You're watching your favorite sit-com — it's fluff, but it's harmless fluff, right? And you're laughing at the latest antics of the cast, when all of a sudden it hits you — "Aren't there any black people in New York City?"
You've just run across a program guilty of Monochrome Casting. The melanin content of the actors simply doesn't vary much at all. Almost all of these programs consist of either an all-black or all-white cast; given that the reasons for this trope's existence are primarily based on demographics, it would not be shocking to see more Hispanic versions in the near future, however.
It is not yet a Discredited Trope — a product of the Leave It to Beaver era — but it still holds more sway than most people realize. Most often, this trope is seen in sit-coms, where it is used to help target a single demographic.
Sometimes you'll get a Token Minority or Token White appearing in a walk-on role in the show; if he's a black man on a white show, then he's probably there for a Very Special Episode about racism, while if he's a white guy on a primarily African-American show, then he's probably there because the writers were in need of Acceptable Targets.
Now, some shows are set in environments where it might even seem forced to have any sort of ethnic diversity; this trope doesn't apply to these programs so much. For instance, the rarified world of the superwealthy that often dominates in Soap Operas really doesn't have many blacks or Hispanics (except as servants, and that might be a bit too much realism for your negative-publicity averse executive); likewise, the Chicago public-housing projects displayed in Good Times were pretty much all-black by the time the show aired in the 70s. Similarly, much of Europe was almost all-white until relatively recently (and many parts still are, especially in the East), and there are small towns in rural America that just don't have much in terms of diversity. In some countries, such as Japan or South Korea, ethnic homogeneity is practically state policy. It's when a show exists in an environment like New York or London, where diversity would be almost mandatory, that they can be accused guilty of monochrome casting.
Historically, Monochrome Casting was (at least in part) often the fault of Executive Meddling, either overt or covert. Before about 1965, it was standard for television stations and movie chains operating in the southern US to edit movies and TV shows to remove non-stereotypical African-American characters. Maids and criminals were fine, scientists and soldiers were not. If an African-American character was so intrinsic to the show that he or she couldn't be edited out, the show or movie simply wouldn't be shown in the Southnote A strong contender for Crowning Moment of WTF came in May 1970, when a Mississippi state commission voted that the state's public networks would not air Sesame Street, stating that "Mississippi was not yet ready" for the show's integrated cast. This naturally would cut into profits, so producers tended to make the entire cast white. One of the first shows to challenge this was Hogan's Heroes, whose producers cast a black actor as Hogan's second-in-command/camp genius specifically to make it impossible for Southern stations to edit the character out.
However, sometimes Monochrome Casting is more understandable in older works, due simply to demographic changes. In 1940, for example, only 1 in 10 Americans was nonwhite; now it's between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3, depending on who counts as "nonwhite." So, statistically speaking, one could show nine white characters in a 1940 film or 2 or 3 white characters now and maintain plausible deniability.
Modern viewers often expect Monochrome Casting in situations where it would be historically inaccurate. It would be, for instance, historically plausible to show a non-white character living around the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's time, as England had significant contact with the Middle East and Africa at that time, but nobody in our time would expect that.
Occasionally Truth in Television, because even in places with ethnically diverse populations, it's not uncommon to see people clustered together in monochromatic groups due to self-segregation.
Contrast People of Hair Color. Compare Humans Are White, a similar phenomenon in unrealistic works. Contrast the Five-Token Band, where it seems the writers were trying too hard in the opposite direction. Compare to White Male Lead in which, while the cast is ethnically diverse, the main character and Audience Surrogate is still white. May overlap with Pop-Culture Isolation. Compare Plenty of Blondes. Compare Chromosome Casting, the equivalent of this trope in sex (when characters of only one sex appear in a work).
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Anime And Manga
Urd and Her Mother Hild from Ah! My Goddess are examples of brown-skinned major characters, although neither is human.
The later seasons of Naruto added in several black ninja like Killer Bee and Omoi.
Blood+ has a Japanese protagonist but takes place across several different countries. Two members of the heroine's supporting cast are white, while another is black. Additionally, the lead antagonist's Dragon is a black man.
Fullmetal Alchemist turns this trope completely upside down. The core cast is mostly European, but there are a number of exceptions. The show's universe draws heavily from World War II Europe, heavily mixed with a conflict-ridden counterpart to the Middle East. Because of this, true-to-life racial and cultural tensions are depicted on a very frequent basis. As for specific cast, Paninya and Jerso are both black, and a number of characters of varying degrees of importance come from the fictional nations of Ishbal and Xing, which are stand-ins for the Middle East and China respectively. In the first anime, the Xing region did not send many representatives. Furthermore, all Asians in this Japanese show can be assumed to be "Chinese," meaning that the first anime is the polar opposite of this trope.
