What Happened? Sandip Mahal on stereotypes in British TV
For me television (and the 90’s) really started with Buddha of Suburbia, which had fully developed Indian characters that weren’t stereotypes to cringe at. Yes shopkeepers and arranged marriages were in there but it was done in a funny demented way that wasn’t patronising. I know there was My Beautiful Laundrette before it (from the same writer no less) but this was better. Add My Son the Fanatic which was years ahead of it’s time in terms of it’s subject matter, East is East (not my favourite but popular nonetheless) and then the ground breaking Goodness Gracious Me and after that…. Er that’s it.
We seem to have gone backwards again with Curry urchins on Eastenders, corner shop owners on Corrie (aka Currie?) and an ITV Call Centre comedy that seems to evoke Mind Your Language seeing as the latter had an LWT weekend slot. All this slow progress and progressive work has suddenly gone into reverse. Granted, we have Gurinder Chadha flying the flag but she is all alone out there and not much is being done to pan out the television schedules to reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and when they do it’s with a resounding commercial and critical thump. I would estimate that we are 20 years behind American television we need to close the gap.
We need characters like the ones written for the screen by Hanif Kureishi rather than the caricatures in Eastenders and Coronation street. This can only be done by true talent spotting rather than diversity nights that the channels seem to be doing to ‘feel clean’.
Actors of colour like Dev Patel and Adrian Lester have already disappeared to America where characters are stronger, can we afford to lose more like them?