Teen Dramas and the Focus on White Stories

Gossip Girl cast

Growing up, I remember teen dramas on the air like Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven, and Beverly Hills, 90210.

In the early 2000’s there was the The O.C., One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars, and The Vampire Diaries, to name a few.

Even newer teen-centered shows like 13 Reasons Why, Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale, Stranger Things, or upcoming Netflix originals like Insatiable (now receiving backlash for fat-shaming) all have one major element in common: they’re told through the viewpoints of a mostly all white cast, and all the main characters are also typically white.

Well, it’s really quite simple: there has always been a lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, and after all these years, there still is.

For decades, white stories in movies and on TV — whether they center around adults or teens — have been at the forefront of entertainment. John Hughes movies on the white teen experience dominated the 80’s (I still love you Molly Ringwald), and even horror movies like Friday the 13th and Scream were told through the viewpoints of a mostly — if not all — white “teen” cast.

So what does this say about entertainment and television?

Well, it’s really quite simple: there has always been a lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, and after all these years, there still is.

There are plenty of white writers selling scripts or working behind-the-scenes, but what about the voices of non-white writers or directors or producers? Where are they? Are they just non-existent? Are they not good enough or strong enough story-tellers?

According to Variety, the 2016–2017 season line ups consisted of 90% white showrunners, and almost 80% were male. The Writers Guild of America have conducted studies that also show that about only 13% of non-white writers make up the writer’s room. Yikes.

While these numbers are quite disappointing, they are not surprising. Despite this sad truth, there are tons of important life lessons and observations I’ve learned thanks to watching some of the teen-centered dramas listed.

Lessons Learned

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  1. Gilmore Girls: Wow, a single mother trying to raise her only daughter, how noble. Sounds a lot like half my older cousins who got pregnant as teens. Lorelai is a single mom but she was still a rich, white privileged kid growing up. Oh okay, never mind, this is not my cousin’s lives. Lessons Learned: Some white women like Lorelai Gilmore are lucky enough to have wealthy parents that can help with their daughter’s education and can be sent to prep school. Oh yeah, and there’s the token Asian friend, but other than that, just another show with a mostly all-white cast dealing with their white-people problems. Apparently there are no black and brown people in Stars Hollow.
  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: It’s so cool to finally have strong female-role models!! That fight evil?! Lessons Learned: Hmm, I guess more than 90% are going to just be all white girls, even the ones that come out as Lesbian witches (AKA Willow Rosenberg)…Although I do appreciate they included Kendra the Vampire Slayer (Bianca Lawson), who was also Emily Fields romantic love interest years later in Pretty Little Liars. Shout out to women who age like wine.
  3. Beverly Hills, 90210: Rich white kids, and their rich white kid problems. Yawn. Lessons Learned: Beverly Hills is for the wealthy and the privileged aka predominantly white.
  4. The O.C.: Rich white kids and their rich white problems. Woe is me. Lessons Learned: I’ve seen this one before. AKA the above and AKA, Gossip Girl.
  5. The Vampire Diaries: Not another vampire story…Lessons Learned: Even stories about vampires have to consist of pretty white boys and the racially ambiguous — but still sort of white — main heroine hanging around another mostly all-white cast.
  6. Stranger Things: Wow! A show that takes places in the 80’s and has 80’s movie feels like The Lost Boys, The Goonies, and every 80’s teen movie I grew up watching— Ohhhhhhh, and of course, the mostly all white cast. It’s cool, I’m used to this by now. (I still love you Winona Ryder!) Lessons learned: If you’re the white teen heartthrob/jock that acts like a douche, but you get dumped by your middle-class white girlfriend for the weirdo white boy at your school, at least you can still redeem yourself and become the cool babysitter and protector to the little tweens that need your help from the scary monsters! It’s OKAY! You’re still valid! And the audience still loves you! You are a white male after all. These are the only problems you have to deal with in life.
  7. Riverdale: A mystery based on white teens and their crazy white parents. Interesting. Yes, this is based on the Archie Comics and I am aware they made Veronica a Latina and I appreciate them for that because I did actually read the Archie Comics when I was a kid and I loved Veronica. Shhh don’t tell anyone. Lessons Learned: Even when white teen shows try to include women of color like the Pussycats, their characters or stories are usually poorly written or they are one-dimensional. And Archie’s brief romance with Valerie Brown (portrayed by actress Hayley Law) was extremely disappointing. I should also note it’s interesting how he ended up with the light-skin/biracial Pussycat doll. But once again, not surprising.
  8. Pretty Little Liars: Another teen story told through the eyes of the white teen girl, but it’s a mystery set in the small, fictional town of Rosewood in the state of Pennsylvania. Gilmore Girls vibes, anyone? Except Pretty Little Liars is a dark teen drama. But it’s still another tale of pretty, troubled, white teens (save for the token Asian friend, Emily Fields, portrayed by Shay Mitchell), that grow up in well-to-do middle or upper-middle class families. Lessons Learned: Even if you’re getting stalked 24/7, at least you still have money, live in a nice neighborhood, and are able to afford fashionable clothes. Oh yeah, and apparently growing up privileged and living in a good area your entire life, even when there’s a crazy psychopath stalker that’s always trying to kill you, means that you still leave the doors unlocked and the curtains wide open…

Our world is not white and white. It has color and shape and diversity, and it is time for that to be finally represented. ~Sundial

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Nicolette Michelle Herrera

I write and take photographs. Just another person on the Internet. Based in Los Angeles. https://linktr.ee/nicomichelle