With Racial Inequality Rife on the Small Screen, One Reality Show Flaunts its Diversity

Quick. Were there any black characters on “Friends,” anyone?

If so, they were background players. And not to single out a favorite comedy series, it was and is among the majority of television shows whose core Caucasian-ness is an attribute, rightly or wrongly.

 

Diversity is an issue that has long simmered on the back burner and intermittently moves to the front, as in these early days of summer that have brought a raft of criticism leveled at several showrunners for the all white-ness of their casts.

 

Specifically, Lena Dunham, whose “Girls” on HBO has been compared to the pay cabler’s vaunted “Sex and the City,” and Amy Sherman-Palladino (ABC Family’s “Bunheads”) have come under fire for being purveyors of white bread.

 

Dunham foresaw before her freshman series aired that it would be perceived as another show whose world did not include people of color. “When I get a tweet from a girl who’s like, ‘I’d love to watch the show, but I wish there were more women of color.’ You know what? I do, too, and if we have the opportunity to do a second season, I’ll address that,” she had said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

 

There is definitely going to be a second season, and Dunham followed through by reportedly adding a black cast member to her acclaimed series, although Donald Glover’s casting is apparently still unofficial.

 

Meanwhile, Palladino initially said she did not want to get into what she called a “pissing match” with “fellow” female showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who criticized her on Twitter for the lack of any people of color on the new program about young ballerinas.

 

For those of you who missed it, Sherman-Palladino, best known for creating “Gilmore Girls,” said in an interview that she didn’t have a big budget for casting, was under a great deal of time pressure to cast the pilot and that she felt unsupported by other women in the industry.

 

Read between the lines: she was referring specifically to Rhimes, after pointing out the latter’s success with multiple shows including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal.”

 

“I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from. Someone said, ‘Oh god, I hope we don’t see the eating disorder show. You won’t because I don’t give a flying f— about that,” Sherman-Palladino was quoted as saying, perhaps adding fuel to the fire but also planting her firmly on the shortlist of people in Hollywood who say what they really think.

 

The lack of diversity accusation cannot be leveled at Oxygen’s “The Glee Project,” currently in the midst of its second season. For those who haven’t caught it yet, the program features contestants vying for a seven-episode guest spot arc on Fox’s “Glee” under the tutelage of its creator, Ryan Murphy, and other mentors including casting director Robert Ulrich, choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocal producer Nikki Anders.

 

The 14 contenders, currently down to nine, are culled through intensive rounds of workshops, singing, dancing and acting-based assignments as the creative forces of “Glee,” including guest mentors like Lea Michele and Kevin McHale, make judgments on who has what it takes to be one of the next new faces on the award-winning show.

 

Many of those faces are of color. One of contestants recently eliminated, Tyler Ford, epitomized several shades of census with his ethnicity: half black, half white, Jewish and transgender, and was considered by many to be an inspiration because of his diverse background.

 

To its credit, “The Glee Project” not only spotlights ethnic diversity, but also disability, with one of this season’s contestants confined to a wheelchair and another who is blind. Another aspirant has been diagnosed with severe ADHD and low-spectral autism.

 

Each episode has a theme, ranging from the initial episode’s “Individuality” to the recent “Vulnerability,” during which Oxygen aired an anti-bullying PSA starring “Glee’s” Cory Monteith as part of an ongoing partnership with The Bully Project, an organization dedicated to ending bullying.

 

In a similar show of commitment, this reality competition show seems dedicated to busting some stereotypes and giving opportunities to people who because of their disabilities may have been shoved to the margins of society.

 

Perhaps one of its talented performers could also join the cast of “Bunheads.”

 

(“The Glee Project” airs Tuesdays on Oxygen at 10pm ET/PT)

 

 

Secrets of the Spanx: Costume Designers Know it All

It’s the one night of the year when costume designers in film and television get more glory than the actors who wear their creations in an event that has a rep for being loose and rollicking, the Costume Designers Guild Awards.

 

Actress Jane Lynch, outfitted in a stunning long red gown, ably hosted the 14th annual edition of the gala awards ceremony held Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, which was packed with well-dressed attendees.

Lynch has close ties with a double honoree of the evening, “Glee” costume designer Lou Eyrich, who was awarded with trophies for Career Achievement in Television, presented by Ryan Murphy, and for Outstanding Contemporary TV series. The actress recalled their initial encounter for the Fox show.

“The first fitting, she gave me an off-the-rack Adidas track suit. She had ripped it apart. But I am so hard to fit, she (Eyrich) just said, ‘We’re going to have to make them for you.’ Now, I have 35 custom track suits in my wardrobe closet. And you won’t rip that track suit off my body until it goes into the Smithsonian,” Lynch told the appreciative crowd. “That’s the magic of costume design.”

Eyrich reflected on her career, which began in 1988 when she was a production assistant on a music video, then worked on a movie with Prince in her native Minneapolis before beginning television costume design with the WB show “Popula r” and moving on to work with Murphy on his acclaimed FX series “Nip/Tuck” and then on to “Glee.”

“I’ve learned to handle everything with grace and a sense of humor,” she said. “Costume design is like falling off a cliff and you have actors that need to be dressed by the time you hit the ground.”

For the contemporary television series category, she competed with the costume designers from “Modern Family,” “Revenge,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

Viewing the recap reel of the year in design, it was easy to appreciate the artistry in shows ranging from “Downton Abbey” to ”Pan Am,” “Boardwalk Empire” to “the Kennedys” and films including “Hugo,” “The Help,” “The Iron Lady,” “The Descendants,” “Bridesmaids” and “Moneyball” that were showcased.

In the period/fantasy television series category, “Empire” and  ”Pan Am” competed with “Game of Thrones,” “Once upon a Time” and “The Borgias,” with John A. Dunn and Lisa Padovani taking the prize for their 1920s period costume work for the large ensemble cast of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

The awards ceremony was sponsored by Lacoste and Disaranno which each presented honors, to Kate Beckinsale and Marlene Stewart, respectively,  and studded with actors of the nominated programs as presenters, including Katey Sagal, Penelope Ann Miller, Amber Valletta and Madeleine Stowe.

But it was Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood and his long-time costume designer Deborah Hopper who stole the spotlight as they were honored for their 20 films during 28 years of collaboration.

Marcia Gay Harden introduced them, and noted Eastwood’s early contribution to the concept of his clothing in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, ”The Man With No Name.” “That iconic serape, Clint came up with that idea. Sergio not only approved the olive green poncho, that serape was never washed, never even dry cleared and with each film… it became a darker shade of olive,” she said.

Actor Ken Watanabe made a surprise appearance to honor the two as well, having worked with them on “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

Eastwood charmed the audience by noting that he never subscribed to the auteur theory of film–that he considered people on his productions a platoon and a company, with Hopper playing a key role. “I feel lucky every minute,” she said, alluding to one of his iconic movie lines of dialogue.

It was a feeling that swept through the ballroom.