Opinions Soaps

Does CBS Daytime Have a Women of Color Problem?

Photo Credit: CBS.com/JPI

Something interesting is going on in the halls of CBS Daytime. This isn’t anything new — it’s been hovering underneath the surface for some time now — but with substantive representation at the forefront of entertainment discussions, it’s curious to me why the number one network for daytime programming has decided to not only do the bare minimum in this regard, but to blatantly push back on it altogether on The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.

Boldly Missing

When it comes to diversity in soaps, I can’t really think of a show that has been at the bottom of that list more than The Bold and the Beautiful. If you wanted to see people of color, historically, this was the last show you would turn to. Which has always been strange to me given that this is the only soap NOT set in a fictional city, but in one of the largest most diverse cities in the country. That seemed to change starting around 2010 with the introduction of the character Dayzee Leigh played by Kristolyn Lloyd. This might have been a great moment for the show had it not been for the background they placed upon the characters shoulders.

A poor homeless girl living on the streets of Skid Row who was only used to show the rich and powerful Foresters that there were those who were less fortunate than they were. Noble I suppose. Also cliche and slightly aggravating when having to listen to the coded language they wrote into the dialogue. Listening to Steffy repeatedly express how Dayzee wasn’t good enough for her brother because of her ‘background’ when she herself was nobody’s angel for example. But Dayzee didn’t last that long. She was ushered off screen when the show found a new black girl to fill their quota.

Where did Maya Avant come from, you ask? Prison. If your keeping score at home, the first black woman showed up as a transient and the second showed up as an ex-con. We then watched for a few years as Maya was referred to as a social climber, a gold digger and opportunist. The writers once again played racial undertones but this time using Caroline as the mouthpiece. However, because they were involved in a triangle with Rick, I suppose all was fair in love and war. But then Brad Bell did something unexpected. He shook the damn table. Deciding to capitalize on Maya’s lack of development and re-writable backstory, he revealed that Maya was transgender. Not only that, he built an entire family around her. Color me absolutely shocked. All of 2015 and half of 2016 I was riveted by B&B’s storytelling and elated with the progressive, topical dedication. Once the show that had no one that looked like me, but at that time had as many as eight black characters on the cast list. But they weren’t there to serve as token diversity or supportive wallpaper — they were driving storylines. They were must see television. Fast forward to now, of the eight black characters on canvas in 2016, only two remain.

Aaron D. Spears was placed on contract last October, though they have yet to give him anything to do other than be Bill Spencer’s only friend and sometime henchman. Maya is also still around. Literally. She’s just around. After being such an integral part of the shows spike in ratings and critical acclaim just two years ago, Maya’s character is now wallpaper to everyone else’s storyline. To be fair, B&B has never been good at balance. Some might blame it on the 30-minute format, but they have often only been able to focus on one story at a time — and that usually lasts for months if not a year.

When asked about the disappearance of the Avants in a recent interview, head writer/showrunner Brad Bell said that while he was proud of what they were able to do with the Avants, he was also pleased with the establishment of the newly retconned version of the Spectra’s. Translation: Brad found a new shiny toy and threw the old one out. If you listen to our bi-weekly (now weekly) TV Source Podcast, you’ve heard me speak on this passionately. For those who don’t, I said I believed Brad Bell essentially used the Avants and the LGBTQ storyline to garner viewers and acclaim, then shipped them to the back burner to tell his preferred wash-rinse-repeat drivel that he’s been shoveling on and off for years. But even with all of that, the black women coming in as convicts and vagabonds and then being erased, that is nothing compared to the egregious actions coming from the sister soap across the hall.

Black Ceiling 

I remember the first time I started watching The Young and the Restless full time. As most girls who grew up watching soaps with their mother, you tend to gravitate towards the soaps she loved. And my mother was an NBC fan. So I grew up watching Days of our Lives, Santa Barbara and Another World. Later, I even got into Sunset Beach and Passions. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized that these shows, while having people of color on the cast, their stories were minuscule at best. They were doctors and police officers, so they were always in the mix but, they were clearly there to be seen and rarely heard. Then I changed the channel to CBS and my outlook was forever changed. That quickly, I saw black men and women on screen leading stories. They were whole characters with flaws. They had trials and tribulations but they also had redemption and motivation. Were they equal to their white counterparts? Of course not, this is still daytime television in America after all. But was it blatantly depicted in the writing that they were less than. If it was, I never picked up on it. But in today’s Genoa City, the writers have not only decided to tell you that these characters are less than, they’ve decided to ram it down your throats.

