Minority Report: How ‘Empire’ Has Affected Diversity in Soaps

General Hospital - Anthony Montgomery and Donnell Turner
Jim Warren
Anthony Montgomery, Donnell Turner

No daytime drama deserved big applause for diversity this time last year. But since the arrival of Fox’s industry-quaking primetime sudser Empire there has been a muscular effort to do the right thing in the afternoon. Well, at some shows anyway. Here’s our 2015 minority report.

General Hospital
A pretty good year for black people in Port Chuck, not so much for gays. GH hired two African-American leading men—Anthony Montgomery as the hospital’s in-house shrink Andre, and Donnell Turner as ballsy schemer Curtis (pictured above)–and both are freakin’ sensational. Plus, in juicy news, Shari Belafonte has just been cast as evil mayor Janice Lomax. On the downside: Vinessa Antoine, who plays police commish Jordan Ashford, is a powerhouse star without a powerhouse story. And where the hell is her son, TJ (the terrific Tequan Richmond)? Then there’s gay Asian lab tech Brad Cooper (Parry Shen), who has all but vanished along with GH’s other gay characters, Lucas (Ryan Carnes) and Felix (Marc Anthony Samuel). Hmmm…what’s that about, ABC?
Grade: B+

The Young and the Restless

Y&R’s Sofia Pernas and Miles Gaston Villanueva

The Young and the Restless
This CBS show has a mighty group of African-American actors, led by Emmy winners Kristoff St. John (Neil) and Bryton James (Devon), but why are they given such insulting material? Neil going psycho, kidnapping Devon’s wife and hiding her comatose body in a fishing shack for weeks was pure soap-opera cheese—of the smelliest variety. Y&R’s late, great creator, Bill Bell, used to write stories for the black characters of Genoa City that were riveting, emotion-packed and truly memorable. Why would the network want to tarnish such a legacy? The show’s Latino newbies, Sofia Pernas (Marisa) and Miles Gaston Villanueva (Luca), also deserve better. They are hugely gifted but saddled with a backstory romance that’s a snooze. On the LGBT front, Y&R sucks. Sorry, folks, casting trans actress Candis Cayne as a wedding planner for a quickie PR stunt does not count as diversity.
Grade: C

Days of our Lives

Days’ Christopher Sean

Days of Our Lives
Adding Hispanic patriarch Eduardo Hernandez—A Martinez, in a rich, cryptic, dazzling performance—was a super move, but it still feels like the NBC soap has no real interest in people of color. Case in point: James Reynolds (Abe) is a marvelous talent just dying on the vine. The decision to suddenly age Abe’s autistic son, Theo (Kyler Pettis), into a teen has yet to give Reynolds anything worthwhile to do. Neither has the arrival of Abe’s long-lost daughter, Lani Price (Sal Stowers), who is eye-poppingly gorgeous but mind-numbingly dull. And why did Salem’s only Asian (and gay…sensing a trend here?) character, Paul Narita, go MIA? Actor Christopher Sean is a find. So somebody find him!
Grade: C+

The Bold and the Beautiful

B&B’s Reign Edwards, Felisha Cooper

The Bold and the Beautiful
No Latinos or gays on a show set in the L.A. fashion scene? Insane. Still, this CBS hit gets a pass for putting a fantastic black family, the Avants, front and center. The revelation that supermodel Maya (Karla Mosley) used to be a guy named Myron was the plot of 2015, an exciting yet sadly wistful reminder of the days when soaps really mattered and were eager and determined to break new ground. Nicole (Reign Edwards) and Zende (Rome Flynn) are the year’s dreamiest new couple. And right before Christmas we got Sasha (Felisha Cooper), a hot-to-trot hoot who is the secret spawn of holier-than-thou Julius (Obba Babatundé). The Avants are the gift that keeps on giving!
Grade: A