I recently started watching The Walking Dead. Well, right now I’m on a much needed break after binging three and a half seasons of perpetual misery in 72 hours, but I do plan on continuing. Anyway, right around season two and three, amidst the Rick/Lori/Shane love triangle drama, Daryl dealing with his racist brother, Caroyl blossoming from battered wife to badass, and Andrea’s questionable taste in men, I noticed that I knew next to nothing about T-Dogg, our resident man of color. Of course there’s also Glenn, but his neglect lessened once he got a white girlfriend, though I still know more about Maggie than I do Glenn. So, in season three T-Dogg dies. Look, everybody on that show dies. They’d already killed off Lori and Shane and Dale and Merle. Freaking Merle! He was in less episodes than T-Dogg, yet even he had a richer story. And that’s the problem. That’s what made T-Dogg’s death irritating to me, not the death of a POC character in a show that already lacked them, but the blatant neglect. This is what they all have in common.
The death of Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow is merely a symptom of a larger problem. They wouldn’t have killed her if Nicole Beharie hadn’t wanted to leave. The problem is, Nicole Beharie wanted to leave because her character had been sidelined. The same goes for Ricky Whittle from The 100, whose neglect only started in season three. Teen Wolf didn’t kill off Kira Yukimura, but they still got rid of Arden Cho after a season of absent episodes. Bonnie Bennett is still on The Vampire Diaries, but if you compare her story to Caroline Forbes…well it’ll make you go hmmm. The Wire killed off several black men, but the cast was full of them, all complex and fully realized. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s strength doesn’t merely come from the number of POC’s in their cast, but how fleshed out they all are.
And yes, I’m aware of the disparity in numbers, but I don’t think merely holding onto the characters of color you have so they can hover on the sidelines while you meet your diversity quota is acceptable. I’m not asking show writers to give them immunity from death or suffering, just DO something with them. Give them beautiful and complex and heartbreaking stories. Treat them like you do your white characters.Like they’re actual people with actual lives. If history is any indication, progress comes in baby steps. Hey Hollywood, how about you start there?