Deadline Hollywood has issued an apology for a story it ran last week with the headline “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?”

In it, Deadline co-editor Nellie Andreeva staked a position that television studios were banking too much on diverse casting because white actors were finding themselves in less demand this pilot season. The networks have been especially bullish on shows with diverse casts, and ordered 73 pilots with black actors in starring or supporting roles for the fall. Given the gangbuster ratings of shows such as “Empire,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Jane the Virgin,” and “Black-ish,” it seems the television powers that be are looking to replicate that success.

Andreeva suggested they might have gone too far.

My colleague, Stephanie Merry, called Andreeva’s assertions “utterly tone deaf.”

Mike Fleming Jr., who together with Andreeva is the co-editor of Deadline Hollywood, issued a lengthy apology Sunday afternoon in a published conversation with Peter Barks. Fleming and Barks are former colleagues who share a column. Fleming offered this explanation:

Deadline ran an article last week that generated controversy and hurt feelings. An unfortunate headline – Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?— created a context from which no article could recover. My co-editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva’s goal was to convey that there was such an uptick of TV pilot casting of people of color that it pinched white actors who’ve historically gotten most of the jobs, and to question if this could last if it was being treated as a fad. All this was undermined by that headline (which we changed after the fact) and a repetition of the word “ethnic” that came off cold and insensitive.

Barks asked Fleming if he considered taking the story down. Survey says this is generally a bad idea. It makes it look as though you have something to hide. Plus, once published, nothing is ever fully erased from the Internet. That column would have lived on in cached versions, which probably would have resulted in even greater notoriety, something Fleming seemed to understand:

That story was up all night. It was 12 hours before I awoke to numerous e-mails, some by people of color who are sources, who trust us, who were rightfully incensed. At that point, the damage was done. I don’t believe you can can make an unwise story disappear and pretend it didn’t happen. I observed how Amy Pascal raced around with knee-jerk apologies to anyone who’d listen, after those stolen Sony e-mails surfaced. Her actions felt like panicked damage control to me; we decided to face the consequences and take our lumps. We did that in the comment tail following that story, where over 700 readers teed off on us.

One of the issues with which many readers found fault was Andreeva’s repeated use of the word “ethnic,” which appeared in her story 21 times.

Andreeva was aping standard casting director language and writing for a trade publication, which maybe suggested why she initially found it innocuous and unobjectionable. It’s one of those things that gets taken for granted but ended up exposing a larger hegemonic rigidity with regard to how race is interpreted in Hollywood: a standard where whiteness is this assumed default unless a character is specified as “ethnic,” a blanket term that serves to cover an entire range of disparate identities, races, and ethnicities.

Right there, embedded in the industry’s customary vernacular, is this confirmation that actors of color and roles for them have basically been an afterthought, something that “Community” actress Yvette Nicole Brown explained in a series of tweets reacting to Andreeva’s original piece. “The joke amongst POC is that our pilot season doesn’t even START until April, when all the other lead roles have been filled,” she wrote.

What comes next is probably the most significant part about Fleming’s apology. Andreeva’s story and the ensuing backlash basically forced Fleming and Deadline to articulate an editorial position that is explicitly anti-racist, as opposed to giving equal weight and validation to the status quo (where people of color are underrepresented on television) versus a future of apparent growing diversification.

"Community" actress Yvette Nicole Brown. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) “Community” actress Yvette Nicole Brown.
(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

“I wanted to say a few things to our core readers who felt betrayed,” Fleming said. “That original headline does not reflect the collective sensibility here at Deadline. The only appropriate way to view racial diversity in casting is to see it as a wonderful thing, and to hope that Hollywood continues to make room for people of color. [emphasis mine] The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.”


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