Sleepy Hollow and Diversity in TV

Sleepy Hollow was a gigantic hit last season thanks to its crazy but very interesting premise. Ichabod Crane, a colonial war hero, lives through time and awakens to the present to battle the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The plot was surely appealing, however, we often overlook that the Fox hit show has a really diverse cast. Sure, Ichabod Crane may play the central role, but he is also part of a partnership with Leftenant Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie. Aside from Abbie, we have her sister Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood), Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) and recurring character Andy (John Cho).

Although TV is still predominantly white, there are a handful of TV shows that are starting to promote diversity. Shonda Rhimes, creators of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, have programs that consists of people with different races. Scandal is also extra impressive because it has a female African American lead.

Last season’s best comedy, Brooklyn Nine Nine, has two Latinas and two African Americans in their cast. It’s also the first show to showcase an African American homosexual Captain.

This might be an ongoing trend on TV as programs that showcase multiple races have proven that they can be successful. According to a UCLA study, shows that feature ethnically diverse casts and writers have higher ratings. According to

“In an analysis of more than 1,000 television shows that aired on 67 cable and broadcast networks during the 2011–12 season, UCLA researchers studying racial diversity in the entertainment industry found that more viewers were drawn to shows with ethnically diverse lead cast members and writers, while shows reflecting less diversity in their credits attracted smaller audiences.

Racial diversity does make a marked and measurable difference to television’s bottom line, said Bunche Center director Darnell Hunt, a professor of sociology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and author of the new study, “Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television.”

“It’s clear that people are watching shows that reflect and relate to their own experiences,” said Hunt, who has worked for two decades on several projects exploring issues of access and diversity in Hollywood.”

Sadly, this is not true for some shows which weren’t given second seasons. Ironside and Welcome to the Family, the former having an African American lead, and the latter, an Anglo/Latino comedy, got axed.

Cable, the biggest reason for TV’s 2nd Golden Age, is also a home for diverse casts. One of the biggest examples is The Walking Dead which features a huge cast with lots of non-white characters.

On Netflix, Orange is the New Black is the leader when it comes to promoting diversity, and not only that, women also lead the show.

Sleepy Hollow is also special because the women in the cast are shown as strong and capable women. In one episode, Abbie, Jenny, and Katrina helped each other to help a kidnapped Ichabod Crane, reversing the “damsel in distress narrative”.

If Fox can promote diversity through Sleepy Hollow, then I can clearly see a brighter future for TV.

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