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Racism and racial representation on soaps


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3 minutes ago, Soap-princess said:

The conversation probably would have hit harder coming from Amanda and not Billy. CK and her portrayal of Lily has benefited from colorism more so than any character/actress I can recall.

I had the sliiiightest expectation for her to mention skin tone when she listed how she herself benefits from privilege. But I guess that would have been a third rail.

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20 minutes ago, Faulkner said:

I had the sliiiightest expectation for her to mention skin tone when she listed how she herself benefits from privilege. But I guess that would have been a third rail.

Lol. I didn’t have such expectations because the show is awful.

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2 minutes ago, Soap-princess said:

Lol. I didn’t have such expectations because the show is awful.

Dreadful. It’s lacking in grand drama but doesn’t do character moments like this well either. Worst of both worlds.

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They all but confirmed it by finally cutting Maya from their recent opening but glad to see KM make it official. Sad that they allowed a “historic” character to just do the Irish goodbye. A waste and they painted Maya into a corner with a story they knew they couldn’t truly execute. 

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Just watched a lot of this 1982 episode of AMC, which featured Liza taunting Angie after falsely accusing Jesse of rape as well as Jesse visiting Ray Gardner in prison. Of course, Liza and Ray were execrable villains we were supposed to despise, but the portrayal of racism is pretty striking. You had Liza weaponizing her white female fragility as well Ray, a stereotypical “hillbilly,” addressing Jesse as “boy.” When Jesse bristles at Ray’s repeated use of the slur, Ray responds, “I could call you a lot worse!”

 

 

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11 hours ago, Dylan said:

I saw this question on twitter, how does everyone feel the 4 soaps are doing with race diversity after the blm backlash?

My ranking would be:

 

The Solid (but not Great IMO):

1. Y&R - solid character writing for the Quad that’s allowed Bryton James and Brytni Sarpi to really shine and of course Mishael is a star, although Nate could still use some work (get Olivia on this show, pronto). Story was horrendously rushed, though.

 

The OK:

2. DAYS - Eli/Lani embroiled in heavy story with Kristen/Brady/Trask, with actual secrets!, while still involved in their daily police jobs (Lani supporting Allie, etc.) That said, the story itself is not that scintillating IMO.

 
The Meh:

3. B&B - the love triangle is very visible but zzzzz. Delon De Metz’s Zende is cute but has none of Rome Flynn’s verve or energy. Zoe is a big nothing and Carter is a waste. Filler.


The Jury is Still Out:
4. GH - Seems like the Taggart story will heat up but they’ve done very little to activate their black characters thus far (Jordan/Curtis are pretty two-dimensionally written), aside from showcasing Trina more.

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9 hours ago, Faulkner said:

My ranking would be:

 

The Solid (but not Great IMO):

1. Y&R - solid character writing for the Quad that’s allowed Bryton James and Brytni Sarpi to really shine and of course Mishael is a star, although Nate could still use some work (get Olivia on this show, pronto). Story was horrendously rushed, though.

 

The OK:

2. DAYS - Eli/Lani embroiled in heavy story with Kristen/Brady/Trask, with actual secrets!, while still involved in the daily jobs (Lani supporting Allie, etc.) That said, the story itself is not that scintillating IMO.

 
The Meh:

3. B&B - the love triangle is very visible but zzzzz. Delon De Metz’s Zende is cute but has none of Rome Flynn’s verve or energy. Zoe is a big nothing and Carter is a waste. Filler.


The Jury is Still Out:
4. GH - Seems like the Taggart story will heat up but they’ve done very little to activate their black characters thus far (Jordan/Curtis are pretty two-dimensionally written), aside from showcasing Trina more.

Agree with all but kinda surprised about GH. When it came back i seen a few people say its been doing okay with diversity ie spreading its cast around story for em etc. Did that change in the last month or two?

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4 hours ago, Dylan said:

Agree with all but kinda surprised about GH. When it came back i seen a few people say its been doing okay with diversity ie spreading its cast around story for em etc. Did that change in the last month or two?

