Things got testy during the “Rush Hour” panel at CBS’s Television Critics Association press junket on Tuesday.
When NPR reporter Eric Deggans, a high-profile member of the National Association of Black Journalists, criticized the TV adaptation’s pilot for what he saw as perpetuating racial stereotypes, executive producer Bill Lawrence blasted the “very negative” question.
Deggans noted the criticism the “Rush Hour” movies received for their stereotypical lead characters — “the wise-cracking black guy and the Asian guy with kung-fu skills” — and said, “Watching the pilot, I see that you haven’t done much to change those archetypes. And at a time when we have shows that are really trying to have a nuanced discussion about race, these characters still feel very stereotypical to me.”
Deggans concluded: “Tell me whether you agree, what you think about that — and if you’re going to try to change these archetypes a little bit.”
The first “Rush Hour” panelist to answer was Justin Hires, who plays the Chris Tucker role from the movies. Hires stated that the character essentially reflects his own stand-up act anyway, and he doesn’t believe the result is negative or disingenuous.
Deggans then clarified his stance, comparing and contrasting the upcoming show’s pilot with the more-evolved plot of “Empire,” a show focused on minorities that is obviously much further along and in its second season. That’s when the always-outspoken Lawrence jumped in.
“You’re coming at the question from a very negative angle — it’s designed to put us on the defensive. That’s your prerogative, you’re a journalist,” he said. “The second thing is, if you’re talking about diversity on the show — I have a track record, I’m very proud of the diversity on the writing staff, I’m very proud of the diversity on the show behind the cameras, very proud of the diversity in the crew.”
“And I want to say that also not in a defensive way, because I think if you’re ever trying to prove yourself … half the battle is realizing that you can always do better with that stuff,” Lawrence added.
“Were it to play those tropes week in and week out, I think that you’d probably have a problem. Not only because it would offend people like yourself but because the audience wouldn’t respond to it,” he admitted. “I think that if we didn’t [evolve], you wouldn’t be the only one to call us on it.
“You all know that shows change after the pilot,” he concluded. “I’m pretty proud of the trajectory it does.”
“Rush Hour” debuts on March 31.