This group is working behind the scenes to change the stories you see on TV

Of interest and importance:

ICE agents raid a big-box store, racing down the aisles to apprehend an employee. A DACA recipient who’s a doctor frets over her future. And a family separated by deportation struggles to connect on the phone.

These scenes on TV shows aren’t just quick plot twists ripped from the headlines in the age-old tradition of primetime television. They’re part of a deeper effort behind the scenes to shape new immigrant characters and storylines.
And an advocacy group known as Define American is leading the charge.
Their hope: That changing the conversations in Hollywood’s writers’ rooms will pave the way for immigration policy changes in Washington, too.
“This is long-term work,” says Jose Antonio Vargas, Define American’s founder. “This is not like, ‘How do we pass a bill next month?’ This is, ‘How do we create a culture in which we see immigrants as people deserving of dignity?’ These policies don’t make sense if we don’t see immigrants as people.”
Vargas knows the power of TV to shape stories and change minds. After revealing he was an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 New York Times magazine piece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist became a high-profile advocate and filmmaker whose documentaries appeared on MTV and CNN.
When he first arrived in the United States from the Philippines in the 1990s, Vargas says that he — like many immigrants — got to know his new home by watching TV.
“When we get to this country, our most effective teacher is the television screen. … The way that I talk is because of all the TV and all the popular culture that I consumed,” he says. “For me, the most effective way of becoming American was being exposed to the media.”
Now the organization he founded is flipping that idea on its head.
So far, Vargas says, Define American has consulted on 75 film and TV projects across 22 networks.
The organization says stories it’s shaped have appeared on NBC’s “Superstore,” ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” OWN’s “Queen Sugar” and CW’s “Roswell, New Mexico.” And they hope the list will grow.
Just as “Frasier,” “The Golden Girls” and “Will ​& Grace” helped him learn about American slang and society, Vargas says a new generation of TV shows can be a bridge, too — this time helping Americans better understand immigrants’ stories.

The view from inside the writers’ room

The first time she spoke with writers from “Superstore,” Elizabeth Grizzle Voorhees felt like she had to break some difficult news.
A season into the NBC sitcom, which portrays life for workers inside a big-box store, the writers had taken the plot ​arc of one prominent character in a direction they hadn’t anticipated when the show began: Mateo, who’s gay, fiercely competitive and proud of his Filipino heritage, discovered he was undocumented.
And the show’s writers were trying to sort out what to do next.
“They had a ton of questions,” says Voorhees, a former reality TV showrunner who’s now Define American’s ​chief strategy officer. Their top concern: “How do we get him citizenship?”
That day, she says, Define American’s team explained that the writers’ top question may be impossible to answer for Mateo, just as it is for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“That it might not be possible to resolve that storyline within a season, within a few episodes, or even within multiple seasons,” Voorhees says.
“I wouldn’t want to tell a story where say, Mateo does find this funny way that totally works and makes him a citizen. And none of that is true. I don’t think it’s good for society that we’re spreading a wrong message,” says Spitzer, now an executive producer of the show.
“I think as a viewer, if I’m watching something and even one time, I see them say something is possible that I know is impossible, that show has largely lost me.”
Instead, he says, Define American’s guidance — along with insights from immigration lawyers and even someone who worked at ICE — helped the writers shape stories rooted in reality.
Define American would bring panels of undocumented immigrants into the writers’ room, he says, sparking ideas for entire episodes with each conversation.
“It became this amazing resource for us. … Organizations like this are great. They can answer questions, but by just sitting around and talking, we can come up with stories we never even dreamed of before,” he says.
One example: an episode in the show’s second season when Mateo, desperate for a solution to his immigration woes, tries to get people in the store to assault him so he can be eligible for a visa for crime victims.
​The sixth season of “Superstore” is set to premiere on NBC later this month. Mateo still isn’t a citizen.

Awareness is growing

Today’s TV landscape is dotted with immigrant storylines.
“The Transplant” on NBC features a Syrian doctor who flees his war-torn country and starts over as a medical resident. Shows streaming on Netflix like “Never Have I Ever” and “Kim’s Convenience” portray immigrant parents with comedy and heart. “One Day at a Time,” scheduled to start airing this month on CBS, features Rita Moreno as the immigrant matriarch of a Cuban-American family. On Cinemax, “Warrior” tells tales of Chinese immigrant life in 19th-century San Francisco.
Popular shows that recently ended their run, like “Orange is the New Black” or “Jane the Virgin,” were lauded for the immigrant storylines they incorporated into their final seasons.
And these days, conversations about race and representation once relegated to obscurity are playing a far more prominent role. Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee recently grilled experts about diversity in Hollywood.
“There is greater awareness than we’ve probably ever seen before. … People are interested in telling diverse stories. They’re interested in telling stories that haven’t been told before that really can hit home,” Voorhees says.
But shows with more nuanced portrayals of immigrants like “Superstore,” “One Day at a Time” or “Warrior” still aren’t the norm, says Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.”
“We’re not telling good immigrant stories. … There’s groups that we are just not talking about because of our stereotypes of who the undocumented immigrants are,” she says.

How immigrants on TV differ from reality

That’s something Define American’s leaders say they’ve found in their research as well.
In a study released last month with the Norman Lear Center’s ​Media Impact Project at the University of Southern California, researchers found notable gaps between reality and the ways immigrant stories are portrayed in TV shows.
Their analysis of 129 immigrant characters in 59 scripted shows from the 2018-2019 TV season found that half the immigrant characters on TV were Latinx, a figure roughly in line with reality. But they also found that proportionally, Middle Eastern immigrants were over-represented on television, making up around 10% of the immigrant characters on TV while comprising just 4% of the US immigrant population. About 12% of immigrants on TV are Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants, but that group is estimated to make up about 26% of the US immigrant population.
And that season, the study found there were no undocumented Black immigrants on television, even though it’s estimated there are around 600,000 living in the United States.
“The storyline right now, in the last couple years, in the minds of Hollywood — and I think the larger United States — is that undocumented immigrants equals Latinx,” Yuen says. “The reality is there are also Asian and African undocumented migrants who are also vulnerable and need advocacy.”
Correcting imbalances like these, Vargas says, is something Define American tries to do in its work.
“We need different stories,” Vargas says, “so that we can get to a point where the narrative has been created that this is an issue that impacts all races and ethnicities.”
And that, he says, could have an impact far beyond the screen where any show is streaming.

Why the shows we see matter

Do the shows we watch on TV influence what we do in real life?
For Vargas and others at Define American, that’s a key question.
And they say a recent survey they conducted as part of their study revealed promising findings.
“What about people who have no contact with immigrants whatsoever?” Sarah Lowe, Define American’s head of research asked at a recent event presenting the study to writers in Hollywood. “Our findings show that your work can actually make a difference to those people, too.
“Just like the impact that ‘Will & Grace’ had with the LGBT movement, for regular viewers of ‘Superstore,’ Mateo feels like their friend. They feel like they know him, even if they don’t know any other immigrants in their daily life.”
And the study found that the “Superstore” viewers who felt that sense of friendship with Mateo, but had little or no real-life contact with immigrants, were more likely to support an increase in immigrants coming to the U.S.
For Vargas, Define American’s recent analysis of the “Superstore” character’s impact sends an important message.
“The images we see in media are often immigrants crying, immigrants sad, immigrants tragic, as if we have this veil of tragedy all around us, when in reality, the study showed, when you actually present an immigrant in a three-dimensional way as a person, people are moved to action, to tell another friend, to post something on social media,” he says.
And that’s a big reason Define American will keep pushing behind the scenes.

Source: This group is working behind the scenes to change the stories you see on TV

La diversité dans l’angle mort du milieu littéraire québécois: Dawson

Valid commentary and critique by Nicholas Dawson. My sense is that English Canada has better representation of immigrant and visible minority writers:

Pendant le Salon du livre de Québec, la revue Les Libraires a invité dix auteurs à constituer « la bibliothèque idéale », exercice fort amusant dont l’intention était d’encourager des lectures diverses. Toutefois, parmi ces dix « invités de marque », aucun n’était racisé, comme quoi la diversité ethnique demeure un angle mort important dans le milieu littéraire québécois.

