Superstore was the first time America Ferrera played a role not specifically written for a Latina. And the actress wrote an essay for Deadline highlighting why she thinks Superstore is different from any show she had been on before: Its commitment to diversity over tokenism.
Ferrera says that the difference between tokenism and actual diversity in the casting process is an important and authentic one. She believes in casting all kinds of people for roles, but not just to check boxes.
“The debate that threatened to swallow this year’s Oscars continues to dominate — as it should — but the tricky thing with casting diversely is avoiding the kind of tokenism that only pays lip service to the issue,” Ferrera writes.
She goes on to praise Superstore’s casting and writing.
“The characters in Superstore, I felt, were real people, written with intelligence, humor and depth,” she writes. “And of course, when I stepped into the role of Amy, she became Latina because I’m Latina…It just wasn’t her only point of definition. We’re all the sum of our experiences. I don’t know any people of color who go around thinking, ‘I’m going grocery shopping as a Latina,’ or, ‘I’m going to read this book as an Asian person.’”
Her message is not to shame people, but to offer a way forward.
“It also isn’t about shaming people into doing the right thing,” Ferrera writes. “It’s really about all of those people in positions of power — and they’re usually good people — asking themselves what they’re doing to change those narratives.”
The point she makes is a good and important one. The difference between casting a sassy Black friend that shows up in scenes to support a white main character and casting a Black actor in a role that shows depth and versatility is minor on IMDb but major in terms of representation. While the lily-white Oscars was a major embarrassment, it’s also indicative of the kinds of roles non-white actors are offered. Sure, the performances nominated might well have been the best (they weren’t), but that’s due to a lack of vision from the top down.
Read the rest of Ferrera’s essay here.