Writer Rahawa Haile’s new Tumblr Gilmore Blacks spotlights every black person who appears in Netflix’s massively hyped Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. One of them is a secretary who gets fired moments after she first appears on-screen, others are deep in the background of a given shot, and very few of them speak (and if they do it’s for one sentence). For each entry, Haile includes the character’s name (if any) and spoken lines (if any), as well as their purpose, which is always “endure.”
It’s a simple, effective way to make a statement, calling to mind a Tumblr that went viral last year, which featured popular films like Her and 500 Days of Summer edited down to just the lines spoken by people of color. The resulting edits were all less than a minute long, and some of them (Into the Woods; Noah) were… zero seconds.
These actors are “essentially used as props,” Haile told The Verge via Twitter DM, adding that “it’s like they reached into a jar labeled ‘Diversity,’ smeared it over the show, and hoped it would suffice.”
Haile says she started taking screenshots from the original series, which aired from 2000 to 2007, when it was added to Netflix in October 2015. She intended to make a similar Tumblr last year but never found the time. “Back then it was like a game of ‘Where’s Negro?’ It was almost laughable,” she says. But now that the bald-faced indifference to diversity has made its way from 2007 to 2016, she says it feels even more offensive: “Yes, we’ll have black faces, but we won’t write black characters.” Of Michel (Yanic Truesdale), a black supporting character who is openly gay in the new episodes only, Haile says “[his] development doesn’t excuse this kind of laziness. He isn’t some magical get out of black-and-gay jail free card. That’s not how this works.”
In 2012, the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was criticized by ABC’s reigning hit-maker Shonda Rhimes for the lack of diversity in casting on her post-Gilmore Girls project Bunheads, and responded to the question with this baffling comment:
“I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from. Someone said, ‘Oh god, I hope we don’t see another eating disorder show.’ You won’t because I don’t give a flying fuck about that.”
So it’s disappointing but not surprising that she wouldn’t care about writing diverse characters, but it’s even more disconcerting that Netflix didn’t challenge her on it. While less than perfect (see this bizarre scene from Fuller House), the service has a pretty diverse roster of original series, including The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, and Luke Cage. “It takes effort to build a diverse cast. Much more effort than it takes to build the illusion of a diverse setting,” Haile says. “Either you do it or you don’t; if you don’t, you’re asked to explain why you didn’t.” As one of the media companies purporting to spear-head a new era of creativity and inclusivity in television, Netflix definitely should have expected these questions. And the lack of well-written parts for people of color is just one of many issues with the revival, which also treats LGBTQ people, women, and immigrants terribly.
The real town that Gilmore Girls’ fictional setting is based on is less than 1 percent black, and Haile concedes, “This isn’t Brooklyn. I don’t expect some spectacularly gigantic melting pot. But I do expect historically excluded people to be treated like people and not nameless objects orbiting the realities of others.” It’s not that much to ask.