Merits and tokens

I occasionally hear people complain about lack of diversity in casting.

And then I hear other people say, “Well, it’s about their talent, not their race,” which is bullshit when there are lots of working actors of all races, sizes, genders, and abilities and yet so many shows still follow a format of “A bunch of white cisgendered actors and a token minority or two” or “A mix of men and women but only the men get agency.”

I occasionally AM the one complaining about lack of diversity in casting, because I’m a mutt and a minority in several directions. As a person with a “funny ethnic name” I should be cast as a programmer or a stuck-up scientist, as a half-Asian I should DEFINITELY be a programmer or maybe engineer, as a lesbian I should be a butch punchline or a male porn fantasy, and as a woman I should be a smooth, flat surface for the men to bounce their dialogue off of. ‘K.

And then I see a rerun of “Friends” or “The Big Bang Theory” or “Two and a Half Men” and I’m so, so disappointed because it’s basically the Adventures of White Guys and their Non-White Guy Friends but reality is not like that.

Which is why I’m so happy there are shows like “Grimm” around.

The main character, Nick, is a white guy. However, he’s completely helpless when his supernatural abilities manifest UNTIL his aunt and mother come to his aid. The Grimm powers are inherited through the mothers, and they have all the knowledge he needs. So it starts with powerful women.

Nick’s partner, Hank, is a black guy. And not a token. He’s treated as the indispensible person that a partner is in a procedural cop show.

Nick’s best friend, Monroe, is a vegan feminist wolfman who wears sweater vests and plays with model trains. He’s another white guy, but not a macho stereotype. He’s emotional and doesn’t apologise for it.

Nick’s boss, Renard, is a European prince played by an Israeli guy. He’s complicated and has really nice muscles, if you like that sort of thing.

Then there’s Wu, another cop, who has struggled with his sanity for a while, and now he’s properly part of the Grimm gang after he saw an Asian Wesen species called an Aswang. Wu’s character is Asian, and he is played by a Filipino-American actor.

So far we have: three white guys, a black guy and an Asian guy.

Now the women. They’re white, all of them, BUT. There are FOUR OF THEM.

Four main female characters, all of whom have agency, all of whom carry huge chunks of the story.

They’re independent. They have their own agendas. Adalind wants her powers back. Then she wants her baby back. She’ll do whatever or whoever it takes to get that.

Juliette – I can’t say much without giving you spoilers for season 4. She’s prone to saying that she was happier before all the Wesen stuff. She has her own thing going on.

Rosalee is the Willow of this little Scooby gang. She’s a recovering addict, she’s also an excellent potion maker. She could do just fine without Monroe, but given the choice, she chooses Monroe despite the cultural taboos of a mixed-Wesen marriage.

Trubel(Theresa Rubel) is the new kid. She’s young, frightened and has new powers to master. Her name is an incredibly bad pun but we love her anyway. She’s still figuring herself out. She bonds with Juliette, but who knows how that’s going to pan out?

Maybe the ensemble format lends itself better to getting a good mix of people. Or maybe the people doing the casting are paying more attention these days.

Whatever the reason, this cast is a great example of diversity that feels natural and real. Nobody’s a token here. And nobody is immune – there are NO Mary Sues here. Everyone goes through something, and everyone evolves from their experiences.

ALSO – I don’t have an exact tally because I haven’t seen all the seasons, but “Longmire” is another show that has a great mix. There are a lot of Native American actors in this show, and the main character, Walt Longmire, is written as sort of the white alien who has to earn the trust of the people he’s responsible for protecting. It’s really good.


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