Comedian and actress Niecy Nash is encouraging Hollywood to sharpen its focus on its representations of women in the media.
Nash appeared on the August 4 episode of Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show Chelsea to promote her new TNT series, Claws. There she talked about diversity in show business with fellow guests Kate Beckinsale and Transparent showrunner Jill Soloway.
During the conversation, Nash recalled the moment a friend realized that black women were running, directing, executive producing, and starring in Claws, prompting Nash to elaborate on how representation has improved for some women, but not everyone.
“There was a point where you knew if you were going out [for roles], it was just going to be the sassy black dot dot dot,” Nash said. “Sassy black mama, sassy black neighbor, sassy black friend. It was one note.”
Nash went on to acknowledge that times have changed, a shift that was due in part to the success of fellow black actresses like Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson. For Nash, however, that success and those opportunities aren’t being shared by all women in the way that they should be.
“What I get all the time now is ‘Well, because of Taraji [P. Henson] and Viola [Davis] and Kerry [Washington], things have changed,” Nash said. “Now everything is okay.”
“I’m like, not it’s not,” the actress continued. “That is progress — and I love seeing my black and brown sisters on TV — but there are so many other women in the world besides black and white women whose stories are not being told.”
When Handler asked Nash to elaborate, she pointed to some of Hollywood’s most underrepresented women.
“Asian women, Indian women, Muslim women — a lot of women,” Nash listed off.
Nash’s own series features white, black, Latina, and Asian actors, as well as female characters who identify as LGBTQ. That’s a radically inclusive cast by Hollywood’s standards, but it’s certainly not the full gamut of female representation.
Data compiled by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film revealed that during the 2015 to 2016 TV season, only 5 percent of broadcast female characters were Asian — the same percentage as Latinas — while 2 percent identified as some other race or ethnicity. Cable saw even fewer women of color, with 4 percent identifying as Asian, 3 percent as Latina, and one percent as a different race or ethnicity.
GLAAD’s latest annual Where We Are Now report examined LGBTQ female representation, and found that of the 71 LGBTQ series regular characters on broadcast that are female, 23 percent identify as bisexual, 17 percent as lesbians, and 4 percent as straight transgender women. The report also found that of the 15 disabled characters in the 2016 to 2017 broadcast television season, four are women.
Still, Claws and Nash’s words are a testament to both the progress and work ahead when it comes to representing the broader experiences of womanhood.