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Monocast

New decade - new white people

"You know, people were whiter back then."

You're watching your favorite sit-com -- it's fluff, but it's harmless fluff, right? And you're laughing at the latest antics of the cast, when all of a sudden it hits you -- "Aren't there any black people in NYC?"

You've just run across a program guilty of Monochrome Casting. The melanin content of the actors simply doesn't vary much at all. Almost all of these programs consist of either an all-black or all-white cast; given that the reasons for this trope's existence are primarily based on demographics, it would not be shocking to see more Hispanic versions in the near future, however.

It would be wonderful to declare this a Discredited Trope -- a product of the Leave It to Beaver era -- but it still holds more sway than most people realize. Most often, this trope is seen in sit-coms, where it is used to help target a single demographic.

Sometimes you'll get a Token Minority or Token White appearing in a walk-on role in the show; if he's a black man on a white show, then he's probably there for a Very Special Episode about racism, while if he's a white guy on a primarily African-American show, then he's probably there because the writers were in need of Acceptable Targets.

Now, some shows are set in environments where it might even seem forced to have any sort of ethnic diversity; this trope doesn't apply to these programs so much. For instance, the rarified world of the superwealthy that often dominates in Soap Operas really doesn't have many blacks or Hispanics (except as servants, and that might be a bit too much realism for your negative-publicity averse executive); likewise, the Chicago public-housing projects displayed in Good Times were pretty much all-black by the time the show aired in the 70s. Similarly, much of Europe was almost all-white until recent decades. It's when a show exists in an environment where diversity would be almost mandatory that they can be accused guilty of monochrome casting.

Historically, Monochrome Casting was (at least in part) often the fault of Executive Meddling, either overt or covert. Before about 1965, it was standard for television stations and movie chains operating in the southern US to edit movies and TV shows to remove non-stereotypical African-American characters. Maids and criminals were fine, scientists and soldiers were not. If an African-American character was so intrinsic to the show that he or she couldn't be edited out, the show or movie simply wouldn't be shown in the South[1]. This naturally would cut into profits, so producers tended to make the entire cast white. One of the first shows to challenge this was Hogan's Heroes, whose producers cast a black actor as Hogan's second-in-command/camp genius specifically to make it impossible for Southern stations to edit the character out.

Modern viewers often expect Monochrome Casting in situations where it would be historically inaccurate. It would be, for instance, accurate to show black people living around the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's time, but nobody in our time would expect that.

Contrast People of Hair Color. Compare Humans Are White, a similar phenomenon in unrealistic works. Contrast the Five-Token Band, where it seems the writers were trying too hard in the opposite direction. May overlap with Pop Culture Isolation. Compare Plenty of Blondes.

Examples of Monochrome Casting include:


Anime And Manga

  • Well...almost all of anime, period. But this is very Truth in Television as Japan's population is less than 1% non-Japanese, and almost all of that minority is also Asian. However, if there's ever an American in anime, they're almost always a blond haired and blue eyed white person (although they may or not be part Japanese). Most depictions of the USA in anime avert this, throwing in a Token Black or two. Don't expect to see any "brown" people, though.
    • Japan's growing Brazilian migrant worker population does get them some inclusions, but they're rare.
    • There's just about only two anime of any note that have a person of color as the protagonist; Gunsmith Cats and Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.
    • Urd and Her Mother Hild from Ah! My Goddess are examples of brown-skinned major characters, although neither is human.
    • Averted in Michiko to Hatchin, which features a dark-skinned biracial protaganist and a number of black and Latino characters. Atsuko, another major character, is half-black and half-Japanese.
    • Afro Samurai is another aversion. It doesn't hurt that it was made to cater to an American audience first.
    • Averted in Tiger and Bunny. Set in Not-Manhattan, there are several members of ethnic minorities among the recurring characters. The protagonist is Japanese, Antonio is of Latin American descent, Pao-Lin (a minor character) is Chinese and Nathan is African-American. Ozaki mentions that they made sure even the Caucasians had a specific European ancestry instead just being "American" (Agnes is French; Ivan, Yuri and Mr. Legend are Russian; Karina is Nordic, etc.) -- the only exceptions being Keith (who sports pretty much the definition of an All-American Face) and Deuteragonist Barnaby (who is basically a blond Hollywood Nerd minus the blue eyes).
    • Of note is Seinen manga Me and the Devil Blues, a story chronicling the life of blues musician Robert Johnson had he actually won his talent from the devil, as some of the more popular rumors surrounding his mysterious rise to prominence dictated. The protagonist and many of the supporting characters are strikingly African American, with a range of body and facial types rarely seen any where, let alone manga or anime, while the lancer and most of the rest of the cast are Caucasian.
    • Averted in Darker Than Black, which, though set in Japan, has a large number of foreign characters.

