Victoria Rowell played ‘The Race Card’?

THIS article (posted at The Huffington Post)  won’t seem like it has much to do with the comments Victoria Rowell made regarding the status of African-American actors and actresses on the YnR, and daytime in general.  If you have the time, however, please read it.  If not, at least please view the video below.  While neither the article nor the video seem as if they have any connection to the comments  leveled by Ms. Rowell or at her since her departure from the genre, I urge you  to hang in there with me, and give me a minute to put it all in context.

(WARNING!!!!!!!!!!  The video below is of performers appearing in ‘black face’ as the ‘Jackson 5’ and another performer appearing in ‘white face’ as Michael Jackson):

There’s something you need to keep in mind about these performers.  They are all real life friends, and  real life physicians.  They were INVITED to come back and perform that routine,  having originally performed it some 20 years ago on the same show -when they were all medical students.  Shocking, huh?  It blows away the stereotype/the myth that only deeply evil or completely ignorant and uneducated people, all of whom are beyond reason, engage in such inappropriate behaviors.   Some acts of racism are intentional, others are not.  Some acts of racism are meant to wound, others are not.   Some actions aren’t deemed racist in the times they occur, but with reflection we can see the harm they caused.

How will we ever know the difference if we never take another person’s charge of racism seriously when it happens?  (That question also includes the other  ‘isms’ we often pretend aren’t happening:  sexism, ageism, and homophobia/orientationism).  If we never embrace and examine another person’s charge of bias when it occurs – we are doomed to repeat damning patterns of inflicting pain.  We’ll continue to expect others to live with our messes, grin and bear our ignorance, suffer in silence and just be a good ‘team player’.

As I’m reading the message boards about the  ‘conflict’ between Victoria Rowell and Christel Khalil, I’m deeply saddened by the use of the phrase ‘race card’ in reference to Ms. Rowell’s charges that she and other African-American actors were treated unfairly backstage at the YnR.  The ‘race card’ charge is being leveled  by fans and others, especially given Khalil’s recent interview with Buzzworthy radio (you can hear that interview by clicking:  Khalil Interview.  It should be noted that Ms. Khalil is not making that charge, to my knowledge).

The next time someone uses that phrase, I would appreciate a definition of the term to accompany it.  What does it mean to those who’ve used the term?  I’m African-American and I’ve  never received one!  I don’t know any other person of color who owns one.  As I understand it, it’s a ‘get out of <insert problem> free’ card.  You can ‘play’ it and everyone around you bends to your will.  Is that what it is?   And if so,  just how is that workin’ <g> for everyone?  Who has successfully played this mysterious ‘race card’?

GH  dismantled the ‘Asian Quarter’  more than a decade ago.  The only lead African-American male, and one who was connected to one of the show’s prominent core families, was found dead and stuffed in the trunk of a car — THE TRUNK — and he was an attorney.  Of course, he’s the only prominent attorney I can remember who fell in with the mob and was killed for it.  Latinos on GH???  Does Michael’s ex-nanny, Leticia, count?  There were the Alcazars, but they were criminals.  Sonny?  Enough said?

AMC has FINALLY brought the Hubbards back, but the Santos family is long gone.

DAYS?  Technically they still have Abe and Lexie, but other than her getting it on with any new (and young) man who comes to town, there isn’t ever much of a storyline for either of them.  We’ll see what happens with Rafe  and his growing family.

Every soap has its own problems with ‘race’, though OLTL leads the pack in trying to get things right, as far as I’m concerned.

So who has successfully played this ‘race card’?  The writers backstage?  How many writers of color are there in ALL of daytime?  Head writers?  Executive Producers?  Heads of Daytime of any of the networks?  Directors?  HELL, stage managers?  Whoever these successful ‘race card players’ are, someone should give them Victoria Rowell’s phone number.  Apparently they play it well and I’d love to see her back onscreen again!   The trouble for Ms. Rowell is that whenever she’s accused of playing it, she’s also accused of being ‘crazy’, or words to that effect.

When Peter Bergman implied that Victoria Rowell was imbalanced for her criticisms of the treatment of minority actors and characters,  it was heartbreaking.  I can only imagine that Ms. Rowell was in shock, having worked on the same set with the man for so long. I don’t know how she actually felt, I don’t know her.  I do know what I felt when I read his words.  I know how I reacted as a fan.  I  was DONE with him.  I haven’t rooted for him as an actor, or for his onscreen character, since that time.    In a June 2007 Interview with TV Guide

TVG: What did you think of Victoria Rowell [ex-Drucilla, Y&R] lambasting the Emmy system in Soaps in Depth, calling it ‘contaminated,’ and daytime ‘racist’ because she failed to be recognized by her cast?
PB: I look at her with compassion and concern. I don’t think she’s playing with a full deck.