Ce type d’omission se reproduit régulièrement. Pour souligner leur dixième anniversaire, les éditions Héliotrope, qui publient des auteurs de grand talent et qui privilégient les voix plurielles (dont celle des femmes et des personnes queer), ont publié sur Facebook une mosaïque de photos présentant les visages tous blancs de ces « voix singulières ». On retrouve la même homogénéité parmi les finalistes des catégories roman, poésie et hors Québec du Prix des libraires, dont le jury n’est également composé que de personnes blanches. L’an dernier, ce même prix n’a été décerné qu’à des femmes, ce dont on doit absolument se réjouir, mais aussi toutes blanches. Il y a quelques visages non blancs parmi les « 100 poètes québécois » recensés par la revue Les Libraires pour la Journée mondiale de la poésie, mais ils se comptent sur les doigts d’une seule main.

Ce ne sont que quelques exemples parmi une pléthore de listes d’auteurs blancs qu’on dresse dans des palmarès, recommandations et recensements, parfois célébrant une « diversité » du paysage littéraire québécois qu’on limite souvent à la parité entre hommes et femmes. Devant ces omissions répétées, j’ai pourtant eu l’instinct de me taire. C’est que je suis un jeune auteur québécois d’origine chilienne, actif dans le milieu mais qui n’a publié qu’un seul livre, avec un deuxième en cours de publication. C’est mon milieu ; on pourrait facilement me reprocher de « prêcher pour ma paroisse », de me faire du « capital symbolique sur le dos des minorités », voire de « jouer la victime ». Ces arguments visent à dépolitiser l’enjeu, l’individualiser, comme si une personne racisée qui crie au racisme ne parlait, au final, que pour son propre intérêt. Pourtant, dans un si petit milieu, certes ouvert d’esprit et sensible, mais où tout le monde se connaît et où les contacts sont légion, de telles démagogies sont efficaces.

Oser prendre la parole

Bref, il y a un problème de représentativité ethnique dans notre milieu littéraire québécois ; les maisons d’édition, les revues, les journaux, les enseignants et les institutions semblent encore relayer la responsabilité aux personnes racisées qui, peu nombreuses et isolées, risquent gros quand elles osent prendre la parole.

[…]. L’enjeu étant très peu soulevé par des gens en position de pouvoir dans ce milieu, les personnes non blanches se retrouvent seules à jouer le rôle de la police ethnique, comme si l’enjeu ne leur appartenait qu’à elles. Pourtant, il s’agit d’un problème qui concerne tout le monde. Célébrer et encourager la diversité ethnique dans la production artistique nationale, c’est non seulement représenter tous les groupes qui constituent notre société, mais surtout contribuer à réduire l’hégémonie des voix majoritaires en permettant aux voix minorisées de les influencer. Pour ce faire, la sous-représentation des personnes non blanches doit être décriée par tous, sans quoi la voix minoritaire, qu’elle soit littéraire ou révoltée, demeure un chuchotement affectant peu les autorités blanches qui ont le beau jeu de garder le silence.

Pour ce faire, il faut d’abord se responsabiliser en reconnaissant ses angles morts, premier pas primordial dont parlent Martine Delvaux et Carole David dans un magnifique article qu’elles ont rédigé pour la revue À bâbord à la suite d’une conférence « autour d’une table ronde sur les femmes et la littérature », événement qui a reçu des critiques parce que les invitées étaient blanches. Une fois cet angle mort reconnu, les personnes en position de pouvoir possèdent les outils pour affronter les questions difficiles : pourquoi les personnes non blanches envoient-elles moins de manuscrits ? Pourquoi sont-elles si peu nombreuses à étudier ou à enseigner la littérature ? Qu’est-ce que les institutions peuvent faire de plus pour, d’une part, attirer les personnes non blanches à prendre part à la production littéraire québécoise et, d’autre part, pour mieux s’adapter aux réalités des minorités dont les langues, les structures et les pratiques ne correspondent pas toujours aux codes dominants ?

