Jeopardy! – US quiz show that somehow makes me feel like a seasoned champion – has announced that Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik will be sharing host duties starting this fall.
The win by the two finalists in 2004, who on a 14-episode sweep two decades ago came within two-thirds of a second of blowing away the competition, is the longest run in the quiz show’s 24-year history.
As I’ve explained before, that achievement represented both a record and a personal achievement: a rising star in the search for the next John. The second, Bialik, who plays neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, has come to symbolize a larger feat in entertainment in the USA: that equality in terms of where people of various genders, ages, and faiths (spouses and straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual) are represented in the entertainment industry.
There was that post about Who Is America and how whiteness at the top of the U.S. political and cultural food chain is inescapable, and now you see this – a series of women holding major commanding roles in nearly every part of popular entertainment.
Over the past couple of years, when the entertainment world has consistently failed to reflect the American population – to portray women as brilliant and powerful and able to lead, as true leaders and on equal footing with men – there has been the debate over whether that was due to sexism or to racism. In fact, at last count, nearly every character on The Big Bang Theory has been played by a black actress (two of them female, three of them black), and yes, we are still seeing many white male actors in leading roles. (There are exceptions – Denzel Washington is one.)
But the question of why? Why is this? Why did there ever have to be such a problem that seeing a different gender in a different part of the entertainment industry became an ideological issue? And why isn’t there more of a conversation about how much more we need to see?
We all will have our own answers: another writer will take another nuanced look, and it will be a nuanced look. But it will be one that, if it did not come from us, would be framed and analyzed and edited and then put into words and presented to the world under a different umbrella and story than the one that we’ve spent countless hours refining, nurtured, and then always prepared for: one where women and people of color and people of any other merit make up the majority of both the potential leader and the candidates we vote for.
We haven’t yet reached a place where, when a woman runs for president, she will be cast in the same heroic light as when an actor – say, Ben Affleck or Will Smith – plays the president of the United States. (Meryl Streep has never taken a starring role as president, either.) We haven’t yet won the fight for equal treatment on entertainment sets, or equal pay or broader visibility, but we are getting closer.
Some argue that that is because of the lack of black female actors – don’t we have enough of a pool of actors of color, if only they would run? For whom? (For a self-described introvert, I prefer to envision my heroines as unassuming and humble.)
We all have a responsibility to make the future of Hollywood inclusive of – and fully representing – all communities of people who we have been a part of both as residents and Americans.
So I am happy to announce that two women will share the red studio seat across from Alex Trebek in the fall, and I know that both Ken and Mayim will do a fantastic job doing so.