By: Twitter Buttons

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Back to Black...*(and White TV)*

Here's an issue which slightly bothers me...the lack of ethnic representation on TV. And by this, I mean characters that my friends, my family and myself can identify with. Ok, we see black people in Eastenders: Gus - the dustbin man, Paul Trueman - the gangster, Denise Fox - the single parent, Chelsea - the crackhead...a pattern forming anyone?? However, I do give credit where it is due, I have taken to the Masood family and feel that the inclusion of cultural themes such as Ramadan is a great move by Eastenders. But for the rest of television, (not everything, because there are some real gems out there) stereotypes seem to play a major role when it comes to casting, scripts, and story lines.

When Gus left Eastenders, I heard the actor Muhammed George discussing his departure during an interview on Choice FM. I recall him saying that Eastenders' bosses had apologised, saying that they didn't know how to write for him, that they were unsure of how to write for an ethnic character. Did I miss something? Am I an alien from another planet? Let's think of some of the best soap storylines that have gone by...Ok, let's settle for good because its been hard times in soap land lately. Coronation Street - Carla-Liam-Maria love triangle. Eastenders - Max-Bradley-Stacey. Hollyoaks -Niall vs McQueens. Emmerdale......anyone watch Emmerdale?? Ok moving on. My point is, couldn't those story lines be acted out by black, Chinese and/or South Asian characters? I think that some productions focus too much on the differences between races and cultures and due to lack of knowledge about certain communities revert to unfair stereotypes when really they should acknowledge that as PEOPLE, we all encounter the same situations from time to time.

At the moment, there is nothing out there which reflects my struggles, no young black female that I can relate to. While I agree that programmes like The Bill do reflect the situations which SOME are going through, I cannot see 'myself' looking back at me from the screen. Maybe it's me, maybe I lead a sheltered life, maybe they are reflecting a majority experience that I am naive to. All I know is that I live in South East London, in a large black community, I have never smoked weed or taken crack, I have never had a gun or knife pulled on me (thank God) I do not have a baby, I do not have a drug dealer boyfriend, I have not dropped out of school and have not been forced into an arranged marriage with Uncle Kojo from Agogo village....yet.

However, what I and many people I know have experienced as a young person living in Urban London is what most young people go through - finding a good man and other relationship issues (tell me about it), dealing with traditional African parents, managing friendships, adapting to the professional world of work. The subject is the same but there are just slight cultural inflections – nothing that should be so difficult for a television producer to recreate. Are theses subjects boring, less sensationalist than the stereotype? Possibly. But in a country with a lack of understanding or respect for other cultures and each other, the message that these stereotypes are pushing out there is just detrimental to society as a whole. For someone whose only experience with Asians are the stereotypical story lines they see on the TV, can you imagine the impact on the perception and understanding of people from that community?

I guess my point is that there is little variety to the representations out there. With white characters you have a mixture of good and evil, on the right side of the law and on the wrong side of the law, doing well in life and not doing so well. You have variety. I am not denying that issues like arranged marriages, "black on black" crime and single parenthood exists in ethnic communities but when this is the only thing we see, then TV must be doing more damage than good.

Noel Clarke, holla at me, we can do business.



  1. Great post Shanti. I've always wondered where black representation was going to come from. In order for ethnic minorities to prosper in this market it has to start from the backrooms. By that I mean writers, producers and directors. If you look at all the shows involving predominantly black people in the UK, the majority have been written by a white person (The Crouches...poor!). Not to say that this cant be done but such is the segregation of culture (supposedly) they arent able to represent black people in the right light; they can only go by what they see of us in the media which is unfortunately on the news and crimewatch. Once they start hiring writers then you will see more quality programming. Dont worry Im working on it lol.

    lol Uncle Kojo

  2. Thanks for your comments. Yep, I've been reading your Jane and Julian episodes so make it happen!

  3. Hi Shanti, my stereotypical black friend who's on crack (not)

    I think you have some very valid comments here due to lack of ethical representation and the so-called "steroetypes" of ethnic minorities when they are on our screens. I don't know when the last time I saw an oriental family on our screens (although there was that oriental trashy girl in Eastenders a while ago, anyone remember her?!).

    BUT here's a little something to get everyone thinking. Let's put aside the number of ethnics on TV (for now).

    Question: how many WHITE people do you know that can really relate to their white counterparts on TV?

    I bet the answer is not many! Out of all the characters in Eastenders, only Bradley has a "City" job. The others appear to have no kitchen (always eating in the cafe), no washing machine (washing their clothes at the launderette) and no sense of moral (sleeping with your son's girlfriend, various love trianges etc)- how many white people do you know that are really engaged with such activities illustrated in soaps? Well none of my white friends are as trashy as these characters anyway.

    The point is, soaps are crap, they are fictional and are an exaggerated view on life. They're not meant to reflect real life (well I hope not anyway).

    What we need is generally better TV programmes which portray all races in a true light and yes we do need to see more ethnic minorities on screen because there ain't enough of us!

    Your oriental sister who owns a Chinese take-out (NOT) xx

  4. Ha ha, Special fried rice please!
    This is so relevant as I watched that High School Musical-like programme on ITV last week- Britannia High. Their black character (BB), his back-story is that he lives on a council estate and is from a single parent family. Last week, his brother got shot. And here we go again.

    I think that TV producers need to avoid taking the easy route when creating characters. If you don't know, get to know! Conduct research, go out and find out what is important to black, Asian and other cultures instead of just repeating the same patterns we've seen time and time again. Yes, as Broadband says, the issue lies with the people in the creative seats - directors, scriptwriters etc, but attending an ethnic media summit not too long ago, I saw that the lack of ethnic individuals in these positions is another blog all together!

    In the meantime, Broadband and other directors, scriptwriters, is your call to action. Get busy.

  5. Really interesting post, and its the same thing I complain about.
    I study Media and Television and have lerned a few of the reason why they use stereotypes, however this was mainly for comedy purposes.
    For example "Love Thy Neighbour"- the typical ignorant narrow-minded white nieghbour and the educated black man, who played up to the stereotypes to wind his neighbour up...these kind of shows were supposed to educate the nation into knowing that many of the stereotypes of blck people in the 1970's were wrong.

    So it is slightly disappointiong when the BBC, who may I add has a public service remit to "educate, entertain and inform" are not living up to their own standards. And quite frankly you're right, any of the characters portrayed do not have any real substance in relation to "realism"..but as Mets said, soap operas are just exaggerated cheap entertainment.
    What we really need is more well made, thought-through programmes on television.

    I feel you on this one though sister, kudos to you!



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