"Some of you may know me from my films like Madeas Family Reunion and
Why Did I Get Married?, or you may know my sitcoms, like
Meet the Browns and
House of Payne. Or you may be white."
Similar to the Girl-Show Ghetto
, but with racial minorities instead of females. This is the idea that fiction centered on a racial minority cannot entertain or otherwise appeal to people outside of that race. Marketers might fear that a work starring a racial minority will be focused on issues of race and culture, driving away audiences who are not interested in such movies. They might also fear that white audiences won't be able to relate to a minority in the lead, or worse, find the movies preachy and/or guilt-inducing simply because of who is in them.
The result of this belief is that works starring people of a racial minority in the work's place of origin are rare compared to works starring a member of a racial majority. If a Western work of fiction wishes to have a diverse cast or deal with issues of race, it will likely star a white person with minorities as supporting actors. See Mighty Whitey
, White Man's Burden
, White Male Lead
, Token White
, and Pop-Culture Isolation
. Adaptions and anything based on a true story
fearing this might go for a race lift
to get around it, making any minorities in the original work white instead. Alternatively, they might find a white person who had a minor role in the original story and focus on him
It is not uncommon for works featuring non-white leads to become popular when advertising hides or downplays the presence of non-white characters. This is especially true in written works, where advertising does not require visual representations of the characters. Sometimes these works see no drop in popularity when the lead is shown to be a person of color, suggesting that readers will enjoy a good story once they get over their initial reluctance from seeing a person of color on the cover.
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- This has been increasingly common in Comic Books. With the exception of Spawn, it has been hard for minority leads to maintain sales of their comics for long periods, especially if they're brand new characters. This phenomenon led to the creation of the Affirmative Action Legacy.
- Dwayne McDuffie, a late great pioneer in the comic book industry, had suffered through this his whole life when being a writer for a comic book series. He called it the rule of three: Where if three or more black characters are in a comic book series, it's considered a "black product" and thus many white readers, whom are the overwhelming majority of comic book buyers, ignore it.
- He also noted the double standard in the industry: where he got flack from readers for writing a Justice League of America run with a largely non-white cast, a white writer would not get the same criticism for writing a book with an all-white cast.
- At New York Comic-Con, writer Don McGregor mentioned how his Black Panther run came under criticism from white readers over the lack of white characters. His solution? Have the Panther fight the Ku Klux Klan.
- This is a major reason why Christopher Priest no longer writes for Marvel or DC. Despite the fact that he previously had a lengthy career writing titles as varied as Deadpool, Hawkman, Justice League Task Force, and Green Lantern, his tenures on titles like Steel and his historic Black Panther run thoroughly pigeonholed him as a "black" writer. He has mentioned that it became difficult to find work on any non-minority titles, and that being offered a Falcon solo book was ultimately the straw that broke the camel's back.
- He also invoked this trope while discussing The Crew, a short-lived book he wrote featuring War Machine and several other minority heroes. He initially tried to get characters like Gambit and Justice added to the cast precisely because he didn't want The Crew to be seen as a "black" comic, but when this fell through, he ended up with an entirely-minority cast. He claims the lack of white characters is one of the things that helped kill the book, as retailers didn't feel like ordering a series without any recognizable white superheroes.
- One of the theories as to why The Princess and the Frog wasn't as successful as it was expected would have been because of the protagonist's ethnicity. However, other factors from lack of advertising, to being released at the same time as Avatar, to the use of traditional animation have also been blamed. Mind you, the movie was still successful as far as animated movies go.
- Danny Glover has tried to raise funds for a film on the Haitian Revolution. However, he keeps getting rejected because the story lacks white heroes. Read about it here.
- Similarly, the Jamie Chung film Abduction Of Eden struggled to find funding because it starred an Asian-American lead. Chung has said in interviews that the execs wanted to include a heroic White Male Lead who would eventually save Eden, something the producers were adamant about avoiding since the film is based on a true story.
- Tyler Perry's movies are not very popular outside the black community, though there is controversy on whether it's because white people don't want to see movies with all-black casts or because the movies are of poor quality. And that's all that needs to be said about it.
- Spike Lee gets hit with this, too. His Miracle at St. Anna didn't get the best reviews (34% at Rotten Tomatoes) but that alone doesn't explain its incredibly low box office numbers (a little over US$9 million with a budget of US$45 million).
- Even Halle Berry has stated that this belief makes it hard for her to find roles.
- The Wiz was a black-led musical version of The Wizard of Oz. The film version released in 1978 was a box office failure that greatly damaged the perceived financial viability of all-black films.