The only legacy woman of color on the show is Lily Ashby. You might look at her character over the past decade and surmise that she’s actually a well rounded character who has escaped any writing that might be considered detrimental. And you could be right, if you’re looking at her through one lens. Let me first say that no matter what Christel Khalil does or does not identify as personally, that has no bearing on Lily’s character. She is black. She has two black parents — three, if you want to get technical. So what do we know about Lily since Drucilla’s death. She’s a wife, a mother and a cancer survivor. But what is she outside of that? What is her passion? What is Lily’s role outside of her pairing? I wish I had the answer to that. She does have a career though it has fluctuated in importance over the years. She was a photographer briefly. Then a model. Then a club manager. Then back to a model. And now also a brand ambassador. But Lily’s career has never really been that much of a focal point over the years. Lily Ashby has become synonymous with nothing more than being Cane’s wife.

Before she’s Dru and Neil’s daughter, before she’s Devon’s sister, hell, even before she’s Mattie and Charlies mother, she’s Cane’s wife. Loyal to a fault, beholden to a man who has been allowed to break her heart on more than one occasion and aged prematurely in order to make it all work. And it did. Lily and Cane have become one of the most popular couples on the show. But at what cost to Lily as an individual? Those of us who loved Lily far before Cane Ashby will tell you that the majority of the reason why has been stripped away. It pains me to look at her and no longer see the same spark of her mother. I often forget she’s Dru’s daughter. They’ve made her a doormat. Also they’ve made her a hypocrite. Lily is not perfect, never has been. But let her tell it, anyone who has done anything similar as her is the devil. Especially her number one target, Hilary.

A lot people will tell you they love the rivalry between Lily and Hilary. It’s gone on so long that it’s just white noise for me at this point. Lily has every reason not to be a fan of Hilary’s. There’s no real need to make them friends, but watching Lily react to everything Hilary does — whether it affects her or not — has grown stale. Hilary walks in a room and Lily switches over to attack mode. Why the writers allow Lily to give Hilary that much of her energy is obvious. It’s fun to have the only two black women in Genoa City bicker 24/7. It’s as if they think that’s what we all do.

Every town needs a pariah. I know that. But the level of burden they have placed upon the shoulders of Hilary Curtis has become downright outlandish. Bringing her in as angst for Lily and Cane for starters. The storyline in general was terrible as was the motivation. But at least I understood her reasons dumb though they may have been. Fast forward through that wretched pairing with Neil and much of her relationship with Devon and who is Hilary Curtis? Again, I wish I knew. I wrote about her lack of point of view and motivations before and 3 head writers later, she still has the same issue. Only this time the show has decided that they no longer care. They aren’t trying to make her a whole character. They aren’t trying to make her sympathetic or someone worthy of redemption or love or even the benefit of the doubt. Hilary Curtis is the cartoon villain in your favorite Saturday morning lineup.

Everything the woman has done in the 4 years she’s been on the show must be brought up and made punishable at all times. They used her career to make her the main antagonist in almost every storyline. They ruined her relationship with Devon over an inflated ego and a clumsy co-host. But most annoying than all of that is the language they use to talk to and about her. At current tally, these are just some of the words they’ve use to describer her: bitch, vile, disgusting, ingrate, scum, monster, evil, parasite, slut, whore, damaged, lowlife and so much more. Mind you, most of these from characters who have either done things equal to her or far worse.

As of this week, Hilary is still being used as a scapegoat to other characters transgressions. There is not another character on this show that they lay more blame to than Hilary be it a vet or a newbie. Male or female. She’s the go to when you want to make Mariah, or Chelsea, or Tessa, or Cane or just about anyone else sympathetic. So I’m left wondering when is enough enough? At what point am I going to be allowed to see a character that looks like me as more than the town dumping grounds? Both Lily and Hilary are written as if to say as a woman of color, you can only climb so high before you either plateau or get knocked down to the ground.

Make Daytime Great Again

If you’re wondering why I am only calling out CBS soaps and not also General Hospital and Days of our Lives as well, its simple — neither of those shows have ever sold us sh*t wrapped in gold. They’ve never pretended to be progressive in this regard. The few minorities they have on canvas fit their narrative and are woven into the canvas as supporting characters. Nothing more. Nothing less. That’s not to say they can’t do better. It just means that have never lied about who and what they are. I understand that not everyone is going to see where I’m coming from on this. I will be called paranoid and accused of looking at these situations through the lens of a “shipper” and I’m okay with that.

Last weekend, thousands of black men and women went to movie theaters to see Marvel’s Black Panther because for the first time, they were able to see themselves represented as heroes in a big budget film; as royalty, as worthy. I would rather use my platform to demand fair representation than to passively accept that with everything else in media changing, daytime has decided to remain stuck time warp where minorities are looked at as second class and LGBTQ characters are sidelined. As long as these shows continue to think that simply having minorities on contract in order to check a box is fair and balance, and as long as they keep allowing the middle America viewer scare them out of progressing forward, I’ll be calling them out.

In this day and age you either move with the times or you fade to the black. You only have so long until a larger audience takes notice.

About the author

Ashley Dionne

Ashley Dionne joined the TVSource Magazine team in December 2014.