Bunheads and “Message” Stories

Giveaway Note: I’ll be picking two winners in the Libriomancer Giveaway tonight, so if you haven’t entered yet, this is your last chance.


Blame Charlie Finlay and his friend Jessie for this rant. They’re the ones who brought this interview with Bunheads and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino to my attention.

Context: Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, posted on Twitter, “Hey… Bunheads: really? You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?”

Unfortunately, the interviewer seems more interested in talking about what a shame it is women can’t support each other, and how Rhimes was oh so wrong to criticize a fellow woman. Sherman-Palladino indirectly addresses Rhimes’ question around the 3:05 mark, when she starts talking about all of the pressures of making a pilot episode, how she had to find dancers who could also act, and she didn’t have a lot of time, and “I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from.”

Wait, what? The original question is why nonwhite characters aren’t represented, and you’re talking about “message shows”?

Every story has a message. Some stories are blatant and clumsy about it, but as the author of some rather silly stuff, I can tell you that even the the fluffiest, lighthearted tale has meaning. When someone like Sherman-Palladino chooses to limit diversity in her stories and justifies it with this kind of rationale, she’s damn well sending messages. Messages like:

  • White people are normal. Nonwhite people require justification to exist.
  • My target audience does not include people different from myself.
  • My world is small and narrow.

Amy Sherman-Palladino has the right to create whatever kind of story she wants, and I don’t believe for a moment she intended to send those messages. Having watched a number of Gilmore Girls episodes, I think Sherman-Palladino has done some very praiseworthy things. I loved her characters, the dynamics and banter and conflict and love between them all.

None of which makes Rhimes’ question any less valid, or Sherman-Palladino’s answer any less weak.

I’m singling her out because the attitude and response here are so common. How many times have we seen authors and editors challenged for their lack of diversity, only to have them reply, “I refuse to bow to the bullies of the PC movement” or “I don’t believe every story has to be a Lesson about diversity” or “I have too much integrity to change my story just to meet your arbitrary quotas.”

I don’t care about quotas. I object to whitewashed stories because they’re dishonest. Because they perpetuate a long pattern of sidelining or erasing those who aren’t like me. Because our world is bigger than that.