GLAAD study looks at TV character diversity


The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has produced its 16th annual breakdown of projected primetime broadcast television casting, and has found that it does not match up with reality. GLAAD does note that while there is still room for improvement, things have gotten better in some cases.

GLAAD said that nevertheless the fictional people populating the five broadcast networks it studied – ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC – are not exactly a mirror image of the US population.

Women make up more than half of the US population, for example, but hold only 43% of the 647 series regular roles projected for the broadcast season that is just now starting up.

The distribution of ethnicity has a ways to go still as well. 78% of the casts will be White, with 10% Black, 6% Hispanic, 4% Asian/Pacific and 2% in the Other catch-all. That compares to real life totals of 72% White, 13% Black, 16% Hispanic (which may not be a direct comparison), and 5% Asian/Pacific.

GLAAD’s constituency, the LGBT community, has 2.9% of the series regular roles, and although there is no definitive census of LGBTs, GLAAD sats this is lower than many of the estimates that are in circulation.
Union AFTRA highlighted a relatively new category tracked in the GLAAD survey – persons with disabilities. It noted that only five of the 647 regular roles featured such characters.

AFTRA provided a list: “As of this count, three of the five series regular primetime characters with disabilities scheduled to appear in the upcoming season are on the Fox network: the title character on ‘House’ uses a cane, Artie Abrams on ‘Glee’ uses a wheelchair, and Maw Maw on ‘Raising Hope’ has Alzheimer’s disease. On NBC, young Max Braverman on ‘Parenthood’ (NBC) has Asperger syndrome and Dr. Albert Robbins on ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’ (CBS) uses prosthetic legs. The study shows that neither ABC nor The CW feature any series regular characters with a disability this season.”

AFTRA would like to see more roles going to actual actors who are working while also dealing with a special challenge. It said the only actor known to be doing so is Robert David Hall, who portrays Dr. Robbins on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Christine Bruno, who is co-chair of the Tri-Union Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People With Disabilities (I AM PWD) campaign of Actors’ Equity Association, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and Screen Actors Guild, said, “There is no substitute for the lived experience of disability. It is not a technical skill that can be easily turned on and off. Disabled actors bring with them a lifetime of unique experiences that allow them to present authentic, nuanced portrayals that add not only to the rich, diverse fabric of our country, but create a greater understanding about the society in which we live.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Compared to the television we saw when we were children, the diversity situation is vastly better at the moment. We’re all for keeping track and continually striving to improve, but we can also take some satisfaction in the long road we have travelled to get to where we are.

The biggest exception is clearly the percentage of Hispanic characters woven into casts, but we would speculate that it may have something to do with the relatively recent explosion of the Hispanic population in the US generally. We would expect this number to increase at a more rapid rate than other minority groups with a longer history, particularly if Hollywood keeps an eye on reports such as this and makes a conscious effort to tailor its casting practices to ever-shifting new realities.