With the recent success of the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign, the topic of diversity in film and media has been discussed more than ever. Viewers are hungry for minority representation in mainstream culture, and they want to see it done well. Diversity in film not only makes for more interesting storytelling, but gives people of color a chance to see and engage with their cultures onscreen.
This week, I'm counting down my top 10 favorite mainstream TV shows that feature a minority leading cast. This list is all based on my personal opinion, so feel free to disagree, but I encourage you to keep an open mind. Who knows, maybe you'll find a new favorite show or connect with a character who understands what you're going through.
10. "The Boondocks"
I debated putting this one on the list because of its graphic content and animated style, but in the end this show is just too good not to mention. The "Adult Swim" series is at its core about a black family surrounded by white suburbia and the alienation, stereotypes, and social class stigma that comes with it. The best aspect of this show is really the character of 'Grandad," who serves as a catalyst of Black History, having marched in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. King and flown with the Tuskegee Airman in World War II. The biting social commentary is great too; it doesn't pull any punches. If you can handle the heavy language, violence and nudity, it's definitely worth your time. Seasons 1-4 are on Netflix.
In 2014, I was thrilled to hear that Laurence Fishburne (one of my favorite actors) would be starring in an ABC sitcom about an African-American family struggling to find their identity in modern American culture. The show plays on the idea that African-Americans are expected to 'act black," synonymous with 'acting ghetto' and 'thug." The show has been praised for being relatable and it's no surprise why. Though a lot of the episodes can be a bit bland with filler writing, the cast has great chemistry and the episodes that really dig into social justice issues are handled well and sympathetically. Catch it for free on Hulu or on ABC's website.
8. "Orange is the New Black"
You might be surprised to see this critically-acclaimed dramedy placed so far up on the list, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of the minorities who are featured on this show have been typecast. The Latinas are imprisoned for immigration related issues, the African-Americans are in for drug pushing or gang violence. But what the show suffers for (in my opinion) lazy stereotyping, the actresses have made up for by using their new fame as a platform to address bigger issues. Actress Diane Guerrero, who plays Maritza, has spoken up about how her parents' deportation affected her childhood and has openly challenged immigration laws. Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, has been a big supporter of body positivity and natural hair. The show is good in its own, but what the actresses are doing off screen is just as interesting as what's onscreen. Full disclosure: this show contains heavy sexual content, violence, and drug use. You can view all three seasons on Netflix.
It is amazing to see how much justified popularity and support this show has gotten. Sometimes you watch popular shows and wonder why they're so beloved, but not with "Empire." You know exactly why people love this show: the acting is great, the writing is clever, the drama is HOT, and it still goes out of its way to address issues black artists have to deal with in the music industry. This is all mixed in with a "Game of Thrones"-esque family hierarchy and its thirst for power. It's fantastic. Warning: sexual content and drug use. Watch full episodes on Hulu or Fox's website.
One thing I really love about "Scandal" is seeing so many women connect with it. Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope, a Washington D.C. based crisis manager who 'fixes' scandals and secrets in the nation's capitol. Pope is everything you want to be as a woman: strong, independent, confident and self-empowered. Seeing an African-American woman in a leading role is incredibly refreshing, especially when she's given such a powerfully complex character. You can catch it on Netflix, Hulu and ABC's website.
Growing up, I loved the "George Lopez" show. With a Mexican stepdad, I identified with the feelings and messages of the show and its portrayal of life in a partly Mexican household. I never thought I'd ever find another show like that until I saw "Cristela." First I loved seeing a Hispanic show that had a female lead, especially when her primary interest isn't finding a man. Instead, Cristela is focused on being a successful lawyer. The cast is charming and easy to love; even the over-the-top obnoxious Gabriel Iglesias seems easy to like on this show. Watching Cristela is like coming home to your family after being away for a long, long time. The show is available on Netflix.
4. "How To Get Away with Murder"
This show has everything: a great, fully diverse cast, huge plot twists, and, of course, Viola Davis. Without spoiling anything, the show revolves around a tough as nails law professor (Davis) and a secret that binds her and five of her students. Each episode is fully engaging with intricate subplots that compliment the whole plot. The show does have some violence and suggestive material so keep that in mind. The first season is available on Netflix.
3. "Jane the Virgin"
The premise of 'Jane the Virgin' is genius. After a religious Latina gets accidentally artificially inseminated at the doctor's office, she must deal with the judgement of those around her and find the support to carry her surprise child. The writing is superbly witty and the show does a good job of highlighting what it's like to live in Latino culture, while also dealing with universal themes that anyone can connect to. Gina Rodrigez, who plays Jane, does an excellent job and like the actresses of "Orange is the New Black," she used her platform to address issues in the Latino community and lack of diversity in Hollywood. You can catch this wonderful show on Netflix.
2. "Master of None"
When I first heard about Aziz Ansari's new show, I was skeptical. I had seen a few of his standup shows and loved him as Tom Haverford on "Parks and Rec," but wasn't sure about this solo TV venture. However, this show is something really special. It follows the story of a minority millennial just trying to figure his life out. The most memorable episode for me is when Aziz connects with his immigrant father to learn about how he came to America and what his life was like in India. It's a beautifully honest portrayal that shows how first-generation kids can take advantage of their parent's struggle. The show deals with many other social issues that are relevant to any audience, such as feminism, modern friendships and modern love.The show has some sexual content and language. It is available to watch on Netflix.
1. "Fresh Off the Boat"
I love this show. I love everything about it. This is genuinely one of the funniest, most charming shows on television right now. Based on the childhood of famous chef Eddie Huang, the show documents a Chinese family's struggle to achieve the American Dream. The father is charming and (something), the mother has a sharp tongue and great lines, the grandmother is hysterical, and the kids are just enough rascals they don't tread on annoying. It wasn't till I watched this show that I realized how few Asian-American mainstream shows there are. Hopefully "Fresh Off the Boat" will propel networks to pick up more Asian-American shows and give more diversity to television. Catch it on ABC's official website.