America’s Next Top Model’s problematic past

Tyra Banks and company have come a long way in 14 years

<i>America’s Next Top Model</i>’s problematic past

After 14 years and 24 cycles, America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) is proving that age doesn’t necessarily mean retirement in the fashion world. While viewership has plummeted in the later seasons — the show was briefly cancelled after cycle 22 — its core fanbase still tunes in every Tuesday night at 8:00 pm to see which contestant’s photograph is not in presenter Tyra Banks’ hand.

Longtime viewers have been lamenting what they deem a loss of the show’s original spirit, decrying the commercial branding and social media challenges that have come to dominate the competition. We can all undoubtedly agree that part of the show’s soul has been lost along this long journey, along with Janice Dickinson’s hilariously cruel photo critiques, sweet-heart photographer Nigel Barker, and Mr. and Miss J: Jay Manuel and J. Alexander.

But as much as we miss old-school ANTM, there are many insidious aspects of the show’s earlier days that viewers should be glad are missing from cycle 24.

Of all the problematic moments on ANTM, the most iconic is from cycle four, when Banks broke character and lost her cool at Tiffany, one of the competing models. Banks was outraged at Tiffany’s nonchalance to her elimination, screaming, “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you! How dare you?”

“I can’t change it, Tyra… I’m sick of crying about stuff that I cannot change… I’m sick of being disappointed,” responded Tiffany tearfully. But Banks refused to accept her excuse.

By cycle 24, Banks has become much more accepting of the models’ personal choices, and more understanding that the modelling competition does not trump a contestant’s mental health and wellbeing. When Brendi K. chose to leave in the current cycle, saying, “I’m taking care of me because as much as I love this competition… I need to be happy because it’s something I’ve had so little of in my life,” Banks’ reaction was one of support, giving her a hug and agreeing that the contestant’s mental health is more important than being on the show.

ANTM’s history is replete with other examples of problematic events. It’s difficult not to rewatch the cycle 4 ‘racial switching’ photoshoot in horror, as some models don actual blackface. “The challenge here really is taking on the persona of that other ethnicity while in the photograph and owning it” said Jay Manuel during that episode.

Shoots like this continued all the way through until cycle 13, which featured a photoshoot of models portraying biracial versions of themselves. Banks eventually apologized for this, albeit far too late.

Though ANTM presents itself as inclusive of all body types, it is also still a major culprit of body-shaming. “America’s Next Top Model is not a plus-sized model,” scoffed Dickinson, dismissing the show’s first plus-sized model, Toccara, purely on her size. In cycle four, judges continually shamed Keenyah for gaining weight during the competition, tailoring her photoshoots to her new ‘fat girl’ persona by casting her as Gluttony in a Seven Deadly Sins challenge and as an elephant in a safari-themed photoshoot.

Lack of body-inclusivity was far from ANTM’s only issue. Contestants uncomfortable with nudity for religious reasons were not accommodated; a contestant in cycle two was eliminated because she refused to pose nude. In a cycle four shoot with male models, Keenyah stopped the shoot because she was uncomfortable with the unsolicited touching and “moaning” of one of the male models. Her complaints were unaddressed and belittled.

ANTM has made progressive steps over the last few years though, allowing for models with a variety of traits and of different backgrounds to take centre stage. Hopefully, ANTM will ensure that new, diverse casts constitute the norm, rather than lucky anomalies. With only four girls left this cycle — Khrystyana, Shanice, Rio, and Kyla — the competition is fierce. ‘Next level fierce,’ as Banks might say.

Overlooked: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin

Alongside its staple of superhero shows, The CW network’s stronger series have gone under the radar

Overlooked: <i>Crazy Ex-Girlfriend</i>, <i>Jane the Virgin</i>

The merged successor to The WB and UPN, The CW is a joint venture between CBS and Warner Bros. Since its debut in 2006, the network has had its growing pains, but it was still at the forefront of the teen melodrama with shows such as Gossip Girl90210, and The Vampire Diaries.