Afro Samurai is another aversion. It doesn't hurt that it was made to cater to an American audience first.
Eyeshield 21 had a recurring team of American rivals, which were fairly diverse. The character Patrick "Panther" Spence was a black teen with a fairly large role.
Of note is Seinen manga Me And The Devil Blues, a story chronicling the life of blues musician Robert Johnson had he actually won his talent from the devil, as some of the more popular rumors surrounding his mysterious rise to prominence dictated. The protagonist and many of the supporting characters are strikingly African American, with a range of body and facial types rarely seen any where, let alone manga or anime, while the lancer and most of the rest of the cast are Caucasian.
Averted with Code Geass, which features numerous white characters in the form of Britannians. In fact, Britannian characters are more prominent and numerous than Japanese ones. Since racism is a huge theme in the story, this to be expected.
Averted in IGPX Immortal Grand Prix. Like most real-life major sports events, it's composed of a cast from all around the world. Notably in the main group, Team Satomi with Takeshi (Japanese), Liz (Puerto Rican) and Amy (White Irish).
This was deliberately and carefully averted in Tiger & Bunny. The protagonists are a Japanese man and a white man. The rest of the superheroes compose of two other white men (one of them of Russian origin), a white teenage girl, an androgynous Chinese girl, a black male who considers themselves gender-free, and a Hispanic man. It makes sense. The city the story is set in (Sternbild) was based on Manhattan.
Legion of Super Heroes: Again, a product of the 50s when including ethnic characters probably never crossed the creators' minds, though there was at least one non-white character. An alien, Chameleon Boy, who was orange. Compounded when they tried to fix it in the 70s by adding a Black hero, Tyroc, who came from an island with only Black people. That appeared on Earth only intermittently. And all the black people in the world had gone to this island, and they were all racist, openly crying their hatred of whites.
Birds of Prey fell into this, as while the team has had several minority "guest operatives" who have shown up from time to time, the core cast has historically been entirely white. Even the writer, Gail Simone, said she thought it was a problem. She mentioned that at various points, she unsuccessfully tried to get Vixen, Rocket (both black), Cassandra Cain (half-Asian) and Renee Montoya (Hispanic) added to the team. In the case of Cassandra, Simone even claims she had written up Cass' debut issue before editorial informed her that she would not be able to use her. The 2011 relaunch was the first time in the title's history that a minority woman (Japanese heroine Katana) was featured as part of the core cast. The character Strix (an African American member of the Court of Owls) was later added to the team.
The original X-Men team consisted of all white superheroes.
In Spider-Man, the non-white population of New York City seems to consist of... Robbie. (Okay, sometimes we see his son, too.) They've had other minority characters, but none of them stood the test of time. To avoid this in adaptations, SpectacularRace Lifted half the cast, and Ultimate uses mostly minority heroes like Luke Cage and White Tiger as part of the team.
At New York Comic-Con 2012, Rick Remender self-deprecatingly stated that the line-up of his Uncanny Avengers book was "Crackerfest 2012" in regards to the lack of minorities on the team. Japanese hero Sunfire will be joining the cast in the second story arc in order to offset this a little.
Bryan Lee O'Malley actually criticizedhimself over the lack of diversity in his Scott Pilgrim comics, even stating that he was appalled by just how white the movie adaptation was. He's said that his follow-up work, Seconds, was intentionally written with a more diverse cast.
Averted in The Princess and the Frog. Although most of the main characters are black, Lawrence, Charlotte and her father are all white. Additionally, Naveen and Lawrence aren't American. They're from Maldonia, some fictional European country.
Films — Live-Action
The film Notting Hill has a curious lack of black people in crowd shots despite being set in Notting Hill neighborhood, which has enough of a black population that the Notting Hill Carnival is a major annual event largely celebrating black culture in England. At least one comedian of color joked that the film would win the Academy Award for Best Special Effects for removing all the black people from Notting Hill. Richard Curtis responded by casting the guy as a DJ in Love Actually.
Star Wars: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were only three minorities, not counting the Space Jews, and in the very first film all the visible actors on screen were white—only James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader wasn't. Lucas repeatedly defended himself, claiming he had auditioned nonwhites for some of the major roles (including a black actor for Han Solo and a Japanese actor for Obi-Wan) but just happened to end up with only whites. In any case, the later films all featured nonwhites in major roles, most notably Lando. The prequels also revealed that all of the clonetroopers are Maori. Not to mention Badass Jedi Master Mace Windu.
