Wednesday, June 13, 2012

THE COLOR OF DAYTIME

Updated to add:

June 12, 2012 was the 45th Anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the ban against interracial marriage in the United States.

Currently, a record 1 in 12 marriages in the US - some 4.8 million - are classified as interracial.

According to a Pew Report: More than 25 percent of Hispanics and Asians who married in 2010 had a spouse of a different race. That's compared to 17.1 percent of blacks and 9.4 percent of whites. Of the 275,500 new interracial marriages in 2010, 43 percent were white-Hispanic couples, 14.4 percent were white-Asian, 11.9 percent were white-black, and the remainder were other combinations.

When it comes to daytime (what's left of it, anyway), Hispanic and Asian characters are so rare as to be nearly negligible.  African-Americans representation is slightly better.

Below is our 2008 report on the history of Black-White relationships in soaps.
 
Originally published July 15, 2008

THE COLOR OF DAYTIME

The last thing a man newly interested in running for public office needs is a wife who is involved with another man. Or maybe the really, really last thing a man newly interested in running for public office needs is a wife who is involved with another man who also happens to be Black.

Yet Guiding Light's Bill Lewis, who is so furious about new wife Ava's friendship with Remy Boudreau that yesterday he took his anger out on an innocent pizza, seems utterly oblivious to Remy's skin tone and what that could mean for Bill's ambitions.



Ava and Remy don't appear to notice the melanin differential, either.

But this sort of color-blindness wasn't always the norm in daytime.

In 1962, the short-lived PGP soap, A Brighter Day, made history by hiring the first African-American series regular, actor Rex Ingram. The show was promptly canceled that September due to low ratings.

In 1966, Guiding Light hired daytime's first African-American contract players, Billy Dee Williams and Cecily Tyson. The roles were later recast with James Earl Jones and Ruby Dee. Jones also appeared that same year on As The World Turns.

Two years later, OLTL made headlines with the story of an African-American woman, played by light-skinned actress Ellen Holly, who was passing for White. It appeared that the character was involved in an interracial love affair with a Black man, but that turned out not to be the case once her true ethnicity was revealed.

In 1975, Days of Our Lives dipped a toe in the interracial romance waters by introducing the African-American Grant family. David Baninng had turned his back on his mother, Julie, and sought refuge with the Grants, falling, along the way, for their daughter, Valerie.

Actress Tina Andrews told JanuaryMagazine.com:

According to Andrews, over the course of two years, the character became so popular that the "powers-that-be decided to make our story more mainstream by introducing my character to the son of the lead white female character on the show. There was such wonderful chemistry between Valerie and David Banning, played by actor Richard Guthrie, that the writers slowly developed an interracial relationship between the two"...(A)s the relationship between Valerie Grant and David Banning heated up, her fan mail bottomed out, going from "100 per cent positive" to largely negative and hostile. Valerie Grant's character was shipped off to Stockholm and Andrews was canned.

In 1987, GH scion Tom Hardy renewed a relationship with former girlfriend Simone. He was white, she was Black and that seemed to be the gist of their character development. The relationship was never front-burner and seemed to attract only perfunctory racism from the usual suspects, as if to remind viewers that something allegedly controversial was, in fact, happening.

The good people of Oakdale were a bit more vocal about their disapproval when Duncan and Jessica married in 1992.

Duncan's grown daughter, Beatrice, and Jessica's parents opposed the union and didn't attend the McKechnies wedding. Jessica's good friend, Lisa, also argued against it. (Presumably, if Lisa could waltz down the aisle eight times and still stay within her race, why couldn't Jessica?) Fortunately, the power of Duncan and Jessica's daughter Bonnie's cuteness was enough to bring the nay-sayers around.

It's interesting to note that, up to this point, all of the couplings had been of the White Man/Black woman variety, a combination that is considered more acceptable to the viewing audience. (The OLTL example doesn't count, as Carla was eventually revealed to be Black, as well). The one time, in 1982, when it looked like soaps might buck this trend was when All My Children's Jenny and Jesse went on the run to New York City. The summer storyline proved so popular that AMC was even able to unseat GH from its #1 rating spot for a few weeks. And actors Kim Delaney and Darnell Williams were so young and beautiful it seemed impossible to believe such chemistry would or even could be ignored.

It was. Jenny continued pining for Greg and Jesse stayed true to Angie.

Almost seventeen years later, the new #1 show, Y&R, gave the riskier coupling another shot, pairing morose rich-girl Victoria with upstanding corporate executive, Neil.

Actor Kristoff St. John told Soap Opera Weekly:

Since the rather impetuous start of this interracial romance, viewers have deluged the show with negative mail. St. John says some of it has even arrived at his home tucked between the gas bill and coupons...

