It’s no secret that American history has a very distinct hierarchy. At least in regards to anyone who’s different than the “norm”, i.e. people who are young, white, straight, rich, and able. So, understandably, it reflects in both television and film. But over the past decade or so, things have changed. The industry’s not only acknowledged American racism but many have fought against the stereotypes that society has created. Here’s how.
If you haven’t at least heard of this show, you must be living under a rock. Empire premiered at the beginning of 2015 and it’s continued to succeed since. The cast’s made up of primarily African-American actors which is unfortunately rare in show business, that is up until last year. The show follows the dysfunctional Lyon family in their efforts in trying to run a multi-million dollar company. The show, now in its third season, also features incredible original music. All performed by not only the main cast but also guest stars like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Sierra McClain, and many more. Empire successfully tackles issues dealing with race, mental illness, homophobia, relationships, and multiple other problems.
Fresh Off the Boat (2015-)
Asian-Americans have proven in past decades as one of the least represented ethnic groups on television. Even though there are millions of Asians living in the U.S. But, Fresh Off the Boat breaks the mold in the best way. Set in the ’90s, the show follows the Huang family. Specifically, their struggles with fitting into a predominately white Orlando, Florida. It successfully showcases authentic Chinese culture without scrutinizing it with stereotypes. And it’s all done through humor.
This show centers around the DiMeo family and the challenges of raising a son with special needs. JJ DiMeo, played by Micah Fowler, has cerebral palsy like Fowler which showcases someone with disabilities. Unfortunately, however, it’s a rarity on television. The best part’s the fact that JJ isn’t any different than any other teenager. Therefore, he goes through the same teenage problems as everyone else in addition to issues due to his disability.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (2016)
The People v. O.J Simpson is arguably one of the biggest television events of the year. The show’s based on the book, “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson”, and it’s incredibly addicting. They reveal the blatant race issues in society, specifically towards African-Americans, at the time. All expertly done through the telling of the O.J Simpson’s trial that took place in 1994. It’s not until their 5th episode titled “The Race Card” when the show tackles race issues head-on with all its complexities. Although the show’s gears towards O.J being guilty, O.J’s legal team, known as “The Dream Team”, points out problems between African-Americans and the police and uses it to their advantage.
Master of None (2015-)
The premise of the show’s as simple as any other sitcom. It centers around the personal and professional life of a 30-year-old actor in New York. But it’s turned into a show that deals with a multitude of cultural topics ranging from race to gender to religion. The second episode titled, “Parents”, demonstrates the sacrifices, hopes, and fears of Dev and Brian’s parents from India and Taiwan. All done respectfully without offending them, might I add. Dev’s parents on the show are shown as Muslim but it’s done so nonchalantly, which combats against stereotypes that America’s unintentionally created for Middle-Eastern Islamic people.
Just looking at the promotional poster for it, you can see why I’ve included this show in this list. The show is a retelling of both the 1990 movie and 1997 television show, both titled, La Femme Nikita. It’s Maggie Q at the forefront, who, if you don’t know, is mixed with both Vietnamese and Irish. While the rest of the main cast are all white, Nikita’s (Maggie Q’s character) is the imperfect heroine of the story, fighting against the evil secret government agency, Division. Usually, the ethnic character plays the villain but it’s reversed in this show. The big bads of the show are both white and Xander Berkeley and Melinda Clarke play their parts beautifully.
This is Us (2016-)
This show’s proven successful not only in numbers but also by all critics alike. Premiering only in late September, it’s already racked up a Critics Choice Television Award, an African-American Film Critics Association Award, and an AFI Award. Also, it’s been nominated for many more like three Golden Globe Awards, an American Cinema Editors Aware, an Image Award, and many more. This is Us centers around a family, which seems like a simple premise but it’s effective simply because the characters are human. This show contributes to the diversity seen on TV by showcasing Randall’s family, who are all African-American.
Switched at Birth (2011-2017)
Before watching this show, I didn’t know anything about deaf culture. The plot’s interesting enough on its own but the twist is that one of them is deaf. With that comes a big learning curve to the other family when it comes to deaf culture. And more likely than not, it’s bringing it to American households like mine who don’t know anything about it. Additionally, they talk about other controversial issues in American society.
Now on their second season, Quantico follows Alex Parrish as a young FBI recruit training at the Virginia base when one of them is suspected of being a terrorist. The series features a beautifully diverse cast including Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, Aunjanue Ellis, Yasmine Al Massri, and many more.
Jane the Virgin (2014-)
Jane the Virgin started as a show that follows Jane’s life as a pregnant virgin. Yes, a pregnant virgin, accidentally inseminated when she’d initially come in for her first routine pap smear. The father turns out to be the rich and handsome, Rafael. The show features a predominantly Latino cast that follows a traditional telenovela format and has proven to be popular among audiences.
If you haven’t heard of this Golden-Globe-winning show, it’s about an African-American family struggling to find their sense of cultural identity in a primarily white neighborhood. The show stars the hilarious Anthony Anderson and the queen that is Tracee Ellis Ross. It doesn’t just deliver comedic timing but it also talks about racial issues facing African-Americans in society today.