When Marvel’s @AgentsofSHIELD was announced, I was geeked, and then the cast photo came out. I immediately thought that the cast looked bland and did not inspire excitement. However, I continued to remain extremely excited by the prospects of the TV show. Then the show happened, and most critics of the show continue to complain about the regular cast. I know that two of the main characters are Asian-American, but the variation of ethnicity does not move the eye.
Reports are now coming out that Fox has a diversity initiative. Deadline’s reported that Fox, which has a genuine hit on its hands with Sleepy Hollow, which stars Nicole Beharie as Detective Abbie Mills, making her the second African-American female lead on television, and backs her up with a deep and diverse supporting cast, is now treating racial diverse as an important business metric. “Not only are you going to have more chances of a show being made here, more chances of a show being a success on TV, more chances of making it into syndication, more chances of a show selling globally and making you millions of dollars, but you are going to bring more viewers to our air and keep us in business,” Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley apparently said at a meeting with showrunners and other business figures last week.
Of note, MOAS is now receiving an audience at the same level as Sleepy Hollow. Both have seen declines in the viewership, but Sleepy Hollow has been much more steady compared to MOAS. I would offer that Sleepy Hollow is as weird and random as MOAS should be. The broadcast TV landscape is just now catching up to the fact that black audiences will watch shows that feature representations of their culture much more than those with a distinct lack of color. Scandal has been a phenomena and Real Husband of Hollywood has once again shown us that black men can be funny.
I have always held the belief that MOAS is mired in having to create distinctions in its cast not because of personality, but because their characters are bland. That blandness is not some curse of whiteness, instead its that there is no “there there”. We are reaching to connect with characters with no clear delineation between each other who then talk over each other. We also have nothing to make us say, “oh, that’s different” about this person or even their interpretation through acting, except when we have the special black guest star (see Ruth Negga, Samuel L. Jackson, J. August Richards, or Pascale Armand).
I think most people who was chomping at the bit for MOAS wanted something that they hadn’t seen before. Instead we have gotten some surprises, but mostly quibbling young white kids with white dad and an Asian mother. If Marvel’s intent was the sell this show in Asia (a great strategy by the way), then it worked, but unfortunately, it is losing ground in the US. I believe this is because they don’t reflect our American reality of diversity as it stands now. To that point, I feel that MOAS would have been more successful had they skewed more “diverse” in their casting.