It’s been almost a year since we first heard about Sense8, a sci-fi show being developed exclusively for Netflix by Andy and Lana Wachowski alongside Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski. At the time all we knew was that it would be “a gripping global tale of minds linked and souls hunted,” which is predictably vague considering it’s the Wachowskis.
But now we finally have a synopsis. And it sounds interesting! And also like there’s the possibility of it being racist as hell.
According to TVLine the main gist of the show is that eight people living all around the world start sharing the same violent vision, which sounds interesting. One character (or “entity”) tries to bring the group together while another tries to kill them. And when I say “all around the world” I mean all around the world—the show’s shooting locations are the UK, Seoul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Berlin, Mexico City, San Francisco, and Chicago.
As for the characters, they include:
”a closeted Mexican telenovela hunk, an Icelandic party girl, a German safe-cracker, a Korean businesswoman, an African bus driver and a transgender American blogger (a la Lana?).”
Is that a wide array of diversity I spy? Bring it! Considering our readership it’s preaching to the choir to say there needs to be more diversity in film and on TV (major studios could stand to learn it, though). But it bears repeating that in this social media-heavy age having a diverse cast can really only help a show attract viewers. When a good show comes along, its audience will watch it and blog about it. When a good show with a diverse cast comes along, its audience will watch it, blog about it, and bend over backward to support it (see: Sleepy Hollow, Elementary, Orange is the New Black). Not that “it’ll increase your viewing numbers!” is the primary reason a show should avoid being 90% straight white dudes—there’s, y’know, common decency. But shows being so homogenous doesn’t even make any damn business sense, and you know studio execs are all about their bottom line. It’s like they’re saying “Meh, I don’t want this show’s viewership to be as big as it could be.”
So what’s my problem with Sense8? This:
“Perhaps most intriguing, though, are Jonas, an apparently magic African-American who appears to all of the ‘visionaries,’ and his evil counterpart, Mr. Whispers (arguably the best-named villain since The X-Files’ Cigarette-Smoking Man).”
Back away from the Magical Negro trope.
The “Magical Negro trope, for those not in the know, is where you have a black character (the word “Negro” is used to emphasize the archaic and offensive nature of the trope) who helps the white characters by dispensing homespun wisdom and, occasionally, magic. It diminishes said characters to what they can do for the white leads. There’s no way to tell this early on whether Jonas will fall into that trap, but “magic African-American” sets off all sorts of bells for me. And it’s not like the Wachowskis have a history of racial sensitivity: There was the Cloud Atlas yellowface scandal, and the Oracle from The Matrix is a textbook example of the Magical Negro.
As always, it’s best to take these concerns into consideration but forestall a final verdict until the show actually lands late this year. It could very well be amazing. Jonas could be a wonderfully complex character with his own agency. And, of course, the fact that Netflix is continuing to produce shows with a diverse cast is a wonderful thing. Please pull through for me, Sense8. Be the show you can be.