- Red Tails was in development hell for over 20 years because the idea of an all-black cast wasn't appealing enough for a movie studio to fund it, so producer George Lucas funded the film entirely out of his own pocket and it finally saw the light of day in 2012. It got a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes and didn't make back its budget at the box office. Like many other examples, it's unclear if this is because of the all-black cast or because there are other valid criticisms of the film.
- However, the film was quite successful for an independently-produced project and Lucas is trying to get a sequel made. As for the reviews, it was doomed simply for having George Lucas's name on it.
- In Hitch, Will Smith was paired with Latina Eva Mendes to avoid risking audiences dismissing it as a "black film."
- It's depressingly common — especially in the Young Adult category — for minority lead characters to be obscured or get an outright race lift on book covers, with this sometimes passed around as an excuse for doing so. One of the best-known recent examples is the U.S. cover for Justine Larbalestier's Liar. She blogs about the change here.
- My Brother And Me, a Nickelodeon sitcom with a mostly black cast, only lasted 13 episodes, though strangely, re-runs would be kept in rotation for a good decade.
- Nickelodeon's live-action roster has become steadily whiter over the years. Shows like Cousin Skeeter and Kenan & Kel seem to be a thing of the past. It has gotten to the point that they will only allow one show with a black lead, and when there's a new show of that type announced, they will cancel the incumbent show.
- The Real McCoy, an all-black comedy sketch show on The BBC, bombed.
- The TV series Kung Fu was originally meant to star Bruce Lee. However, executives feared that a show starring an Asian man would be rejected by viewers and cast the white David Carradine as the half-Chinese Caine.
- The 2003 ReBoot of The Twilight Zone suffered from this. It aired on UPN, a station known for its minority shows, and it ended up being forced to reflect that (plots such as a racist white man waking up black, Forest Whitaker as the host, etc). It only lasted one season, presumably because the changes scared away some white viewers but weren't enough to attract UPN's usual demographic.
- UPN in general faced this problem for its entire existence. While its black-led sitcoms were always popular with black audiences, none of them ever managed to break out of the ghetto and gain a substantial white fanbase. When UPN was merged with The WB in 2006 to form The CW, most of UPN's black-led shows wound up getting left behind, and the new network aimed for the WB's white middle-class audience. Ironically the WB itself started off similarly to UPN and had the same problem with its black sitcoms. Likewise Fox in the early '90s.
- All American Girl, starring Margaret Cho, only lasted one season. The show initially centered on Margaret Kim and her family. During its run, the producers shifted focus away from Margaret's family, which resulted in most of the Asian actors being fired.
- The Earthsea Trilogy had explicitly non-white main characters, though taking place in a fantasy world, so the books themselves are actually a pretty good example of an aversion (fantasy being a very white-dominated genre); its covers, however, have not always lived up to this, with some making the main character white. In addition, the TV miniseries adaptation gave everyone a Caucasian race lift save for the main character's best friend who remained black, and the anime Tales from Earthsea, due to the way Japanese animation portrays ethnicity in general, made everyone look Caucasian.
- Outsourced (the TV adaptation) had a majority cast of Americans/Canadians/British of subcontinental descent. This—combined with the subject matter of outsourcing hitting a nerve with Americans and its multicultural humor that Americans who'd never lived outside their country would not understand—led to the show's cancellation.
- Jokingly Lampshaded in The Real Husbands Of Hollywood. J.B. Smoove eventually leaves the show to join the cast of The Millers, and brags about how much more he's getting paid now that he's on a "white show" rather than a BET production. He's also seen wearing a shirt that reads "White people love me."
- In an earlier episode, Chris Rock guest-stars and explains to Kevin Hart the difference between "Black famous" and "Actually famous," essentially invoking this trope in all but name.
- There have also been studies that heavily suggest that this belief is true. They presented people with identical movie synopses, but with either a white cast or a black cast. And people picked their own race/ethnicity as the one they'd most want to see.
- Discussed by Cracked in "5 Old-Timey Prejudices That Still Show Up in Every Movie." Three of them, including the top two, address elements of this trope. #2 says that movies always star a white person (or Will Smith) and #1 discusses how white audiences don't care about history not involving white people.
- This article, while mainly about beauty standards among women, notes that this trope (or the inverse) may be why Adele and Bruno Mars were put in the "pop" category at the Grammys despite the fact that their music is usually described as R&B/soul/pop. The author also notes that Cee Lo Green is not counted as pop, despite being just as successful in the mainstream as Adele and Bruno Mars.