Pour répondre à ces questions, je fais donc appel à ces personnes en position d’autorité — éditeurs, journalistes, enseignants — pour qu’elles écoutent d’abord les voix minorisées qui soulignent ce problème blanc auquel plusieurs semblent aveugles. Mais surtout, j’appelle à ce que ces personnes blanches reconnaissent leur hégémonie pour qu’elles cessent de « porter le visage de l’innocence », comme le disent si bien Delvaux et David. Ainsi, en prenant part au débat, elles contribueront à faire de notre milieu littéraire ce qu’il devrait être : un espace de discussion, autoréflexif et politique, qui n’abandonne pas dans des angles morts les personnes minorisées.

Source: La diversité dans l’angle mort du milieu littéraire québécois | Le Devoir

The Worst Kind Of Groundhog Day: Let’s Talk (Again) About Diversity In Publishing

Lack of diversity in the recommended summer reading lists by the major US publications:

Another day, another all-white list of recommended reading. This year’s New York Times summer reading list, compiled annually by Times literary critic Janet Maslin, offered up zero books by non-white authors. Gawker’s Jason Parham marveled that the list has achieved “peak caucasity” while Divya Guha and staff at Quartz offered an alternate reading list comprised of Indian writers.

And that’s what’s so frustrating about this list; this summer brings so many excellent books from writers of color, many of whom are very well known and have enthusiastic audiences — Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Loving Day by Mat Johnson, In the Country by Mia Alvar, Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet, The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson, Only the Strong by Jabari Asim, Lovers on All Saint’s Day by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Re: Jane by Patricia Park, Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, and others — that it requires magical thinking to avoid an uncharitable reading of the NYT’s picks.

It is worth noting that the Times’s recommended summer readings lists in 2012, 2013, and 2014 were similarly lacking in diversity. To be sure, they’re not alone. NPR also published a monochromatic reading list recently. “We are not implying that this list is comprehensive,” says Cara Tallo, senior supervising producer for Morning Edition, which ran a story featuring that list. In a response emailed to NPR, the New York Times also stressed that their list was not meant to be comprehensive. “While our selection reflects the summer releases offered by book publishers, we will be more alert to diversity among authors in the future,” says communications director Danielle Rhodes Ha.

No list can be comprehensive, but when we see alabaster roundups year after year, it warrants some scrutiny.

It’s one thing if a media brand deliberately targets segmented audiences. The Root publishes reading lists of all, or mostly, African-American writers. Jezebel does the same with female ones. But those sites make it clear that they’re not trying to talk to everyone. Big, national, general interest news brands like NPR and the NYT say they are. If these sites truly want — and, increasingly, need — readers of all colors and all backgrounds to tune in, monochromatic content is working against them. The message we get is, “We don’t see you. We don’t need you.”

This isn’t a logistical issue, a problem of critics not including diverse authors because they simply don’t know about them. I put together the above list of books in five minutes in a hotel room. Had I been home with the collection of galleys I’ve recently received, the list would have been twice as long and composed in half that time. And I assure you, I’m not the only one getting these galleys. The arts, entertainment, and books desks at every major publication and outlet are flooded with them, and an entire ecosystem of critics, producers, and editors is involved in compiling and signing off on these lists. Narrow reading is a less passive activity than some will claim.

As a writer and critic, I am not just bored with this conversation. I am sick of it. I have written these sentences before. I will write them again. Discussing diversity in publishing is the worst kind of Groundhog Day. What’s more, these lists put writers and readers of color in a deeply awkward position. We don’t want to take anything away from the writers who have been included on the list. I am currently reading Don Winslow’s The Cartel and I never want to put the book down. It is thoroughly immersive, finely detailed and the action has me breathless.

The problem is and has always been the exclusion of writers of color and other marginalized writers who have to push aside their own work and fight for inclusion, over and over and over again. We beg for scraps from a table we’re not invited to sit at. We are forced to defend our excellence because no one else will.

The Worst Kind Of Groundhog Day: Let’s Talk (Again) About Diversity In Publishing : Code Switch : NPR.