIPOC to feel fully incorporated and respected within Hollywood culture.
Nevertheless, even with wider visibility most of us would still have to face the way our art—whether it manages to garner trophies like Atlanta or is unbelievably devoid of Emmy recognition like the amazing Rhimes—is fairly undervalued by critics with some of the largest platforms. We are witnessing a slow, yet real shift in which stories are being told, and it is unlike anything I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. Despite this, there still exists this mourning as if it’s the end of art as we know it, which is just not true.
Lamenting the end of a show in which you’ve invested time and interest—especially under these horrific circumstances—is understandable. Citing their end as the death or darkening of innovative TV, however, erases the work of marginalized creators who have overcome a system stacked against them in order to entertain us. Television will continue to prosper as long as the door we’re kicking abusers out of remains open for artists and executives of color to enter and thrive.