TVG: And the work being judged began in January 2006. When the Emmys air, we’re already into half a year of eligibility for next year’s Emmys!
PB: Exactly. It’s a flawed system, which was born from another flawed system. We haven’t perfected it yet. Another weird thing: I got my pre-nomination on either the 16th or 18th of January. When the Emmys air on June 15, it will be half a year this process has been going on! I mean, come on! There is so much about it that’s maddening, especially with the pre-nominations. For Victoria Rowell, I don’t even know what to say about her because she’s not grounded in reality, however, the system does amount to a popularity contest. You’ve heard all the rumours of who is reviled on their soaps, and that ultimately costs them a nomination even if they had the goldest of golden years.

Has any other actor been called ‘crazy’ (or words to that effect) when they’ve commented on the unfair Emmy process?  PB dismissed Ms. Rowell without refuting any of her claims.   What evidence did he offer that there WAS NO racism either backstage or in the Emmy system?  That, in itself, suggests to me that Ms. Rowell was waging an untenable battle  on a daily basis.  Who took her voice seriously?    PB’s comments, in my book, came across as incredibly self-important, ignorant, arrogant, and self-indulgent – that’s THIS fan’s perspective, you may have viewed his comments differently.  How many African-American actresses have won a daytime (or even prime time) Emmy as Best Actress?  Best Supporting Actress?

From Tom O’Neil (March 2009):

Angela Bassett would make Emmy history if she wins lead actress for ‘ER’

There is a spirited debate in the forums about whether Angela Bassett of “ER” should put herself forward in the lead or supporting category at this year’s Emmy Awards. The Oscar-nominated actress (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”) has joined the cast of the NBC medical drama as attending physician Cate Banfield for the final season of its 15-year run. Were she to get a lead nod and then win, Angela Bassett would make Emmy history as the first African American actress to prevail for a regular lead role on a drama series.  (Read the rest of the article by clicking on ‘Tom O’Neil’, above)

EMMY HISTORY?  In 2009!?!?!?  Click HERE for the ‘Prime Time’ list… I could find no such list for Daytime, if you know of one, let me know.  My current understand is that NO African-American actress has won for Lead or Supporting.

Victoria, Rowell, the ex- Drucilla Winters. This image may be subject to copyright - all rights retained by the original owner

My  interpretation of Mr. Bergman’s comments is that he seems to suggest that things are good for him, so they’re good across the board -, but your mileage may vary in your interpretation.  It strikes me as odd because the man was in a storyline about his “Vietnamese family” (and they were treated as such, never fully integrated into the Abbott family and then written off as quick as an eyeblink given what should have been a prominent status).  Was that not odd?  One of the longest running African-American characters on the show was a woman who served as the Abbott maid, Dru and Olivia’s aunt, a woman named ‘Mamie’ (and if you think about the significance of her name, and her status, you get it).   Ashley was Liv’s sorority sister and despite having no other real friends, they almost never speak.  The YnR made a big production of signing the first lead Asian-American male role in daytime… and then killed him off relatively soon after:  Eric Steinberg’s Ji Min Kim.

NO lead actress/supporting actress Emmys for black actresses, not once in the history of the Emmys and Rowell is  ‘not playing with a full deck’?  Is it possible that Ms. Rowell isn’t crazy, but that she has a different perspective?  Is it possible that she’s thinking about the underside of the industry that doesn’t seem to be openly discussed often enough?  The side of the industry that has existed without intense scrutiny for far too long?  I’m disheartened when thinking that Ms. Rowell spoke out, alone, and that there were no real advocates on her side – at least none that I could find.  I’m disheartened to think that  some of her colleagues still seem to think it’s  perfectly fine to dismiss her as a  ‘difficult’ person, instead of a FRUSTRATED person who may believe that she has to fight for thing things that others seem to take for granted in their work.  I’ve been there.  I know what it’s like to show up day after day and believe that your contribution won’t carry the same weight as others (who may have even contributed less).  I know what it’s like to feel obligated to mention the inequalities and to fight for new standard only to realize that to others it means that you’re being ‘difficult’.  I’m saddened that Ms. Rowell seems to be dismissed as a stereotypically ‘angry black female’, rather than having anyone address the merits of her argument.  That her argument has not been addressed, but that she instead is the focus of any response I’ve heard, suggests to me that there’s something there worth exploring.