The film Young Guns was based on the real life of gunfighter Billy the Kid, showing his exploits in New Mexico, culminating in a huge gunfight with the U.S. Ninth Cavalry. But you wouldn't know from the film that New Mexico has a significant Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population, or that the Ninth Cavalry were a black regiment.
Arguable because, well there's: Chavez, The numerous Hispanic and Mexican-Native American villages they go through, the fact that Billy shows a fluency in Spanish, and pretty much every civilian the gang speaks to in the sequel has a Mexican accent. I mean, one can't fault them for the main cast being mostly white, as they were based on real people. It'd be a bit insensitive to change their races.
Amélie is set in Montmartre, an area of Paris with a large immigrant population, but the cast, with the exception of Jamel Debouze, is almost exclusively white.
The film based on the book He's Just Not That Into You, which takes place in Baltimore, has already been lambasted by viewers due to the entire cast being strictly white, sans one Sassy Black Woman making an offhand remark on a park bench.
One of the things dating John Hughes films is that none of the leads are minorities (a few of the actors are, but the untrained eye would never notice), and that the closest thing to a non-Caucasian character with lines was Long Duk Dong. Hughes, however, based the fictious suburb of Shermer, where most of his movies set on his hometown, Northbrook, which is 90% white.
"They had a movie of the future called Logan's Run. There ain't no niggers in it. I said, 'Well, white folks ain't planning for us to be here.'"
The 1993 film The Meteor Man has an entirely black cast save for one white mobster.
Pretty much everyone in The Romantics is white.
Friday has an all black cast since this film takes place in South Central, Los Angeles. The sequels have added a few whites and Hispanics into the main cast.
Woody Allen films used to be notorious for presenting a very non-diverse version of New York.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a contest for kids all over the world and yet all five of the winners are white and either American or European. Granted, the 1964 source novel and 1971 film version went the same way, but this 2005 version puts more emphasis on the fact that the tickets are available worldwide, so it's more noticable. Tim Burton admitted that they had considered doing a Race Lift for some of the characters, but since four of the finders are brats, that might have opened another can of Unfortunate Implications. (The 2013 stage musical had no such qualms — Violet and her parents are black in that version.)
The Tree of Life. Granted, it is set in a small, middle-class suburban town in the 1950s, providing some justification.
In spite of Gene Roddenberry's good intentions, many Star Trek films were fairly monochromatic. The most notable example occurs in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where the ethnically diverse superhumans from "Space Seed" became generically European.
In That Awkward Moment, starring Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, Jordan's character, his wife, and his wife's lover are the only black people in the New York City-set movie.
Nearly everyone in The Hustler is Caucasian — the only exception is a mute black man at Ames' pool hall who sweeps the floor.
Averted in Pacific Rim. The main characters are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The three leads are a white American man, a black Englishman, and a Japanese woman.
Dick Tracy (1990): For a film featuring Loads and Loads of Characters and set in 1930s Chicago (by then already a multiracial city), there is exactly one visible minority in Dick Tracy: a Chinese shop owner whom Tracy saves from a holdup. There's also the radio report about the (presumably Negro) bootblack who is murdered at the very beginning of the film, but we never actually see him, so we can only speculate.
The Wiz, being set first in Harlem and then in a Harlem-ized version of Oz, contains absolutely no nonblack characters. They exist in this movie's universe (note the "Jewish mother" comment); they just never make it onto the screen.
According to this blogpost, in all of the original series of Goosebumps novels, there were only 20 explicitly non-white characters, of whom 45% were Egyptians (in novels about Mummies, no less).
Almost all the main characters in the Harry Potter series are white, which is not surprising considering that the UK is 87% white. There are a decent number of minorities among the supporting cast. Five supporting characters (Dean Thomas, Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Blaise Zabini) are black. Parvati and Padma Patil are Indian. Cho Chang, Su Li, and Lilith Moon are all East Asian.
How NOT to Write a Novel called this "The Country Club", noting that unless one's novel happens to be set in rural Sweden, the reader may start to get the undesired impression that some form of ethnic cleansing has taken place.
Live Action TV
Seinfeld is frequently mentioned for the rarity of minority characters who appear. However, the random "person on the street" bit parts are often some sort of minority. ShowrunnerLarry David would winkingly own up to it in his later series Curb Your Enthusiasm in the episode "Affirmative Action", in which a black woman brings up that there were no black people on Seinfeld.
