Diversity in Hollywood has been a hot topic for the last two years since #OscarsSoWhite became a social media hashtag. We’ve been talking a lot about roles in front of and behind the camera on primetime television and in film, but how are soap operas doing when it comes to diversity?
The answer is surprising considering that daytime TV broke many of the barriers when it came to formerly taboo topics from AIDS to abortion and mental health to cancer. In fact, Days of Our Lives gave fans a look at an interracial romance back in the mid-1970s.
Forty years later, the storylines of gay and transgender issues might be at the forefront of some shows, but diversity is sorely lacking in the four remaining series. While black people are best represented on the soaps, it’s harder to find Latinos, Asians or Indians playing any roles on America’s iconic dramas.
Recently, former Young and the Restless star Victoria Rowell ended her court case against Sony Pictures Television and DOOL producers for what she believed was retaliation for her activism in promoting diversity in daytime television. She settled her case and most likely has a nondisclosure agreement, but she spoke freely while the case was being tried.
“Here in Hollywood, I have long championed diversity, not only for African-Americans, but for all minorities, for gender bias, etc.,” Rowell said to Oprah: Where Are They Now in October 2016. “I want to see hiring practice changes. I want to see the inclusion of more stories that show full breadth and depth of our stories across the board.”
Some fans dismissed her argument as sour grapes after Y&R didn’t welcome her back after she left the show of her own accord. In taking a closer look at the rosters provided on the networks’ show websites, viewers may want to listen to what Rowell has to say because it feels like soaps are starting to fall behind instead of leading the way with diversity.
Here’s a look at each show, according to publicly accessed cast lists, as well as the networks' respective press sites:
The Bold and the Beautiful has had an incredible groundbreaking storyline with Karla Mosley portraying a transgender woman who is involved in a biracial romance. The CBS show has done well with focusing on her black family’s struggles and triumphs with her journey. The cast has won numerous GLAAD Media Awards for their portrayal of a sensitive topic.
In terms of diversity, the soap lists 20 cast members with only five actors of color and one biracial actor. They do not have any Asians or Latinos on the show.
The companion show to B&B fares along similar lines in 2017, with only three actors of color and one actor who identifies as mixed race on their players' roster. There are no Asians or Latinos in the main cast.
This is in stark contrast to the 1980s and 1990s, when black actors were featured in prominent storylines on Y&R. In a March 2015 Atlantic article, writer Aaron Foley discussed his memories of the CBS soap.
“[A] big reason Y&R was beloved in my family was its black characters, who flourished in the '80s and '90s: They began as background figures, but slowly evolved into pillars of their fictional community,” he wrote.
Foley also noted that fans are seeing less diversity when it comes to black people in soap operas.
“Black soap actors have rarely won mainstream recognition for their portrayals, and many of their characters’ storylines are lost to history as the genre's popularity continues to wane among viewers,” he concluded.
This touches upon the exact topic Rowell was aiming at in her lawsuit. She was a part of Y&R’s star cast in the 1990s.
General Hospital’s cast website features better numbers than the other soaps. There are several featured performers who aren't listed on the website, but play an integral part of the storyline, including Donnell Turner and Anthony Montgomery. There aren’t any Asian or Indian actors included in GH’s promotional materials.
While series like GH may offer diverse casting when it comes to day players or bit parts, it’s clear that the producers are failing to represent the true makeup of the United States.
DOOL showcases a few biracial actors in the cast, including Christopher Sean, who is Japanese on his mother's side. He is the only representation of an Asian actor in a major role on a soap.
Cuban-American actress Camila Banus also has a prominent storyline with her character, Gabi Hernandez. The show has six actors with major roles who are either of color or biracial.
Finding Latino or Asian actors is rare, but it’s almost impossible to find an Indian actor in the mix. With the rise of Aziz Ansari, Priyanka Chopra and Mindy Kaling in primetime TV, it’s shocking to discover that daytime television has not followed suit.
With paltry numbers like these, it's time for soaps to step back into leading the way for diversity. It doesn't matter that the shows are no longer in their heyday, daytime TV and the viewers deserve better.
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