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Turning the Corner on Diversity in TV

He's a 250-year-old gentleman.

He’s a 250-year-old gentleman. Aw.

With all the turmoil going on in this country, there just might be a light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for women of color.

Sleepy Hollow’s second season hit the airwaves September 22, 2014, and as I watched the premiere and read the hilariously overexcited fans’ reactions on Tumblr, I came to the realization that women of color just might be in luck in the future. While ‘Sleepy Hollow’ isn’t as popular as some other shows in similar genres, and while it isn’t particularly a very good show, it still has a solid foothold on viewers. Could we in fact be on the verge of introducing more women of color into main lead roles on network television?

I’m not going to give it all the credit, but I do think ‘Scandal’ might have been the spark that started what could be a fire for more diversity in television. Olivia Pope (played by the gorgeous and whip-smart Kerry Washington) started out getting the black community frothing at the mouth for more political thrills and sexual intrigue, but then as the seasons progressed, we began to see more than just black people watching. ‘Scandal’ is one of the highest rated shows on ABC, which previously had been a very lukewarm channel with little to no exceptional shows aside from ‘Castle’ (but then again, I am biased). Then it was syndicated with BET (big surprise there) and has been consistently putting butts in chairs Thursday nights. While the idea of sex scandals in politics is nothing new, it was the first time in quite a while that America was seeing an intelligent, driven, mostly independent black woman in a main role of leadership. Sure, we’ve had plenty of black women on network TV in the past few years, but they’ve always been in supporting roles, never the lead unless it was some trashy reality show involving housewives.

‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Scandal’ are nothing alike, and that is what makes a bit excited if this is indeed a trend. We have two completely different characters in two completely different genres that are growing in popularity and are sticking around. Further proof of the potential trend is Viola Davis’ upcoming lawyer-thriller, ‘How to Get Away with Murder.’ Again, not busting open anything we’ve never seen before, but Viola Davis is one hell of an actress and she’s more than welcome on our plasma screens.

Nerdy black girls like me are also nothing new. We’ve been around forever, but this is the first time in my lifetime, as far as I know, that we have popular shows on popular networks with intelligent black female protagonists. This could be big. This could be the break we’ve been needing, as the past few years have seen more black ghetto baby mamas and divas in reality TV than you can shake a curling iron at. While some would say it’s just harmless entertainment—after all, the term is reality show, which is still scripted in some parts—I have always been frustrated with the lack of women of color in television that are portrayed as more than just those two stereotypes. I’ve been dying for women like the female cast of ‘Living Single’ or Nichelle Nichols or Phylicia Rashad to take the reins and show people that black women are just as interesting and worthwhile as their white counterparts, and that women of color in general need more spotlight.

It’s not just about one particular skin color, either. I am dying for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ to come back for season two, not because of Agent Coulson (though God-knows I love that unassuming adorable man), but because of seeing Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) back in action. I truly hope that we as a country continue to hunger for things we haven’t seen and push the old broken mainstays aside to make room for creativity. I would love for this generation of young girls to be able to write school papers on great women of color in fiction instead of just watching ‘Frozen’ a thousand times and mistaking that for “strong female characters.”

Here’s hoping.

-Kyoko