- Rockism refers to the belief by critics that rock music is more "authentic" than other genres. Among other things, it is criticized for being the reason why critics often dismiss genres such as disco, R&B and Hip Hop, genres that are mostly dominated by African-Americans, ignoring the fact that rock was invented by African-Americans.
- Jazz suffered this too at the hands of music critics when it first arose, and mostly due to racism. However, over the decades it's broken out of the ghetto, and is even taught in schools alongside classical.
- This is the reason why many Hollywood filmmakers in general choose to cast mostly white actors when remaking foreign films. However, many people have criticized this, calling the practice "racebending" or "whitewashing" and pushing for a more diverse cast.
- This often can lead to Critical Dissonance. A work with a majority-minority cast may often end up panned by critics but beloved by the minority group because it is one of the few representations of them.
- Issa Rae, the creator of Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl, discusses this in this interview. She says that the show couldn't exist without the Internet because TV has a very strict notion of how a black character should act, which is why ABG won't become a network TV show anytime soon.
"In one meeting, during the first ten seconds, this guy said, "The show is pretty funny. This is about a typical black woman with her black women problems." And then said big names were necessary to make it to television."
Breaking Out of the Ghetto
- Al Simmons was black, but Spawn was still the most popular comic book series of the 1990s. Note, however, that due to his full-body costume (not to mention being disfigured), Spawn's ethnicity wasn't immediately evident.
- Somewhat subverted with DC Comics Steel, who was the most popular of the replacement Superman characters during The Death of Superman storyline. His own series didn't last long, but that may have been more due to The Great Comics Crash of 1996 than anything.
- Chew has been a very strong seller for Image Comics and a bit of a mainstream comic hit, with an Asian American protagonist.
- Static from the Milestone comic line. He was easily the company's most successful character before being integrated into DC. Though he is largely unused by DC Comics, he still has a large fan following due to his humor, charisma, and relatability. His animated series, Static Shock, was also a large hit at the time.
- Miles Morales, the second Ultimate Spider-Man, has proven popular with fans and critics despite the initial backlash the character faced over being a "Black Spider-Man."
- The 2014 Ms. Marvel stars Kamala Khan, a Muslim, Pakistani-American female and has been highly successful, thus breaking out of this and the Girl-Show Ghetto.
- Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Martin Lawrence, and Eddie Murphy tend to avoid this ghetto.
- Samuel L. Jackson is notably a modern pop cultural icon, although this may have less to do with race and more to do with sheer muthafuckin' charisma and the massive amount of films he's in.
- Stepin Fetchit got his start in the black vaudeville circuit as a character actor. However, his slow-witted tomming in the 1929 version of Showboat endeared him with white audiences, and led to mainstream success.
- Martial arts films starring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li have gained mainstream popularity in the United States.
- Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and its sequels have a Korean and an Indian as the lead characters. They are also popular, hilarious, profitable, and well-reviewed. Notably, the studio, apparently believing in this trope, attempted to change the main characters' ethnicities to Jewish in order to make them more "acceptable" to white viewers. The writers (who are Jewish) responded by including two Jewish buddies... as side characters.
- 2012 movie Think Like a Man, which had an almost all-black cast and was Based on an Advice Book by black comedian Steve Harvey, topped the box office when released in theaters, actually pushing The Hunger Games to No. 4.
- Slumdog Millionaire is a decidedly Indian story, yet it earned both critical and commercial acclaim in the west as well as that year's best picture Oscar.
- Lilo & Stitch (and Lilo & Stitch: The Series) stars a pair of native Hawaiian sisters and their various alien True Companions; even most of the secondary human cast (Cobra Bubbles, Mrs. Hasigawa) are non-white. Nevertheless the movie was quite successful. Not as successful as most Disney originals, but that may have been from competing with Scooby-Doo.
- The bulk of the main cast of the Spy Kids series is Hispanic, with the movies revolving around the exploits of the Mexican-American Cortez family (fitting, since the series was created by the Mexican-American Robert Rodriguez). It was also one of the most popular children's movie franchises of the 2000s, spawning three sequels and grossing over $500 million.
- The Disney features Aladdin and Mulan were both wildly successful, while having casts consisting entirely of Arabic and Chinese or Manchu characters. Pocahontas, which also features Native American protagonists, has also been Vindicated by History and has more fans these days.note
- Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as a black ex-slave and was both a critical and commercial success.
