Saturday, August 29, 2015

31 Day Miami Vice Challenge, Day 29: Diversity on Miami Vice

Wow, it's already Day 29 ... where did this month go?? Like seriously, I feel like this month just started.
Via Wikipedia
Anyway, diversity. For a show produced in the 80s, as I've noted elsewhere during this challenge, Miami Vice was exceptionally diverse, unlike its younger cousin, CSI: Miami*, where even the Latino characters were ridiculously white-looking. The main characters were surprisingly evenly distributed: white Sonny, Switek, and Zito; black Trudy and Rico; and Latina/o Gina** and Castillo. Throughout the series, you saw all sorts of ethnicities cross the screen: Colombian, Haitian, French, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Irish. And those are the ones right off the top of my head. They were cast in both the "good" and "bad" roles, sometimes against stereotypes. That's actually pretty impressive, even for today's standards.

Was it perfect? Oh, of course, it wasn't. I've already brought up how dismissive the show was of ethnic accuracy in their casting of Chinese actresses in the Thai role of Castillo's former wife, but that's something that continues into present day. Then there's the stereotypical manner in which people of color were portrayed, like Noogie Lamont's ineptitude at life and and Izzy Moreno's general stupidity, usually shown by his misuse of words or his half-baked schemes. Even though minorities were given parts on both sides of the fence of crime, there wasn't always nuance to their situations: a poor black mother trades her young daughter's body for drugs, a successful Latino man's only weakness is his only female child (and of course, the only way he is successful is because he sells drugs), black people en masse lying to the public to get what they want. The white characters were more often given much more character development, especially when Sonny took notice of them.

As I'm going to cover tomorrow, drug use plays a big part when it comes to race, more often negatively. I do think that it's important to talk about drugs publicly, but when it paints one race as being the unfortunate, innocent bystander - like Sonny's informant, a naive kid who was just holding drugs for his friends, in "Give a Little, Take a Little" - and the others as willing accomplices - even if they are the victims, like literally every other person of color in the series - it is problematic and only enforcing stereotypes about both: that white people are just whirled into a backdrop of evil and non-whites gladly live in it, if only for excuses. Now, there are some white people in the show that are bad guys, but like I said above, reasons were given for their choices and those reasons kind of got you to hate them less. They were just pragmatic, using circumstances for the supposed greater good - like the corrupt CIA agent in "Golden Triangle" - or essentially good guys who made their money off the suffering of others - like Al Lombard, after his first appearance in Season One.

Ultimately, Miami Vice did at least a marginally better job of getting people of color on the show, and a lot of times, it wasn't even because of their race or ethnicity. Noogie could have easily been white, and any of the main cast could have white actors in their places. But there's always room for improvement, and since the show isn't on the air any longer, all creators can do now is promise to do better, and the audience can demand that they do so.


BACK TO CHALLENGE

* CSI: Miami is my favorite of the franchise because of the silliness of it. It took itself so. seriously. and it just couldn't be anything further from that.
** Saundra Santiago is Cuban and Puerto Rican, and for some reason, her character has an Italian last name. But on several occasions, she was called Latina, so maybe her mother was Latina or maybe she was adopted? I dunno. I may have thought too much about this. 
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