Asians on TV: Do Networks Make the Grade?

Asian Pacific American Media Coalition releases latest diversity "Report Card"; Fox gets an Incomplete.

Over the last few years, we've seen some decent strides in the number of roles for Asian Americans on television. But how do the numbers actually stack up? The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) just released its most recent "Report Card" grading the four major television networks on their progress toward diversity and inclusion of Asian Americans for the 2016-17 season.

At the top of the class: ABC. On the strength of its 21 regular and 23 recurring Asian American actors in prime time television -- including an unprecedented three series featuring Asian American actors in lead roles last season -- the network scored an A-, the highest grade the Coalition has ever given in that category. ABC also led the networks in the categories of Writers/Producers, Directors and Commitment to the Diversity Initiatives, ultimately receiving an overall grade of B. (Let's skip the jokes about "The Asian F." For now.)

In contrast, CBS had 16 Asian American regulars and 22 recurring for a grade of B- in the Actors category, and only 15 Asian American Writers or Producers for a grade of C in that category. NBC had only 11 Asian American regulars and 24 recurring for a grade of C+ in the Actors category, and a total of 18 Asian American Writers or Producer for a grade of C+ in that category. Because both CBS and NBC have a significant number of programs featuring AAPI actors, writers and/or producers in Development (receiving a grade of B+ and B-, respectively, in that category), there's hope their numbers will improve in coming seasons.

Here's the report card:

Back in 2000, in response to outcry over the abysmal state of diversity on television, the four networks entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the members of the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition (consisting of the NAACP, the National Latino Media Council, American Indians in Film and Television, and the APAMC), committing them to work to increase diversity onscreen and behind the camera.

APAMC, which began assessing the networks' progress 16 years ago, notes that ABC, CBS and NBC have generally shown improvement in developing Asian American talent as actors, writers, directors and producers, particularly in recent years. I mean, let's be real: the bar was set pretty low.

"We are encouraged by the gains in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represented in various categories on three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC," says APAMC Chair Daniel M. Mayeda. "This past season and the current 2017-18 season are setting new standards for representation, although there were many missed opportunities for inclusion."

But wait, what about Fox? At the time of the report card's release, Fox had yet to provide a full report on their diversity and inclusion efforts, resulting in across-the-board grades of "Incomplete" for the network. Come on. At least show up to class. APAMC says that Fox's new diversity team has since agreed to report their numbers.

Progress is progress, and should be celebrated. Recent wins have shown that there is a market, audience, creative reward and critical acclaim available for more diverse stories and characters that reflect the reality we live in, on television, feature films and beyond. It's about more than just a head count. But why stop at traditional TV networks? Let's get cable and streaming in on this report card. It's about time we -- as creators, consumers and advocates -- demand and strive for more. It's time to raise the bar.

More here: Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) 2016-2017 Network Report Cards

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