In recent years, though, the network might as well have been known as the superhero show channel, home to DC comic adaptations including ArrowSupergirl, and The Flash. Yet aside from these anchors, in addition to the blockbuster Supernatural, the network’s lineup also currently includes a number of compelling series that are not getting the attention they deserve.

Every so often, there is a piece of pop culture that makes you feel truly seen. For me, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one such show. Its depiction of Jewish female anxiety is part of my favourite growing niche in media, alongside the hysterical Broad City, Amazon’s recent The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as elements of other shows like Transparent and unREAL.

Co-creator Rachel Bloom, previously best-known for the viral YouTube parody song “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury,” is wonderful as Rebecca Bunch, a New York corporate lawyer who moves to West Covina, California in pursuit of a former summer camp fling. Rebecca’s delusional pursuit of happiness, in the form of Josh Chan, is initially both cringe-worthy and riveting, but the viewer soon begins to feel real empathy for the show’s clearly damaged protagonist.

Despite being a critical darling, CXG is one of the lowest-rated shows on television, having taken the bottom spot in fall rankings for each of the three years it’s been on the air. The show is simply not reaching enough people — a true shame, since it includes a brilliant ensemble cast, clever musical numbers, and one of the best portrayals of mental illness on television.

CXG effortlessly moves between genres to pursue its ultimate goal: a deconstruction of the societal norms of romance. I could write essays on its use of musical parodies, but instead I will direct you to a couple of my recent favorites: “Let’s Have Intercourse,” a pitch-perfect Ed Sheeran mockery, and “The End of the Movie,” which warns against treating your life as a straightforward narrative — with the use of a killer cameo. To say nothing of classics like “Friendtopia,” “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too,” and “Let’s Generalize About Men.”

Not far ahead of CXG in the ratings is Jane the Virgin, my go-to recommendation anytime someone asks me what they should watch next.

Jane the Virgin begins with a ridiculous premise — literally ‘straight out of a telenovela’ — as Jane, who planned on waiting until marriage to have sex, is accidentally artificially inseminated.

Despite this absurd starting point, I haven’t seen anything else on TV that can compare in terms of heart. The show’s quirks, such as its omniscient narrator known as the Latin Lover and its tendency to indulge in plot twists like evil twins and child kidnappings, belie its core: a smart and often touching portrayal of love, life, and family.

I haven’t even mentioned the post-apocalyptic drama The 100, or Riverdale, the show we are all growing to love to hate. Suffice it to say that treating The CW as solely the domain of Greg Berlanti is both an incorrect assumption and one that’s a shame. Behind the archery, capes, and lightning bolts are a handful of series that are well worth the watch.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email arts@thevarsity.ca.

Shows we always come back to

Our contributors share their favourite TV series

Shows we always come back to

You’re probably familiar with the ritual of contemplating how much work you have to do and briefly engaging in an anxiety spiral before turning to your laptop and opening Netflix. Here are some of the shows that our contributors return to time and time again for a bit of nostalgia, or just to shut off for a little while.

I’ve watched the American version of The Office at least four times. Michael’s awkward and inappropriate behaviour combined with Pam and Jim’s continuing love story made the show irresistible to me. There was always something charming about the modest Dunder Mifflin office and the people working within it that reminded me to laugh at the smallest of situations. It’s a show I’ll keep returning to — there’s nothing like laying on your bed, eating soggy Hawaiian pizza and salt and vinegar chips while watching Dwight throw the perfect Garden Party.

— Kaitlyn Simpson

The show I always go back to is Friends. It’s feel-good, funny, and the characters and storylines are still relatable today. It’s a great show to watch after a stressful day of classes.

— Khyrsten Mieras

I always like to go back to Avatar: The Last Airbender because I like to reconnect with fantasy and magic, and keep myself curious about the world.

— Vivian Li

How I Met Your Mother is just a great feel-good, romance-comedy show for when you don’t want to think too hard. Plus, I binged the whole thing when I was 10, so I feel a bit of nostalgia too.

— Kevin Yin

My show of choice is Lizzie McGuire, my go-to for whenever I’m feeling lost or contemplating my life. Definitely a must for those Fridays when I’m missing more stress-free days.