Comic Books

  • The Legion of Super Heroes: Again, a product of the 50s when including ethnic characters probably never crossed the creators' minds, though there was at least one non-white character... an alien, Chameleon Boy, who was- orange.
    • Compounded when they tried to fix it in the 70s by adding a Black hero, Tyroc, who came from... an island with only Black people. That appeared on Earth only intermittently.
      • And all the black people in the world had gone to this island, and they were all racist, openly crying their hatred of whites. Unfortunate Implications abound.
  • Birds of Prey fell into this, as while the team has had several minority "guest operatives" who have shown up from time to time, the core cast has historically been entirely white. Even the writer, Gail Simone, said she thought it was a problem[1]. She mentioned that at various points, she unsuccessfully tried to get Vixen, Rocket (both black), Cassandra Cain (half-Asian) and Renee Montoya (Hispanic) added to the team. In the case of Cassandra, Simone even claims she had written up Cass' debut issue before editorial informed her that she would not be able to use her. The 2011 relaunch was the first time in the title's history that a minority woman was featured as part of the core cast.
  • The original X-Men team consisted of all white superheroes. This would later be averted in the series relaunch by Chris Claremont.

Film

  • The film Notting Hill had superb CGI. Not a single black person to be seen. If you don't live in London you may not be aware that in fact the Notting Hill neighborhood has enough of a black population that the Notting Hill Carnival is a major annual event largely celebrating black culture in England. The carnival was started in 1958 precisely as a way of fostering racial harmony after some black immigrants and some white Londoners sympathetic to blacks were beaten up by some white gang members.
  • Star Wars: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were only three minorities, not counting the Space Jews, and in the very first film all the visible actors on screen were white--only James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader wasn't. Lucas repeatedly defended himself, claiming he had auditioned nonwhites for some of the major roles (including a black actor for Han Solo and a Japanese actor for Obi-Wan) but just happened to end up with only whites. In any case, the later films all featured nonwhites in major roles, most notably Lando. The prequels also revealed that all of the stormtroopers are Maori.
  • The film Young Guns was based on the real life of gunfighter Billy the Kid, showing his exploits in New Mexico, culminating in a huge gunfight with the U.S. Ninth Cavalry. But you wouldn't know from the film that New Mexico has a significant Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population, or that the Ninth Cavalry were a black regiment.
  • Amelie is set in Montmartre, an area of Paris with a large immigrant population, but the cast, with the exception of Jamel Debouze, is almost exclusively white.
  • The film based on the book He's Just Not That Into You, which takes place in Baltimore, has already been lambasted by viewers due to the entire cast being strictly white, sans one Sassy Black Woman making an offhand remark on a park bench.
  • One of the things dating John Hughes films is that none of the leads are minorities (a few of the actors are, but the untrained eye would never notice), and that the closest thing to a non-Caucasian character with lines was Long Duk Dong. Hughes, however, based the fictious suburb of Shermer, where most of his movies set on his hometown, Northbrook, which is 90% white.
  • Everyone in the domed city of ~Logan's Run~ is white. Memorably lampshaded by Richard Pryor:

 "They had a movie of the future called Logan’s Run. There ain’t no n***ers in it. I said, “Well, white folks ain’t planning for us to be here."

  • The 1993 film The Meteor Man has an entirely black cast save for one white mobster.
  • Pretty much everyone in The Romantics is white.
  • Friday has an all black cast since this film takes place in South Central, Los Angeles. The sequels have added a few whites and Hispanics into the main cast.
  • Woody Allen films used to be notorious for presenting a very non-diverse version of New York.
  • Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has a contest for kids all over the world and yet all five of the winners are white.
  • The Tree of Life.
  • The Artist.
  • In spite of Gene Roddenberry's good intentions, many Star Trek films were fairly monochromatic. The most notable example occurs in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan, where the ethnically diverse superhumans from "Space Seed" became generically European.
  • The 1972 "horror" film Night of the Lepus has only one black character (Dr. Leopold), and amazingly, he doesn't die.


Literature

  • According to this blogpost, in all of the orginal series of Goosebumps novels, there were only 20 explicitly non-white characters, of whom 45% were Egyptians (in novels about Mummies, no less).
  • Virtually everything by Bret Easton Ellis. This is kind of the point, however.
  • Almost all the main characters in the Harry Potter series are white, which is not surprising considering that the UK is 92% white. There are a decent number of minorities among the supporting cast. Five supporting characters (Dean Thomas, Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Blaise Zabini) are black. Parvati and Padma Patil are presumably Indian given their names and were cast that way in the movies. The same goes for Cho Chang, who seems to be the only East Asian person in Harry Potter land.
    • Further justified in that a lot of the reasons for real-world racial mixing, the slave-trade, emigration due to poverty etc, would not have applied to wizards. Presumably African wizards would not have allowed themselves to be sold into slavery, and the ability to produce food and the apparent lack of unemployment in wizarding cultures would prevent wizards needing to emigrate. Therefore all racial mixing would be caused by the occasional wizard moving voluntarily to foreign countries.
  • Actually averted in the Privilege series by Kate Brian. The book is a Spin-Off of the Private series, about Ariana Osgood after she escapes prison and starts a new life at an elite private school under the name Briana Leigh Covington. Although most of the characters that are important to the plot are white, there are some non-white people such as Soomie (Asian), Tahira (Arab) and Zuri (African). This probably one of the few cases where an almost completely white setting could be justified, because in the U.S., the richest of the rich are usually white people coming from old money.