I’m glad to hear Kristoff St. John – also on Buzzworthy Radio,  speak out about a similar issue, the problem of diversity overall in daytime and specifically on the YnR (There are no comments from anyone associated with the show which have referred to KSJ as being ‘divorced from reality’, as far as I know!).  It seems that most of the core Winters family have spoken up about the same issue.  You can hear the KSJ interview by clicking HERE.
For the record, I don’t think that the actors, writers, producers, and others are overtly racist.   That’s not the point of this article.  The point of this article is that no matter where we are in our lives, there are very good people, all of whom mean well, but who sometimes have poor judgment – as with our physician friends above.  We are sadly as not introspective about our own ideas, motives, actions as we are judgmental about those of others.  As I think about Ms Rowell’s reactions to very serious issues related to racial diversity in daytime, I am empathetic.  To not want to be subjected to well-meaning, yet still soul searing, unintentional assaults does not make one:

  • mean and nasty
  • crazy
  • troubled
  • delusional
  • disruptive
  • unreasonable
  • too ‘PC’
  • too sensitive
  • ungrateful
  • too outspoken
  • ridiculous

or any other  adjective you might add with a similar sentiment.  It just makes you tired and, yes, sometimes a little angry.  There’s a reason Ms. Rowell has continued to be embraced by so many African-American viewers, and not just as ‘Drucilla’.  I would love for her to continue to speak out, and for others to listen, and to ultimately correct any situation that bears correcting.


Edited to add a great big special thanks to the brilliant-as-always Adampascalfan for the comment about Debbie Morgan. I found this: “…The talented thespian, who portrays sensible and nurturing Dr. Angela Baxter Hubbard on ABC’s long-running soap opera, became the first (and) only African-American actress to win a Daytime Emmy Award in 1989 when she won (in a tie-can’t the Emmy jurors let a sister get her shine on solo?) when she won for Best Supporting Actress…”   Essence


11 thoughts on “Victoria Rowell played ‘The Race Card’?

  1. I’m pretty sure Debbie Morgan won for Supporting in the 80s. I do remember when peopel were handcapping the Emmys this year it was mentioned she and Susan Haskell could be one of the few to win in Supporting and Lead for the same character.

  2. FYI, I believe the “Jackson Jive” skit featured in the video above was on Australian TV, and of course, Australia does not have precisely the troubling racial history that the US does. Doesn’t mean it’s not still offensive, but the context does matter. Also, Harry Connick Jr (an American) was present as a judge and made clear just how appalling he thought it was, and you can read about it here:

    Also, there is nothing that says that Victoria Rowell can’t be both an egocentric nutball AND correct about the racism behind the scenes.

    1. Hi Ann. Actually, Australia does have its own issues with race – especially as they relate to persons of color (Aborigine and Pacific/Southeast Asian Groups). They have many of the same struggles with Hate Crimes legislation that we have. There are mirror events in both societies.

      Australia, at one point in its history’ has its own traveling minstrel show, and Blackface was part of Australian entertainment as early as the 1800s. The idea of ‘minstrel performers’ is not a culturally new phenomenon.

      Australia’s civil rights issues are not dissimilar from our own in their civil rights history even includes ‘Freedom Rides’.

      As I understand it, the lead performer of the above group has commented that he would never perform that same skit in the U.S…. which a telling statement. I think we’re all struggling with the issue of race.

      BTW Connick did make those same comments at the end of the video I posted. I was impressed with his response.

  3. The real scary issue is that daytime execs are probably not overtly racist. They ARE likely to be just as racist as the general public! And that is why daytime is so very white.

    Also, creatively speaking, daytime is a sad mess. Stories, or more accurately characters, are given a few weeks to get popular or they get dumped or just shoved to the back burner. And with so little time and money execs don’t even try to break the mold w/ a new type of character either by race, sexual orientation, age etc…

    The Winters, the Wards, Jack’s Vietnamese Family (his adult Son was so sexy, I STILL MISS HIM!) the Hubbards etc…. all underused or thrown away at some point. I don’t watch GL but I read their lesbian couple couldn’t even kiss on the series finale? That’s shameful.

    If this dying breed “soaps” really want new viewers and to keep the old ones they haven’t run off yet they need to do 2 things IMO.

