From our vantage point here at TVWriter™, it sometimes looks as though the more TV execs, producers, writers et al learn about their subjects and their viewers, the more they start needing to learn. Case in point:
by Princess Weekes
It started with Susie Carmichael.
Like most children of the ’90s, I was obsessed with Rugrats and dragged my mother to see both feature lengths films in theaters. Now, I wasn’t a huge fan of Susie; she was too perfect, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, too manufactured. I much preferred the volatile and antagonistic Angelica. However, I remember sitting in the theater wondering, “Why isn’t Susie in the movie?”
The absence of her, and the lack of explanation as to why she wasn’t there, bothered me. It still does.
Despite living in the Cookie Lyon Dynasty of television, the reality is that for every Olivia Pope or Mary Jane Paul or Jessica Wong, there are dozens more characters who have been created to check off their diversity box.
Most of these actions are not done with malice but just a general lack of understanding that marginalized characters are not white characters done up. What makes characters like Jessica Wong from Fresh off the Boat so engaging is that she shows the similarities and differences between cultures that make each unique. The experiences of a immigrant family from Taiwan should not be the same as a WASP family from Connecticut.
Colorblind casting has been a huge perpetrator of this problem. Despite times where colorblind casting has worked, Hamilton being a shining example, it only works if once the characters become minorities, they are treated with the respect of their white counterparts.
Gwen from BBC’s Merlin was one of the only non-white people in Camelot, except for her own family and the odd bandit. While on paper, a race-bent version of Queen Guinevere sounds like an amazing step forward (plus Angel Coulby nailed it), the character was given less and less to do every season, and despite being the main love interest shared a total count of ZERO kiss scenes between herself and her (white) husband—even after being submerged in water. In a corset! TOGETHER!
Tara Thornton (True Blood), Bonnie Bennett (The Vampire Diaries), and Iris West (The Flash) are all portrayed by black actors despite being originally white, and in each adaptation, the character was given much less narrative importance. White Tara was married, owned a store, and didn’t spend season after season being abused only to die off screen. Book Bonnie had her own storyline, and she and Damon had a romantic relationship; show Bonnie spends most of her small-screen time in pain or in a plot box. Iris and Barry have one of the most iconic romances in DC comics, yet in the show, Iris is playing second romantic fiddle in this current season….