Diversity has been injected into every Hollywood conversation, and no casting or hiring stone has been left unturned. Every ear and eye is currently focused on the leaders of the entertainment world as the world awaits real change in Hollywood’s lopsided representation of the racial and gender spectrum. For any company, network or brand feeling cornered by public outcry - putting a minority in a position of power is a good fix that can also look like a quick fix.
Minorities question whether these moves are being made on merit alone, or if they are attempts to win them over. Some are of the opinion that appointing a black woman would surely silence the critics so that Hollywood can skirt through and get back to inequality as usual. It can look like a shallow way to solve a deep rooted problem, like changing the shop window display without the changing the products inside the store. There’ve been many appointments that play to this tune - appearing to step towards change but ultimately not moving forward at all. The promotion of Channing Dungey to President of ABC is not one of these appointments.
Why now, some people ask. The unfortunate consequence of being a minority at the moment is that the motivations of hires and appointments are not considered pure or seen as products of real merit and hard work. It’s so easy to see African-Americans who rise in Hollywood as the proverbial band aid on an ugly bloody wound - a view that is equally prejudiced by the way.
In all honesty, ABC needs Channing Dungey right now more than ever. Her appointment is a win for all people who give a damn about the quality of network television. ABC, whose parent company is Disney, is a network so powerful and influential we couldn’t count the households that gather around it every single day. It has a great responsibility to its audiences so it’s only fair for changes to be made when their products start losing their impact and millions of viewers.
When we watch glitzy TV show promos showing Olivia Pope in a fierce red coat, we forget the very evident fact that ABC is in crisis. Scandal has lost its must-see status and millions of women who once saw Olivia Pope as a shining example of #blackgirlmagic are left scratching their heads wondering where she went. How did a character that symbolized feminine strength become a caricatured, cliched shell? How did one of TV’s strongest women become a flip-flop? When we start playing the blame game and pointing our fingers at the creators of the show, we’re also forced to look beyond them to the offices where deals are brokered and TV show plots are approved for broadcast. These are after all the people who make the real decisions about what makes it to our screens.
Ever since Scandal’s early success, and the subsequent conversation about television’s racial spectrum, many networks began racing each other to be the fresh, new provider of a diverse offering. It wasn’t just a race to have characters of color anchoring shows - it was a race to own the media conversation and get the hype that comes with it.
ABC let the hype go to its head and forgot that people weren’t just watching Olivia Pope because she was black, they were watching because she was compelling and black. With the way things have crumbled, it’s become clear that quality factors in the loyalty of people of color.
Dungey’s appointment matters, and not because it’s an interim solution. It matters because it shows that ABC has its ears to the ground and has heard the vibrations of disgruntled viewers, who know they deserve better. She played a key role in the development of Scandal and had a hand in the incredible success of its first seasons. Her promotion is good for the Shondaland show because right now what it needs is a champion to save it. It’s important for ABC because she can put her foot down and steer the network back to its responsibility as a global influencer in entertainment. They’ve seen the crisis and have called in a qualified and capable fixer.