    # 1 Respect and incorporate your show’s history.

    # 2 Well planned, written and executed Stories and Characters are mandatory! Crazy incongruent plot points are a waste of time and money unless all you want are short ratings spikes and to lose long time fans.

    I enjoy your POV here, I will be back 🙂

    1. Hi Sarah.

      Thanks for posting your thoughts. It won’t shock you to learn that I agree with you! I especially enjoyed your insight that TPTB are likely to as biased as the overall population.

      Regarding GL’s Otalia, as Crystal Chappell described the kiss, I think it was a kiss on the cheek to comfort her as her son was departing for the service. Bizarre that it wasn’t shown. It sounds as if it was treated as the two women running naked in a field.

      Minority characters appear to be too easily ‘disposed of’. I was always bothered by the mob storyline on GH, I grew to despise the mob and everything about them by the time Justice Ward’s body was stuffed into the trunk of a car. This was a man who once fought for equality and fairness for impoverished people. He was converted into a mob mouthpiece and then treated like garbage by the TPTB.

  4. I think VR’s comments often are confused with her talking with fans or addressing the media’s questions about the possibility of her returning as her desperately wanting to be back on Y&R. Trying to expose the lack of equality afforded the AA actors is something that she was doing while on the show. It’s not something that she just picked up as a ploy to get attention. Somehow her message is always overshadowed by people who prefer to not look at what she’s actually saying. She didn’t lie about what PB said about her, nor did she lie about MS spitting on her, so just where is VR so wrong for calling out the other actors on their hypocrisy, and the show on it’s inequality with the AA actors on the show? Don’t shoot the messenger, but be thankful that she, along with many others are willing to stand up for their fellow AA actors, who don’t received the same treatment as their white counterparts. Don’t walk around with a blind eye.

    VR fans have been rallying for her return since she left, while VR has remained silent on the possibility of her returning to the show. Not only do they not have room for Dru, but Neil, Devon, Gil, or any other minority on the show, There’s no other minority featured on Y&R. VR has had the two other actor’s on blast aside from CK, it’s the same old tired argument that she’s just out for publicity.
    I think greater issue of what she’s conveying about the racism issues that exist on the show. KSJ had a hard time finding work, when he was being vocal about racism in the industry, just as many before he or VR became vocal in their comments.

  5. “Minority characters appear to be too easily ‘disposed of’.”

    I agree. They are not given as much of a chance for the audience to warm up to them when they are initially unpopular that a white character would be given. Even when they are popular they are not usually given the same treatment as equally popular white characters. I’ve long believed that in terms of character longevity it is often better to be a favorite of TPTB than a favorite of the audience and unfortunately minority characters are not usually favorites of the TPTB.

    I didn’t watch Otalia on GL but I find the fact that they couldn’t even show a kiss on the cheek shockingly homophopic and the network should have known better after the controversy over the gay couple on ATWT not kissing.

  6. Great points!
    I too am sick of the dismissive attitude of others when someone of color speaks about their experience with inequality. It’s the equivalent of someone claiming to have been raped by Mr. X only to have the responding officer not take the report because, in their opinion, Mr. X has always been a total gentleman. Black women are too often given the label of being crazy. That’s done because it’s easier than dealing with the real issue and facing the reality that if you are on the other side of ‘the race card’ you are benefiting from the discrimination and inequality. Case in point, my white male co-worker told about and experience he had last week at the store. He and his wife went to a store to buy an appliance that was on sale. The sales clerk came over to them and asked if he could assist them. Another customer, a black woman, got very angry and stated that she was first and when she asked that same sales clerk for assistance he said he was busy. The sales clerk rolled his eyes and continued to ignore her even after my co-worker told the clerk she was there before them (he and his wife) and maybe he should help her first. The sales clerk said he would be helping them and someone else could help her. Did the co-worker and his wife refuse to be assisted by this SOB sales clerk? No! They went on to carry out their transaction with the SOB sales clerk. Why? Why would they do that? His answer … because they drove so far to get to that store specifically for that appliance at that price and they needed that appliance because they were waiting for it to go on sale and…. He said, under any other circumstances, he would not have given that clerk or that store his business. Well, I say BS! What if that appliance was the same one that lady wanted, and what if it was only one left in stock? Given what he just said, do you think my co-worker would have given up the appliance to the person that was their first; I don’t think so. What if that lady were you? How would you feel? What if you were my co-worker, what would you have done? This sort of thing happens all the time. It happens because too many people have their heads in the sand denying that it ever happens at all.

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