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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Netflix should learn that ABC’s Scandal is not a “black show”

    You know what can be hard? Finding something to watch on Netflix after you round out that last and sixth season of “Parks and Recreation” for the second time. I like to think that Netflix has a fairly capable predicting database based on previous views, but I have recently observed that it is woefully negligent and ignorant when you choose to watch a show with a — gasp — black lead actor.

    One example that comes to mind is “Scandal.” The show, starring Kerry Washington in the lead role of Olivia Pope, legal gladiator and classy mistress to the president, is basically billed as a black show by the site’s logarithm.

    The top recommendations for those who enjoy the show? “The Boondocks,” “Peeples,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” some Madea movies and the BET staple, “The Game.” In breaking these connections down, the common threads start strong and then drift apart to being hardly there at all.

    Washington plays the main character in both “Scandal” and “Peeples,” so that’s not totally insane. The other suggestions, though, are woefully and enthusiastically dissimilar.

    “Parks and Recreation,” on the other hand, is a lovely show with predominantly white characters and a few people of color sprinkled into the background as if the network was trying to treat itself to some diversity. Thanks Donna and Tommy Tom. The top recommendation after finishing “Parks and Recreation”? “The Office.” Much like “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office” is a professional comedy and mockumentary featuring a white lead character surrounded by some other white supporting characters. And, you know, a few people of color in the background. I still love you, Kelly Kapoor.

    None of this is surprising, though, because American media and American consumers have accepted that mainstream television or film production is the equivalent of white productions. With the whitewashing of Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” — there might be white Egyptians, but Christian Bale is translucent — and the contrary revamp of “Annie” with Quvenzhané Wallis being hailed as revolutionary, noting that Washington is both black and the main character of “Scandal” seems like just enough to label it as black television.

    Which brings us to the broad assumptions Netflix makes about the shows that people watch. It’s ironic that I’m saying this, but usually generalizations are bad. It is bad to generalize that people who watch “Scandal” — a vastly white show that happens to be anchored by a black actress — will also like shows that are almost caricatures — hey, “The Boondocks” — of black culture or Tyler Perry mass productions.

    Shows starring people of color, then, are being — and historically have been — viewed not as the integrations of pop culture they could be, but instead as fetishizations and rehashings of stereotypes. In this muddying of media, Netflix is complicit.

    This kind of sorting by color is the lazy work of a culture that can’t be bothered to recognize race. As one of my favorite people on twitter, @thetruds, pointed out: “I saw another black woman around, similar content!”


    Nick Havey is a junior studying physiology and Spanish. Follow him on Twitter.

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