"Where are all the people of color?"
TONY Editor Michael Freidson addresses the question that we-and many of you-had about our list of favorite New Yorkers from the past 13 years.
Thu Sep 25 2008
The thought may have crossed your mind, scanning the cover photo of our New York 40 issue—as it crossed ours when we finalized the list. We’ve got Jay-Z. Derek Jeter. Junot Díaz is Dominican-American. There’s a ton of women and gays, but if you’re talking skin color, that’s it. “Oh man, should we have more?”
We did consider the racial balance, but in the end, we picked people based on talent, influence and their impact over the past 13 years. And a great many of the city’s innovators were left out—black and white.
Still, you’re saying, “Damn. Only three?”
We stand by the picks. Whether we’re thrilled with the outcome is a different question because, for better or worse, that list is also a reflection of New York in the past dozen years—a city whose cultural elite have been mainly white. Our Top 40 was never meant to endorse that fact, but it can’t help but reflect it. What does it say about New York that the culture-makers are still mostly white?
We selected the Top 40 (part of a celebration of our flagship Time Out London’s 40th anniversary) with very specific criteria. We chose only those who have made a lasting, positive impact in TONY’s 13 years. They had to still be active, still creating. The pool was nominated by the entire editorial staff and then whittled down by a panel of five editors.
Those criteria—“lasting, positive impact in the last 13 years, still active”—disqualified a wide swath of NYC icons of every color: Goodbye, Russell Simmons (he made his true mark ages ago, despite his long-lasting influence), Yoko Ono, Scorsese and Spike Lee—all of them still working, but not the groundbreakers they once were.
And the word positive knocked some out, too—so long, Al Sharpton, who’s influential but divisive. And then there’s our critical take, which excluded many. For example, P. Diddy influenced a whole world of hip-hop, but we’re not sure the sample-laden effects were wholly a good thing. We can’t forgive Whoopi Goldberg for Hollywood Squares or Theodore Rex. Jennifer Lopez, a once-promising performer, has become a trademark. Q-Tip? Jesus, we love him, but where has he been?
Folks like Robert De Niro were excluded for the same reason—we love the Tribeca Film Festival, but Righteous Kill, ugh. (Others suggested by readers—like MIA and Salman Rushdie—made London’s list of 40 peeps.)
It got even more cutthroat when you look at Time Out’s cultural categories; we didn’t have many slots. Dance? We like Bill T. Jones—and, in fact, we once had him on our cover—but we had room for two choreographers, and both Christopher Wheeldon and Sarah Michelson are more vital today. Film? While many more minority directors are making movies in New York, none has proven a lasting, city-changing force yet. As for actors, we love Jeffrey Wright, but he hasn’t had “that role” that Philip Seymour Hoffman has had, nor the constant NYC stage presence of Hoffman or Liev Schreiber. That said, we’ll be first in line to see Wright’s Colin Powell in W. this fall.
The above names are ones we considered—and ones posed by our readers, who also mentioned David Paterson, Tisa Chang, Santogold and George C. Wolfe, among others. TONY faves all, yet they just missed the list. There were a few we wish we had scored for Top 40: Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock share the same publicist—an unfriendly one. And Tyra Banks: Well, we didn’t think of her and wish we had.
Feel free to call bullshit on all of the above. That’s what list-making is for—to start debate. But when you continue this conversation, think about what this list says about this city and its recent history. And hope for a more colorful Top 50, come 10 years from now. We will.
Editor, Time Out New York