Monday, January 31, 2011

People of Color on the Vampire Diaries: Witches & Dead Bodies

Back when we were watching the first two episodes of the second season of The Vampire Diaries, we noticed something... There really aren't too many people of color in Mystic Falls. And those that were there? Most of them seem to be dead by now, except for a select few that have been allowed to survive in order to do the bidding of the other characters on the show.

First of all, as a show in general, The Vampire Diaries is extremely white to begin with. This is somewhat the fault of the books on which the show is based (even Bonnie's character was originally white) and maybe partially the fact that it's on the CW (home of other very white shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill). Also there's the apparent obsession that this fictional town has on its founders. I get why this is an important plot device - flashbacks, family vendettas, etc - but the importance that the characters put on so-and-so being the descendant of so-and-so is racist and classist in and of itself because basically all the super important founders were white rich guys, therefore a lot of the show focuses on them and their rich white descendants.

As we continued through season 2, we noticed that there are only two roles for people of color on The Vampire Diaries: witches and dead bodies. (Or sometimes... dead witches.)

Maybe you think we're overreacting or exaggerating?

There has been violence directed at people of color from the start. Now in their defense, there has been violence aimed at... well, everyone on this show. But it's interesting that so many people of color are treated as disposable bodies. It's such a cliche horror trope ("the black dude dies first"). Let's take a look back at some of the fatalities and feedings...

Bree (Gina Torres) appeared in one episode and was killed by Damon in "Bloodlines" (episode 11).

Bonnie's grandmother, Sheila "Grams" Bennett (Jasmine Guy) appeared in 5 episodes and died in "Fool Me Once" (episode 14) because the spell she did to help Elena and the Salvatores took too much out of her.

Harper (Sterling Sulieman), one of the tomb vampires, appeared in 5 episodes - where he mostly just took orders from Pearl - and was killed by John Gilbert in "Blood Brothers" (episode 20).

There have been only two prominent Asian characters - Pearl (Kelly Hu) who appeared in 7 episodes and her daughter Anna (Malese Jow), 11 episodes. Both are now dead at the hands of the same rich, white guy, John Gilbert, having been staked in "Blood Brothers" (episode 20) and "Founders Day" (episode 22) respectively.

Nurse Haynes (Terri James) appeared in 2 episodes. She was not killed, but was attacked and fed on by brand new vampire Caroline in "Brave New World" (season 2, episode 2).

Carter (B.J. Britt) appeared in one episode,"Brave New World" (season 2, episode 2) in which he was used twice - first as a pawn to test the Lockwoods' powers and then as food for Caroline.

The character of Aimee (Tiya Sircar, who is Indian American) appeared in 3 episodes, in which she did little more than flirt with Matt and Tyler and make Caroline mad. She was killed by Katherine in "Masquerade" (season 2, episode 7).

An unnamed maintenance worker (George Bryant) appeared in one episode, for about 10 seconds, before being brutally killed by Rose in "The Descent" (season 2, episode 12).

And then there are the witches... Possibly the most powerful characters the show has seen yet were women of color, however most of them are reduced to sidekicks or servants.

There's Emily Bennett (Bianca Lawson), Bonnie's ancestor who was a handmaiden to Katherine back in the day. Without her, the vampires wouldn't be able to walk around in the daylight; there would be no magic life-saving rings or "the device" or anything. Even after death she was able to do some serious magic, including possessing Bonnie.

All of the Bennett's descendants that we've met so far have also been extremely powerful. "Grams" (Jasmine Guy) proved that she had some pretty strong powers before she died.

As Bonnie (Katerina Graham) grows as a witch she can easily take Damon down without blinking. Yet, she is often portrayed as Elena's lap dog/annoying bitch. She's way too powerful to simply do the bidding of the Salvatores and Co., yet that's basically what her character has been reduced to.

And all of the witches are black. All of them...

When Damon sought out the advice of another witch, Bree (Gina Torres) in episode 11, we didn't really think about the fact that she was black.

When we first saw Lucy (Natashia Williams), the witch who did Katherine's bidding in the "Masquerade" episode (season 2, episode 7) we were a little suspicious. But when it turned out she was also a Bennett, we accepted it.

But then we just really had had it when we met the Martins - Dr. Jonas Martin (Randy J. Goodwin) and his son Luka (Bryton James) - and it was revealed that they were also witches (or "warlocks", ugh). We certainly hope they're not secretly related to the Bennetts because of the creepy way that Luka has been flirting with Bonnie. They seem to be original vampire Elijah's personal go-to warlocks. Yet again powerful people of color are reduced to doing the bidding for some white dude.

It would be less weird if there was at least one witch or warlock who wasn't black, but at this point all seven have been. It's just really ridiculous. Especially when the only black non-witches all die pretty quickly.

We love everything else about the show, we do... but it's really hard to ignore this. I wonder if the producers/writers even consciously realize that they're doing it, but it's gone beyond the point where we can realistically accept that it's just a coincidence. It's possible that they're just trying to add a little diversity to the cast and unfortunately, the nature of the show calls for the majority of that cast to get killed (or have magic powers) but we think that's cutting them a little too much slack. We do have to give them a little credit that they made the character of Bonnie a woman of color in the first place - because in the original books she is white - so good for them for creating a black character and giving her strong powers. But what they've done with her character - and every other minority character on the show - is just a big FAIL all around.


Renee said...

In terms of race, Vampire Diaries is a huge fail. I was not surprised that when Rose went on a rampage this past episode that she ended up eating yet another Black man. If poc are not doing some form of woo woo they are food for the immortals.

Anonymous said...

I know Renee. It's been a while since we had that convo (in the comments) about this issue... clearly it's only gotten worse.

sonneillonv said...

I love the vampire diaries... when I was a kid, I fell for the books, and now I love the show even more. But when I watched Rose chomp down on yet another black guy, I actually yelled, "OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE" at the TV. Their treatment of minorities is WAY out of hand, and I can't help wondering if a twitter campaign or letter-writing effort would make any difference.

Aiyo said...

The Vampire Diaries is a UBER race fail I mean first of all.

Handmaiden? Let's call the duck a duck she was a slave, a house slave. Come on people we are not stupid. SO was Harper he was taken a lot of orders.

POC on show are really there to serve white people and if not they are used as food or just killed to further the storyline.

I find it quite interesting that Bonnie who seems to be a minor character now is in the same position as her ancestor but by choice.

yplyr8 said...

Atleast the Lucy character played by Natashia williams actually turned on her ' master'(Katherine) after reconnecting with her true blood - maybe she will prove to be the ' Nat turner' of Mystic Falls and help Bonnie lead a slave, er um, witch rebellion to begin the new representation of POC-.... She did say 'dont worry, I'll be back', with a smile no less:)