This fall, moviegoers lined up for a film that offered an uncompromising, complex portrayal of the African-American experience. It depicted the nuanced lives of its black characters, putting their stories in the forefront. I’m talking, of course, about the rom-com hit The Best Man Holiday. But perhaps you thought I was talking about something else: the horrifying 12 Years a Slave, the devastating Fruitvale Station, the tearful Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the segregation tale 42.
What really made 2013 notable, though, was that studios and networks finally learned that “diversity” isn’t limited to stories about historical injustices and civil rights struggles — that it’s okay to show minorities doing other things, too. Holiday, the diverse Fast & Furious 6, the Mexican comedy Instructions Not Included, and Kevin Hart’s stand-up special Let Me Explain all became hits at theaters. Meanwhile, TV audiences were treated to multilayered minority characters on Scandal and Orange Is the New Black, plus well-received talk shows from Queen Latifah and Arsenio Hall, a strong Indian-American leading lady (The Mindy Project), and the all-too-rare sitcom with two black main characters (New Girl).
Best of all, none of the proper nouns in the paragraph above can be accused of tokenism. As sad as it is to say, that’s progress. More than any other year, 2013 showed that Hollywood is beginning to discover the full breadth of what it means to be a person of color in America — and, just as important, what it doesn’t mean.