The Bold Type has long been praised for its onscreen depictions of diversity, inclusivity, and consistent boundary-pushing. But now, star Aisha Dee is calling for that same representation behind the scenes.
In a recent Instagram post, Dee broke down the representation issues on The Bold Type, saying that “the diversity we see in front of the camera needs to be reflected in the diversity of the creative team behind the camera.”
Dee pointed out that, while her character Kat became the first black department head of the show’s fictional Scarlet Magazine, there had never been an actual black female head of department on the Bold Type set. Two full seasons of the show went by before a BIPOC writer was added to the staff. And, in the show’s four-season run, only two episodes were directed by a black woman.
Dee’s complaints are, of course, completely valid. And sadly, they don’t just apply to The Bold Type. A 2017 study found that only 4.8% of TV writers are black and that two-thirds of shows have zero black writers in their rooms. It’s not only ridiculous that this is still a conversation that needs to be had, but it’s also inexcusable that black cast members continually have to shoulder the burden of pointing this out. (See also: Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelor)
Yet despite listing her many justifiable critiques of the show’s mishandled diversity efforts, Dee is also careful to display gratitude at every turn. Dee wrote,
“I always try to bring up my concerns in a positive and constructive way, conscious of the realities that come with being the only woman of color in the room.”
“I never wanted to come across as ungrateful, negative, or difficult.”
And, perhaps, that’s part of the problem as well. Black women are constantly having to exude gratitude in a manner unmatched by their white and male counterparts. Women across the board are already expected to perform gratitude — to be *grateful/thankful/blessed*— in ways that men aren’t, and are much more likely to express gratitude on a regular basis.
But black women specifically don’t have the luxury of being negative, ungrateful, or, gasp, difficult the way white women do. In fact, the “ungrateful black American” has become a trope amplified during the Trump era, gaining traction after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick silently knelt during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality and was ripped apart for it, deemed “ungrateful” for the sport – and the country – that deigned to allow him to have a football career. As The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb wrote back in 2017,
“The belief endures… that affluent African-American entertainers are obliged to adopt a pose of ceaseless gratitude.”
So, Aisha Dee isn’t allowed to be critical of her workplace. And she isn’t allowed to be angry, lest she get hemmed in with the “angry black woman” stereotype. Instead, she has to be “so blessed” and “so thankful” to have a lead role thrown her way. She has to couch her frustrations in “concern,” while still being grateful! So grateful!
It’s great that Dee loves The Bold Type as much as she does and that she’s “proud to be part of something that has inspired, pushed boundaries, subverted expectations, and started conversations.” There is, of course, nothing wrong with her saying so. But it’s also important to note that she doesn’t have to shower the show in compliments and thank-yous just for allowing her to exist within it. She doesn’t need to be grateful to them for putting her in a starring role. “Daring” to hire a black lead isn’t praiseworthy – it’s the baseline.
Hopefully, The Bold Type is taking note. In response to Dee’s call-to-action, The Bold Type producers, Freeform, and Universal Television released a joint statement in support of Dee, stating,
“We applaud Aisha for raising her hand and starting conversations around these important issues. We look forward to continuing that dialogue and enacting positive change. Our goal on The Bold Type is and has always been to tell entertaining, authentic stories that are representative of the world that Kat, Jane, and Sutton live in – we can only do that if we listen.”
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