- In 2013, The Best Man Holiday, the sequel to a cult classic film, The Best Man, that came out in 1999 about the relationships between African-American couples, was a surprising success at the box office and was even more profitable percentage wise compared to Thor: The Dark World, the biggest release at the time. The film had a small budget of 17 million, but made over 71 million dollars in profit. Pretty impressive, since romantic films starring African-Americans usually don't do well at the box office.
- A similar instance was cited for No Good Deed, which starred Idris Elba and Taraji P Henson. Though it was savaged by critics, the film managed to pull in 51 million on a 13 million budget, making it a surprise success. This trope was even cited by box office analysts, who stated that it was unusual for a black-led thriller to find success like that at the box office.
- This happened as early as the 1850s with the English translation and publication of A Thousand and One Nights. Those stories have been wildly popular with Europeans and Americans ever since, despite featuring Arabs and Persians as their main characters.
- The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, who wrote the popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, has two biracial lead characters. However, note that the leads' race is not immediately obvious on the cover art, unlike the cover art for The Lightning Thief. Might be Percy doesn't immediately look white, so most readers are probably going to assume that he is, but he could as well be Asian.
- The title character of the popular Alex Cross series by James Patterson is black. This is another example of a book where the POC lead character's race is kept ambiguous until after you've started reading.
- English author Zadie Smith avoided the ghetto with her first novel, White Teeth, which featured Loads and Loads of Characters representing many different races and religions. But she remarked in an interview that it bothered her when fans of the book came up to her and said: "My favorite character in White Teeth was [character who was of that person's race or religion]. I could really identify with him/her." Smith said that people need to be exposed to the experiences - whether real or fictional - of people who are not like them. Even though her mother was a black Jamaican, Smith listed a number of white males as her favorite authors.
- The Joy Luck Club is perhaps the most famous example of Asian American literature in existence. It was made into a critically acclaimed film.
- Katniss from The Hunger Games is probably biracial, according to Word of God. However, it's not brought up at all in the series, and considering from the racism surrounding the casting of a black actor as Rue, most people probably didn't know about it.
- The Animorphs series stared a black character (Cassie) and a hispanic character (Marco), in an era where it was extremely rare for minorities to star in kids' books. Their races were even made obvious by the cover art, and it was mentioned every once in a while in the text. And as a bonus, the cover model for Cassie wasn't even unrealistically light-skinned.
- It's also played with a bit, with cousins Jake and Rachel. Jake is an aspiring basketball player, Rachel is a drop-dead gorgeous blonde gymnast who gets straight A's and spends most of her time at the mall. They're both described as tall, they're, respectively, the team leader and the team heavy. But look at their names: Jacob and Rachel. Jake's brother is named Tom (Thomas) and Rachel's parents are Naomi and Dan (Daniel). One of her sisters is named Sarah. Way past the halfway mark of the series, there's a time-travel book that involves a what-if-the-Nazis-won timeline where Jake mentions that while some Jews are liberal, his father certainly isn't, and, when they go back to Nazi Germany, Rachel also states that her dad is Jewish. Judaism is considered to be passed through the mother, and it's worth noting that it's not their mothers they mention, but it does mean that Cassie is the only one of the human Animorphs not to be mixed-race, since Marco's father is white and Tobias' father is an alien.
- The Starz network crime drama Power was created with this trope in mind. The marketing and advertising for the show was specifically intended to bring in more African American subscribers. It worked and the series became their highest rated series since Spartacus.
- The Wire. Almost all the cast is black. It's largely about the problems of low-income communities and housing projects almost exclusively inhabited by black people. It is also regarded as one of the best TV series ever made. It is especially popular among academics, so much so that Harvard, UWM, Durham, and other colleges are offering courses on the series.
- The Cosby Show is probably one of the biggest aversions of this in TV history. Though, of course, Cosby had to work like heck to convince network execs that a show about a professional-class African American family was something that people would watch.
- Its sister series, A Different World, was also largely successful.
- Little Mosque on the Prairie, a Canadian sitcom about Muslims, ran a respectable six seasons and was a big hit for the CBC, even attracting media attention south of the border.
- Desmond's, a Channel Four comedy in Britain, became almost as famous as The Cosby Show. The star of Desmond's was invited to do a walk-on part on The Cosby Show as a relative of the Huxtables.
- Goodness Gracious Me, a British comedy sketch show with an Indian cast, was highly successful.
- Kenan & Kel, a Nickelodeon sitcom with two black leads, ran for 62 episodes and is beloved by children of the '90s.
- Ditto for Sister Sister which featured five black protagonists, and the leads were girls to boot. It ran for six seasons and was quite popular on Nickelodeon.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a black-led sitcom, and is a classic that launched Will Smith's career.