There actually were a fair amount of minority characters on Seinfeld. George had an Asian-American love interest in an episode, while Jerry had an American Indian one in another, and Kramer had a black girlfriend for an episode. There were also reoccurring minority characters such as Pakistani immigrant Babu Bhatt, the black manager at Monk's, George's black boss Mr. Morgan, and Kramer's black lawyer Jackie Chiles. Not to mention other characters who had an important role in an episode, such as The Millennium or The Hot Tub.
Averted in Selfie, of the five main characters, two are white (Eliza and Bryn), with a black man (playing a Benevolent Boss with little mention of his race), and a black woman (playing a secretary who is a bit more stereotypical but not in an offensive way), and the Korean John Cho as the male lead, opposite Karen Gillan's Eliza.
Friends rarely has any significant minority characters. Especially odd as it's set in Manhattan, one of the most diverse places in the world (in 2000: 45% white, 27% Hispanic, 17% black, 9% Asian, and many mixed-race people) — yet not only are all the main cast white, but so are almost all the recurring characters (Gunther, Mr Heckles, ugly naked guy, the super, and virtually all love interests, bosses, coworkers, and acquaintances). Even the chick and the duck are white!
AMC's The Walking Dead focuses on a group of zombie apocalypse survivors around Atlanta, Georgia... a city with the largest black population in the United States. The diversity on the show as of Season Two? One Asian and one black man. Made worse by the fact the graphic novel series the show is based on was more diverse.
Michonne was added to the cast in season 3 after the criticism, though of course she didn't join the cast until relatively late in the comic as well. It didn't help that, four episodes after Michonne joined the show, T-Dog died.
The only time the show did accurately portray Atlanta's demographics was when the survivors went to the prison. 3 of the 5 surviving prisoners were black, 1 was Hispanic, and 1 was white. Since then, all of the prisoners have died, and the white one was last to go.
How I Met Your Mother has an all-white primary cast, but a few recurring minority characters (cab driver Ranjit and Barney's gay black brother). In the seventh season both Barney and Robin's love interests were minorities, but they are now gone for good. Ted's lack of variety in the girls he dates may be a necessity of the series' central gimmick: given we've seen the kids and they both look white, a woman of color is probably not going to be the mother.
The Class, with Friends creator David Crane as an executive producer, was highly criticised for having an all-white cast, especially considering Philadelphia has a very large black population.
UPN has been infamous for having entire blocks of programming with overwhelmingly black casts. But most of those shows were made to be an alternative to the all white shows.
During the brief period where university life at "UC Sunnydale" was shown on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there were almost no Asians, even though the actual University of California has over 40%. You can count the black characters on Buffy with both hands, and only one for the characters that survive. Lampshaded in real life at Dragoncon 2012, where James Marsters bluntly stated that he'd never in his life encountered a real town that was as white as Sunnydale.
Buffy's sister show, "Angel", also had a curious lack of minorities, especially since it took place in Los Angeles. Gunn and Gavin Park were the only real major non-white characters, and there didn't seem to be very many Hispanics, despite Los Angeles having a large Hispanic population. The showrunners finally produced a single episode in the final season, "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco", which heavily involved the city's Hispanic community, but it ended up just drawing attention to the lacuna in the series as a whole.
Parodied in a skit where a black waiter refused to serve Ashton Kutcher after the actor grudgingly admitted that there were no major minority characters in That '70s Show. Which actually isn't true - one of the main characters, Fez was from a minority, though it was never determined which one. And, in any case, small-town Wisconsin in the 70s was pretty white anyway.
SNL itself is an example of this trope depending on the season. The show has received some criticism for not having a diverse cast. The majority of its cast members have been white and the show has rarely had more than one non-white cast member at a time, and has never had any fully Asian cast members (Rob Schneider and Fred Armisen were both a quarter Asian). The show has especially come under fire for not having any black female cast members since Maya Rudolph's departure in 2007(and for having had only 4 black female cast members in its 38 year history), a fact that was highlighted when Kerry Washington guest starred (The cold open featured her playing Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Beyoncé). SNL attempted to remedy this by holding a casting call in December 2013 specifically for black women, and in January 2014 hired black woman Sasheer Zamata.
The closest you can get to saying there are minorities in iCarly is that Miranda Cosgrove sometimes looks slightly Asian. T-Bo and Principal Franklin are the only recurring non-white characters, and there are no Asian recurring characters at all. It was once Lampshaded in a fanfic with the line: "Seattle has the diversity of a corn field!"
