Diverse representation in media has become a hot topic in the last handful of years, bringing to light the importance of portraying the different people in the world on-screen. FOX’s hit show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” focuses on the 99th police district in New York and the quirky individuals who attempt to serve and protect the city. Compared to other shows, “B99” reflects an accurate roster of people who live and work in the mixed city of New York.
There are three main females and four main males in the show’s cast, which is already a good start to the program because it’s nearly equal in gender. Normally, there tends to be one female amongst a group of males in shows, particularly comedies, i.e. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” It may not seem like a big deal, but the impact is there. There are technically more women than men in the U.S. – perhaps the world – and one woman amongst a handful of men in almost any setting does not accurately portray the way that different fields exist in the world.
Not only are there three women in the main cast, but two of them are Latina: Melissa Fumero, who plays Amy Santiago, and Stephanie Beatriz, who plays Rosa Diaz. Beatriz did an interview with Latina Magazine explaining how she instantly thought she hadn’t gotten the part because she saw that Fumero has been cast for the show. Beatriz’s thoughts? “There’s no way in hell a major network is gonna cast two Latina actresses in such a tight ensemble show, I AM SCREWED.” Because the truth, she goes on to say, is that “normally, the Latina is a singular element of the ensemble she is working in. She’s there to provide contrast, or sexuality, or humor. Or she’s there to clean the floors and/or steal your man. There are some serious stereotypes very much alive in film and TV today, and The Latina is one of them.”
Thankfully she did get the role, and the show would not be the same without her. Her words about diverse characters slowly but surely being cast as complex, interesting people hit hard, because even a decade ago, it was very hard to find a cast with more than one token minority. Part of what makes B99 so great is its inclusive cast that represents different kinds of women who are all layered with various characteristics.
Chelsea Peretti, who plays Gina Linetti, provides comedy just like Fumero and Diaz do, but each female has her own concrete reasons for thriving in the show through their story lines and senses of humor. “B99” succeeds in well-written female characters for women to relate to and enjoy watching – and more importantly, these women talk to each other regularly about everything besides their love lives and men, giving it an A+ on the Bechdel test.
Another success of the show is the deconstruction of the “tough black man” trope many shows and films perpetuate constantly. The newly appointed police chief, Dr. Raymond Holt, is openly gay and appears very stiff in demeanor but is actually a genuine, hardworking guy. In the series, he discusses how his race and his sexual orientation was something he was discriminated for over the course of his career, and he touches on how things have changed for the better but still aren’t perfect. This can be directly applied to the representation of different cultures and backgrounds on TV and in films, because it’s a definite comment about our society’s place in the world today.
There are actually two older black men in the main cast, and the other one also challenges the popular stereotype of what it means to be a black man in society. Terry Jeffords, played by Terry Crews, shows the different roles a man can play – he’s very into fitness and strength, but also shows his sensitive side with his family and isn’t afraid to say what he’s feeling. It’s a really great kind of representation for young men to see because it broadens the idea of masculinity. I think that if more media depicted successful male characters in a similar light, it could have a positive impact in the way young men see themselves and interact with others.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” soars in regards to representation of both gender and race. The show doesn’t just cast one ‘ethnic’ character for laughs or a woman to seem equal; it genuinely tries to show the diversity that exists in many police departments and that definitely exists in New York. I’m sure like everything it can be improved, but the minor faults of “B99” are very much overshadowed by the mixed cast and quality comedic content. Hopefully more TV series and films will follow their lead.