Image: Filming Schitt’s Creek in Goodwood, Ontario, in 2018.
Much needs to change within government, business, and the media if all of us are to reach our potential and feel included in society. One television show in particular, however, has shown what it means to walk the walk on inclusion and acceptance, rather than simply talking about it. I am, of course, sharing lessons about Schitt’s Creek, the Canadian sleeper series that slowly became a cult favorite, then a huge hit and cleaned up during the most recent Emmy awards, just after it aired its final season.
The show’s characters are imperfect, and yes, the main characters are white: Though, in fairness, a father and son duo conceptualized the show and the actor playing the show’s patriarch, Eugene Levy, has known the actress who played his on-screen wife (Moira, played by Catherine O’Hara) for over 40 years.
Those relationships set the tone for the show’s six-season run. For LGBTQ fans of the show, the strength — and joy — of Schitt’s Creek is that David Rose, played by Daniel Levy, isn’t just another gay man (technically he’s pansexual) who yet again is everyone’s foil on the show because of his sexuality.
There’s no tortured coming out process — which is more painful in real life than onscreen anyway — and there are no lectures about homophobia as David is simply a part of his family. Unfortunately for him, he’s also part of the motel and that godforsaken town in the middle of nowhere, so his foibles are more about the wannabe “it” boy as a fish out of water, not based on who he sleeps with.
Ditto David’s relationship with Patrick, one that focused on each of their quirks and the tensions that emerge from running a business together — not the fact they are a gay couple. If anything, their relationship is one of the most wholesome ever shown on television.
Recent promotion of the show also gives insight on living and working authentically. When Schitt’s Creek and its network launched the final season last year, one of its billboard ads showed the couple kissing — far and away more meaningful than the stock images of Pride celebrations that companies dust off every June during their summer public relations campaigns.
If anything, one lesson for the office or virtual Zoom meeting is the show’s insight on how to deal with entitled people: David and the rest of the Rose clan often bump through their new life with a dismissive attitude, only to find the people who Moira dismisses as “townies” won’t have it.
And many of those townies are people of color who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power — with the caveat that in Schitt’s Creek, power is defined by the former CEO of the second-largest video chain in North America during the VHS era.
One of the show’s best characters is Ronnie (played by Karen Robinson), who confidently dishes out deadpan, no-bullshit delivery with a breathtaking honesty many of us wish we could see in the office. Ronnie’s interactions with the Rose family don’t come out of resentment or an unfair power dynamic — she simply doesn’t care that Moira once hosted the non-televised portions of the People’s Choice awards. Capability and competence, not status or titles, are what matters in Schitt’s Creek — even the town’s doofus mayor, whose job is defined by birthright, isn’t immune from challenges to his authority.
Some critics have pointed out what they perceive to be the lack of diversity in Schitt’s Creek, but again, we’re discussing a family-run show (three members of the Levy family are in the cast) that had almost no budget.
The bottom line is that the show’s characters aren’t afraid to speak their mind, which executives should consider when it comes to race and gender. Allowing employees to speak the truth, and not assume it’s only their truth, is the first step in forming a truly inclusive work culture. Plunking a press release full of boilerplate language about Black History Month, Pride or gender equity is simply another way a straight white cis male says, “Sure, we’ll have a conversation about diversity, inclusion and equity but on the C-suite’s terms.”
Finally, addressing diversity in an honest way is the final lesson Schitt’s Creek offers us. As the show continued to generate more buzz and awards — even after it was long known it had filmed its final season — criticism also mounted. The actor playing the town’s jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, Rizwan Manji, was called out for playing into stereotypes about Indian males. Manji pointed out that the choice for how Ray was portrayed was his alone. He added, however, that many of the characters on the show weren’t “fleshed out,” lacked any backstory and instead were there for comic relief. Scanning through the show’s 60 episodes, however, shows that the Rose family more often than not was the butt of ongoing jokes, including that of Ray’s.
Dan Levy’s response to Manji’s criticism offers a short and concise master class on how to address those diversity challenges when someone’s called out. He wasn’t defensive about other’s points of view and added, “That said, I welcome any perspectives that encourage conversations about diversity, especially in entertainment.”
In the end, when companies are challenged about their work culture and the lack of diversity in their ranks, the way to win trust is to allow those conversations in the first place. Papering over the concern of your employees with a public statement saying you “stand with” a community doesn’t say much. Writing a check and sending it to a community is a step, but if you didn’t include your employees in making that decision, the end result is kicking the inclusion can down the road.
If Ronnie, Ray, Carol and Marnie can speak truth to the patriarchy, executives at America’s most powerful — and still very white — companies can do the same.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.