Star Trek: The Original Series tried very hard to avoid monochrome casting, in line with Gene Roddenbery's views on race becoming a non-issue in Earth's future. This required deliberate effort on the part of the production staff, as, even in the mid-1960s, the network production system tended to fill all spots for extras with generic, physically fit white males (age 25 to 45) unless otherwise specified. As production values slipped in the second and third seasons of the series, crewmen and civilians fell back on the generic white male Hollywood stockpile. Of course, the most notable aversion of that era was Lieutenant Uhura, whose noteworthiness as a ranking black officer was so notable that Dr Martin Luther King himself convinced her to stay on the show in later seasons specifically to avert this trope.
Monochromatic casting applied to all segments of American television before the 1970s. When Bill Cosby first appeared on The Tonight Show in the 1960s, doing his stand-up comedy act, the only make-up on hand at NBC was a base used previously for Lena Horne, who is so much paler than usual for American blacks that she used to be attacked as a "mulatto" by hostile white (and, occasionally, black) hecklers. Cosby was so pale on screen that night ("Live in black & white!") his family thought something had been done to him or that he was ill.
Earthsea, the Sci-Fi Channel adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, was an egregious mix of Monochrome Casting and They Just Didn't Care. Le Guin intentionally created a fantasy world where a variety of dark-skinned people make up the majority of the populace (she even makes a point of distinguishing between the different shades of brown), with the only white people being barbarians... and the movie starred a bunch of white people and a Magical Negro. Le Guin has some choice things to say about the production.
Parodied with the sketch "Pretty White Kids With Problems." It aired when Dawson's Creek was at its prime. A different sketch called "Devon's Creek" was Dawson with all-black cast members. Problem is, because the entire writing staff, production crew, and executive board were white, the lines sounded like every black-comedian stereotype of white people.
Another sketch spoofed Friends, featuring a black girl as Ross' blind date, which shocks the entire gang. The narration states that this was done due to "a direct order from the United States Supreme Court".
At the very beginning of The West Wing, all the main characters were cast as white. When the NAACP criticized the show, the show's creators agreed with them — so they revived the character of Charlie Young (who was cut from the pilot somewhere between script and screen) and introduced him in the third episode. The characters on the show actually lampshade the situation by being seriously concerned with how it will look for the one visible black staff member to be the President's errand boy.
This episode also introduces John Amos as the black Admiral Percy Fitzwallace Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. In fact, it is to Fitzwallace to whom Leo McGarry rather apologetically lampshaeds the issue:
Leo: You have any problem with a young black man waiting on the President?
Fitzwallace: I'm an old black man and I wait on the president....Are you going to pay him a fair wage and treat him with respect in the workplace?
Fitzwallace: Then what the hell do I care?
The show gets better later on with several black Congresspeople and a black National Security Advisor.
Home Improvement, ostensibly takes place in Detroit. There were very few black characters than should be realistically expected, though this is presumable a wealthy, white-bread suburb.
Detroit was a mixed-race city until about the 1970s, at which point "white flight" kicked in with a vengeance (mostly in response to race riots).
Similarly seen in the spin-off Melrose Place, which had one black character during its first season who quickly vanished due to lack of storyline.
Even though Aaron had passed by the time it came out, the sequel series fixed this featuring a black and Arab (even though he's played by a Hispanic) in the main cast and an Indian recurring character.
Except the High School principal and his daughter, played by Black actors.
EastEnders - Sweet Baby Jesus. The show takes place in one of the most ethnically diverse parts of one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world and somehow manages to be 90 percent white. Worse yet, this is a fairly recent development. When the show started in 1985, the area's demographics were roughly the same and you could count the non-white actors on one hand. It's like the producers hadn't visited the area since the fifties.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette is like this, with only white people (with the occasional light-skinned Hispanic or Asian) on the show. And there's absolutely no excuse for this, given that there are twenty-plus contestants every season.
The problem, is that the bachelor, and bachelorette in question is almost always white. And unfortunately Interracial Dating is still kinda taboo in Real Life (unlike in tv/film). The bachelor, and bachelorette may also have specified the ethnicity of the contestants.
And now there's a lawsuit being filed by two African-American men who claim that they auditioned for the show and were not given equal audition time solely because of their race.
Laverne and Shirley takes place in 1950s Milwaukee which was in the middle of a massive influx of migrant Black workers from the south, most of whom came to work at Breweries like the one where the titular characters were employed.
In Noah's Arc, almost everyone any of the characters interacts with is either black or latino. You can count the number of white people seen throughout the series on one hand.
While the show did have a few black characters in the past, As the World Turns' large cast was all white by the time it went off the air.
This has been a major problem with most soap operas. Ironically, this might be a Justified Trope, as most are set in wealthy white-bread suburbs. However, The Bold And The Beautiful is set in the melting pot of Los Angeles but has a cast almost completely devoid of minorities, and the few who are present often fall into patronizing Model Minority roles (local cop, guard &c.) who are often relegated to the background—yet another problem often seen on soaps.
