HBO: It's not TV, it's the lack of diversity

OPINION - HBO is known for its critically acclaimed dramas, but why are so many of those shows lacking diversity?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

HBO is known for its critically acclaimed dramas, but why are so many of those shows lacking diversity?

A recent Huffington Post article delved deep into the numbers to detail just how white and male HBO is when it comes to the creators of its hour-long dramas. One daunting statistic notes that from 1975 to present day, white men were 34 of the 38 people who created hour-long dramas and mini series for the cable giant.  The remaining four people consisted of three white women and one black man (Michael Henry Brown, co-writer for 1993’s Laurel Avenue).

More recent numbers are even bleaker. Since 2008, not one woman or person of color has been at the creative helm for an hour-long drama or mini-series. Girls, the breakout hit by creator Lena Dunham, is a comedy and the brilliant dramatic series The Wire and the New Orleans based drama Treme had majority black casts, but both shows were created by a white man, David Simon.

“We can do better; we are doing better; we are striving to do better. We have just launched a new program called HBO Access that seeks emerging, diverse filmmakers … and we are currently developing new programming with such talent as Oprah Winfrey, Steve McQueen, Jenji Kohan and many others,” said an HBO spokesperson in an email to the Huffington Post.

To be fair, HBO does have more diversity in other genres. “When you look beyond drama series and mini-series at the many other programming genres that we present, such as comedies, documentaries, late night fare, sports and original movies, I think you will find a lot of diversity,” noted the HBO spokesperson.

That’s true. For example, HBO recently aired a very thoughtful documentary created by Whoopi Goldberg about the late entertainer Moms Mabley. Projects like that are great, but it is those hour-long dramas that become pop-culture beacons and cult classics. Those hour-long dramas are where stars are born and solidified.

HBO and other networks have to do a better job with green-lighting projects created by women and people of color. The result would inevitably be representations of women and people of color that are deeper, more layered and more nuanced.  HBO has engaging new shows like True Detective, which features amazing performances by Woody Harrelson and Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey. But the depictions of women and black people on that show are flat and leave much to be desired.

I’m not advocating for successful shows like True Detective to pile on more substantive black characters just for the sake of having them. True Detective can stay just like it is, flaws and all. I’d rather see new projects from women and people of color. How about a few shows by women of color!? A zany notion, I know.

Imagine a Boardwalk-Empire-type show that focused on the numbers racket in Harlem during that same time period. Imagine a dramatic series (none of the schmaltz of Sex and the City) that centered on the lives of 30-something-year-old black women in a major city. Imagine a series about gentrifying and decaying neighborhoods in Detroit that was just as well-acted and written as The Wire. There are so many stories yet to be told in the masterful way in which HBO’s dramas are presented and hopefully, that will change in the near future.

What type of programming would you like to see on cable networks?

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.