How Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) Lacked Diversity and Found Ways to Misrepresented Minorities
By Angie Geno
When I first began watching Gilmore Girls, it was from recommendations from friends as well as the Netflix algorithm based on what I had watched recently. I really enjoyed the show as it was easy to watch and could relate to me in my own struggles and confusion on navigating college. Gilmore Girls was a hit from 2000-2007, a 7 season-spanning tv show centering single mother, Lorelai, who had a teenage pregnancy, and her academically brilliant daughter, Rory. TV, The Book is among a number of sources that consider Gilmore Girls one of the “greatest American shows of all time” (Sepinwall et al). The show touches upon the struggles of single motherhood, financial strains, and is a high school/college coming of age story focusing on the beloved pair. However, as sweet as the pair is, there is a blatant disregard for characters of minorities and often, for humor, the show relies on the stereotypes of these groups. Glaringly, there are stereotypes of Asians, Latinx, and African Americans presented in the show as well as stereotypes of the wealthy class. Through character dialogue and cinematography, the audience can understand the different jokes and implicit stereotypes the white protagonists have. The Gilmore Girls emphasizes the importance of identifying misrepresented minorities, as well as the power held over people due to wealth disparities.
Gilmore Girls has a predominantly white and able cast. In the show, there is one African American character who has actual speaking lines, his name is Michel. There are also two Korean characters who have speaking lines – Lane Kim and her mother, Mrs.Kim. Many Latinx characters who have dialogue have been maids for a wealthy white couple. It was a common gag to have them fired often for not meeting high expectations and there was a new maid in the following episode(s).
Season 2 Episode 8, highlighted overt stereotyping, introduced power struggles, and social class dynamics. In this episode, the owner of the Inn, Mia, condescending remarks that she can never understand Michel because of his thick accent. Michel is the French African American day manager and is consistently mocked by the other characters. Lorelai then proceeds to tell the Inn Owner he was being disrespectful. The scene is shot where the perspective of Lorelai and her positive interaction with Mia and panning back to Michel who looks sad, but unsurprised, to be treated the way he was. This was of concern to me because by not supporting her friend and allowing him to be looked down on, she was able to maintain her power as a white woman who can speak without barriers to Mia and build on the fact those who speak with accents are less valued in all lines of work. All characters seen on screen are able-bodied, straight, and predominantly white, with the exceptions noted above.
Season 2 aired in around 2001. In this time around the world, Americans had growing concerns BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) were stealing jobs and made derogatory comments about their accents, clothing, or culture. The Journal of Organizational Behavior explains how in the early 2000s there was growing prejudice against minorities. They explain, “Our findings suggest that female evaluators were less likely to select Asian than White candidates into positions involving social skills and were less likely to promote Asian than White candidates into these types of positions. Furthermore, female evaluators’ perception that Asians were less socially skilled than Whites mediated both of these decisions”(1). This is important in regards to Gilmore Girls because the show reflects the growing opinion of Americans in the early 2000s.
Power is something that is discussed in the show. A large aspect of the show is about how Lorelai is not able to be as financially independent as she would like to be. This leads to Lorelai and her estranged mother’s relationship gaining closure once again for the mutual reason of supporting Rory. Her mother likes to lord over and manipulate the protagonist pair and forces them to come to weekly Friday night dinners in exchange for financial assistance. The power of wealth and definitive difference in social class is excellently portrayed in the literary and cinematic design of the series. In the literary sense, the characters act in two different social aspects. Emily, the mother, is very posh. She has a private fashion designer and throws extravagant, catered parties. She attends charities and elitist groups. Lorelai and Rory on the other hand, eat junk food on a daily basis, work non-corporate jobs, and make crude jokes. Rory is the bridge between an average lower-class person and being a part of the elitist class. The financial power struggle is between Rory’s need for paying off education costs, and Lorelai’s reluctance to rely on her parents. In the cinematic sense, the dialogue and formality of the scenes focusing on the characters are quite different. When in the elitist environment, the camera scenes are always long and dramatic, often spanning the luxurious background. When in non-elitist areas, the camera shots are quick and focus more on the actors than the background.
Gilmore Girls does a wonderful, unintended highlight on how accents on different groups of people. Rory’s grandparents, Emily and Richard, a very wealthy white couple, speak french and have accents when speaking French. Michel, an African American French immigrant has a French accent when speaking English that is a detriment to his career, as mentioned above. In Season 3 Episode 9, Emily and Richard are even complimented on their wonderful French accents. I think it is important there is more discussion of how different attitudes to accents are considered sexy or good on one group of people (usually white) but considered a detriment to others (minorities).
As mentioned earlier, discrimination is something that is openly displayed on screen. The instance with Michel and Mia, the inn owner, is just a small example. Gilmore Girls relied heavily on discrimination and making jokes about it to carry the show forward. I don’t believe the show intended to completely discriminate against so many minority groups, however, I do believe the producers of the show took great advantage of using stereotypes to propel the show and prevent it from becoming too serious. One example of stereotypes was the Asian best friend, Lane, who didn’t want to be forced to date another Christian, Korean boy who was going to be a doctor, whom her mother approved of, as well hated the fact her mother didn’t like her love for all things punk and rock. Using these stereotypes, there was an episode where her cousin was getting married to a random bride from mainland Korea who didn’t know a single word in English but was pretty and petite. This is an issue some Asian minorities face and is a real issue, but the TV series made light of the situation. It is also interesting that Rory, the white female protagonist is the academically brilliant one in the pair, versus the very common smart Asian stereotype. In a world where prejudice against minorities was ramping up, Gilmore Girls took the initiative to create characters who held no positive stereotypes.
Some might argue Gilmore Girls means and does no harm, however, I believe that line of thinking can be dangerous for it leads to the ignorance of the deliberate actions made by producers and writers. In this show, every single rich character is white, many smart characters are white, and people who have additional barriers to communicating are minorities, deep controlling parents are from minority families. Why are so many negative attitudes given towards minority folks? Although they are loveable characters, why do they face extreme unnecessary problems because of their accent, religion, or cultural practices (positive or negative)?
I chose to do my report on Gilmore Girls because it is a show I’m currently watching and touches on a lot of important DPD issues. When I began watching this show, I had just finished all my high school credits and was in the middle of making a really difficult decision of where I should apply to for school. It was nice to watch a show where the protagonist was also making the same difficult decision as I was.
Gilmore Girls is a lovely coming of age story between a mother and her daughter. It is an unexpected shocker; it has so many instances of misrepresenting minorities and displaying disparaging amounts of discrimination to different minority groups. The Gilmore Girls brings up topics like social class, minorities and their stereotypes, and other communication barriers. It’s important to talk about productions that have scenes on racism, discrimination, and minority stereotyping. By being able to identify issues in beloved shows, we can ensure future products will be an enriching experience that accurately portrays its cast, and doesn’t exploit discrimination.
Lai, Lei, and Linda C. Babcock. “Asian Americans and Workplace Discrimination: The Interplay between Sex of Evaluators and the Perception of Social Skills.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 24 Apr. 2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/job.1799.
Sepinwall, Alan; Seitz (2016). TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing. pp. xv–xvii. ISBN 9781455588190.