Gotta say, I’ve never been

that impressed with GH’s recent attempts at diversity. They did drive a lot of the initial Cyrus story earlier in the year, but they’d taken somewhat of a backseat until now. GH, like all of the shows these days, is so poorly paced.

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On 7/14/2020 at 3:45 PM, mikelyons said:

We've talked a lot about racism and representation with characters and actors, I'd like to share my experience as a black guy who interned and tried to work in daytime. My memories are below. You can ask me anything and I'll try to answer it. I have long left daytime behind and with everything going on now, some memories have re-surfaced and I hope by writing this it excises them once and for all. -MikeLyons

 

 

I have long hesitated as to whether or not I should share my story about working on daytime soaps, but with the conversations being had about racism in Soap Land, I felt it may be helpful…or encourage someone else to speak about their experiences. This is an experience I do not speak about often; only a few extremely close friends and my parents are aware of my experiences as a black man in daytime soaps. 

 

I grew up on soaps as did my parents and grandparents. Some of my earliest memories are re-enacting Natalie and Janet’s well scenes from All My Children. We had a family voicemail system growing up and my recorded message featured “Nadia’s Theme”. Yeah. I was that guy. I didn’t grow up in a world of overt or micro-racism. I grew up in a very wealthy college town sandwiched between two well-known universities and surrounded by other wealthy towns and counties. My peers and classmates were of every race, creed, religion, whatever. One of my classmates’ mother was a VP at MTV; the father of my sister’s friend was a diplomat with the United Nations. We only cared about a few things: Being kids, going to the mall, chatting on the phone, and dreaming of the future.

 

During college, I landed an internship on a daytime soap opera. (Note: For very personal reasons, I will not divulge the name of the soap or the folks who I encountered. Aliases will be used going forward).  I was in heaven because I didn’t think I’d get it. At the time, I was living in London and only submitted my resume as a lark. After a phone interview, they offered me a position as a production intern on their soap. (Note: There is a member of this forum who I met on this soap! This isn’t a fable.) On my first day, I met the internship coordinator, who was quite surprised to see that I was not the white guy my name and voice would have led them to believe. 

 

Nope. Sorry. 

 

I spent the summer in the US learning daytime drama from the ground up. One of our tasks as interns was to write a synopsis for every script which was placed in the front of the production script so people could scan the synopsis to get the feel for an episode. I relished this task since I wanted to become a soap opera writer. To ensure they were “right”, I labored over my synopses until I felt they hit the mark. Over the course of the summer, I became known for my synopses. One of the producers told me in the booth, “We love your synopses the best!” That was the single best piece of validation a production intern could receive. All in all, my experience on that soap opera was great. At the time, I didn’t really notice that the black people who worked on the stage of this soap opera were employees of the network which owned the studio and leased it, along with its studio staff, to the soap. They were not employees of the soap opera’s owner. Upstairs in the office, the interns were the most diverse group of people and we were unpaid labor. Outside of us, there were two non-white production office employees. All of the writers were white. Same for the directors. And producers. And network executives. At the time, I didn’t notice because I was having the time of my life and I didn’t grow up concerned about race. Had I paid attention, it would have prepared me for my move to another daytime soap opera and one of the most degrading moments of my life.

 

Through a strong connection I made on the first soap opera, I became quite friendly with two very respected people on my second daytime soap opera. We’ll call this show Promises. I didn’t really like Promises as a viewer, but it was a chance to continue building my daytime resume. Around March, Peter (not this real name) told me that they were beginning to look for interns, to send him my resume, and he would vouch for me as would Nancy (not her real name). Besides, he reasoned, if the first soap opera was so pleased with my work, especially on script synopses, that would make me a shoe-in. I’d need to do a phone interview and that was it. Well, the internship coordinator took an instant disliking to me from the get-go. We’d met before and she seemed nice enough, but when it came time to build her team, she was prickly, cool, and aloof. She insisted I go to the city where Promises was shot for an interview. I told her that I was in Hong Kong for the next two weeks, but I’d be happy to do it over the phone. Nancy and Peter lobbied for me to the coordinator, we did the phone interview, and I got the gig. 

