CBS announced Monday, November 9 that it is launching a new BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) initiative to ensure that unscripted shows like Big Brother, Survivor and others are more inclusive and representative of the make-up of the United States. Here’s what you need to know.
The Target is That Half the Casts be BIPOC
In a press release, CBS announced that it has set a target of 50 percent representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color across all casts for unscripted shows, beginning in the 2021-2022 broadcast season. The network is also committing a minimum of 25 percent of its annual unscripted development budget to projects from creators/producers who are BIPOC.
Additionally, CBS will develop “future initiatives with its production partners to expand diversity in all of the creative and production teams involved in making an unscripted series.”
“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented, and needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” said George Cheeks, President and Chief Executive Officer for the CBS Entertainment Group, in a statement. “As we strive to improve all of these creative aspects, the commitments announced today are important first steps in sourcing new voices to create content and further expanding the diversity in our unscripted programming, as well as on our Network.”
These initiatives build on the commitments CBS announced in July for its scripted programming — that they will allocate a minimum of 25 percent of future script development budgets to projects created by or co-created by BIPOC. CBS also set a target for its writers’ rooms to be staffed with a minimum of 40 percent BIPOC representation beginning with the 2021-2022 broadcast television season, and a goal to increase that number to 50 percent the following season (2022-2023).
This Comes After Several Survivor Cast Members Accused CBS Of Systemic Racism
Two different organizations were formed this year to protest the way BIPOC contestants have been portrayed on Survivor. There was also an issue on this year’s Big Brother with the houseguests of color being targeted; Big Brother has also had issues on several seasons with cast members saying racist (and misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic) on the live feeds.
Soul Survivors is an organization founded by Survivor cast members J’Tia Hart (season 28), Jamal Shipman (season 39, Julia Carter (season 38), and Brice Johnston (season 28) that started a petition for more diverse representation on Survivor. And the Black Survivor Alliance (BSA) actually met with CBS to talk about the way the show edits characters differently based on their races.
“My edit, and that of so many other Black people, caused me to organize the BSA and move to end systematic racism on Survivor. Mark Burnett foreshadowed portraying me as a ‘b*tch,’ his word not mine, and I didn’t figure out that that was what he was actually going to do because I hadn’t watched previous Survivor. I actually thought Survivor honestly portrayed players. I was wrong,” said BSA founder Jolanda Jones.
The Soul Survivors petition reads, “Survivor has produced 40 successful seasons over 20 years by telling the stories of people who represent a wide array of human experience within the context of a game of social strategy, physical challenges, and survival. Representation matters. One of the most important ways we can embrace our diversity and evolve is to represent that diversity responsibly, equitably, and fully. A commitment to the afore-mentioned actions would have a huge impact and move us toward a more fair, just, and equitable society,” reads the petition.
The petition is asking for the executive producers to pledge to cast Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) for at least 30 percent of contestants each season, give BIPOC equitable screen time and opportunities to participate in marketing and promotional events, hire more BIPOC in all parts of production, vet contestants more thoroughly to ensure those who have promoted prejudices are not cast, and have a zero-tolerance policy towards racism, among other things.
CBS not only went for 30 percent, but the network has pledged 50 percent. And getting more BIPOC behind the camera will help as well.
As castaway Crystal Cox said, “Because there’s limited representation in the editing room, many minority female castaways are edited as angry, loud, intimidating, and outspoken. But if there is representation in the editing room, maybe our other strengths can shine through and we are given a fair shot and reap the rewards of being on reality television, like many of our white female counterparts.”
Survivor hopes to film season 41 in the spring of 2021 for a fall 2021 premiere.