Live Action TV

  • Seinfeld is frequently mentioned for the rarity of minority characters who appear. However, the random "person on the street" bit parts are often some sort of minority. Show Runner Larry David would winkingly own up to it in his later series Curb Your Enthusiasm in the episode "Affirmative Action", in which a black woman brings up that there were no black people on Seinfeld.
  • Friends rarely has any significant minority characters, though there is the occasional exception. The pilot featured a prominent black character as a comic foil for Monica, but she was written out to focus on the core cast.
    • The creators of Friends did take in the criticism and therefore cast a black woman as a love interest for Joey and Ross in the later seasons. While it was nice of them, it also was kind of odd, considering the Monochrome Casting of the love interests prior to her.
  • How I Met Your Mother has an all-white primary cast, but a few recurring minority characters (cab driver Ranjit and Barney's gay black brother). In the seventh season both Barney and Robin's love interests were minorities, but they are now gone for good. Ted's lack of variety in the girls he dates may be a necessity of the series' central gimmick: given we've seen the kids and they're both very white, an ethnic love interest is obviously not going to be the mother.
  • The Class, with Friends creator David Crane as an executive producer, was highly criticised for having an all-white ast, especially considering Philadelphia has a very large black population.
  • For a good while, the WB's nightly lineup consisted almost entirely of shows with this kind of casting, particularly of black families, like The Parent Hood and Sister Sister. Sometimes white characters showed up when someone needed to be racist (the hockey episode of The Parent 'Hood) or kidnapped (the, uh, kidnapping episode of the same show).
  • Many classic sitcoms of The Fifties such as Leave It to Beaver and The Honeymooners were both notably white-washed portrayals of American life.
  • The trope was notably averted back in the day by I Love Lucy, featuring the Cuban Ricky Ricardo married to the red-headed and all-Amercian Lucy. Producers were reluctant to pair Lucille Ball with a Cuban man, and Ball had to jump through a number of hoops to get Arnez cast. One of the reasons the show is called I Love Lucy is to have an implied reference to Desi's character without having to state his name. However, at the time, Cubans were seen as "foreign" rather than a completely different "race" than white Americans. Therefore, Lucy and Desi were not considered to be a mixed-race couple.
    • Interestingly, while most Cubans are black or Indian, most Cuban-Americans are white. This was probably because white Cubans were able to easily immigrate following the communist revolution in 1959.
  • UPN has been infamous for having entire blocks of programming with overwhelmingly black casts. But most of those shows were made to be an alternative to the all white shows.
  • During the brief period where university life at "UC Sunnydale" was shown on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there were almost no Asians, even though the actual University of California has over 40%. You can count the black characters on Buffy with both hands, and only one for the characters that survive.
  • Parodied in an SNL skit where a black waiter refused to serve Ashton Kutcher after the actor grudgingly admitted that there were no major minority characters in That 70s Show.
  • The closest you can get to saying there are minorities in ICarly is that Miranda Cosgrove sometimes looks slightly Asian. T-Bo and Principal Franklin are the only recurring non-white characters, and there are no Asian recurring characters at all. It was once Lampshaded in a fanfic with the line: "Seattle has the diversity of a corn field!"
  • Star Trek: The Original Series tried very hard to avoid monochrome casting, in line with Gene Roddenbery's views on race becoming a non-issue in Earth's future. This required deliberate effort on the part of the production staff, as, even in the mid-1960s, the network production system tended to fill all spots for extras with generic, physically fit white males (age 25 to 45) unless otherwise specified. As production values slipped in the second and third seasons of the series, crewmen and civilians fell back on the generic white male Hollywood stockpile.
  • Monochromatic casting applied to all segments of American television before the 1970s. When Bill Cosby first appeared on The Tonight Show in the 1960s, doing his stand-up comedy act, the only make-up on hand at NBC was a base used previously for Lena Horne, who is so much paler than usual for American blacks that she used to be attacked as a "mulatto" by hostile white (and, occasionally, black) hecklers. Cosby was so pale on screen that night ("Live in black & white!") his family thought something had been done to him or that he was ill.
  • The Sci-Fi Channel adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series was an Egregious mix of Monochrome Casting and They Just Didn't Care. Leguin intentionally created a fantasy world where a variety of dark-skinned people make up the majority of the populace (she even makes a point of distinguishing between the different shades of brown), with the only white people being barbarians... and the movie starred a bunch of white people and a Magical Negro. Leguin has some choice things to say about the production.
  • Queer as Folk is somewhat disappointing since the show is about gay life in Pittsburgh, which has a healthy minority population, yet one has to keep one's eye's peeled to even see non-white extras.
  • Parodied by Mad TV with the sketch "Pretty White Kids With Problems." It aired when Dawson's Creek was at its prime. A different sketch called "Devon's Creek" was Dawson with all-black cast members. Problem is, because the entire writing staff, production crew, and executive board were white, the lines sounded like every black-comedian stereotype of white people.
    • Another Mad TV sketch spoofed Friends, featuring a black girl as Ross' blind date, which shocks the entire gang. The narration states that this was done due to "a direct order from the United States Supreme Court".
  • At the very beginning of The West Wing, all the main characters were cast as white. When the NAACP criticized the show, the show's creators agreed with them -- so they revived the character of Charlie Young (who was cut from the pilot somewhere between script and screen) and introduced him in the third episode. The characters on the show actually lampshade the situation by being seriously concerned with how it will look for the one visible black staff member to be the President's errand boy. The show gets better later on with several black Congresspeople and a black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and National Security Advisor.
