The CBS reality show Big Brother has dealt with charges of racism for years, but this season the network promises a more diverse cast.
Minority contestants have struggled to gain traction in the show, often put in the Big Brother house with an overwhelming number of white players.
In fact, no African American male has ever won the show in its 22 seasons.
With that in mind, CBS announced a new diversity pledge that will have a visible impact on its staple of reality shows: All future casts will contain at least 50 percent Black, indigenous and people of color.
That means hits like Big Brother, Survivor, and Love Island will be far more diverse.
“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. “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.”
Big Brother will also feature a ‘twist’ that forces houseguests to play in teams.
The moves follow several Big Brother contestants speaking out about the lack of diversity in the long-running show’s cast.
Last summer, Cody Calafiore won a dull season of All-Stars after participating in an all-white ‘committee’ that systematically voted out all of the minority players.
The year before, Jackson Michie, the alpha white male winner of BB21, denied being racist or a misogynist, but apologized to host Julie Chen while emphasizing he didn’t know what he was apologizing for.
Michie targeted three minority players during his first Head of Household, while ridiculing the only African American male in the cast.
“I am extremely disappointed and disgusted by the behavior I am being made aware of that occurred thus far in the Big Brother house,” wrote Season 21 contestant Kemi Fakunle. “The degrading and threatening comments made by some houseguests and laughed at by others are outrageous and hard to see. I am saddened to be associated with such a negative display of human character and am horrified that this is now a part of my life story.”
Ovi Kabir, from the same season, agreed racism plays a role in the early evictions.
“Subconsciously, yeah, I think some things came into play,” said Kabir. “Kemi, David, and I are three people from different backgrounds that don’t share the same commonalities as some of these other houseguests in there. So bonding in certain ways is more difficult for us in those things. And you find whatever you can in the house to single somebody out. And so maybe our differences were the reasons why it played in some people’s heads.”
Anyone who has watched Big Brother for a length of time knows there are seasons where the racism is evident.
Following the infamous Season 15, with repeated displays of racism, sexism and homophobia inside the house, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said she was “mortified.”
GinaMarie Zimmerman used the N-word and made a variety of racially insensitive comments about fellow houseguests and later lost her job as a pageant consultant.
Aaryn Gries, Zimmerman’s best friend in the game and cohort when it came to some of the most offensive comments uttered in the house, was let go by the modeling agency that once represented her.
But she has shown little remorse, claiming her racist comments were “taken out of context.”
And Spencer Clawson, who offered misogynistic and homophobic comments, later apologized for his “boneheaded” comments and “bad jokes.”
Big Brother host Julie Chen Moonves agreed Season 15 was blatantly racist in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“The thing that was hardest for me to watch was when we had overt racism in the house,” said Julie. “This girl named Aaryn, we thought she was going to be America’s sweetheart, the girl next door, this blonde from Texas. In the interviews, now looking back, I think she knew how to give those beauty queen answers. But after a few weeks, that beauty fades, when the inside comes out and the inside is ugly. I mean ugliest to the bone. And she starts saying homophobic things, racist things.”
Season Five houseguest Marin Latimer, an African American from South Carolina, puts the blame on the continual racial problem on the casting of the show.
“I’ve had quite a few talks with insiders, and after the cast is set you have what you have,” Marvin told JimHeath.TV. “If they suck, there’s not much you can do as far as spicing things up. So it’s all in the casting.”
And why hasn’t the casting improved, especially after BB15 six years ago?
“They are more concerned with keeping their core audience than building a bigger audience,” said Marvin. “And with the way TV is splintered now with choices like Netflix, Amazon, DVD On Demand, the competition is triple what it was when I was on the show. I’m not a huge fan now, but they seem to be targeting that core instead of appealing to everyone.”
Season 23 of Big Brother begins July 7.