In light of today’s class discussion regarding Donald Glover, I was reminded of Community and its Season 6’s premiere episode.
This season begins by commenting on the noticeable absence of Shirley, played by Yvette Nicole Brown (who left the show to care for her ailing father).
Chang (Ken Jeong) takes this opportunity to comment on the group’s (and thus the show's) gradual lack of diversity. First, it was Troy (Glover), now it’s Shirley. He asks, “Are any of you white people noticing what’s happening to this group? Do Abed (Danny Pudi) and I need to be concerned?” This worry is heightened when the Dean brings a new member into the group and introduces her as the “new Shirley.”
(The conversation begins at 3:04 for anyone interested)
This point of meta-commentary is interesting, especially when we take a moment to look at the writing room. This episode was written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna - two white men. As the show’s creator and head writer (like Lena Dunham), Harmon has the power to write-in any character that he wants. Nonetheless, who is “new Shirley?” Yet another white woman to be placed alongside Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie.
Of course, the show itself is the butt of the joke, as is much of Community’s content, and this in a sense makes it much more palatable than something like Girls. However, we are still faced with the same problem: commenting on lack of representation is not the same thing as changing it.