Monday, January 31, 2011

Victoria's Restless For Soap Diversity

I had the pleasure of meeting Victoria Rowell during my airline days and watching her on one of my fave soap the Young And The Restless.

Now in conjunction with the Urban League's Marc Morial and Dr. Cornel West,  Rowell is working tirelessly on a mission to fight the decline in diversity in the daytime television world in front of and behind the cameras.

She played Drucilla Winters on the most watched soap amongst African-American viewers, but is distressed about what she calls 'Soap Opera Apartheid'

The author of Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva was getting major pushback from people in that world as well.

“I was proactive around closing the chasm at the lack of diversity behind the lens as well in front of the lens. There is tremendous pushback behind the lens not to bring me back,“ Rowell said during an interview back in August .  “Because I will put in play what has now disappeared. In 38 years, there has never been one Black writer, producer or director and it goes on and on. We have no Black hair or makeup [person].”

She's got a point.  Currently General Hospital's Michele Val Jean and One Life to Live's Aida Croal are the only African American writers in daytime television.  Note they are both with ABC soaps.

Y&R , CBS and its parent company Sony of course denied the soap opera apartheid exists and defensively pointed to the five African descended actors and the characters they play on the show.   But Kristoff St. John, Darius McCrary, Tonya Lee Williams, Tatyana Ali and Julia Pace Mitchell are on so infrequently if you blink you'll miss them.  

I got so tired of not seeing them on a regular basis I quit watching the show and started watching All My Children again since they brought Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan back in 2008 and have more African-American characters on it again with meaningful storylines .

Rowell's campaign has begun to get results in the face of growing pissivity over the situation with African American soap opera fans, increased media attention and escalating boycott threats.  The Young and the Restless hired their first African-American writer in the history of the show in Susan Dansby.  

The veteran soap writer was given a six week deal that will start in February.  Rowell and the Urban League are pushing for that to be extended far longer than that considering Dansby's distinguished track record in the soap world.

But as Victoria said in the upcoming February 1 Soap Opera Digest issue that she will be the cover girl for:  

"I do not enjoy having to change lines to create an authenticity for the black family."

Nor should she have to.  

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