English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: diversity

Chillin out, Relaxin all cool: FotB

Fresh off the Boat is a show about assimilation, about the ‘American Dream’ and everything in between. The first episode of season 2 helps to frame a story of a family that has had a small slice of the ‘American Dream’, and used it to become middle class, and enjoy one of the sweetest bittersweet tastes of that very lifestyle… vacation.

Usually I find it hard to relate to the challenges depicted in Fresh off the Boat, but when the Huangs go on vacation, I felt a real connection. Coming from the middle class myself, I understand what it was like to live well enough, but not well enough to truly experience the ability to get whatever and, just like the Huangs, vacation was the only experience in which I and so many others could feel like kings.

This ability to connect with viewers, even if those very same viewers don’t share similar life experiences is a key factor in any good sitcom, this is usually done through the environment and characters, familiar faces (many of which are not people of color) provided a viewer-base with a superficial bond with the characters.

A picture into the classic sitcom cast, diversity NOT being a requirement.

The ability for more modern sitcoms to relate with viewers while not providing a superficial connection due to color and origin is a special trait. This brings me back to Fresh off the Boat, a show about an Asian family integrating into the American middle class, and its ability to make themselves as American as any of their viewers, while still maintaining their identity (while being a little under-the-radar).

While i’m not saying that shows such as The Brady Bunch are bad, I actually think they are quite good, I am saying that they were clearly taking the safe route. I have talked before about the commonality between all American sitcoms, even poking at Fresh off the Boat for their safe lighting and design choices, but I would like to take the time to thank the modern sitcom.

Thank you for expanding our cast identity, backgrounds, colors and genders, America as a cultural, TV-watching, unit could always do with at least a little diversity filled vacation.

Diversity on Screen

When I was trying to figure out what to write about for this blog post, I honestly was stumped. I have a hard time looking past the surface entertainment of a television show and seeing the deeper topics and ideas that these expose audiences to. So it got me thinking about what makes Supergirl so important? Is it because it’s a part of the comic book world and has a huge fan base. Is it the feminist plot lines, and how it shows the strength and talent that can be found in many types of women? Maybe, but the main thing that stuck out to me was what the show is doing for the LGBTQ community.

Alex Danvers played by Chyler Leigh

In the middle of season two, Alex Danvers came out as lesbian which was a huge deal for many fans of the show. Normally, audiences don’t see these kinds of stories in comic book and superhero television because of the traditional target audience of these types of shows, but this show has really been helping to bring both gender and sexual diversity to mainstream television. Because of it, Supergirl has had a very positive impact, and Alex’s story of acceptance and growth has resonated with so many viewers. Actress Chyler Leigh who portrays Alex has even shared some of the many responses that she has had because of this. “Fans in their thirties and forties have told her that watching her helped them ‘put the pieces of the puzzle together,’ to the extent that Alex’s dialogue has given them a model of what to say and expect in their own coming out.” What’s even more amazing is that Leigh is using her platform to not only bring diversity to the television screen, but also to help build a community and support system around the fans of this character.

In addition to this, it was announced earlier this year that Supergirl would introduce its first ever transgender character to the show in the upcoming fourth season. This comes at a time when transgender actors and actresses are not really receiving as much recognition as they deserve, and they are having to fight to get acting jobs. Because of shows like Supergirl, we have started to see much more gender and sexual diversity on screen. It will only continue to get better as they keep on creating that space and supporting the actors and actresses as they work towards creating a more diverse and accepting television landscape.


Works Cited



A Friendship Between Two Broads

Broad City is objectively a unique comedy series, especially under the category of female-centered television shows. The uniqueness of the show stems from a variety of characteristics, but the show’s most defined characteristic is its implementation and representation of gender throughout each episode. Yes, Broad City is centered on the lives of two female millennial city-dwellers, Abbi and Ilana, but the show is much more than that.

Generally, the show includes a wide spread of gender throughout each episode, notably through male side characters as well as gender-fluid characters (RuPaul’s cameo in Season 4). Also, the show intersects gender with many other representational axes such as race, class, and sexual orientation. Ilana’s friend with benefits, Lincoln, is black, and her roommate is a gay Hispanic man named Jaime. Also, Ilana herself does engage sexually with both men and women, so the millennial, open-minded, unbiased representation of characters definitely shines through. Despite all these characteristics, the show does place a predominant focus on the women of the show, specifically the two female leads in Abbi and Ilana. The inclusion of the peripheral characters is mainly to bolster Abbi and Ilana’s story-lines, and the intent of the show is to portray a unique and non-stereotypical female experience.

Cast of Broad City, (left to right), Lincoln, Ilana, Jaime, Abbi

With the premiere episode of Season 4, titled “Sliding Doors,” the viewers are exposed to a more direct development of gender representation, particularly in the basis of female friendships. The opening episode is about the crazy story of how Abbi and Ilana met as young adults in New York. Ilana witnessed Abbi struggling to get into the subway, so she helped Abbi by swiping her in. However, they both missed the train, so they were basically stuck together. Although they met by chance, Abbi and Ilana do not take that for granted, and it was ultimately their decision to develop this new friendship. Television shows usually depict women as competitive or opposites of one another, and female friendships tend to be more one-sided. Broad City shatters this stereotype, however, by blossoming the friendship between Abbi and Ilana in a more authentic way in the Season 4 premiere. Abbi and Ilana recognize each other’s quirks upon first meeting, and they are willing to mutually interact and help each other out. For example, they both enjoy lighting one up from time to time, and their sense of humor plays off each other. This embracing of each other’s personality emulates a sense of relatability with the viewers that is otherwise lacking in other TV shows.

