Did CBS Just Whitewash Two TV Roles On Mission Control?

Photo: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic
There's no question that there is a lack of diversity in Hollywood: plenty of studies have confirmed that our TV and movies are overwhelmingly white, despite films like Moonlight and shows like Atlanta receiving top industry awards. There are plenty of people who need to do better in order to make our media reflect the world we actually live in, from writers to casting directors to producers. A new report from The Wrap shows just how difficult it is to get people of color in starring roles — and it's pretty disappointing.
According to The Wrap, CBS has cast Unforgettable actress Poppy Montgomery and Grimm star David Giuntoli in the network's upcoming drama Mission Control. The problem? It seems both Montgomery and Giuntoli are white actors in roles that were originally written for people of color.
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The Wrap has reportedly obtained a version of the script in which Montgomery's character Julie Towne was the daughter of a white father and Latina mother. Julie reportedly spoke Spanish frequently in the original version of the story, which was written by Andy Weir, though, reportedly, no longer will. According to The Wrap, Giuntoli's character originally called for a Black actor.
Though CBS declined The Wrap's request for comment, an individual close to the production reportedly stated that these roles were offered to people of color, but that the actors passed on the roles, which were then given to Montgomery and Giuntoli.
If true, the report illustrates just how many hoops people of color have to jump through to have their stories told on television. I applaud writer Weir for penning a script that included people of color as its stars, and the fact that the script couldn't dictate the race of the characters in itself is pretty disheartening. Would it have really been that hard to find two more capable actors who fit the descriptions in the original work? Why was diversity not considered when casting after their initial actors passed on the projects?
For the record, the script does include at least two non-white actors in supporting roles: Ricardo Chavira and Wunmi Mosakusays. Still, there's something to be said for this "Well, we tried" approach to diversity when it comes to the leads of the series. CBS had a script that worked with a mixed-race woman and a Black man as its stars, which would have been an excellent opportunity for visibility for people of color. Instead, we got... well, yet another CBS show where white people are front and center.
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It's hardly the first time this year that Hollywood has been criticized for placing white people in roles that could have gone to people of color. Ghost In The Shell, based on a Japanese property, selected Scarlett Johansson for its lead instead of a Japanese actress. Tilda Swinton was cast as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, a role that, in the original comics, called for an older Japanese man. Matt Damon was criticized for taking on the role of a "white savior" in The Great Wall.
Clearly, we're at time where diversity is more important than ever. I'm glad that CBS' new series is including some people of color in its cast, but I'm disappointed it didn't push harder for leads that fit the original bill.
Refinery29 reached out to CBS, who declined to comment on the story.
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