Gossip Girl‘s Jessica Szohr isn’t the first token TV character. Take a look back: Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) on Saved By the Bell. Rhonda Blair (Vanessa A. Williams) on Melrose Place. And Cleveland Brown on The Family Guy. But the latest phenomenon is the beautiful, ambiguously-ethnic character.
Take Szohr as Vanessa Abrams on the CW’s hugely popular teen soap. She came onto the lily-white set of Gossip Girl as the boho-esque, Williamsburg hipster waitress who had gifts from Eastern Europe in tow on her first episode.
Although Szohr’s character was a sharp contrast to the non-speaking, harajuku-costumed black (played by Nicole Fiscella) and Asian (played by Nan Zhang) background characters on the show, it was quite confusing to peg Szohr’s ethnicity. Her hair was curly (she could be Puerto Rican/Dominican?), but her eyes were blue/green and her skin was basically the same color as her castmates. She is reportedly Hungarian and African-American.
Another primetime example is Rashida Jones as Karen Filippelli on The Office. Calling Karen “exotic,” Steve Carell’s charmingly clueless character puts everyone’s (even our own) curiosity to rest, asking Karen, “Is your father a G.I.?” As most may know, Rashida is Quincy Jones’ daughter with Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton. Her sister is Kidada Jones.
But, while on past shows, except for Lisa on Saved by the Bell (who was famously fawned over by the un-dateable Screech, and dated Zac Morris for an episode), these characters are far cries from the sassy black girlfriend who tells it like it is roles we’ve been bamboozled by. They are actually part of major romantic story lines.
On The Office, Jones’ character was involved in the fabled love triangle between John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer. While Szohr’s character shook things up between Blake Lively and Penn Badgley. She also went on to date the prettiest character on the show, Chace Crawford (pictured above). Before joining GG, Szohr also played Barry Watson’s neighbor and love interest in the cancelled ABC series, What About Brian?
”Do I want to see any more shows where someone has a sassy black friend? No, because I’m nobody’s sassy black friend,” Girlfriends creator Mara Brock Akil recently told Entertainment Weekly of TV’s lack of diversity. “I just want to see shows in which people get to be people and that look like the world we live in.”
As our frustrations with TV’s lack of color continue to flourish, enjoy this Entertainment Weekly article, “Why is TV so White?”
PHOTO: Courtesy of The CW