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Deadline is super sorry about that “plague of ethnic actors” story

The cast of Fresh Off The Boat
The cast of Fresh Off The Boat

In the Twitterverse, one man’s raging controversy is another man’s tempest in a tea kettle. But there was a rare near-consensus in the case of Deadline’s controversial story about purported racial casting trends, written by the Hollywood trade publication’s co-editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva. Andreeva explored the idea that because of the television industry’s hasty, enthusiastic embrace of actors of color following an uptick in successful shows starring them, networks have shut white actors out of 2015 pilot opportunities.

The response was swift and brutal, with the likes of Shonda Rhimes, Dan Harmon, and Billy Eichner lambasting Andreeva for phrases like “ethnic actors” and “foreigners with that ‘sparkle.’” Oh, also there was the issue of the entire premise of the article, which basically posits that actors such as Wesley Snipes, Anika Noni Rose, and Rockmond Dunbar are being cast in roles they don’t necessarily deserve to fulfill a racial quota.

After four days without comment, Mike Fleming Jr., Deadline’s other co-editor-in-chief, has responded with an apology. Its impact is blunted, however, by its placement within Fleming’s column with Variety’s Roger Bart, which makes it sound like, “Yeah, so we kind of reinforced the institutional biases that have marginalized non-white actors for decades, nbd.” Here’s what Fleming actually said:

The only appropriate way to view racial diversity in casting is to see it as a wonderful thing, and to hope that Hollywood continues to make room for people of color. The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.

According to Fleming’s apology, the story was up for 12 hours before he woke up to “rightfully incensed” emails from readers and sources alike. Rather than scrap the piece entirely, Fleming says the Deadline team decided to take a lesson from disgraced Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal and take the punishment rather than backtrack, though the editors did soften the headline. As for Andreeva:

Nellie is trained in the sciences and used those sensibilities to analyze a data sample; the word “ethnic” is commonly used by casting agents. None of that works when talking about people, and race. Our writers, and editors, can be so focused on the trees they sometimes forget to look at the forest, or in this case, the readers who are much more than statistics.

There’s an alternate explanation: Hollywood has a nepotistic, network-driven culture that incubates, then normalizes deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes against performers of color. Hollywood trade publications source their stories using the people who—whether they agree with it or not—maintain that status quo as part of their daily job duties. After years inside the Hollywood bubble, the language that fuels that culture (phrases like “foreigners with that sparkle”) stops sounding horrible and racist and starts sounding like something a source said at work, not unlike similar sentiments heard everyday. Andreeva’s story isn’t really a case of tone-deafness in that it accurately captures the tone of Hollywood; it merely exposed that tone, to which Deadline’s editors have become accustomed, to the mortified public-at-large. Like the Pascal debacle and an Oscar voter’s awful, anonymous comments about the Selma cast’s show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the Deadline story serves as a potent reminder that despite George Clooney’s insistence, Hollywood is as racist as anywhere else.

The sad part is that while Andreeva and Deadline have been deservedly chastened, the anonymously quoted casting agents in her story have not. That means there are still Hollywood agents on the phone like, “Heard you went with Wesley Snipes for NBC’s Endgame. Seriously? I have two words for you: Dolph Lundgren. Ring a bell? Of course not, because you’re too afraid to cast a capable WHITE PERSON.”


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