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Arts and Entertainment

Deadline Issues A Weak-Sauce Apology For Story About 'Ethnic Casting'

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Deadline ran an apology of sorts for its widely-mocked article last week detailing the rise of "ethnic castings."

The apology is tucked into a regular column in which Deadline co-editor-in-chief Mike Fleming Jr. and Peter Bart talk shop. It's the lead item in a column that discusses the media treatment of Frank Sinatra, Vice Media's deal with HBO and why shooting trilogies all in one go is smart business sense. Even if you were looking for an apology on Deadline's site, you might have trouble finding it with this headline: "Bart & Fleming: A Mea Culpa; Frank Sinatra Re-Cast; Tent Pole Assembly Line."

Fleming explains in the column why Deadline has decided to keep the post up, "I don’t believe you can can make an unwise story disappear and pretend it didn’t happen." That might work except if you read the original article now you'd have little sense that Deadline regrets the story except for a note at the bottom that says, "Note: The original headline on the story has been changed as it did not correctly reflect the context of the article." (The original headline "The Year Of Ethnic Castings - About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing?" was replaced with the marginally better "Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings.")

The apology itself is a little odd, too, leading me to wonder whether Fleming fully understands why the article offended so many people:

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Deadline ran an article last week that generated controversy and hurt feelings. An unfortunate headline-Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings - About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?—created a context from which no article could recover. My co-editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva’s goal was to convey that there was such an uptick of TV pilot casting of people of color that it pinched white actors who’ve historically gotten most of the jobs, and to question if this could last if it was being treated as a fad. All this was undermined by that headline (which we changed after the fact) and a repetition of the word “ethnic” that came off cold and insensitive.

That original headline wasn't great, nor was the use of "ethnics" (which may very well be industry jargon but it still sounds like something a racist grandma says to sound slightly less racist). But the story still has pretty deep problems, even with a new headline. One of those problems was framing the increase in roles for actors of color as a losing proposition for white actors and actually asking whether "the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction." Fleming's apology only continued that line of thinking when he says this trend "pinched white actors who’ve historically gotten most of the jobs."

Here's the part where Fleming makes some stupid excuses for the article:

Nellie is trained in the sciences and used those sensibilities to analyze a data sample; the word “ethnic” is commonly used by casting agents. None of that works when talking about people, and race. Our writers, and editors, can be so focused on the trees they sometimes forget to look at the forest, or in this case, the readers who are much more than statistics. A perfect storm of events left us vulnerable, including me choosing the worst time to be zonked from a 22-hour return flight from New Zealand, and normally smart editors on duty failing to respond decisively even after a torrent of hostile comments rolled in.

In the last part of the conversation, Fleming at least admits that racial diversity in casting should be viewed as a "wonderful thing" despite what bitter agents in Hollywood said off-the-record:

That original headline does not reflect the collective sensibility here at Deadline. The only appropriate way to view racial diversity in casting is to see it as a wonderful thing, and to hope that Hollywood continues to make room for people of color. The missteps were dealt with internally; we will do our best to make sure that kind of insensitivity doesn’t surface again here. As co-editors in chief, Nellie and I apologize deeply and sincerely to those who’ve been hurt by this. There is no excuse. It is important to us that Deadline readers know we understand why you felt betrayed, and that our hearts are heavy with regret. We will move forward determined to do better.

In any case, we would have loved to have heard the phone conversation that took place when Deadline's Nellie Andreeva was nailing down details about NBC was putting a production for The Music Man on the backburner in lieu of a production of The Wiz:

Last May, Greenblatt said the network was planning a Music Man production as its next live musical from The Sound of Music and Peter Pan executive producers Zadan and Meron but in January, Greenblatt said the network also has closed a rights deal for The Wizard Of Oz-themed The Wiz. This morning, sources told Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva the status of The Music Man reboot was TBD.

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