Oscar-nominated actor Taraji P. Henson stars in the new CBS drama Person of Interest, but you wouldn’t know that if you asked TV Guide. According to Henson, the why-are-they-still-a-magazine magazine was planning a cover story on her new show, but the resulting photos featured her two white male costars… and not her. From her Facebook page yesterday:
WOW!!!! TV Guide is NOT including me on the cover with my cast members……. I am the female lead of a 3 member cast and I’m not included on the cover!!!!! Do you see the shit I have to deal with in this business….. I cram to understand!!!!
Cramming to understand aside (I don’t know what it means either), leaving Henson off of the cover is pretty douche-y. As blogger Eden Hansom put it: “I’m REALLY not trying to make this a race issue but the proof is in the puddin’.”
Hey, at least Taraji is IN this promotional photo.
TV Guide has a different version of the story. Editor-in-Chief Debra Birnbaum claims that she, “made an editorial decision to do a story about the relationship between the two male characters on Person of Interest and that’s who [she] was going to put on the cover,” and that Henson misunderstood the situation. She went on to say that she doesn’t “make decisions on who is put and not put on the cover based on race or gender.”
Now I’m not a TV Guide subscriber and therefore couldn’t wrangle up a bunch of back issues to see what past covers have looked like, but a Google image search for “TV Guide cover” produced this screen shot (I had to just take a section of it—click on the link for the full thing):
What? Patrick Dempsey transcends race and gender.
As you can see, Google images turned up 12 covers that feature… zero people of color on them, men or women. Patrick Dempsey is in there twice though!
Regardless of Birnbaum’s intentions, Henson felt left out for a good reason: she is. Women of color are not promoted by mainstream publications like TV Guide at the same rate that their white and male counterparts are. Not even close. And instead of getting defensive and saying that she meant to feature Person of Interest’s white, male leads all along (snooze), why didn’t Birnbaum take this opportunity to put a woman of color on the cover of the magazine? After all, apparently Person of Interest received the highest test ratings of any drama pilot in 15 years, so it wouldn’t exactly be a reach to consider the show’s female lead for a cover story.
TV Guide’s solution? Scrap the Person of Interest cover story altogether. Next week’s issue will instead feature the cast of the new Charlie’s Angels, further driving home the message that women, especially women of color, are punished for calling bullshit on Hollywood’s status quo. While the decision to feature the Angels does indeed put a woman of color on the cover of TV Guide (Annie Ilonzeh), it doesn’t excuse TV Guide’s douchebag behavior.