  • Home Improvement, ostensibly takes place in Detroit. There were very few black characters than should be realistically expected, though this is presumable a wealthy, white-bread suburb.
    • Detroit was a mixed-race city until about the 1970s, at which point "white flight" kicked in with a vengeance (mostly in response to race riots).
  • Beverly Hills, 90210, so much so Aaron Spelling said he regretted it.
    • Similarly seen in the spin-off Melrose Place, which had one black character during its first season who quickly vanished due to lack of storyline.
  • Dawson's Creek. No black people, even in the Boston episodes.
    • Except the High School principal and his daughter, played by Black actors.
  • Eastenders - Sweet Baby Jesus. The show takes place in one of the most ethnically diverse parts of one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world and somehow manages to be 90 percent white. Worse yet, this is a fairly recent development. When the show started in 1985, the area's demographics were roughly the same and you could count the non-white actors on one hand. It's like the producers hadn't visited the area since the fifties.
  • The Bachelor/The Bachelorette is like this, with only white people (with the occasional light-skinned Hispanic or Asian) on the show. And there's absolutely no excuse for this, given that there are twenty-plus contestants every season.
    • The problem, is that the bachelor, and bachelorette in question is almost always white. And unfortunately Interracial Dating is still kinda taboo in Real Life (unlike in tv/film). The bachelor, and bachelorette may also have specified the ethnicity of the contestants.
      • And now there's a lawsuit being filed by two African-American men who claim that they auditioned for the show and were not given equal audition time solely because of their race.
  • Laverne and Shirley takes place in 1950s Milwaukee which was in the middle of a massive influx of migrant Black workers from the south, most of whom came to work at Breweries like the one where the titular characters were employed.
  • In Noah's Arc, almost everyone any of the characters interacts with is either black or latino. You can count the number of white people seen throughout the series on one hand.
  • While the show did have a few black characters in the past As The World Turns large cast was all white by the time it went off the air.
    • This has been a major problem with most soap operas. Ironically, this might be a Justified Trope, as most are set in wealthy white-bread suburbs. However, The Bold And The Beautiful is set in the melting pot of Los Angeles but has a cast almost completely devoid of minorities, and the few who are present often fall into patronizing Model Minority roles who are often relegated to the background--yet another problem often seen on soaps.
      • Averted in shows like Days of Our Lives and especially Passions which had several black, Hispanic, and mixed race main characters--in fact, the latter show boasted one of the most diverse casts on daytime and made valid use of all minority characters.
  • Averted in The Cosby Show which, though the main family was primarily black, had plenty of reoccuring non-black chaaracters who weren't just one-time roles.
  • Neighbours is frequently guilty of this, and its attempts at rectifying the situation have rarely made things better.
  • The co-showrunner of Midsomer Murders was sacked after stating with astonishing bluntness in an interview with the Radio Times that he thought that it was a success because it was a "bastion of Englishness", and that to maintain that he would never cast a non-white actor in it.
  • In five seasons of Primeval, there have been only a few recurring characters of color, and most of them were bad guys (Caroline, Philip Burton). Sarah was a good guy, but she was only around for season three, and she got killed offscreen between seasons three and four.
  • There were very few black characters in Frasier, but unlike the New York City examples of Friends and Seinfeld, the black population of Seattle is very small and highly concentrated in an area far from the characters' affluent hangouts. However, the black people that did appear had quite a broad scope. One black recurring character was "Dr." Mary, a stereotypical Sassy Black Woman who Frasier was terrified of criticizing for fear of being seen as racist — an unusually no-nonsense approach to racial issues for a sitcom. On the other hand, Frasier's Sitcom Arch Nemesis Cam Winston was a wealthy, fussy snob very much like Frasier himself, and the fact that he was black was a complete non-issue. Cam's mother was also briefly used as a love interest for Frasier's father, Martin.
    • However, Frasier drops the ball when it comes to Asians, who do make up a large percentage of Seattle's population.
    • And for what it's worth, there were often black extras used in the various coffee house and party scenes. They may not have gotten speaking parts, but it is refreshing to see black characters as part of elite, wealthy social scenes.
  • Sex and the City was also set in an unrealistically white version of New York City. Out of the parade of boyfriends and lovers the girls had over the course of six seasons, the non-white ones can be counted on maybe one hand. Reportedly, Cynthia Nixon complained to the producers about the Unfortunate Implications of this for years, until they finally threw her a bone by casting Blair Underwood as Miranda's onscreen lover.
  • Roseanne. Particulary jarring considering it's one of the few working-class sitcoms in the history of American television.
  • The HBO series Girls has gotten backlash over this, especially since it was touted and marketed as a supposedly progressive comedy and takes place in New York, one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet. The show's creator Lena Dunham has since apologized and promised to add some women of color to the cast if the series is renewed for a second season.
  • Played mostly straight in Charmed, with a few aversions. The black Daryl Morris was a side character in season 1 but promoted to regular in season 2. The show did feature a lot of white characters but there were a few recurring minorities such as Paige's boss in season 4 and the Big Bad of season 7 who was Middle Eastern. Played straight in another variation though - set in San Francisco and yet no recurring gay characters, though a few do appear as one-episode characters.


