Why Don’t Viewers Support Actually Diverse TV?

ABC’s Shakespearean drama “Still Star-Crossed,” an imagining of what happened after the conclusion of Romeo and Juliet, has been essentially cancelled after three episodes. While the rest of the season will air, a second is not in the makings, and starting July 8th the remaining episodes will air on Saturday, rather than Monday.

Perhaps the cancellation is understandable. “Still Star-Crossed” debuted with only 2.3 million viewers and went down from there. The show has a mere 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, and numerous bad reviews. For example, Entertainment Weekly‘s primary complaint is that the dialogue falls flat and the plot confuses.

Still, “Still Star-Crossed” is a romp through lavishly beautiful 15th century Verona. If the writing is iffy, in my opinion, the show is fun. And there are plenty of shows renewed for second seasons with far worse dialogue — “Riverdale,” for one, not only put me to sleep with inorganic acting and dialogue but also sidelined its minority characters (whilst patting itself on the back, of course), glorified mental illness, and treated its manipulative student-teacher relationship as steamy rather than disgusting and illegal. While I can’t speak for Netflix’s “Thirteen Reasons Why”‘s quality of writing, I do know that the show’s nature is incredibly controversial. It has come under fire for its romanticism of teen suicide and its gaudy, triggering on-screen portrayal.

“Still Star-Crossed,” on the other hand, is a rare bird. It shows people of color in a historical period drama. Black people starring in a show that isn’t about race, but instead is a ridiculous, fantastical, romantic show (the kind white actors have dominated for years) sends a message. It tells black viewers that they are allowed to be ridiculous and romantic by portraying them in such roles. It defies the white default. Plus, seeing a dark-skinned, well-developed heroine being torn between two men is amazingly relatable.

So what makes controversial shows like “Riverdale” and “Thirteen Reasons Why” hits, and groundbreaking shows like “Still Star-Crossed” flops? After seeing Riverdale’s “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m weird” speech, I can assure you, the difference is not quality.

The bitter edge to the cancellation is that it falls into a pattern. After the cancellations of Netflix’s  “The Get Down” and Fox’s “Pitch,” the fate of “Still Star-Crossed” is another testimony to how difficult the industry is for shows with Black leads.

“The Get Down” is a trippy and visually beautiful take on the history of hip-hop and youth in the Bronx. “Pitch,” which had good reviews, mixes sports and glass ceilings in a tale about baseball’s first female Major League player. Between those three shows, there’s something for almost everyone. The message many (not all) white viewers seem to send however is that they simply can’t relate to characters of color. Which, to people of color, is absurd. After all, we’ve been putting ourselves in white characters’ shoes since forever. It’s time for people to actually start throwing their support behind diverse shows.

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