New York City has been branded a ‘melting pot’ of ethnicities, and is home to almost every ethnic group on the face of the planet. However, this diversity does not correspond with the casting of the most iconic television shows set in the Big Apple. According to the city’s 2010 census, 33.3% of the population was White, while the Black, Hispanic and Asian populations were at 22.8%, 28.6% and 12.6% respectively. This is not surprising at all – especially when taking into account that New York City welcomed many immigrants crossing the Atlantic Ocean throughout the 19th and 20th Century with open arms. However, this ethnic variety is entirely erased from many of the TV shows we have come to love.
Some of the most famous shows set in New York City include Friends, Seinfeld, Gossip Girl and Sex and the City, and these shows do not have any African-American, Hispanic or Asian characters in their main cast. Although there is thorough representation for the extensive Jewish community in the city, this is unfortunately where the ethnic diversity ends. More recently, Lena Dunham’s Girls, set in Brooklyn, has been receiving backlash due to its erasure of the multi-ethnic make-up of Brooklyn from its main and recurring casts. In the last 20 years, New York City’s minority communities have been developing rapidly, but this is not mirrored in the casts that have headed the shows from that time.
Additionally, this lack of representation is an issue that has only been thoroughly discussed as of late. Earlier this year, Saturday Night Live, a late night comedy show set in New York City, added their fourth African-American female cast member in its near 40 year existence. The introduction of actress Sasheer Zamata to the cast not only generated praise for the show, but also opened up dialogue as to why ethnic diversity was so scarce on Saturday Night Live in the first place. The lack of diversity on Girls was a topic of discussion on a recent panel for the show’s third season, on which Dunham commented: “We need to talk about diversifying the world of television. We are trying to continue to do it in ways that are genuine, natural, intelligent, but we heard all of that and really felt it deeply.”Dunham thus added an African-American actor to the third season of Girls as a response to the show’s homogenous casting.
Although casting directors are finally taking heed with regards to the ethnicities of their casts, by adding ethnic minority actors and actresses to television shows, nowhere near enough is being done. In a place like New York City, an entirely White cast is not representative of the realities at hand – the actual lives of real New Yorkers. Therefore this should not be acceptable in the fictional NYC we are shown on television. Ethnic diversity is one of New York City’s redeeming qualities, and should be an asset that is represented in all media coming out of the city.