- Family Matters, particularly after the introduction of Steve Urkel.
- Many shows on UPN, such as Moesha, The Parkers, One On One, Girlfriends, etc... at least by the standards of UPN.
- The Jeffersons, the longest running black sitcom in history. It was rated in the top 30 for most of its run. Granted there were white actors in the cast but the leads and the majority of the cast were black.
- Jeffersons producer Norman Lear also struck gold with both Good Times and Sanford and Son, although both shows would be dogged with accusations of Uncle Tomfoolery, and are often mocked as "black shows that only appeal to white people."
- Seinfeld was originally viewed this way by at least one studio executive, who thought that most Americans would find it "too Jewish."
- The Brothers Garcia, a successful sitcom about a Hispanic family, featured an all-Hispanic cast as well as guest stars of many ethnicities. It was one of Nickelodeon's more popular shows and ran for four seasons.
- Scandal has a black female in the lead, meaning it could avert both the minority show ghetto and the girl show ghetto. As of October 2012, it has been renewed for a second season. It also has decent ratings and good reviews.
- How To Get Away With Murder managed to have the highest-rated debut of the season, which analysts noted was a rarity for black-led shows. Along with the premier of Black-ish, the show was cited as an example of how ABC's push for more ethnic diversity was paying off.
- Nikita has an Asian female in the lead and, as of January 2013, has three seasons. Like Scandal, it breaks out of both the minority show ghetto and the girl show ghetto.
- That's So Raven is recognized as one of the Disney Channel's iconic shows, essentially acting as the codifier for shows that weren't influenced by Lizzie McGuire. It was so popular, it ran past the typical Disney Channel 65-episode limitnote and gained a spin-off, Cory in the House.
- In Living Color! was pretty much the African-American version of Saturday Night Live and became a huge success for the Fox network, and was at one time competing neck-and-neck with SNL for ratings. The show ran for many seasons until it was finally cancelled, but not due to Executive Meddling, but because the majority of the show's main cast all became big stars in their own right and went on to make successful films and television shows for themselves. And some of the people behind the scenes went on to create MADtv which was also successful, though it was no longer a predominately African-American show anymore.
- Magic: The Gathering's "Mirage" block is set in an African-themed setting and most of the human characters on the cards are black. It was also successful enough that many of the concepts introduced in it (the block structure, "enters the battlefield" abilities, sets designed with Limited play in mind, reminder text for keywords) are simply taken for granted in modern Magic. It was also the first set re-released for Magic Online and the character of Teferi came back to be the protagonist in the later "Time Spiral" block. Teferi is in fact popular enough that he was eventually printed as a planeswalker card despite the fact that he canonically gave up his planeswalker spark, also he is the only planeswalker who can be a commander in Commander/EDH format. This is quite an honor as normally only creatures can be commanders.
- Backyard Sports become immensely popular with young children even though you could count the (non-ethnic) white males on one hand.
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was very popular, having run on CBS for most of 1970s.
- Dora the Explorer is universally loved by small children, despite featuring a Latina protagonist whose ethnicity is played up.
- Similar to Dora, Doc McStuffins has proven to be very popular, with The New York Times actually commenting on the franchise's success by saying that it provides a positive role model for African-American girls while appealing to other demographics as well.
- The Avatar: The Last Airbender universe is set in a fantasy world with heavy inspiration from the Far East. Despite this, it is has become incredibly popular. While the live action movie kept the Far East cultural inspiration, it mixed up some of the races: the Japanese-like Fire Nation became a mix of Indians, Middle Easterners and Polynesians, while the blue-eyed and tan Water Nation became a mix of white lead actors and Inuit extras. Sequel Series The Legend of Korra was just as popular, and also adds breaking out of the Girl-Show Ghetto to its list of achievements.
- The Boondocks, despite being rather controversial, especially in its first season, has actually grown to become one of Adult Swim's most popular productions. Its third season was even regularly beating out both Family Guy and Robot Chicken in the ratings.
- Jackie Chan Adventures has an entirely Asian main cast, with the recurring characters Captain Black and Viper the only major Caucasian characters on the heroes' side. It was also one of the most successful original Kids' WB! shows of the early 2000s, with a devoted fanbase that's still active today. Perhaps this is to be expected, since the cast was headed up by a highly fictionalized version of Jackie Chan himself, who also tends to avert this.
- Static Shock, which had a largely black cast, was one of Kids' WB!'s highest rated cartoons at the time. In its final season, only Pokémon managed to consistently outperform it in the ratings.