 

My first day on Promises was fine enough, but, on that show, I quickly realized I was the only black intern there (thankfully not the only gay person), save for the daughter of one of the studio’s employees who was non-white, and one non-white person on the production team. I didn’t let this bother me because I was focused on the end goal. However, that gleeful ignorance quickly worked against me. 

 

Every soap opera director receives lighting plots which are blueprints of every set with all of the props, furniture, etc. laid out on it. This helps the director plot movement with the talent, tell the lighting department how to light a scene, informs wardrobe, etc. One day, the internship coordinator (who never warmed to me, no matter how many expensive cupcakes I brought in), asked me to make copies of the lighting plots from Sam, the director currently directing in the booth, distribute them, and return them to Sam. I followed the distribution list to the letter, ensured everyone had a copy, and went to the booth. Sam was in the middle of directing a scene. You are NEVER to disturb a director when they’re directing, not even if their hair is on fire. So, I placed the lighting plots to Sam’s left and left the studio. Well, about ten minutes later, a call comes into the production office and the internship coordinator takes unbridled glee in informing that Sam wants to see me in the booth. Okay… I make my way to the booth where Sam proceeds to tear into me for a good five minutes about how I never returned the lighting plots, what was I doing, and the like. Sam did this in front of the supervising producer, production assistant, technical director, and lighting director. I stood there and kept my cool. When Sam finished said tirade, I calmly pointed to the lighting plots still to Sam’s left and said that I’d left them there because I thought they’d be seen after the scene had ended. Once Sam saw them, Sam (with more venom I’d ever experienced) dismissed me and that was that. The pure ire in that booth was palpable. No one had ever spoken to me like that before or since. I was in my very early twenties, was going to university in London, traveling the world, and had recently attended an event in the presence of royalty. So, maybe it was ego, but I took a distinct disliking to Sam, which I felt was mutual. We never spoke again…and that incident in the booth would haunt me for years to come. 

 

After the run-in with Sam, the publicity office of Promises had a problem: Their publicity assistant had left and they needed someone to write synopses for a backlog of scripts. Unlike the synopses for the other soap, these would be distributed to all of the soap opera magazines and other outlets for publication. I didn’t know it, but Soap Opera Digest doesn’t write the synopses at the back of the magazine; those are provided by each show. Nancy and Peter were the ones who put me forward to go to Publicity to help them catch-up based on my previous work on the other soap opera. I went to Publicity to get away from the hostile internship coordinator and to steer clear of that director. For the next three weeks or so, I read hundreds of scripts, wrote synopses, and helped with other publicity related tasks. I was thrilled a few weeks later to open one of the soap opera magazines to find my synopsis re-printed word for word. Publicity thanked me for my work and we always stayed on good terms. I went back to the production office where Peter and Nancy took me under their wing and out of the grasp of the internship coordinator. Peter and Nancy heard through the grapevine what Sam had done. They were apologetic, but nothing was ever done about it. To this day, Sam has never apologized. I really kept my head down for the remainder of the summer, never told anyone that story, and got on with university and my life.

 

After graduating from university, I moved back to the city where Promises was filmed. Peter and Nancy, my allies at Promises, were still employed there. At that time, I’d found employment as an assistant at a talent agency, which was good money with a lot of demanding actors, some of whom have become legitimate stars. I was accepted into one of the daytime writing programs, but the program was shut down a few weeks later as an omen to come for daytime. One day, Peter let me know that Promises was hiring for a publicity assistant because the last one hadn’t worked out. He told me to send him my resume, which he’d pass along. According to Peter, since I worked with Publicity and the people who ran the department really liked me, it was my job to lose. Guess how this story ends. I go into the first interview with Kelly, the person I’m going to work under. Kelly tells me about the job, that it does require travel, knowledge of the show, etc. Since Kelly and I knew each other we delved deep into how I could become an asset, grow in the role, and the like. Good start, right?

