Why it matters that FX’s ‘Tyrant’ didn’t cast a Middle Eastern actor in its lead role

In reviews, podcasts and tweets, it has become common in recent years for me to lament the influx of British and Australian actors masquerading as Americans, all perpetrating the same flat, generic accents as if Americans all come from the same state, which is no state at all, but rather some nether-region dialect coaches call Mid-Atlantic or something.

I take semi-feigned umbrage at this infiltration and I am, indeed, a bit irked that a good 75 percent of the Brits and Aussies are trapped by exhaustively studied, but ultimately affectless accent work that leads them to give robotic performances they'd never tolerate from themselves in their native tongues.

Yes, I get my hackles up, but I know it isn't actually important.

The rise in work for Aussie and British actors is largely linked to the expanding TV universe, and even if this most recent upfronts season saw an encouraging uptick in TV shows with African-American leading characters, I think we can all look at the TV landscape and agree that in the multi-billion year history of our Earth, this is probably the greatest time in history to be a Caucasian man looking for TV work.

That's why when I see people earnestly complain — Not many people… Trolls, mostly — that they can't watch “Orange Is The New Black” because it's anti-male and the men are all one-dimensional, I get caught in a giggle loop that can last for minutes at a time.

The thing about white male representation on TV is that if you accidentally find one show in which the white guys are douches, you probably don't want to complain about it, because there are the other 100 shows out there. Whiteness on TV is represented in all of its myriad shadings. Sometimes white guys are heroes. Sometimes white guys are villains. There are gay white guys and straight white guys and white guys in every imaginable profession. 

Other than fact-based based projects about actual, verifiable white people, it is never incumbent upon a film or TV show to “cast white,” because if you don't cast a white guy in one project, you can safely guarantee that the next project with a potentially Caucasian lead will be right around the corner and Hollywood is far more committed to the quest for square-jawed white guys than geologists are to finding petroleum or astronomers are to finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Now, though, I want you to look across the TV landscape for depictions of Middle Eastern men. You'll find them. They're not totally invisible. They're largely terrorists or characters who get confused with terrorists and try to be heroic in order to disprove stereotypes. Not all, but mostly. There are a handful of Middle Eastern cast regulars on procedurals and whatnot. They're out there. A few. It's not a particularly diverse set of representations, but they exist.