The first black character on the show is not even an American, but an adopted African orphan and is of cousin-oliverish significance.
The first regular black member joins the family in 2008, when a young man reunites with his white, blonde mother, who abandoned him as a teenager. It is also a clear case of fake mixed race casting.
This is the standard for Australian soaps - Home and Away and Packed To The Rafters are two more prominent examples, although unlike Neighbours, they aren't set in Australia's second most diverse city (Melbourne).
A kids'-soap example of this is Blue Water High, which is set in Australia's most diverse city. In its first seaason every significant character was white, with a blonde German exchange student as a minority. The later two seasons each had a Token Minority in the main cast ('Red Ranger' played one of the protagonists in S3). Although about a fifth of Sydney's population is Asian, no Asian Australians appeared in the main cast.
The co-showrunner of Midsomer Murders was sacked after stating with astonishing bluntness in an interview with the Radio Times that he thought that it was a success because it was a "bastion of Englishness", and that to maintain that he would never cast a non-white actor in it.
There were very few black characters in Frasier, but unlike the New York City examples of Friends and Seinfeld, the black population of Seattle is very small and highly concentrated in an area far from the characters' affluent hangouts. However, the black people that did appear had quite a broad scope. One black recurring character was "Dr." Mary, a stereotypical Sassy Black Woman who Frasier was terrified of criticizing for fear of being seen as racist — an unusually no-nonsense approach to racial issues for a 90s sitcom. On the other hand, Frasier's Sitcom Archnemesis Cam Winston was a wealthy, fussy snob very much like Frasier himself, and the fact that he was black was a complete non-issue. Cam's mother was also briefly used as a love interest for Frasier's father, Martin.
However, Frasier drops the ball when it comes to Asians, who do make up a large percentage of Seattle's population (about 1/8th), but are almost invisible. (The publisher Sam Tanaka in "Author, Author" is a rare example, and a focus group member in "Focus Group")
And for what it's worth, there were often black extras used in the various coffee house and party scenes. (These included a black couple coincidentally named Niles and Daphne.) They may not have gotten speaking parts, but it is refreshing to see black characters as part of elite, wealthy social scenes.
A brilliantly deadpan black waiter appears in "Farewell Nervosa"
Sex and the City was also set in an unrealistically white version of New York City. Out of the parade of boyfriends and lovers the girls had over the course of six seasons, the non-white ones can be counted on maybe one hand. Reportedly, Cynthia Nixon complained to the producers about the Unfortunate Implications of this for years, until they finally threw her a bone by casting Blair Underwood as Miranda's onscreen lover.
The close-but-not-a-direct-prequel series The Carrie Diaries, actually averts this a lot better than the original show did. It has led to a lot of people joking that Carrie Bradshaw became increasingly racist as she got older.
Roseanne. Particularly jarring considering it's one of the few working-class sitcoms in the history of American television.
Although, in one episode, Dan did mention that their hometown of Lanford, Illinois, was only 5% black, so it's possible that Lanford was simply one of those small towns that does end up being very monochrome, often as a byproduct of "White Flight" out of the cities into the suburbs (which do exist.)
Lanford was often referred to as being a long drive from Chicago — a few hours away, and an hour from Elgin. This was a small town that was largely white, as is often the case in the Midwest. The racial makeup of the town is consistent with what you'd find in that region.
Chuck and Marie show up in earlier seasons, but don't feature as prominently as Nancy, Bonnie, Crystal, or even Arnie.
The HBO series Girls has gotten backlash over this, especially since it was touted and marketed as a supposedly progressive comedy and takes place in New York, one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet. The show's creator Lena Dunham has since apologized and promised to add some women of color to the cast for the series' second season. In the second season premiere, the main character Hannah dates a black man named Sandy (Donald Glover).
Played mostly straight in Charmed, with a few aversions. The black Daryl Morris was a side character in season 1 but promoted to regular in season 2. The show did feature a lot of white characters but there were a few recurring minorities such as Paige's boss in season 4 and the Big Bad of season 7 who was Middle Eastern. Played straight in another variation though - set in San Francisco and yet no recurring gay characters, though a few do appear as one-episode characters.
The popular British Panel GameQI has a ten-year run and had about a hundred comedians appear on the show. A grand whopping four of them were comedians of colour (Meera Syal in "Aquatic Animals", Reg D. Hunter in "Fashion" and "Jungles", Shappi Khorsandi in "Journalism") and Trevor Noah in "Killers".
Americas Test Kitchen: With a name like that for a public TV show, you would think that non-white chefs would have been cast. Not so.