 

I was called in for a second interview which would involve the producers and Kelly. Peter’s only advice was not to tell them I wanted to write. They didn’t like that. Okay, fine. I walked into the second interview and my heart dropped. Sam was sitting across the table from me. I answered all of their questions, saw the excitement on Kelly’s face, and thought it could work since I wouldn’t work with Sam. I returned to my job at the agency that same day when I received a phone call from Kelly. The show decided to hire the other guy who had no soap opera experience, didn’t know Promises, and was greener than grass. Kelly and Peter had lobbied hard, but – for reasons I’m still murky on – they hired the white person who was fired six months later. I considered this a humiliating defeat, to say the least. I enrolled in graduate school in London, quit my job at the agency, and took two years to learn the business of business. 

 

During those two years, I developed a strong TV drama script which I’d submitted to a prestigious festival (by someone who was a big deal in UK soaps) and I was a Top 5 finalist. I submitted that script blind to RTE in Dublin on a whim. Two weeks later, a script editor called me about writing sample scenes for their top-rated television show, Fair City. I wrote a few scenes, submitted them, and they wanted to work with me to (eventually) become a writer on the soap. Unfortunately, RTE got into a fight with Ireland’s actors union about residuals, so the show was yanked offline for a few years. That ended that. 

 

I returned to the USA, moved to a new city, and wound up living around the corner from a very formidable soap opera writer from the first soap I’d worked on. We’d met a few times on the first soap opera, I stayed in touch, and I tried to see if I could submit the same script for consideration. Let’s just say that conversation was really uncomfortable and basically ended because they were “really busy”. 

 

I tried again with the head writer of Promises, but I was met with stony silence. This is the same head writer who made a writer out of the white male casting assistant (who only took the job because he wanted to be an actor) who had no prior writing experience and then made the same “writer” a producer on Promises. I was befuddled. I let it go and moved on with my life.

 

A few years later, I returned to the city where Promises is filmed. Peter told me that they were hiring for a receptionist position, which he knew I was overqualified for, but it would get me in the door. Two of the main qualifications for the job were: You had to have a college degree and you needed to know how to write since writing synopses were a big part of the job. Once again, I went into the interview with a clear mind and an edict not to tell them that I wanted to write. Upon entering the conference room, I saw Peter, the head writer, some producers, the new producer from the first soap I’d interned on (with whom I was friendly), and…Sam…sitting there smirking at me. I did what I could, but they wound up hiring the white child of someone on the production staff who hadn’t even graduated from college…and, according to Peter, this person couldn’t write to save their life. Needless to say, I was gutted, but life moves on and so did I. 

 

Maybe a year or so later, they were hiring for another position which Peter told me about. I expressed my reservations to Peter from the get-go. For some reason, he really wanted me on Promises even after two failed interviews. The third interview went the way of the other two. According to Peter, they hired the person with less experience, who didn’t know the show, and was a white person. After that experience, I told Peter in no uncertain terms to never tell me about another open position at Promises ever again. It took me a long time to come to terms with how soul crushing it was to have been championed and lobbied for by white people in power, but to be overridden so they can hire an underqualified white person who’s a better “cultural fit” and they end up firing in six months. If you’ve never felt that feeling of confusion and embarrassment, consider yourself lucky. 

 

Over the next few years, I tried to submit scripts to Promises, but they were never read or considered while they kept hiring inexperienced new writers. Undeterred, I continued to write for a spell. Some of my scripts were well received and nominated for awards. A few digital shows I’ve written and produced have been distributed around the world as well as being nominated and winning various awards. It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t me; it was the insidious racism at Promises. 

 

By the time of my second interview, the only non-white member of the production staff was gone. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been another non-white member of their production staff who wasn’t a part of their studio package.  

