The Bold Type star Aisha Dee has called on both the series and its home network, Freeform, to do better when it comes to diversity behind the camera—and expressed disappointment with one of this season’s most controversial storylines.
Dee voiced her concerns in a lengthy post on Instagram, which she began by noting the positive effect the series had on her life and career. With this series, she wrote, “I got to play a character who was centered in her own narrative. She wasn’t just the white character’s ‘best friend.’ She was empowered and confident, she approached the exploration of her queer identity with an open heart, and was met with nothing but love and acceptance from her friends.”
“I always try to bring up my concerns in a positive and constructive way, conscious of the realities that come with being the only woman of color in the room,” Dee added. “I never wanted to come across as ungrateful, negative, or difficult. The constant scrutiny of myself as an individual as well as character I play, made me feel apprehensive to bring up any concerns outside the workplace.”
Nonetheless, Dee noted, “It took two seasons to get a single BIPOC in the writer’s room for The Bold Type. And even then, the responsibility to speak for the entire Black experience cannot and should not fall on one person… In four seasons (48 episodes) we’ve had one Black woman direct two episodes.”
Dee laid out in detail the ways the show’s on-screen values do not seem to correspond to how it is run behind the scenes. Although the series featured a love story between a Black woman and a Muslim woman, for example, Dee said that the series has never employed a queer Black or Muslim writer. Despite the fact that in Season 2 her character, Kat, becomes the first Black department head within the show’s fictional magazine, Scarlet, Dee pointed out that the series has never had a Black female head of department. (“However, I am so inspired to know that the President of Universal TV, Pearlena Igbokwe, and Freeform’s new President, Tara Duncan, are Black women,” she added.)
“For a show that frequently uses words like intersectionality, inclusion, discourse, and the various ism’s, I wonder how its stories may have been elevated had they been told through the lens of people with a more varied lived experience,” Dee wrote.
And the issues do not stop with the show’s writing and direction. Dee noted that it took three seasons before the series employed a hair stylist who knew how to work with textured hair. “I want to make sure that no one else ever has to walk onto a set and feel as though their hair is a burden,” Dee wrote. “It is not.”
A source tells The Daily Beast that The Bold Type’s Season 4 writers room included three writers who identify as LGBTQ+, five of whom are also writers of color.
Dee also took issue with her character’s story arc this season, which has proven controversial: Kat enters into a romantic relationship with a conservative white woman who supports conversion therapy. Dee called the move “confusing and out of character.”
“Despite my personal feelings about the choice, I tried my best to tell the story with honesty, even though the Kat I know and love would never make these choices,” Dee wrote. “It was heartbreaking to watch Kat’s story turn into a redemption story for someone else, someone who is complicit in the oppression of so many. Someone [whose] politics are actively harmful to her communities.”
“We cannot bring specificity and honesty to experiences we have not lived,” Dee added. “And when there is a lack of representation, the way marginalized characters are treated is even more important because they have the potential to empower or perpetuate damaging stereotypes that have a lasting effect on real people.”
Dee also noted that this experience is far from exclusive to The Bold Type. At age 14, during her first experience on a set, Dee recalled that her stand-in was a white person in brownface and a curly wig. Make-up artists who don’t know how to do her make-up have blamed her for their lack of experience. Agents and casting directors have warned her to stay out of the sun “because if I got too dark, I wouldn’t be as ‘marketable.’”
Dee wrote that she’s already spoken with the show’s writers and producers, as well as Freeform and Universal TV executives. “I’m hopeful we will have the opportunity to tell more authentic stories by hiring, promoting, and listening to diverse voices across the entire production of The Bold Type and beyond,” she wrote. “This is an opportunity to walk the walk, to really practice the things The Bold Type teaches, by acknowledging mistakes and making commitments to be better in the future… This is not judgment. This is a call to action. We deserve to see stories that are for us, by us.”
Dee’s co-stars, Katie Stevens and Meghann Fahy, both quickly voiced their support on Instagram as well.
Sharing Dee’s post on her own account, Stevens wrote, “Please read what my girl has to say. I am beyond proud of my sister @aishtray. I stand by her through thick and thin and am so proud of the woman she is.”
Added Fahy, “V proud of my sister.”
Freeform, Universal TV, and The Bold Type executive producers have responded to Dee’s post with a statement: “We applaud Aisha for raising her hand and starting conversations around these important issues. We look forward to continuing that dialogue and enacting positive change. Our goal on The Bold Type is and has always been to tell entertaining, authentic stories that are representative of the world that Kat, Jane and Sutton live in—we can only do that if we listen.”