In a lot of ways, television has become the pinnacle of trailblazing in the entertainment industry. With more flexible production schedules and fewer big name stars attached, television executives have the advantage when it comes to taking risks. While Hollywood still has a long way to go to improve diversity (both on screen and off), television has made some tremendous strides all on its own, often leaving the film industry struggling to catch up.
Recently, there has been a crop of wonderful shows teeming with diverse casts that have slid under the radar, but that certainly doesn't mean they aren't worth your time. Check out some of the following next time you're struggling to find something new to binge watch.
1. Queen Of The South
Teresa Mendoza's rise to the top began last summer. The show, lead by Brazilian actress Alice Braga, is a seedy crime drama with plenty of phenomenal performances and action sequences to keep the audience enthralled episode after episode. Queen of the South began with Mendoza's death in a flash-forward that set her as a cartel queen, but then we are brought back to the beginning, and Mendoza's origin.
Her story starts as a money changer in Mexico when she meets the suave Guero and is swept off her feet and into a life of crime and cocaine. When tragedy strikes shortly after, Teresa is forced to flee from countless enemies with only her wits and street smarts to guide her. This bingeable show is adapted from the popular Spanish telenovela, La Reina del Sur.
Season 2 is shaping up to be a thrilling chapter in Teresa's ascent to cartel Queenpin. If the first two episodes and the trailers are any indication, she and Camila Vargas (played with cool finesse by acclaimed Mexican actress Veronica Falcón) will be going head to head. After all, there can only be one true queen, and with these ladies leading the charge, the one thing we can be sure of is that their final showdown is going to be one of epic proportions.
Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix, and Season 2 started airing on USA Network on June 8.
2. Queen Sugar
Queen Sugar is a family drama about the Bordelon siblings and the trials and tribulations of running a sugarcane farm after they inherit it from their deceased father. Sugar was created by Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay and is executive produced by DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. The show stars Rutina Wesley as the bisexual, strong-willed activist, Nova Bordelon and Dawn-Lyen Gardner as the business savvy Charley Bordelon. Gardner and Wesley are joined by brother Kofi Siriboe, Ralph-Angel Bordelon, a struggling single father on the unemployment line. All three siblings uproot their lives to the heart of Louisiana upon the news of their father's death to figure out how to manage the sprawling estate he left them.
Not only does Queen Sugar host a predominantly African American cast, but DuVernay hired a different woman to direct each episode of the show.
DuVernay reflects on the importance of “having casts and stories that reflect the world we live in, so audiences see people they know onscreen.”
The first season of #QueenSugar is currently streaming on Hulu. Season 2 will have a two-night premiere beginning June 21.
3. Dear White People
Of all the shows on this list, Dear White People is perhaps one of the most socially relevant and important. Tapping directly into the current political climate and modern-day zeitgeist, Dear White People confronts issues of race, police brutality, sexuality and interracial relationships in 10 short episodes. The show's setup makes it accessible to a modern-day audience, with the college campus setting and radio show being two key staples to the story.
Despite being a show about social commentary, Dear White People never comes across as preachy. It's well written and handles each topic with sincerity and grace, but it's not just a drama; there is some genuine humor within every loaded barb the protagonist Sam White (played by the always charming Logan Browning) lobs our way, (a heavy-handed but hilarious parody of Scandal is one of the show's comedic high points).
The heart of Dear White People though, is its ensemble cast. The realistic yet complicated friendship between Samantha and Colandrea "Coco" Connors (Antoinette Robertson) is engaging and nuanced, as are the romances and conflicts between friends and lovers. There's commentary here but also heart and real stories. It's not a show to be missed, as it explores and explains topics written and developed by an entirely black cast and crew. Perspective is everything. Moonlight's director, Barry Jenkins, directs one of the show's most powerful episodes.
#DearWhitePeople Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.
4. The Fosters
The Fosters is probably the most well-known show on this list. It's certainly the most established with four seasons under its belt and a fifth one about to be underway, but given its content and penchant for tackling tough, even taboo, topics, one would think it would garner more mainstream media attention. The show has won several GLAAD Media Awards for its portrayal of an interracial lesbian couple.
The Fosters is about Stef and Lena Foster, played by Teri Polo and Sheri Saum, the matriarchs of a diverse family composed of mostly foster children. The Fosters, like Sense8 and Orange is the New Black, is one of the few shows to cast actual transgender actors to portray its trans characters. Season five is set to explore a romantic relationship between one of the shows leading ladies and her transgender partner. The Fosters may have been on the air for a while now, but it continues to be groundbreaking in the topics it tackles during primetime.
All four seasons of The Fosters are currently streaming on Netflix. Season 5 is set to premiere July 11 on Freeform.
While the most untested of the list given its newcomer status, Claws is already off with a bang. It stars Emmy Award-winning Niecy Nash as Desna, an accomplished nail artist with her own salon who was forced to turn to a life of crime to keep her business afloat and take care of her autistic brother (played with quiet grace by Harold Perrineau). The show's vibrant color palette and equally vibrant cast make it a stand-out for the 2017 summer television season. Its darkly comedic vibe, reminiscent of Weeds, and the chemistry of its ensemble cast make it a show not to miss.
With Niecy Nash (playing Desna) leading the cast, it's easy to see what makes the show so compelling. Filling out Desna's crew is Dominican actress Judy Reyes playing Quiet Anna, a lesbian that prefers to speak with her body rather than her words, and singer-turned-actress Karrueche Tran, playing Desna's spunky rival, Virginia. Emmy Award-winning Carrie Preston and Jennifer Lyon fill out the core ensemble. We've seen the crime narrative told countless times from men, but Claws tackles the female perspective and places importance on the bonds of friendship between these women, making it a joy to watch.
Season 1 of Claws is currently airing on TNT.
Which of these racially diverse TV shows have you been watching?