 

In all of daytime, only one non-white person has produced a soap opera: Albert Alarr. Michele Val Jean is the only black woman to solely head write a soap opera; the Ryan Quan is the only non-white man to come close to it (as he is Ron Carlavati’s co-head writer). Susan Dansby is one of the only black women (other than Val Jean) to write for a soap opera. When I interned on Promises, they didn’t have a single black character on their show unless they needed extras or had a prison scene. In retrospect, I was trying to become the first black man to write a daytime soap opera and even my white allies couldn’t secure a job for me on Promises with their collective clout and experience. The mountain, as I’ve experienced it, is impossible to breach when people decide to never let you have a foothold to take that first step.

 

If I could give the remaining four soap operas any advice it would be this: Enough with your passive aggressive behavior, shoddy hiring practices, and systematic racism. If everyone in your office looks like you, you are part of the problem. You cannot write for other voices and viewpoints when yours has been homogenized to the point of idiocy. It was taken me a long time to realize it, but I was only allowed into daytime on the first soap opera based on my resume – pure merit. Had they actually known I was black before they hired me, I may not be here to tell the tale. Once Promises was in a position to hire me (who was a known quantity to them), they rebelled at ever instance from my phone interview through my third and final interview. 

 

Life has been kind to me. I have my own company, have a great home, a wonderful partner, travel the world at my will, and report to no one but myself. Life has a way of working itself out. Daytime was a part of my college years, nothing more. Don’t worry; I have a very lovely life.

As the unofficial co-worker trainer who has had to train co-workers after the manager who never appreciated my merit (8 plus years in the restaurant business) had her underqualified favorites train them, I definitely know the frustration and embarrassment when everyone around you knows your worth BUT your higher management and they do nothing. While I left that job a year ago next week, I do admit I took great pleasure showing how much weight and power I held back for years on my way out the door. Superiority has its advantage.

 

Thank you for sharing your story, Mike. I took it to my heart. It really resonated and I wanted to reply sooner than now. 

 

Like you I had loved soaps when I was young. Grandma and Mom always sending me to nap (and me not wanting to) when Y&R or AMC or GH came on. So I remember images here and there. OLTL became my first and favorite soap...Viki and her alters (and Dorian and Joey) did me in. So as I grew older, I wanted to write for soaps. Well, I always wanted to write. And soaps was one of my interests.

 

So I did apply for the writing programs. Back when they were around. The runaround I used to get from them was crazy. But I guess the companies knew that they would be shut down by the time I was submitting.

 

I moved out here to California in 2005 to get my feet wet, but to also see about writing programs out here. The issue that I've always had was that did I really want to live in LA. I know one should go where the work is, but while I might thrive socially there, I was not sure if I would thrive professionally there. LA taking your soul and all that. Still...I decided to keep submitting. I am based in San Diego so if I should ever get in, then I would make a concrete decision about moving.

 

But life took twists and turns. With this crazy year, I admit that it's been on my mind again. I have still submitted out to writing programs over the years. It was the reason I came back out to California after I left in 2010. Technology has changed. lol. But there has been a lot more of who you know and loopholes that were not out there when I first started to submit. And one of my worries has been what you were discussing. Life experiences has made me very colorblind and judging people on their merit, not where they come or their skin color. But I've become more realistic. If this year has taught me anything, it would be that not everyone sees people that way.

 

I am still doing well, branching out to new projects and avenues this year than I have in a while, but...if I branch out to LA how hard will it be to get people to see you on your merit if they are not even willing to let you get your foot in the door due to your skin?

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Racism in the soaps is not just what you see on screen, it is also what happens, or fails to happen behind the scenes. Reading that very little seems to have changed behind the scenes, in terms of production and executive positions, I really couldn't give any of these shows even a passing grade in terms of how they function. I am seeing some generous grades but after 30, 40 years, I think it's time to stop grading on a curve.

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It's wild to think daytime has only gotten more racist while other forms of media are tripping over themselves to catch up. 

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