Why A Diverse ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Cast Isn’t Making Progress
ABC’s hit “Dancing With The Stars” will premiere on Monday with the most diverse lineup in the show’s 14-season arc—but that might not exactly denote progress for celebrities of color.
Remember what the thinly-veiled premise of this show is: to generally cast B-list actors, injured or on-the-cusp-of-retiring athletes, irrelevant rappers, and politico offspring who are willing to risk injury to ankles and ego in exchange for five more minutes of fame that might be leveraged to resuscitate careers and rehabilitate mucked-up images—even if it’s just until the season ends, when they slowly slip into the abyss of reality-contest show obscurity.
Simply, if your favorite celeb is featured on the show—a program whose most recent season finale garnered only a 4.1 rating among viewers ages 18-49—chances are that her career has plateaued.
This isn’t a bad thing for an eight-time Grammy award winner like 67-year-old Gladys Knight, whose presence this season is undoubtedly welcomed by avid “Dancing With The Stars” fans like, say, my mom. But for younger, lesser known (outside of the world of Disney), and less credentialed talent like 20-year-old actor Roshon Fegan, the swift patter of a step-ball-change sounds more like a death knell, signaling to viewers, advertisers, and sponsors that their beloved star may be on the brink of fading out.
News of this diverse cast also comes on the heels of a markedly less diverse celebration of star-studded power: the Oscars. This year, the prestigious award show’s host, Billy Crystal, unloosed a slew of racially awkward (and sexist) moments and ill-conceived jokes that dually reflected the racial insensitivities and disparities in casting that continue to taint Hollywood. The overwhelmingly white, male Academy reminded us, yet again, how rare it is for a person of color to (a) be nominated for an award and win it, (b) be awarded for roles that don’t eerily replicate racist stereotypes like mammy/maid, jezebel, welfare queen, and violent menace, or (c) be invited to the Academy just to perform as a musician or a comedian.
Only when more people of color enter the A-list echelon of celebrity can we genuinely call this diversified cast of “Dancing With The Stars” a real win for progress. Without it, the casting feels more like an act of pacification for those of us who’d really like to see actors and musicians of color contesting for more Golden Globes, Oscars, and Grammy Awards instead of mirror-balls.
And to think it only took more than a dozen seasons for this B, C, and D-list billing show to throw us the bone.
Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress.