2:22pm PT by Bryn Elise Sandberg
'The Bold Type' Producers Vow to Enact Change After Star Calls Out Freeform Drama's Lack of Diversity
One of the stars of The Bold Type is calling out the show for its lack of diversity behind the scenes.
Aisha Dee, who plays Kat Edison on the Freeform dramedy, took to Instagram to share her thoughts. "I am ready to push harder and speak louder for what matters to me: The diversity we see in front of the camera needs to be reflected in the diversity of the creative team behind the camera," she wrote in a lengthy post.
Throughout four seasons of the show, Dee writes, she had conversations about issues like workplace politics, white privilege, women's health and gun ownership, and that she'd always try to bring up her concerns in a constructive way, conscious of the realities of being the only woman of color in the room. "I never wanted to come across as ungrateful, negative or difficult," she added.
Over the course of the show's 48 episodes, Dee reveals that only one Black woman was hired as a director, for two episodes, and that it took three seasons to get someone in the hair department who knew how to work with textured hair. She also claimed that it took two seasons to get a BIPOC writer on the show and that they told a story about a queer Black woman and a lesbian Muslim woman falling in love without ever having a queer Black or Muslim writer in the room.
A rep for The Bold Type says that the show has had queer women of color on staff, and that it took two seasons to have a bisexual woman of color. They add that in season two, the writers room had a lesbian woman of color, and, in season three, a bisexual woman of color. In season four, the writers room consisted of five POC writers and three individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, with 8 out of the 10 writers being female.
In the second season, Kat is promoted to be the first Black female head of a department at the show's fictional publication, Scarlet. "We've never had a Black female head of department on the set of The Bold Type," she noted, adding that she was inspired to know that the president of Universal TV, Pearlena Igbokwe (which produces the show), and the newly minted president of Freeform, Tara Duncan, are both Black women.
"The level of care, nuance and development that has gone into the stories centering white hetero characters is inconsistent with the stories centering queer characters and POC," she explained. "I do not believe this is intentional. We cannot bring specificity and honesty to experiences we have not lived." The way in which marginalized characters are treated when there is a lack of representation is even more important, she points out, because they then have the potential to perpetuate damaging stereotypes that have lasting and real impacts on people.
Dee specifically cited the decision to have her character enter into a relationship with a privileged conservative woman, which she said felt "confusing and out of character." But she set her personal feelings about it aside and tried her best to tell the story honestly, even though it was "heartbreaking to watch Kat's story turn into a redemption story for someone else, someone who is complicit in the oppression of so many."
The actress makes it clear that issues like these are not exclusive to The Bold Type but are rampant in Hollywood. "The entertainment industry has operated this way since its inception," she writes. Her first time on a TV show when she was 14 years old, her stand-in was "in brown face with a curly-haired wig," she wrote. Makeup artists would often not have the right shade of foundation for her skin tone and would blame her for the inconvenience, she adds. Agents and casting directors would encourage her to stay out of the sun so that she wouldn't get too dark and therefore be less "marketable."
Dee ended saying that she's had conversations with the writers and producers of the show, along with executives at Freeform and Universal TV, about telling more authentic stories by hiring, promoting and listening to diverse voices. "By speaking out, I'm taking a risk. It's scary, but it's wroth it," she wrote. "This is not judgment. This is a call to action."
Freeform and Universal TV responded to Dee's comments with this statement: "We applaud Aisha for raising her hand and starting conversations around these important issues. We look forward to continuing that dialogue and enacting positive change. Our goal on The Bold Type is and has always been to tell entertaining, authentic stories that are representative of the world that Kat, Jane and Sutton live in — we can only do that if we listen."