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Deadline’s Too-Much-Diversity Article: Journalists Weigh In On Why It Hit a Nerve

”The emerging American community is now more Latino, black and gay — is that represented in TV? Not even close,“ cultural journalist Jose Antonio Vargas tells TheWrap

After a TV season that has heralded shows with ethnic casts such as “Empire”and “Black-ish,” Deadline’s article on Tuesday  saying television casting has become too ethnically diverse sparked a passionate response from the media experts and Hollywood insiders.

Journalists and pundits who tweeted with words like “shock,” “disgust,” “disappointment” and “incredulity,” told TheWrap that the article caused such a strong reaction because it exposed problems deep in the Hollywood establishment.

“This column really does give you a concrete version of the worst case scenario regarding conversations going on about diversity in Hollywood,” Daniel Fienberg, executive editor and TV writer for HitFix told TheWrap. “What made it even more disappointing is that it came at the end of a TV season where diversity was the saving grace for several networks,” he said.

The Deadline article suggested that after years of too-few roles for actors of color in Hollywood, “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction,” and stated that casting agents had signaled that “there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors,” quoting one representative as saying that 50 percent of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic.

“ABC would be having a dismal year if not for diversity, Fox would have had a dismal year if not for ‘Empire’ coming along. It should have been a time of celebration and learning positive lessons,” said Fienberg.

Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of the media and culture organization Define American and the editor of #EmergingUS, said the piece, which was written by Nellie Andreeva “represented how tone deaf and out of touch that side of Hollywood is.

“From the moment it was published, everyone called bullshit on it,” he added. “The way Hollywood feels about race is still black and white, in a country that is actually very Latino and Asian. This article was from an insider in Hollywood  and there was a collective reaction from people across the Internet — both white people and people of color went crazy,” he said, describing the article as “hurtful and disruptive.”

As an immigrant who moved to the U.S. in 1993, “my vision of America was molded by the films and TV shows that I watched. You had to be white to be on television,” said Vargas. “The emerging American community is now more Latino, black and gay — is that represented in TV and movies? Not even close.”

Media and race expert Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, said he disagrees with Deadline’s premise that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction in terms of ethnic castings, and compared it to the 1970s and ’80s. “Then we had a white backlash against the civil rights gains of the 1960s, ” he told TheWrap. “I think we’re experiencing a similar backlash today where the small gains we’re seeing in the pilot process are being met with resistance from those who are perfectly OK with the status quo.”

Shonda Rhimes was one of the first notable names who blasted the article when it was published Tuesday, tweeting: “1st Reaction:: HELL NO. Lemme take off my earrings, somebody hold my purse! 2nd Reaction: Article is so ignorant I can’t even be bothered.

However, cultural critic and writer Luvvie Ajayi said that even before the “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” creator took a stand there was backlash and the piece was “lambasted on a grand scale. But then she [Rhimes] definitely gave it legs because people who didn’t know about it saw her tweet.”

While the story marked a dark day for Deadline, there are positive repercussions, said Ajayi, as it will open up a bigger conversation. “The article doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are many people that feel like she [Andreeva] did — she was just the one to voice it.

“I think people are going to double down and make sure we are represented. I think it will be a motivating factor and push us forward to continue to be seen,” Ajayi told TheWrap.

Fienberg agreed that “there are important things coming out of this that are more important than the horrible story itself. I think the reaction has been a great thing, because if you look out there on the Internet you will find dozens of wonderfully written responses to what was a bad article.

“It would be negligent for the TV networks not to learn positive lessons from the success of “Empire,” “How to Get Away With Murder” or “Fresh Off the Boat,” he said. “There’s money in this!”

Nellie Andreeva did not immediately respond to TheWrap‘s request for comment.

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