In “Vinyl,” HBO’s new show set in New York City’s coke-fuelled, 1970s music scene, Susan Heyward first appears in passing. She’s an office assistant, and given a slap on the rear by Richie Finestra (played by
Bobby Cannavale), the president and founder of American Century Records. She seems used to it.
However, as the first season progresses, Heyward’s character, Cece, becomes pivotal. She’s essential to Richie’s work, and often gets him out of trouble. But as that first scene reveals, she is limited by stereotypes held about women — particularly black women — in the 1970s.
It’s like “Mad Men” with a Scorsese spin.
INSIDER talked to Heyward about her character, and the parallels between the show’s music and the music of today.
INSIDER: What part does your character, Cece, play in the world of “Vinyl”?
SUSAN HEYWARD: She’s Richie’s secretary, his gatekeeper, and keeps the practical side of his life running smoothly. As his life spins out of control and he and the whole team at American scramble to survive, the lengths Cece is willing to go to help Richie save the business are stretched.
INSIDER: While rock was the big genre of the 1970s, its lustre has faded today. It’s less raw and political, and more polished now. What kind of music has taken its place?
SH: Richie’s search for passionate, pure music is universal. We all know what it means to hunt for that visceral experience. But the tension between the demands of business and the demands of art can tear some people apart. It’s why hip-hop and rap artists like Kendrick Lamar are so exciting, they seem able to juggle both.
Hip-hop was born out of unflinching honesty, and it’s difficult to protect when there’s money to be made. When you hear something that has integrity, you want to hold on for life. In this story, good, honest music might literally save lives.
INSIDER: The way that women and people of colour are represented in television is, of course, a huge issue right now. How do you think that plays out in “Vinyl”? Especially with your character, and with the story being set in the 1970s?
SH: It’s trendy to talk about racial diversity and representation these days, and you aren’t the first person to ask me that. I’ve been saying “we’ve come so far and we have farther still to go,” but lately I’ve begun to question how true that is. The climate seems so polarised. This election cycle has been particularly illuminating.
As a black woman, I’m always proud to bring attention to the experiences of black people and women to any story. Being popped on the butt and quizzed about the latest “black guy” in a Broadway show, as in the show’s second episode, is just the kind of microagression people of colour and women deal with every day. I’m glad the show doesn’t shy away from those moments.
INSIDER: What do you think about the way HBO deals with diversity?
SH: HBO has an incredible reputation for offering diverse points of view beyond black and white. They have given creators with unique voices the opportunity to blossom. I think opportunity to create has never been more available, and HBO is remaining a leader by making new partnerships. I watched Issa Rae on YouTube and I’m excited about Insecure!
This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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