Sunday, September 17, 2000

Networks feels pressure to be politically correct

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Heightened awareness about the lack of minorities on TV has made some producers and network executives wary of how African-Americans are portrayed in this politically correct age.

        The District, in which Craig T. Nelson (Coach) plays the new police commissioner of Washington, D.C., has been criticized by some TV columnists for its premise — a Caucasian cleaning up the corruption and incompetence of the African-American police chief.

        Executive producer Denise Di Novi defended the show by saying: “that every minority character has to be perfect, and cannot be flawed, is ridiculous.”

        “You cannot ask every black actor, or every writer, to write (black) icons,” said actress Lynne Thigpen, who plays The District crime statistics expert.

        “It is time that we get to play people — and sometimes those people are flawed. That doesn't mean you can never have a Hispanic who murders someone, that everybody has to be white who murders someone,” said Ms. Thigpen, who won a Tony for An American Daughter.

        Political correctness “has put a lot of tension” on producers, writers and directors, concurred Chi McBride, who plays the high school principal on David E. Kelley's Boston Public drama for Fox.

        “If you look hard enough, you can find race issues and racism in everything,” said Mr. McBride, an African-American whose credits include The Kid with Bruce Willis, Gone in 60 Seconds with Nicolas Cage and The John Larroquette Show.

        “I know people who say: "See, I don't play pool 'cuz that's where the white ball chase the black ball off the table. So I prefer bowling, where the big black ball knock down the white pins with the red necks.'

        “I think that if we just try to be true to ourselves, and try to cast the best actor in the role — no matter what their ethnic background is — then we'll find safe ground,” Mr. McBride said.

        Political correctness also has made comedy more difficult for African-Americans, said David Alan Grier, who started in TV 10 years ago on Fox's outrageous sketch comedy, In Living Color, with Keenen Ivory Wayans, Tommy Davidson and Jamie Fox.

        “I don't even think In Living Color would ever get on the air in today's environment,” he said.

        Mr. Grier, who is black, will star this fall in NBC's DAG as a Secret Service agent assigned to a vain first lady, played by Delta Burke, who is white. Mr. Grier said he planned “to play the race card” every week.

        When a Secret Service pal gets to travel with the U.S. president to a West Coast celebrity fund-raiser, Mr. Grier's character will say: “They got me driving Miss Daisy, and you're hanging out with Hollywood movie stars!”

        Mr. Grier promised: “You will always hear these words, "It's because I'm black' ... If there's comedy that can be mined from within that area, we'll go there.”


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