Love is no longer color-coded on TV - Interraciallife.com Interracial Dating site
Post date: 2007-01-12
One of the sweetest scenes to unfold on recent television was the long-awaited reunion of Bernard, the scruffy old survivor from the tail section of the downed Lost plane, with his calm and loving wife, Rose.
Rose is black. Bernard is white.
And one of the spiciest relationships on TV right now is blossoming between feisty, attractive Grey's Anatomy doctors Cristina Yang, who is Asian, and Preston Burke, who is black.
Interracial pairings suddenly are integral to several of today's top-rated TV shows, including Grey's, Lost, My Name Is Earl and ER.
But these on-screen pairings no longer draw the kind of attention and reaction they did in the '60s and '70s. Romances between people of different colors are being handled more offhandedly, with race being neither an issue nor much of a plot point.
"Honestly, we really don't even talk about it or consider that it's an interracial couple," ER executive producer David Zabel says of characters Neela Rasgotra, who is of Indian descent, when she married Michael Gallant, who is black.
Younger people today don't see the couple as different races, he says. "They don't draw those lines. Watch MTV, and you'll see videos with all kind of people interacting."
On Grey's Anatomy, the race difference between the lovers has not been addressed. Instead, other differences have been highlighted. Sandra Oh's character is messy; Isaiah Washington's character is tidy. She's Jewish; he's not; he's spiritual; she's not.
The pairing stems from "casting whoever we thought was best for the part," says creator/executive producer Shonda Rimes.
Washington, who plays Dr. Burke, didn't want to talk about his character's romance, saying through his publicist that drawing attention to the races takes away from the fact that it's quietly and happily existing without being an issue.
His sentiment echoes that of Morgan Freeman, who said on Sunday's 60 Minutes that the whole idea of a month for black history is "ridiculous" because it separates black history from American history and is part of a labeling process that abets racism.
But does this reflect a real maturing of public opinion, or is it the view through Hollywood's rose-colored glasses?
"The reality is that interracial couples still deal with discrimination and hate," says Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-director of New Demographic, a diversity training company. "It's a positive thing that we're seeing less of a tragic element. Television models for us what we should think about people, really determines our taboos and what's acceptable. The more people see positive and normal representations, that will lessen the fear and taboo."
Although the television industry long has been accused of not casting and portraying enough actors and actresses of different races and ethnicities, Zabel says that has slowly been shifting, and ER has been a front-runner.
Mixed couples have been on at least since black Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) and white Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) were hot and heavy in the late 1990s. "This show has always tried to have a broad range of backgrounds — ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds," Zabel says.
Parminder Nagra, who plays Neela, says it would be more of an issue if ER suddenly cast an Indian man for her to love. Her story line with Gallant works, she says.
"Why wouldn't these two people get together? They're very passionate about life and each other. On a bigger level, it gives people hope." And the romance, she says, sweeps viewers away, making them forget about race.
What will come later might be a story line that addresses race through family, Zabel says. That's where a clash may come as tradition is broken, and race will play a role.
"I knew certain people would look at it and go, 'An Indian girl is going out with this black guy.' "
But what they should notice is the passion, Nagra says. "It's important to have this on screen. There are so many mixed relationships. I don't think it's portrayed enough on television."
Racism is often reflected on television through hate crimes and other violent stories, Nagra says. "We know racism exists. Let's show people getting on. Let's be positive about it."
Mixed-race romances on television have never been plentiful, as the mass medium has been fearful of alienating viewers and advertisers.
In 1957, on Alan Freed's weekly rock 'n' roll show, black singer Frankie Lymon was seen dancing with a white woman. ABC promptly canceled the show.
On Star Trek, when Lt. Uhura and Capt. Kirk kissed (against their will) in 1968, it was heralded as the first interracial smooch on television.
And when Norman Lear featured a black woman and a white man as married neighbors to 1975's The Jeffersons, it was considered groundbreaking.
In real life, the gap slowly is narrowing. According to the most recent Census, interracial marriages grew from less than 1% in 1970 to nearly 6% in 2000. And as more of the world becomes a melting pot, interracial relationships have popped up more frequently on TV as well, though often tangentially. Some examples:
• Debra Messing's Grace dated guest star Gregory Hines on Will & Grace in 2000.
• David Schwimmer's Ross character fell for Aisha Tyler's Charlie on Friends in 2003.
• Gary Dourdan's Warrick has a history with Marg Helgenberger's Catherine on CSI.
So as the TV landscape has evolved, the issue now is less of whether mixed couples are featured on top shows, but when, how and if the writers will make their race part of the story line.
As Lost's Hurley observed soon after he saw Bernard, in the show's sole comment, "So Rose's husband's white. Didn't see that one coming." Jack, annoyed, quickly changed the subject.
The producers decided that acknowledging the couple's racial differences was necessary.
"The thing we love most about Hurley is he's somehow able to say what people are saying in their living rooms just about the time people are saying it," says Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse. "We thought everyone's expectation would be for her to have a black husband. We wanted to confound everyone's expectation. Everyone would be looking for the 50-year-old black guy."
In the case of Rose and Bernard, a story line of an older black/white couple could provide an interesting back story as they coped with segregation and civil rights issues. Executive producer Damon Lindelof says, "That's something we're planning," but it won't be before next season.
L. Scott Caldwell, the actress who plays Rose on Lost, says she didn't want to see or meet her on-screen husband for the sake of the authenticity of the reunion scene, so she and the actor, Sam Anderson, took pains not to ride in the same van to and from the set and avoided having their paths cross while filming in Hawaii.
"At this point, because I didn't know that Bernard was white, I was only playing a woman whose husband was missing and what that would be like. In my mind, I was using my real husband, who is 6-foot-5 and a black man. I was playing from my own reality."
When she found out, "I wasn't shocked, but I was surprised."
Viewers "immediately responded to it," she says. "Mostly it's been positive. There have been people who say, 'What's up with that?' "
She thinks that not having any nod to it in the show's dialogue would have been unrealistic. "Because the idea of an interracial relationship still matters somewhere to somebody, it is ultimately much better to explore it than ignore it."
Hurley's remark made sense, she says, "because if you're looking at Lost as a microcosm of society, somebody in that society is going to make note of it. It would be odd if nobody did. It still is an important issue."
Anderson says, "It was perfect that Hurley said it. It was perfect that Jack ignored him."
To him, personally, fans have been positive. "People respond to the humanity of it. People don't stop me to say, 'Oh, my God, you have a black wife.' They say, 'If they didn't let you two get back together, I was going to turn off my television set forever.' That supersedes anything else."
In the NBC sitcom Earl, race is treated with irreverent humor. Earl's ex-wife, Joy, is white and has just married Darnell, who is black. She didn't want her father to find out, fearing he'd be furious. As it turns out, he loves black women — literally.
Greg Garcia, executive producer/creator, says the characters simply fit the situation. "They're calling it like they see it and talking like real people talk."