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How Real is New L Word? 'The Real L Word' Criticized for Lack of Diversity

How Real is New L Word? 'The Real L Word' Criticized for Lack of Diversity

I don't think any lesbian in the Los Angeles area can say she doesn't know about The Real L Word. I might even daresay there aren't any lesbians in the country who haven't at least heard about creator Ilene Chaiken's new reality show. Not so ironically, it is a complaint many viewers had with the show's predecessor as well. Critics question the lack of diversity in Chaiken's new show, and wondered where the diversity was for the first seasons of the original L Word.Many suspected Chaiken's addition of a black and Latina character in the later seasons of her first show were in response to claims that the show lacked ethnic diversity.

I don't think any lesbian in the Los Angeles area can say she doesn't know about The Real L Word. I might even daresay there aren't any lesbians in the country who haven't at least heard about creator Ilene Chaiken's new reality show.

To say The L Wordis a big deal in lesbian culture is like saying Madonna is a big deal in music. There's no way to talk about the hit show without making a million understatements about the show's importance to the lesbian community. Gay women watched The L Word to witness one of the first chances at a fair portrayal in a dramatic series. Most mainstream television shows and movies exploit lesbian plots for ratings and don't care to explore stories beyond lesbian sex (if lesbian sex isn't considered too obscene).

In that respect, it isn't surprising Chaiken has such a following.  Like the show or not, it's groundbreaking television. With all of the support and hype surrounding The Real L Word's premiere, one repeated complaint threatens the show's popularity with both lesbian and straight audiences.

 (Images from Getty)

Cast members of The Real L Word with the show's creator Ilene Chaiken (center)

Not so ironically, it is a complaint many viewers had with the show's predecessor as well. Critics question the lack of diversity in Chaiken's new show, and wondered where the diversity was for the first seasons of the original L Word.

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Many suspected Chaiken's addition of a black and Latina character in the later seasons of her first show were in response to claims that the show lacked ethnic diversity. (Papi, a Latina character -- although played by a non-Latina actress Janina Gavankar -- known for being a player, is allegedly based on Real L Word cast member, Rose).

The Real L Word's Rose

Out of the new cast, one cast member is Puerto Rican, a few cast members are Jewish and one cast member is half Puerto Rican.

Cast member Mikey commented in an interview with Afterellen.com that people wouldn't be as quick to question the show's diversity if a black woman was part of the cast.

As a black woman, I both agree and disagree.

While I think a black woman would have exposed more cultural elements to the show and been a more accurate reflection of Los Angeles's population, I recognize diversity for including more than black and white people.

Although I agree that the six women encompass many types of diversity, I won't let Chaiken get off the hook that easily. Viewers' complaints about diversity do not stem from ethnicity alone.

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Fans want to see "real" lesbians when a show calls itself The Real L Word. I can credit Chaiken for bringing lesbian stories to mainstream consciousness, but I can't say she uses "mainstream" lesbians as a storytelling tool. Chaiken's franchises aim for ratings and moneymaking, not speaking as a voice for the everyday lesbian.

Unlike the cast of The L Word and its spinoff, every lesbian is not drop-dead Hollywood beautiful. And every lesbian does not live in the land of luxury. Lesbians come in different shapes and shades.

There are plenty of lesbians who look have short haircuts, struggle to survive, and might even have a few extra pounds here or there.

Unfortunately, popular lesbian entertainers and writers are not as common as they should be.  When storytellers come in limited numbers, so do the uniqueness of the stories told.

Viewers expect media types, such as Chaiken, to represent their stories as more than glamorous docudramas, whether she deserves this responsibility or not.

The Real L Word's Mikey, Whitney and Rose

Complaints about diversity will always follow Chaiken, but Chaiken's loyalty is to a brand, not lesbian advocacy. She understands fans love the L Word for being exclusionary with its glitz and glamour, and will probably keep any L Word spin-offs within those boundaries.  

Interviews and casting prove diversity is factored into Chaiken's decisions, but it's not her first priority. And it never will be.  

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Marchae Grair