Wizards of Waverly Place: Aside from Theresa and her family, everyone is at least half-white. Considering they live in New York, this is a little strange.
Power Rangers is usually racially diverse with its casting, but in Power Rangers Jungle Fury, all the rangers except for one (the Blue Ranger) were white. So far, it's the only season to do this.
RPM just barely avoided this; Scott (Red Ranger) was the only non-white on the main team (he's black), but both of the Sixth Ranger characters were Asian. That being said, it's still one of the least racially diverse seasons.
Somewhat averted in Smallville; there were several recurring minority characters in this Kansas farm town (possibly more than there would be in the real-life Midwest).
One Tree Hill is somewhat seen as this. Although from the beginning, they have had Black male characters and even had one in the opening credits by season four, there were no female Black characters unless they were only in the background with little to no lines. There was an episode where Lucas ran into an old friend of his who was a Black female, BUT viewers never heard of her prior to the episode and they only reunited outside of Tree Hill.
Happens In-Universe in Psych: In "Psych the Musical", Gus complains about the cast members of a musical production being all white. They point out that being an adaption of the Jack the Ripper story, it takes place in 19th century London, to which he responds "So what are you saying, black people hadn't been invented yet?" He also points out that it wouldn't be unreasonable to at least have some of the minor characters be played by actors of other races.
An occasional criticism of True Blood, since the number of minority characters shown does not correspond with the real-life American South, which has the largest concentration of African-Americans in the country and a growing Hispanic population. Worse, almost all the non-white characters on the show are directly connected to each other: series regulars Tara and Lafayette are cousins, and a good chunk of the minority recurring characters are their family members and love interests.
In an episode of Criminal Minds, the gang travels to Cleveland to take on a serial killer in the city's east side, and it soon becomes clear that the producers have never actually been there. Every Clevelander shown onscreen is white and middle-classed even though the East Side in real life is at least 90% black and 99% Wrong Side of the Tracks. There are predominantly-white areas in the suburbs as you move away from the urban core, but the action explicitly takes place in the city proper. The murderer drew inspiration from the infamous Torso Killer from the 1930's and that seems to be the basis of Cleveland's portrayal on the show, but the city's demographics have changed a lot since then.
The Dukes of Hazzard takes place in a part of the U.S. where you would expect to see a lot of African-American people, yet there is only one black character of any note (though that character is the highly respected sheriff of a neighbouring county).
Extreme Makeover Home Edition features very white construction crews. If you are used to seeing non-white construction workers, this looks very odd.
This was a problem in pro wrestling right up until the 1990s. It was rare for black wrestlers to be booked to win titles (Junk Yard Dog, one of the biggest fan favorites of the '80s, never won a title in WWE at all) until Ron Simmons defeated Vader for the WCW Championship in 1992. As far as anyone can determine, there were no black main-eventers on WWE television until Zeus fought Hulk Hogan in 1989 - and it wouldn't happen again until Mabel challenged Diesel for the WWE Championship in 1995, and lost. Japanese wrestler Antonio Inokidid hold the WWE Championship briefly in 1979, but his run was later stricken from the record book, and an Asian or Pacific Islander would not win the title again until Yokozuna in 1993. Pedro Morales was WWE Champion for a while in the '70s, but the first WWE Champion to have no European ancestry at all was The Rock (half-black, half-Samoan).
Junkyard Dog is actually an aversion for the era, he was the top star of Mid-South Wrestling for close to 5 years in the early '80s with a number of singles and tag title reigns.
Looking at the future of humanity depicted in Warhammer 40,000, one has to wonder what happened to the 75% of humanity which isn't white. They exist, but are creepily rare.
Though with miniatures sculpts its hard to differentiate ethnicity without it coming off as a stereotype. Painting a model can only realistically show they are of African descent or they look to have a medium to light skin-tone with hair of whatever color. This does not excuse the art.
Perhaps the prevalence of this trope is understandable given that 40k is created entirely in Nottingham, England, where white British people make up 75% of the population.
Averted in some specific instances: the Salamanders are all blacknote but not racially; their skin is literally jet back due to weirdness between their homeworld's natural radiation and their geneseed, while Ciaphas Cain and Damnation Crusade feature minor black characters.
Parodied in the Reduced Shakespeare Company's All The Great Books (Abridged), where one of the characters, a community college drama teacher, claims to have directed the very first all-white production of Ain't Misbehavin'.
The Other RSC also Lampshade their monochrome cast (of three, so maybe Justified) in the Cmplt Wrks f Shkspr when they come to Othello; they note that none of them really feel qualified to play Othello, but Adam is going to have a go. No blackface involved - he comes on with a string of toy boats around his neck, having misunderstood the term 'Moor'.
