The Racist Bullshit Faced by Actresses of Color Has to Stop
During a panel appearance at POPSUGAR’s Play/Ground festival, The Flash‘s Candice Patton talked about her experiences with the racism directed at her simply for playing the character of Iris West on the show, a character who was white in the comics. Fellow CW actress Ashleigh Murray, who plays Josie on Riverdale, spoke on experiencing that same backlash for playing another traditionally white character from the comics.
“For me, Iris West was traditionally white in the comic books. So, you know, comic book fans are very opinionated, very vocal. So it was very scary stepping into that role when I started the show,” said Patton, as reported by ComicBook.com.
She continued, “And I remember our executive producer at this time, once I got cast, he was like ‘Don’t go online. Just don’t go on. But what’s great is, I think over time, people have embraced me and have embraced this character and I think it’s really important. And I think what’s great is, you know, years to come, people will remember Iris West as being African-American. And that’s a really, really cool thing.”
Murray followed up, saying that she faced a similar situation with her character: “It’s the exact same thing, you know? With Josie, she’s originally white in the comics, and so was Melody [Asha Bromfield]. And we all ended up coming as an all-black group.” She also noted that she received similar advice on avoiding online commentary. “And when I actually was testing for it, my aunt asked me ‘How are you going to deal with it, if you book this? How are you going to handle people having an issue with it?’ And I was like, ‘We’ll just worry about it when it comes,’” she said.
“And I think that’s the thing, the more we do it, the more we get cast, the more we unfortunately take the brunt, the easier it’s going to get on every woman of color that comes after us that’s cast on a show,” Patton said. “That’s going to become the normal, I hope sooner than later. But, you know, if I had to deal with crap online and harassment online so a girl who looks like me, ten years from now, can successfully be on these shows without any of that, then it’s well worth it. I can take it.”
What is really upsetting to me about this is that both actresses were told to prepare themselves for this backlash, and when coming face-to-face with it, the advice they got was to ignore it. That they’re expected to just take it to lay down the foundation for other women of color, when there are so many women who have laid the down foundation for them already, is truly exhausting.
Months ago, when I spoke about “my frustration with people calling Iris and Barry “brother and sister,” there was a sense, from some of the responses, that I was insinuating that anyone who doesn’t ship WestAllen is a racist. That’s not the case.
However, there is certain language that has surrounded Candice Patton, WestAllen, and almost every single black woman/interracial couple in a genre fandom for as long as I can remember, and long before then.
One of the most disappointing things about being a part of fandom, when you are a woman of color, is realizing that your opinion, especially when it is critical, is not wanted. When you address the fact that a show kills the only black women who show up for like 6 seasons (Kendra in Buffy The Vampire Slayer), gives them storylines where they support white characters in exchange for their perpetual suffering (Bonnie Bennett in The Vampire Diaries/Tara in True Blood), or they’re hated for being in the way of some other white couple (Martha Jones in Doctor Who/Gwen in Merlin/Braden in Teen Wolf), it’s seen as causing division, when the ones causing division are the writers who seem allergic to giving black women quality storylines.
When it was announced that Girl Meets World was not bringing back the relationship of Shawn and Angela, one of the most iconic interracial couples of the ’90s, and fans, especially women of color, spoke out about being disappointed, the response we got was that “it’s not realistic for all the couples to be together.”
Realistic? In the universe of Boy Meets World? On the spinoff show that had Eric reconnect with the adult version of Tommy, a character he originally interacted with for a total of three episodes? Give me a break.
I understand that some people just want the escapism to love the characters they love, and hate the characters they hate, without needing to interrogate why they feel a certain way about a certain type of character. It’s just taste, and that’s all well and good if you never go online, never share opinions on Tumblr, and never want to participate in a larger fandom, but most of us do, and that means that POC would like to have that escapism, too. We can’t have that when the characters who look like us never get anything to do, and when we bring that up,
Josie on Riverdale is not a favorite character of mine (Betty Cooper/Cheryl Blossom all day), but at the same time, as a viewer, it’s frustrating to see an this all-black girl-group version of “Josie and The Pussycats,” Ashleigh Murray a top-billed character, and yet she still gets nothing to do.
You can dislike a character, strongly, feel like they are not used well in the cast, and even have an irrational dislike towards them, but not use racist and sexist language towards them. I love Iris, but she has gotten, what, a season of decent storytelling around her? That doesn’t add up to saying that Iris West, as played by Candice Patton, is not attractive enough to be with Barry Allen or acting as though Caitlin is a more interesting character, pre-Killer Frost. Come on, y’all.
While we are human and we will always have certain things we’re into more than others, it’s important to sometimes do some deeper investigation about why you dislike certain “kinds” of characters, especially when it comes to women.
I know, for myself as a pre-teen, I was very anti-feminine, so if there were two female characters on a show and one was girly while the other was goth/punk/or any alt-style, I perferred the latter automatically. I remember hating Teen Titans’ Starfire until I was older and realized, Wait, I’m an idiot, Starfire is amazing. However, I’d been conditioned to believe that when women are happy and joyful, they are naïve and weak.
Game of Thrones’ Sansa is a complicated deconstruction of the damsel in distress trope, used to explore the mindset of what it means to grow up sheltered and privileged only to find yourself completely left unmoored from everything you’ve been taught to believe. Yet, Sansa is just treated as a “brat,” a “bitch,” and called stupid while being compared to Arya even though, gasp, they are simply two completely different women.
We too often allow writers to put women into boxes without question. One of my biggest problems with Arrow was how it so blatantly placed Felicity and Sara as the “cool, chill girls” in comparison to “bitchy, bitter” Laurel. How dare she be mad at Oliver? How dare she have issues outside of Oliver? How dare she stand up to Oliver” Why doesn’t she know her place?!
Women, especially women of color, are taught to stay in their place—stay in their mandated black or brown roles—and when they step outside of that, they receive unfair backlash and survive it so that one day, potentially, others don’t have to. How many generations of women are going to have to silently take the crap, before the people who want to use racist and sexist shorthand for their irrational hatred grow up?
(via ComicBook.com, image: The CW)
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