— Carol Eugene Park

My personal mission in life is to get as many people as I can to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine. All it takes is one hilarious cold open followed by its intro music, and I am home, if home were a NYPD precinct in Brooklyn, New York. As a woman of colour, I am tired of seeing shows about five or six white people taking on New York — I’ve watched Friends and How I Met Your Mother, been there done that — where people of colour and queer people make up sidelined, undeveloped characters. Brooklyn Nine-Nine features both without reducing their characters to their sexuality or ethnicity. If you want a show that is both funny and self-aware, I recommend Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It is, in one word, noice.

— Zeahaa Rehman

Hollywood must make room for more women of colour on screen

Despite efforts to improve gender representation in sci-fi and fantasy, mainstream media remains overwhelmingly white

Hollywood must make room for more women of colour on screen

From superheroes to elves to dragons, there is ample imagination that goes into the creation of science fiction and fantasy stories. Yet when it comes to envisioning people of colour at the forefront of these stories, it seems that sense of imagination is lacking.

For the first time in its over-50-year history, the upcoming season of popular sci-fi series Doctor Who will feature a female Doctor, the lead character in the show. Nerd women everywhere celebrated the news as an important leap in representation within the sci-fi and fantasy genre — a genre that often excludes women from leading roles. In 2016, for instance, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that only 29 per cent of the top 100 grossing science fiction films in Hollywood featured female protagonists.

It is therefore encouraging that franchises like Doctor Who — as well as films like Atomic Blonde, Mad Max: Fury Road, Wonder Woman, and Ghostbusters — have carved out more space for women to take on starring roles. What’s not so encouraging is the overwhelming proportion of white women featured in the mainstream film and television industry.

Representation of people of colour remains a significant issue for mainstream cinema. As of 2016, 76 per cent of female characters in the top 100 films were white, compared to 14 per cent Black, six per cent Asian, and three per cent Latina.

Representation of marginalized people in the media is important: it can reduce racial bias, and it increases confidence and self-esteem among racial minority audiences. Portraying women of colour in film and television helps to normalize their experiences — and when women and people of colour don’t see themselves on screen, it sends the unfortunate message that their experiences are invalid or not as important as those of white actors, both male and female.

The sidelining of women of colour in favour of white women is nothing new. Historically, feminism has excluded women of colour and prioritized the needs of cisgender, heterosexual white women above everyone else. White feminism — the insidious brand of feminism that favours the needs of white women over those of women of colour and thereby upholds white supremacy — contributes to the push for more inclusion in mainstream media.

To the extent that celebrations of gender diversity in Hollywood predominantly focus on white women, gains made in this area remain mostly superficial. Though Wonder Woman is widely publicized as a groundbreaking feminist movie, it still lacks substantial casting of women of colour. Conceptualizing feminism in such a unidimensional way is reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s Girls, which has received similar praise despite not including women of colour in lead roles.

The infamous controversy about the movie Ghost in the Shell also exemplifies how white feminism can be weaponized against women of colour. Given that the film is based on an original Japanese franchise, it would have made sense to cast a Japanese actress in the starring role. Instead, white actress Scarlett Johansson was hired to play the protagonist, which offended many in light of the general scarcity of Asian actors featured in Hollywood movies.

Fortunately, a number of upcoming sci-fi and fantasy releases seem to be more sensitive to the scarcity of roles for women of colour in Hollywood. In the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther, 90 per cent of the cast is Black, and Black women have been cast in leading roles, making it one of the most diverse movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Women of colour have also been cast in other upcoming movies: Zazie Beetz will play Domino in the Deadpool sequel, and the upcoming movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will feature Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey.

Although increased diversity appears to be on its way to the big screen, more work still needs to be done to ensure women of colour are granted the visibility they deserve. As strides are being made to include women in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, additional attention should be paid to inclusivity for racialized women; having truly diverse casts means being sensitive to racism as well as sexism.

 

Oreoluwa Adara is an incoming second-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Equity Studies.