A production had the role played by a black guy, with the other actors shamefully admitting afterward that they had just left him to do Othello on his own because he was black. (Incidentally, the others were Hispanic and Jewish, leading to the ad-lib "We can't do Othello, but we can make a lot of jokes like this, so that's good.")
Flower Drum Song, despite being a Rogers and Hamerstein musical, is notable for having an Asian-American version of this trope. In the movie of the musical, there is a single white person in the entire film, a man with one line who robs one of the main characters and is never seen again. Every other main character, side character (with a single Fake Nationality exception), and extra is an American of east-Asian descent.
LEGO has this trope Zig-Zagged. All of their minifigures in non-licensed sets have yellow skin. This was decided to make them racially neutral, so that the balance seems appropriate for all cultures.
Enix was a pretty big offender. Actraiser kicks in with some Fridge Horror when the player is god and creates his followers in a short cut scene on each level. Apparently the player never chooses people with any melanin in their skin, even in the middle of the jungle or desert stage. Soul Blazer carried on the tradition when the player was an angel sent to free the imprisoned souls of white people, talking furniture, gnomes, mice, and even flowers, but of no people of color at all. Illusion of Gaia also featured no non-whites of any note.
Following the Warhammer 40,000 example above, the Dawn of War series and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Despite the various Imperial factions supposedly representing humanity, they are all white. This is actually meant to make the player uncomfortable, a point that is lost on much of the fanbase. The Sisters of Battle, for example, are fanatics who insist on strict thought control and execute unbelievers and heretics and traitors with rapturous glee, and they dress in black with red, white, and gold highlights. The Imperium's battle standard is an eagle with two heads. Their Super Soldiers are augmented superhumans with genetic modifications who are worried about the purity of those genes. This should start to sound familiar.
Brütal Legend's human cast is all white. The game world does run on heavy metal and much of the cast are an Expy of some famous figure in Heavy Metal, so there still were many non-whites to draw from.
Alan Wake has about a twenty characters, all of them Caucasian. It is set in a small town in the Pacific Northwest roughly around 2005-2010, and in some such towns the minority population is quite small.
Every human in Homestuck is drawn with literally white skin. Not quite an example - Word of Goddictates that by intent, Mukokuseki is in full effect and no-one save his Author Avatar (caucasian, coloured orange) has any defined race, or for that matter other physical characteristics beyond the basics, and that one reference to Bro being white was an error that he put in before he'd clearly established the character.
Every character in Teahouse is white. After this was pointed out to the writers, they did include a "Person of colour" (as they put it) in as a non-dialogue servant. Naturally Unfortunate Implications arose and they wrote out out a "we're not racist" blog. A non-white has yet to have any words.
One writer in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe parodied this trope by having one character, a sentient gorilla with super-speed, go off on a rant about how he was the only talking gorilla in the entire Global Guardians organization and how every single other member was human... only to have his rant deflated when two other members (an android and an alien from space, respectively) point out that they weren't human either.
Not even cartoons are exempt! The biggest offender was probably The Jetsons. It takes place in the far off future, but there's not a single minority to be seen in the original 60s run.
Lampshaded and parodied when Dante and Randal respond to viewer mail complaining about the show's Monochrome Casting. They respond by adding a new black character named Lando who does little more than wave to the guys as he passes them on the street.
Further parodied when the guys later need a helicopter pilot to get them in the air, and "Lando" is the man to do it. Cut to Lando eagerly offering to help, only to learn that Dante and Randal were talking about a different Lando; another white guy.
South Park was originally meant to be this way, being set in rural Colorado where Chef as the Token Minority. Eventually they had a Token Minority student namedToken as well. Nowadays the town seems to be more diverse, with the City Wok guy, a Japanese restaurateur, the Asian-looking "6th Grader Leader" and several others. Minor character Kevin was identified as Asian American in one of the earlier seasons, though this is rarely brought up.
Visionaries features a cast exclusively made up of white people, from minor to major characters. The only black people seen are in background group shots. Even the cancelled second toy line would not have fixed this.
The Transformers was by and large about the robots, but the main four or five humans in the cast (Sparkplug, Spike, Daniel, Carly, and Chip Chase) are all white and the number of meaningful non-Caucasian humans in the supporting cast, even if they only featured in one episode, could probably be counted on one hand, to say nothing of the fact that many of those characters were cringingly bad stereotypes besides (so bad, in fact, that Casey Kasem left the show because of the incredibly racist Arab stereotypes in Season 3).