The most recent surge for equality within minorities flared up after fan-favourite Commander Lexa’s death on March 3, 2016.
Though the ‘Bury Your Gays‘ trope has been running for a long time, Lexa’s (Alycia Debnam-Carey) death on ‘The 100‘ was, for many, ignition. Unwittingly, Debnam-Carey became a movement’s ‘Mockingjay’. This movement would start small, and rapidly snowball into a huge fundraiser for The Trevor Project. Furthermore, it would spark a ‘Lexa Pledge‘, T-shirts sported by the likes of Ms. Kat Barrell and Ms. Eliza Taylor, a ‘ClexaCon‘, and billboards in Los Angeles.
Previously, I’d written a homage to Lexa. Also, articles on how ‘LGBT Fans Deserve Better‘ and how ‘Minorities Are Not Disposable‘. Stunningly, the former phrase trended for three days consecutively. Since then, social media efforts haven’t died down. Neither have minority deaths. If we’d count off the top of our heads, Root was a huge casualty on ‘Person of Interest‘. Denise from ‘The Walking Dead‘. The girls from ‘The Vampire Diaries‘…simultaneously. Bea, from ‘Wentworth‘. And arguably, most controversially, Poussey from ‘Orange is the New Black‘.
We’ll write of ‘fights’ and perhaps that isn’t the right word in hindsight. Ideally, this should be harmonious. Yet it isn’t, and the fact that there’s any argument over this represents a core problem in itself.
So how much mileage have we yet to cover?
The Positives: Television isn’t just a drastic place of minority killing all-around.
If you look at ‘Broad City‘, you’ll find two slobs jacking their way around New York City. It’s hilarious and it rips mercilessly into stereotypes. If you look the other way, you’ll find ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘. It features a black, openly gay Captain of the police precinct (Andre Braugher) who’s important, deadpan hysterical and most essentially: human. Everyone treats him as so, because he is so. Also, there are two Latina detectives in Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). One’s a total nerd, and the other’s a leather-clad beast. And they’re both complete badasses.
Most refreshing is ‘Fresh off the Boat‘. It features a Taiwanese family settling into American culture in a lightly humorous way. Not once is it disgustingly stereotypical. It is stereotypical, in the way it rather accurately portrays the stereotypes, and sometimes in the way it gently teases them. It’s funny, and the main cast are largely East Asian. Constance Wu, who plays Jessica Huang, is firstly eccentrically hilarious and superbly eloquent. Secondly, she’s a fearless star.
Thus…Is it a time now where comedies are overtaking dramas? Or at least certainly in representation?
The Negatives: Some people just don’t seem to “get it”.
There seems to be a tug-of-war between ‘visionary’ show-runners, and social media. Ignorance could surely be argued by the fact that the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope is so infamous even Joss Whedon committed it on ‘Buffy‘. Instead of such defensiveness, would mutual understanding via listening to feedback help? Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the episode-writer of Lexa’s death, has been admirably open about responses from fans. He said at the ATX Panel:
I don’t think that the failure here was to discuss it, the failure was to recognize the cultural impact it would have outside the show, and to act accordingly outside of the show.
Brownie points for you, sir. Hopefully, he’ll be spear-heading a successful ‘Xena’ reboot in the near-future. But it wasn’t all merry agreement. Writer Krista Vernoff (‘Grey’s Anatomy’) voiced her opinion on the ‘Lexa Pledge’:
It is to sign a pledge that I will limit my storytelling. I promise I won’t kill an LGBT character is going to limit my ability.
Therefore, you can see there’s still some quarrel and uncertainty with writers. For Vernoff’s quote, it must be asked: if the pledge limits creativity, why? Upon reading the pledge nothing indicated that no LGBT characters should be killed off at all. So, is it a gross misunderstanding? Or a writer’s folly that one cannot drum up a story-line that’s inclusive of a living LGBT character?
There’s still a long road ahead in the fight for equality, but the minority community doesn’t seem to be letting up. And that, perhaps, is the way it should be.
Among controversy surrounding Matt Damon’s casting in ‘The Great Wall’, the film’s director Zhang Yimou addressed the vocal concerns. In an exclusive interview with EW, Zhang said:
Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. […] There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese. The collective struggle and sacrifice of these heroes are the emotional heart of our film. […] I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision. I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.
Undoubtedly, any film starring Matt Damon would surely reel in film-goers, perhaps even boosting Chinese talent on display in the film. However, Taiwanese actress Constance Wu disagreed vehemently. In this recent post, she argues that big stars like Damon do not automatically sell. That in having Damon’s image to sell the film gives no representation to young Chinese children yearning for it. This argument will perpetuate–but we can only wait and find out before judgment.
RELATED l “Leslie Jones battles hate, and hate lost“.
And sadly, the online bullying of ‘Ghostbusters’ star Leslie Jones disgusted many across all platforms. Leslie Jones may kick your ghost-busting butt—in the film and in real life—but she is human. Minorities are underrepresented in media. They can be hurt, mocked, loved, bullied…
But these news items aren’t unheard. Voices are growing louder and so they should be. Minorities have every right to be represented on-screen so long as they exist off-screen! Surely, that is logic. And no, the fight hasn’t relented. The trending carries on, as minority deaths on television do. Yet it’s hugely misunderstood. Nobody, as we should reiterate, claimed that no LGBT characters should ever be killed. But the manner of their death, the cheapness, the usage as a plot device—they’re not brilliant reasons to kill a minority.
Why is it important at all? Minority deaths happen in real life, so…why shouldn’t they on television?
First of all, we’d reiterate for the third time the point directly above. This fight was never about ‘never killing a minority character’. This was about treating characters equally—be their ethnicity white, black, Chinese, Indian, South American, etc. If a show-runner can give Caucasian heterosexuals compelling histories and plots, why can’t minority characters have that too? For as long as minorities die in real life, so do Caucasian heterosexuals. So one could assume that minorities can also live a complex and interesting life, as a Caucasian heterosexual might, right? Isn’t that representative of a population sample?
Television isn’t a matter of sitting down weekly and being content with the episode anymore. Afterwards, it sparks conversation across social media. Reviews roll in. Trends crop up. It’s much more interactive than it was. Take a black, young, queer, closeted girl who sees Poussey Washington. Poussey’s in prison, but she’s cheerful. She’s friendly. She’s killed by a white policeman and the show bends him a sympathetic angle, so what does the girl learn from that?
The hard fact is: these stories affect people in real life.
It’s not a matter of sticking minorities in bubble-wrap to ensure no harm comes to them. It’s about doing those characters justice. And it’s about giving underrepresented audiences someone to look to. After all, aren’t audiences human? As for Vernoff’s difficulty in her limited creativity, perhaps a leaf could be taken from Grillo-Marxuach’s book.
You have to educate yourself before you jump over that threshold because you’re dealing with people’s lives. You cannot create in a vacuum.