It’s TV pilot season, which means the networks are loading up on new projects they’d like to pursue in hopes of finding the next hit series. Since I work in TV research, I hear pilot news on a regular basis. Every day, I hear about this actor or that actor signing on to star in this new show or that one.
Guess what? Not a single lead actor is Asian or Asian American.* Yes, I am elated that Daniel Dae Kim has found life after Lost, but he’s technically in a supporting role to Alex O’Loughlin. And there aren’t many other Asian Americans in the dozens of pilot projects currently in development: a minor role here, a minor role there. It’s the same as always.
The Hollywood Reporter recently came out with an article discussing the expansion of minorities in lead roles in TV pilots. Forest Whitaker, an African American man, is heading the Criminal Minds spinoff on CBS. Biracial actors Gugu Mbatha-Raw (South African/English) and Boris Kodjoe (German/Ghanaian) are leading NBC’s new JJ Abrams drama, Undercovers. Afro-Cuban Laz Alonso is headlining Fox’s new project, Breakout Kings. According to THR, casting for the leads in Undercovers “was done color-blind, with producers looking for the actors who best fit the characters and had the best chemistry … [E]arly breakdowns had Michael Keaton and Kiefer Sutherland as prototypes for the role on the Criminal Minds spinoff that was offered to Whitaker.”
I applaud the producers of Undercovers for being able to look beyond race, so they could cast purely based on chemistry and how the actors fit into the roles. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mbatha-Raw and Kodjoe are both gorgeous.) I’m happy for all these actors; since I am not familiar with most of them or their work, it’ll be a pleasure to see some fresh talent on the small screen next season.
I just wish that Asian American actors could take part in what looks like a breakout year not just for new actors, but actors of color.
* Is Iranian considered Asian? ABC ordered a pilot called Funny in Farsi, based on the memoir by Iranian American Firoozeh Dumas. Iran is geographically in Asia but Persians are racially Caucasian. I’ll leave this up to you guys to figure out.