When Abbi and Ilana first met (“Sliding Doors”)

Therefore, the basis of female friendships plays into the representation of gender in Broad City because it helps to portray women in a different light. Without the stereotypes of envy and competitiveness being shown, female friendships like Abbi’s and Ilana’s are strong, embracing, and supportive of each other no matter what, making Broad City a much more refreshing show.  

Don’t forget. Everyone is a person.

Sense 8 is a television show that is known for its diverse cast and filming locations. This is done very intentionally. I mean, it would be significantly easier and have taken a lot less money to have the same concept shot only in one country or with one type of people. Yet, that is not what they did. The show is founded upon the idea of human interconnection. Eight people from eight different cities across the globe all come together because they have been ‘reborn’-a term used in the show which entails that ability to see and feel from other people’s bodies.

Throughout the show the viewer watches these eight individuals find the extent of their new abilities while learning about each person and their struggles. Overwhelmingly, all of the people are very open-minded and empathetic to each other. There is no hatred or discrimination amongst the group of eight. Is this because they are all sharing this common connection and the struggles that come with it? or Is there a greater message to be seen from the interactions between characters? In episode 5, Capheus and Sun share a moment where they have a conversation on some steps in the street of Seoul, Korea. During the conversation, it is obvious that they share very similar family struggles and end up helping each other cope.

You may be wondering- how on earth can these people realistically communicate? Yes, in everyday life language barriers are very troublesome. Many times they allow people to distance themselves from other large groups of people and their respective cultures. Nevertheless, after being reborn, the group of 8 share such a strong and immediate connection such that they posses the language skills of all the other characters. Not only do they possess their languages, but, done right, they can posses other’s skills as well. Overall, the theme that I have been building up to here is that beyond languages and cultures, everyone is a person and we are more alike than many want to admit.

-sierra villarreal

#2: “Orange is the New Black” Implies There Was Black Before…

I doubt there is any show with as diverse a cast as Orange is the New Black. You get an award-winning trans actress. Groups of genuinely Dominican and Puerto Rican actresses (as opposed to the typical white stand-ins). And many women who are genuinely lesbian outside of the characters they may play on the show.

But yet, the diversity pretty much ends there.

After season four came out in 2016, many people were shocked at the lack of black writers for the show, especially given that the end of the season has a clear reference to the Black Lives Matter movement (or so I accidentally spoiled for myself in researching the writing team for this blog, ugh) that is supposedly handled insensitively. In fact, there are no black writers of any gender, nor any Latina writers, despite the large number of Latina actresses in the show.

The writing crew for “Orange is the New Black”

All is not entirely lost. The lead producer, Sara Hess, is a Korean-American, and the head showrunner, Jenji Kohan, is a Jewish American whose grandfather was a Romanian immigrant. Yet Kohan – who graduated from Columbia University – is not exactly the representative of the average American and especially not one that is residing in the custody of the judicial system, nor someone who regularly faces the injustices of American society.

Kohan got her start writing episodes for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to mild success and eventually went on to work as head showrunner for Weeds, a show about a mother who sells marijuana to help keep her family afloat. Both Weeds and Orange is the New Black feature strong suburban female leads struggling to deal with illegal issues and their consequences and stay strong through these ordeals. But Kohan recognizes that these are not real-life situations that she has been confronted with: “I can shoot off my big mouth and write my shows and run my shows, and I can recognize how lucky I am because my position is rare and my position is privileged.”

And while the show follows the backbone of the memoir written by Piper Kerman and aims at accuracy in portraying Piper’s – the main character’s – experiences in prison, not every issue that is tackled is handled correctly, and there are some heavy topics that come up. This stems mainly from a lack of diversity of background in the writers’ room. Regardless of the talent of a white writer, she has significantly less experience with institutionalized racism than a black writer, and she can therefore write less accurately or empathetically about it. The same can be said for many of the issues facing America today – without hearing the voices of those who live with the reality every day, we are not hearing the correct story.

And we all want to hear the correct story, to understand the characters as deeply as possible. Even the theme song reminds us, with a group of diverse faces flashing on the screen, to do so.

MLA Citations:

  • Aran, Isha. “Go Ahead, Guess How Many Black Writers Work on ‘Orange Is the New Black’.” Splinter, Splinternews.com, 24 July 2017, splinternews.com/go-ahead-guess-how-many-black-writers-work-on-orange-1793857745. Accessed 10 September 2018.
  • “Jenji Kohan | TV Guide.” TVGuide.com, TV Guide, www.tvguide.com/celebrities/jenji-kohan/bio/194196/. Accessed 10 September 2018.
  • Morelli, Lauren. “While Writing for ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ I Realized I Am Gay.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 21 May 2014, mic.com/articles/89727/while-writing-for-orange-is-the-new-black-i-realized-i-am-gay#.ZOfJRCFm5. Accessed 10 September 2018.
  • Reign, April. “Orange Is the New Black, But Where Are the Black Writers? Essence.” Essence.com, Essence.com, 24 June 2016, www.essence.com/entertainment/orange-new-black-except-its-writers/. Accessed 10 September 2018.
  • Shipley, Diane. “When Good TV Turns Bad: How Weeds Made a Right Hash of Things.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/apr/30/when-good-tv-turns-bad-weeds. Accessed 10 September 2018.

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