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Racebending chats with the cast of “Community”

May 18, 2012

Tonight NBC aired the season three finale of Community, so we’re happy to share our brief interviews with some of the folks behind the show!

At the WonderCon 2012 press line, Racebending.com managed to squeeze in a few questions to the creator and some of the actors of NBC’s show Community. The cast and creators were in good spirits that day and the room was packed! Community had just returned to TV, and it’s mid-season premiere had delivered NBC’s highest non-sports ratings in its time slot in the past 14 months. Not only was the show up 38% from it’s season average, it also scored a 2.2/7 rating in the 18 to 49 demographic.

with Gillian Jacobs, who plays Britta Perry

RACEBENDING.COM: I was excited to see the 2.2 rating. Finally!

GILLIAN JACOBS: We beat American Idol in certain demographics!

RACEBENDING.COM: I think I read somewhere that Community was the “highest rated comedy!” So, we have one question. Community takes characters that could easily become stereotypes and really fleshes them out. What would you like to see other studios do to create more roles like Britta?

GILIIAN JACOBS: Oh, wow. Well, I think it’d really great when a character gets to be both principled, and selfish. I think her hypocrisy is what makes her really fun, because you know, two things can kind of exist simultaneously. So more, complex, funny, and messed up people!

With Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Shirley Bennett

RACEBENDING:I wanted to congratulate you on the ratings. It’s incredible!

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN:Thank you, dear.

RACEBENDING: So I just wanted to ask one question…

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN: Okay!

RACEBENDING:…which is, Community takes characters that could easily become stereotypical and really fleshes them out so they are in no way that. I wanted to ask you as an actor of color, what would you like to see other studios do to bring on more roles like Shirley?

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN: I’d like them just to cast some black people. I don’t know why… Can they cast some black folk? I mean, I know that that’s simplistic. But I do think that it would be great if every show would represent the world. There’s Asians, there’s Native Americans, there’s black people, there’s Latinas–there’s more than just white people in the world. If you’re gonna do a show in a metropolitan area like New York, you need to have some color. Pick your color, it doesn’t matter, just put some color. I think more people of color, all the races that are underrepresented need to be more on television,period.

RACEBENDING.COM: Do you think that Community‘s success will help kind of push that forward?

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN: No, sadly. I think that it’s a step in the right direction, but I really feel like until we have more people of color in the upper levels of management. Because people tend to pick shows that they’re familiar with, people they’re familiar with. So if you’re–and it’s no harm, no foul, I’m not disparaging them–but if I’m a black person I will put black people on TV. If I’m Asian, I’ll put [Asian people on TV] because I want to see myself. Exactly. So if everybody that’s making the decisions is one race, then there’s a chance that every show you see
will be one race. And they’ll pepper somebody in there at the last minute to kinda make it look like there’s color, but I need you to start with color and pepper in some white. Let’s try that! Is that wrong? I don’t know.

RACEBENDING.COM: No, no, it’s legit! Do you think there is anything that we can do as fans to help kind of push things forward?

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN: I think it’s gonna happen the way its supposed to happen. If you see a character of color, whatever their race, and you like them, write to the network and go, “I really love seeing that Latina on this show. She’s really funny. You know, that Asian guy is really hilarious,” or “He made me cry in the scene in the hospital, I’d love to see more of him.” And then they’ll go, “Oh, you’re not bothered by him being Asian? Maybe I’ll bring another Asian in.”

But if we just take it, if we don’t speak up, they’ll think everything is okay, and everything is not okay. I have so many friends that are other races who are ridiculously talented and they have not worked in years. So it’s not enough just for me to have a job. I want everybody to work, so we need more people of color on television.

RACEBENDING: Thank you so much.

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN: I’m sorry,that was one question, it’s just…

RACEBENDING: No, it’s okay!

YVETTE NICOLE BROWN: …don’t talk to me about diversity! I lose it!

with Ken Jeong, who plays Ben Chang

RACEBENDING: We’re with Racebending.com, so we advocate for more opportunities for actors of color, including Asian American actors. So I wanted to ask you, what can fans do to advocate for more diversity, more shows like Community, and more characters like Chang.

KEN JEONG: Just get out there. And, you know, to do the best you can in committing to the business as deep and as solid as possible. It’s just like anything else. It’s a combination of a lot of things involved: persistence, luck, hard work. I’m very proud to be an Asian American working in this business, and very proud of the Asian community. I am very honored to be working, as an Asian actor.

with Dan Harmon, the creator of Community

RACEBENDING: What really strikes me about Community, because we are so into advocating for diversity–our website, Racebending.com–is this…

DAN HARMON: Race bending?

RACEBENDING: Yes!

DAN HARMON: It sounds so violent!

RACEBENDING: We protested The Last Airbender movie, so I don’t know! We’ve really seen how hard you’ve had to put not just to have characters of color on your show, but to put in the Dungeons and Dragons episode and really just to make your show what it is–one where when you turn on the TV, you don’t know what genre you’ll get, but you know it will be a great episode. So what I wanted to ask was, what can audiences do to support your work? To make it easier for you so when you go advocate to the studio.

DAN HARMON: They can do exactly what they have been doing, which is to be scary. Like, present themselves…when you don’t have numbers, you can by psychologically terrifying. Every network executive has been briefed on the concept of bad PR coming from small-but-vocal people making a big stinkaroo. So it is not a cure all, it’s not like “Keeping a Show on the Air 101,” it doesn’t work a hundred percent of the time. But it is the best you can do.

You tell your friends to watch the show, because even if they don’t have Neilsen boxes, somebody does, and for better or worse that is how we still measure things right now. That’s how a show continues to survive. Somehow, that worked this time. You saw that Joel McHale (Jeff Winger) went out there and busted his ass being all over every form of media saying, “Community, Community, Community.” NBC put ads up for our show. Nobody can do that but NBC. But the fans were all over the place. I am going to assume that what they were doing was telling, emailing all their friends and saying, “Here is the Hulu link, get caught up on the show that I won’t shut up about. Please.”

And put as a disclaimer in your email, “Look, I know you don’t like being told what to do, but think of all of the things people told you to watch that you resisted, because you don’t like being told what to watch, and then you finally watched it and felt like a big dumbass.” That was me with X-Files, that was me with Breaking Bad, that was me with Downton Abbey, almost everything–all my favorite stuff. I always spend two seasons folding my arms going “don’t tell me what to do! I’m smart! I watched an episode of it, it wasn’t that good. I’m smart!” Yes, you are smart. Tell all of your smart friends that they can still be smart and watch this show. We promise.

RACEBENDING: Thank you!

Interviews conducted by Marissa Lee. Photos by Michael Le

Categories: blog, Current Diversity Highlights, Featured, Interviews

About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Johnny Rico

    What, no Chevy Chase? :(

  • Brandi

    Love this show!