Fall Television Has Arrived and Illustrates that On-Screen Diversity Is Just Step One

Photo by Chaval Brasil

Photo by Chaval Brasil

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  There are several reasons to like fall: the seasonal wardrobe, the leaves changing, and pumpkin everything.  What too frequently gets overlooked in the frequent internet posts about sweater weather and basic bitches who like pumpkin spice, is the true gem of Fall: new television.

While others have been voraciously consuming Luke Cage (rightfully so), I have been taking my time and showing a few other new shows some love.  While there are several posts about Insecure, Atlanta, and Queen Sugar to come, I’d like to focus on Fox’s Pitch. 

Pitch centers on Ginny Baker, a supremely talented pitcher who is the first woman to make it to major league baseball.  Now I detest sports, but give me a show with as much depth as Friday Night Lights and I will cheer for every Panther touchdown.  Pitch is not Friday Night Lights and has no aims to be, but provides interesting insights into gender politics (including fragile masculinity), the trouble with being the only one in the room, and the burden of being the first.

In the show’s first three episodes Pitch has illustrated the beauty of a diverse cast and is shaping up to be a really feminist show, with a lead that a lot of young women can admire.  Though I have been mostly impressed with Pitch so far, last week’s episode illustrated that even with a cast that looks like the United Nations, racism is hard to do away with. (Spoilers ahead)

Ginny Baker’s story easily could have been told with a White lead.  In fact the show would hardly change with an all White cast; however, Fox has listened to viewers (and the relevant data) and worked to create more diverse content in the past few TV seasons.  Since, the cast of Pitch has a Black woman at the helm, portrays a very loving Black marriage, and has men of Asian, Latino, and Black descent in supporting roles, the last episode’s Woo Jin story line was a disappointing devolvement.  If you need to recap the third episode Nichole Perkins at Vulture has you covered.

Woo Jin is introduced in the Padres locker room when he laughs uproariously at something banal and unfunny.  It is quickly revealed through the team’s ribbing, lead by Blip, a Black character, that Woo Jin does not speak English.  The identifiably Asian person on the team does not speak English.  That’s so interesting, I’ve never seen that done before.  Sigh.  What makes this especially egregious is that the taunting is led by one of the team’s Black members.  The show attempts to give itself plausible deniability: well it wasn’t racist because the Black character said it.  However, we know that this is not how racism works.  Since racism is the default in our country, White supremacy permeates the air and we all get a big whiff.

Since the Padres injured pitcher, Tommy, has healed, Woo Jin no longer has a place with the team.  The episode’s C plot follows Oscar, part of the team’s management, as he frantically tries to find a translator to tell Woo Jin that he is being laid off.  This story line is both unnecessary and distracting.  It further delves into murky racist water, when Oscar asks Eliot, Ginny’s social media manager, if he’s Korean.  Several things could have happened in this moment.  Eliot could have called Oscar out and said something pointed about how we always assume Asian Americans speak their ethnicity’s language, or the scene could have gone on any number of really racist routes.  Pitch aims for something in the middle. Instead we learn that Eliot is second-generation and can say hello and goodbye in Korean.  He can’t fix Oscar’s problem and his frantic walk and talk continues throughout the stadium.  The exchange just makes Eliot look aloof and Oscar’s desperation has already been conveyed.

This terrible plot line culminates when Al the team manager goes to fire Woo Jin and we find out he’s known Korean the entire time. He has declined to share this information with Oscar, so that he can portray himself as both savvy and instrumental to the team at just the right moment.  Woo Jin is just a prop to illustrate that this isn’t Al’s first rodeo.

Pitch has great potential as a show and doesn’t trap its regular characters of color in tired stereotypes.  That’s what makes this episode especially disappointing.  Asian men, especially East Asian men, have had to endure some of the worst representation on-screen in film and television history, even when White actors aren’t portraying them in  yellowface (from Mickey Rourke to ScarJo) there roles are reduced to played out stereotypes.  Pitch has the opportunity  to make a dent in equitable representation; Master of None can not in fact do it all.

Asian men are more than sexless tech geeks and Long Duck Dong.  It’s way past time for our media to recognize this.  Your move, Pitch.


Pitch airs Thursday evening at 9pm on FOX.


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