Nickelodeon Gets Diversity Points, But Still Overlooks Race

The network adds another young black actor to its line-up of sitcom stars.

By Jorge Rivas Jan 03, 2011

Nickelodeon has picked up a sitcom pilot starring young recording artist Cymphonique Miller, the daughter of hip-hop star Master P.

Nickelodeon, or Nick, is the most-watched children’s television network in the U.S; their target audiences are 2- to 11-year-olds. Cymphonique is just one of many of the young stars of color to headline shows on the network.

Nickelodeon has been at the forefront of diversity on television. From the animated Dora in "Dora the Explorer" to "iCarly" and "True Jackson, VP" which features African-American actress Lauren Keyana "Keke" Palmer as a teen vice-president of an apparel company all the shows feature positive portrayals of youth of color.

Nickelodeon, along with Sesame Street workshop which produces "Sesame Street," has been at the forefront of diverse and responsible storytelling on television. Nickelodeon’s first original live action television series "Hey Dude" included Joe Torres as Danny Lightfoot, a Hopi Indian who was cast after auditioning in Tucson for the role. When the show premiered in 1989 there were no other representation of young American Indians. Even today, twenty-two years after "Hey Dude" premiered there are only a handful of American Indians on television.

"The Cosby Show" was the first show on prime time television to feature a positive portrayal of an African-American family, but critics have said that it didn’t reflect any serious issues facing black Americans at the time. The same could be said about Nickelodeon’s characters because race and class issues are often not addressed. And it’s possible to have a commercially viable television show that addresses race head-on. ABC’s popular show "Ugly Betty" proved that deportations, access to jobs, education and race can be a compelling part of prime time storylines.

While Nick’s shows don’t touch on any current issues Latinos, Asians and African-Americans face today, compare Nickelodeon’s casts to those on any of ABC and NBC’s primetime shows and it makes the kid network’s casting execs looks like radicals. And that’s encouraging, especially when you consider they’re targeting toddlers.