This Monday, ABC Family debuted its much-ballyhooed ballet dramedy, Bunheads. The show is the latest offering from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. If you watched the latter show, you know that it didn’t exactly have a colorful supporting cast. There was one Afro-Frenchman, a Korean best friend and her family, and one or two other racially ambiguous tertiary characters or extras.
Bunheads, like Gilmore Girls, is set in a very small town filled with the kinds of eccentrics you only find in such a concentrated volume on television shows. But most notably absent are actors of color–even shop-owners, even party guests, even one lone girl in the six-student ballet class.
Because of Palladino’s runaway success with Gilmore Girls, ads for Bunheads have been plastered around for at least two months now. In each one, the absence of any non-whites at all was pretty glaring. As we’ve seen in the endless debate over the lack of diversity in HBO’s Girls. This kind of thing doesn’t fly under the radar in 2012. But this time, the voices of dissent aren’t just those of potential viewers.
On the evening the show first aired, TV series hitmaker Shonda Rhimes tweeted:
“Hey @ abcfbunheads: really? You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?”
Rhimes made her name at ABC Family’s parent company, where her long-running Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and the now-defunct Off the Map have all been lauded for their multicultural casting. Each of her shows has also been set in cities or professional environments where diversity might be expected.
Palladino, on the other hand, works mainly in kitschy, land-that-time-forgot towns that wouldn’t necessarily attract, invite, or welcome diversity. In this way, her casting is more realistically rendered than, say, the casting of Friends, which took place in New York City and only featured a handful of minorities.
It’s commendable for Rhimes to take a colleague to task for ignoring diversity, but is it so egregious an exclusion in this case, given the setting where Bunheads takes place? And is there any reason for her to feel conflicted if her young daughter decides to watch?