"Y&R has chosen not to make an issue out of the color line. My first impression was, that's good," St. John says. "After living in the storyline for a few months, I think it's almost their duty to say something about it now through some character. Bring it to the table - this racism - if we're getting this kind of mail. Let someone say, 'I don't agree with this relationship because you're black and she's white.'

"I've got mixed feelings about it, I really do. I'm treading a fine line of loving it and really hating it. I'm appreciative of the work and of coming to work. I'm appreciating the challenge of the storyline. I don't mind pissing off some people, but in a palatable way. This is the biggest horse pill in quite a while for this show."
The story was shuttled soon after.
(Seven years earlier, in 1992, OLTL viewers met Nora, a Jewish attorney divorced from African-American Hank. But their relationship was long severed by the time the Gannons settled in Llanview. In 1994, Another World's Felicia had a brief romance with her African-American editor, Marshall, but it was over and done with in the blink of an eye.)


In the 21st century, race wasn't much of an issue when Mel and Rick married on GL, or when Amber cheated on her teen husband with Usher on B&B. And Passions' Julian and Eve had so many... unique... problems (sociopath transgendered child? Severed penis? Demons in a closet?) that race, in comparison, didn't loom particularly important. It doesn't appear to be playing much of a role in the romance of Y&R's Lily and Cane, either. Though, again, all are pairings of Black women with white men.

These days, B&B is suggesting that we might see biracial Marcus with Steffy. (Personally, I am much more disturbed by the incestuous overtones of that relationship rather than by their skin tones. And that the actor playing Marcus is 27 if you believe Wikipedia, and 32(!) if you go by IMDB.com.)

So considering daytime's spotty history with interracial relationships, do you believe that Remy and Ava have a chance on GL?

Let us know in the Comments below.

(The above is not intended to be a comprehensive list of every interracial pairing ever attempted on soaps -- for instance, I deliberately left out AMC's wildly popular Noah and Julia, because Sydney Penny was playing a Hispanic woman, not a white one; which is somehow believed to be more palatable -- just a broad overview. Please let us know which other storylines you've liked -- or disliked -- over the years!)

7 comments:

Oakdalian said...

Let's not forget that color blindness only happens on-screen. Behind the scenes, no one is making the effort to give people of color material that rivals what their white counterparts get. Remy was always a joke, and he still is. So is Bonnie in Oakdale. Their airtime is pretty much non existent and uneventful. That makes their multi-ethnic romances a moot point.

Esther said...

I remember when AMC took part of two supercouples, left behind by their co-stars and tried to pair them up. Angie and Cliff went nowhere fast.

RoseVioletDaisy said...

Excellent point, Oakdalian.

Race might have been a relative non-issue for Rick and Mel, but that was mostly because their relationship was never given much respect or airtime in order to deal with practically any issues. And why did they break up again? So that Rick could go after Beth only to get dumped by her so she could go crawling back to the murderous sociopath who treated her like a piece of property? Wow, what a great story.

Ava and Remy have no chance but it has nothing to do with them being bi-racial, it's has to do with them being such boring, ill-defined characters that practically nobody cares about being played by the two weakest adult actors on the show. Now give a Yvonna Wright's Mel a real relationship with a real character being played by a real actor and give them some real airtime and writing, then I'll be excited.

Mo said...

Ava and Remy are certainly better together than Ava & Bill.

Didn't it turn out Alan Spaulding had a long-lost child with a black woman from his past? (I can't keep up with Alan's family tree...)

Greeneb said...

I just wanted to mention that the GL characters played by Billy Dee Williams & Cicely Tyson & later by James Earl Jones & Ruby Dee were named Dr. Jim Frazier & Nurse Martha Frazier.

Greeneb

Austingirl said...

Let's not forget Phylis and Damon on Y&R. I think that was the first real white woman and black man relationship complete with love scenes.I hated how that storyline ended because Damon was a real interesting and much needed character after Malcolm left.

Preta said...

So very glad I found your link, as it's a really sad state of affairs, what has become of ALL of these couples, not a one allowed to stay together for any real length of time.

I've constantly asked myself how much of this is a reflection, on couples who actually do stay together for many years?

One Life To Live is the 'worst' as far as I'm concerned, and with the Vega Brothers it's even worse. As a 'veteran' of these soaps (which only seem to get worse as time goes on, something tells me we'll see even less of them on t.v. in the near future.), I (and several others) pulled so hard for Tina Andrews and Richard Guthrie (who stated it was the best thing to happen to him on t.v., before he passed away), because we weren't used to seeing anything like that back in the day. But not everyone 'complained' about the match up.

A very sad and tragic commentary on our society, that hasn't gotten better all these years later, but perhaps there is hope with the cable networks, in that of Jada Pinkett Smith's series 'HawthoRNe', where she's having a serious relationship (and a baby) with actor Michael Vartan who plays her love interest. I pray they don't screw this one up.