Sunday, April 13, 2014

Isaiah Washington Quietly Returns to Grey's Anatomy - More Low Ball Politics in Florida

Isaiah Washington as Dr. Preston Burke
When actor Isaiah Washington was forced off the ABC hospital television dramady 'Grey's Anatomy' in 2007 it made big headlines in part because of the popularity of his character Dr. Preston Burke and also because of the actor's controversial comments about a co-star.

During the fall of 2006 he had an on-set argument with co-star Patrick Dempsey (who plays "McDreamy") and used a homophobic slur in reference to co-star T. R Knight (who plays George).

The incident prompted Knight to publicly announce he was gay in October, 2006 and ABC executives removed Washington from the show before the season finale when accusations that the network was tolerating homophobia gained traction in the media and Washington repeated the slur during a backstage interview at the Golden Globe Awards while trying to explain the incident to the press.

It struck me as interesting that the recent news that Washington will be returning to 'Grey's Anatomy' in May to reprise his role as Dr. Burke received far less media scrutiny than his controversial departure did. It was barely a blurb in the Deals section of a recent March issue of the 'Hollywood Reporter'.

Despite the fact that Washington released a public statement apologizing for the slur back in 2006-2007, offered to explain his side of the story in a televised interview and even recorded a public service commercial spot for GLAAD, the pressure from gay-rights advocates at the time and the negative press was too much and he was sacked. According to reports, even seven years later Washington is receiving some negative comments on social media because of his return to the show.

His return coincides with actress Sandra Oh leaving the show at the end of this season and while 'Grey's Anatomy' is still hugely popular, it's not the ratings smash it once was for ABC and it is in its 10th season. Certainly high-profile public figures are held to a much higher degree of responsibility when it comes to comments that are perceived as bigoted, sexist, racist or homophobic and they should be held accountable.

But I can't help but get the sense that the entertainment industry still finds itself particularly uneasy where African-American actors, especially those considered sex symbols, are concerned. Going back to 1957 when Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn famously dispatched mobster Johnny Roselli to kidnap Sammy Davis, Jr.  and warn him about his relationship with actress Kim Novak when she was under contract to Columbia.

The leading mainstream roles for male African-American actors on prime time network television in America are generally few and far between - but the roles on hit television shows, rarer still.

Bill Cosby broke barriers when he was cast as Alexander Scott on the espionage drama 'I Spy' alongside Robert Culp on NBC in 1965. Cosby won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Continued Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series for three straight years, 1966 - 1968.

Those actors of color who do get the opportunity to play characters considered sex symbols are even more rare on network television. It's interesting how good the physicians role has been for black male television actors; and while NBC isn't perfect they deserve credit for some of their casting choices.

Cosby helped reinvigorate NBC (and the television sitcom) as Dr. Cliff Huxtable with the highly successful 'The Cosby Show' from 1984 - 1992. Two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington broke through as a sex symbol as Dr. Phillip Chandler on the ground-breaking and highly acclaimed hospital drama 'St Elsewhere' which aired on NBC from 1982 - 1988. Even amongst a highly talented cast, Denzel stood out for his exceptional on-screen presence, above-average acting ability and non-conventional (for Hollywood anyway...) good looks and sex appeal. Blair Underwood was certainly a television sex symbol (albeit as an attorney) on NBC's 'LA Law' which ran from 1986 to 1992.

It's more than fair to say that Isaiah Washington, owes much to Denzel Washington and while there is a similarity in manner, looks and on-screen presence, the former has faced a much rockier career path; in no small part due to his own choices. But I'm a 'Grey's Anatomy' fan and I'm happy he's coming back and who knows? No one likes a comeback story more than Hollywood. Just ask Robert Downey, Jr.  

So to wrap up, I know I gripe about voter suppression a lot on this blog, but hey; it's voter suppression. Did you read that the Miami-Dade County Elections Department ruled that all bathrooms at public polling sites will be closed to voters?

When I read the article on I could only shake my head. The state of Florida seems to have absolutely no boundaries when it comes to ethics, Democracy and the rule of law. This was the state where lines during the 2012 Presidential elections made for waits of up to six hours for people to vote in majority Democratic districts; now they want to scare voters off by closing the bathrooms too? Really?

What's next in Florida? Setting dogs loose on voters who vote Democratic? Pathetic.

And let's not even start on the Stand Your Ground Laws in the Sunshine State; which basically seem to be a green light to shoot and kill unarmed African-Americans. Did you hear about the prison guard in Florida who beat the crap out of a prison inmate then used the Stand Your Ground Law as defense against assault charges? Sunshine State indeed.

No comments: