The Los Angeles Times published a piece on Thursday aimed at promoting diversity in Hollywood. The paper put forth a list of 100 individuals for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider in its efforts to diversify its membership in 2016. The Academy announced this commitment after critics started holding its member base — which is 91% white and 76% male, according to the Times — accountable for its role in the overwhelmingly white list of Oscar nominees two years in a row and the ensuing #OscarsSoWhite debate. (The Academy will release its official list of candidates later this year.)
So, who did the paper suggest? These are some more recognizable names on the list: Oscar Isaac, America Ferrara, Aziz Ansari, Laverne Cox, Gina Rodriguez, Priyanka Chopra, John Boyega, Idris Elba, Alexandra Billings, Eva Longoria, and Tina Fey. Wait, what? If Fey seems like an odd choice to you, you're not alone. The feature is a great idea and offers a noble list with many excellent choices, but we're not so sure the star has earned her spot.
Yes, Fey is a wildly talented and smart actor, writer, director, producer, feminist, and role model. But the fact is that she is also a part of the very problem this list means to combat. She has been integrally involved in film and TV projects that have rightfully garnered criticism for the way they handled race — both behind and in front of the camera. The grievances include stereotypical depictions of minorities, racist jokes, and whitewashed casting.
Fey was bashed earlier this year because Whiskey Tango Foxtrot — the war comedy she stars in and produced — features Alfred Molina and Christopher Abbott playing Afghans. In a New York Times interview in March, Fey responded to a general question about her involvement in WTF's casting by bringing up the controversial decision and partly shielding herself from blame. "I had a lot of say [in the casting]," she told the Times. "If your next question is, why is Chris Abbott not Afghan? — I did beg [the casting directors], 'Guys, my preference would be a native speaker.' They pleaded their case that Chris [was] their choice. The tricky thing is, Afghans [can be] Caucasians."
Fey's excellent Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has also been marred by its problematic treatment of race. Many took offense to the stereotypical portrayal of a Vietnamese character named Dong — as well as a subplot that revealed white actress Jane Krakowski's blond-haired, blue-eyed character has Native American heritage. The series received flack yet again in season 2 for a scene that many perceived as offensive to Asians and Asian-Americans. As one viewer put it on Twitter, "the kimmy schmidt episode where titus dresses as a geisha & miraculously wins over the rightfully offended asian community is so patronizing."
Fey has been an active participant in the lack of racial diversity and perpetuation of racist stereotypes that plague Hollywood today. Does that mean she can't be part of the solution? Absolutely not. We need all the help we can get when it comes to reversing the white male domination of Hollywood. And we'd love to see Fey shift her course on these issues. In fact, we're betting that she will.