Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DELVING INTO DIVERSITY: A Multi-Part Roundtable Discussion

Whenever talk turns to The State of Daytime Today, one issue repeatedly brought up is soap operas' lack of diversity, and how they don't accurately represent, either on-screen or behind the scenes, the people who watch them.

SoapOpera451.com is very fortunate in that several of our contributors happen to be African-American women ranging from their 30s to their 60s, all longtime soap fans who made the transition to working in the genre they love.

For the next several weeks, we are going to engage in a round-table discussion with these women, delving into the issues around all kinds of minority representation on television which interest us and, we hope, you, as well.

Please check back regularly for new installments, and leave your own questions and comments below. We can't wait to have you join our conversation and hear what you think!

We open up the dialogue with actress, writer, producer Mariann Aalda, and the question:

From the time you personally started watching soaps, then working in soaps, up to now, how have you seen the approach to diversity issues change and evolve?

MA: I grew up in the fifties, and like many women of that era, my mom was a stay-at-home housewife. My earliest memories of soap operas are of sitting on the floor in front of her while she sat on the couch watching Search for Tomorrow as she braided my hair. Bill Cullen was the host of Price Is Right while, back then, Bob Barker hosted Truth or Consequences; depending on whatever time she got around to braiding my hair, I remember sitting on the floor and watching those shows, too. Then, in the afternoon, while mom was cooking dinner, my sister and I would watch The Mickey Mouse Club; when it was over, mom would sit with us and we’d watch The Edge of Night, together.

I had great aspirations of becoming a Mouseketeer, someday, but I never gave much thought to the color of the characters on the soaps any more than I did to the fact that all the heroines of the fairytales in my storybooks had blond hair and blue eyes or that none of the Mouseketeers looked like me.

That’s just the way it was. Just as it was a BIG DEAL whenever there was a “colored” (a word my mother used till she switched to “black” in the nineties, opting to by-pass “Negro” and African-American”) contestant on one of the game shows.

If my sister and I were outside playing, she’d never fail to call us inside to watch. Then the three of us would sit there praying for “our” contestant to win… or at the very least, to not do anything embarrassing that would make “us” look bad.

It wasn’t till the early seventies/late sixties (by that time, I’d I switched from braids to page-boys and pony-tails and had long been doing my own hair), with the arrival of All My Children (1970) and the characters of Frank and Nancy Grant....

.... And One Life To Live (1968) with the saga of Sadie and Carla (Benari) Gray, that black actors on daytime television (I think there were twelve soaps on at the time), really grabbed my attention.

Until then, the few black characters that peppered daytime had pretty much been perfunctory… in the background, on the sidelines or as a sidekick.

But with AMC and OLTL, black actors had storylines that were front-burner! God bless Agnes Nixon, their creator and head writer. She didn’t just open the door for diversity, she broke it down!!! By that time I had aged-out of any hopes of being a Mouseketeer, but having aspirations of becoming an actress, I could now realistically contemplate the possibility of being on a soap!

More importantly, as a member of the viewing audience, it was heart-warming to see “us” represented and fully recognized as valued, contributing citizens of Pine Valley and Llanview. It was the post-Civil Rights era, and over the next twenty years or so, the populations of other fictional daytime towns like Oakdale (As The World Turns), Genoa City (Young and the Restless), Springfield (Guiding Light) and Sunset Beach became increasingly diverse, as well, changing the landscape of daytime television forever.


Well… maybe not.


Mariann Aalda played DiDi Bannister-Stoner on Edge of Night from 1981 to its final episode on December 28, 1984. She also played Grace Battles on Guiding Light and Lena Hart on Sunset Beach. She is currently starring in M.O.I.S.T.! -- the "sex-istential" comedy-with-music celebrating the seasoned woman -- which she co-wrote/produced/performs with Iona Morris (ex-Fiona Griffin, As The World Turns).

Check out her on-going saga, Edge of Night Today at: http://eontoday.blogspot.com/

1 comment:

SoapFan78 said...

Team Soap Opera 451,

Thank you for writing this series on diversity in soaps. Bravo!

I look forward to the rest of the series.