Tabletop RPG

Theater

  • Parodied in the Reduced Shakespeare Company's All The Great Books (Abridged), where one of the characters, a community college drama teacher, claims to have directed the very first all-white production of Ain't Misbehavin'.
    • The Other RSC also Lampshade their monochrome cast (of three, so maybe Justified) in the Cmplt Wrks f Shkspr when they come to Othello; they note that none of them really feel qualified to play Othello, but Adam is going to have a go. No blackface involved - he comes on with a string of toy boats around his neck, having misunderstood the term 'Moor'.
      • A production this troper saw had the role played by a black guy, with the other actors shamefully admitting afterward that they had just left him to do Othello on his own because he was black. (Incidentally, the others were Hispanic and Jewish, leading to the ad-lib "We can't do Othello, but we can make a lot of jokes like this, so that's good.")

Web Comics

  • Every human in Homestuck is drawn with literally white skin. Not quite an example - Word of God dictates that by intent, Mukokuseki is in full effect and no-one save his Author Avatar (caucasian, coloured orange) has any defined race, or for that matter other physical characteristics beyond the basics, and that one reference to Bro being white was an error that he put in before he'd clearly established the character.


Web Original

Western Animation

  • Not even cartoons are exempt! The biggest offender was probably The Jetsons. It takes place in the far off future, but there's not a single minority to be seen.
    • True for the original 60s run, but averted in the 80s revival, when some non-white characters were seen.
  • Lampshaded and parodied in Clerks the Animated Series, where Dante and Randal respond to viewer mail complaining about the show's Monochrome Casting. They respond by adding a new black character named Lando who does little more than wave to the guys as he passes them on the street.
    • Further parodied when the guys later need a helicopter pilot to get them in the air, and "Lando" is the man to do it. Cut to Lando eagerly offering to help, only to learn that Dante and Randal were talking about a different Lando; another white guy.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers had a black man as one of the four main heroes, and two others as one-shot villains. The rest of the human cast was white.
  • Averted in Justice League, which famously swapped out the white Hal Jordan version of the Green Lantern and instead chose to use the black John Stewart iteration. The move was controversial with some hardcore comic book fans, but went largely unnoticed by the general audience.

Notes

  1. A strong contender for Crowning Moment of WTF came in May 1970, when a Mississippi state commission voted that the state's public networks would not air Sesame Street, stating that "Mississippi was not yet ready" for the show's integrated cast
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