Gina Prince-Bythewood Tapped to Direct the Pilot of the Cloak & Dagger TV Series and Possibly Future Episodes
We’ve been cautiously optimistic about Freeform’s plan to adapt the Cloak & Dagger comic series into a TV show for teens. The original comics told a story of Dagger, a young white girl, and Cloak, a young black boy, who get super-powers and who fall in love with one another. However, it’s also worth noting that Tandy Bowen, a.k.a. Dagger, has worn some notoriously impractical “boob window” costumes over the years, which seems less than ideal given the plan to make this a show about young teenagers (who, ideally, wouldn’t be presented as sexual objects for the viewer’s consumption, especially if we’re going to start the story when they’re underage).
What’s more, a lot of criticism has been levied at the central framing device of Cloak & Dagger, with many fans pointing out the inherent limitations of the relationship between the two heroes. Cloak and Dagger’s super-powers make them reliant upon one another in a very literal sense; Cloak’s power is that he has a “Dark Form” which causes him to feel a vampire-like supernatural hunger. That hunger can be slated by Dagger’s powers, which are psionic light daggers; Dagger’s light powers can assuage Cloak’s hunger and thereby keep both of them alive. Dagger also has to use her powers frequently as well, in order to stay alive, so they have a symbiotic relationship—but also, a potentially unhealthy co-dependency.
Making a white female character an essence of pure light who prevents a black male character from feeling dangerous “hunger” is… well, it’s a story format with some inherent racist and sexist problems. Their backstory is also a product of its time, since their story served as a commentary on the War on Drugs back in the ’80s; the two teens gained their superpowers from mysterious drug experiments, in which they were enlisted due to being runaways. Their reasons for running away also highlight the difference in privilege between them: Tyrone “Ty” Johnson, a.k.a. Cloak, got misidentified as a criminal by the police and is in hiding because of that. Meanwhile, Tandy Bowen is a rich white girl who runs away from home because she felt neglected by her supermodel mother.
It seems difficult, but certainly not impossible, for the TV adaptation to take this story and make it resonate with modern audiences, without resulting in potentially racist and sexist elements. Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family) probably had these exact concerns, because they hired a black female director to helm the pilot episode of the series: Gina Prince-Bythewood, known for directing and writing Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights, and The Secret Life of Bees. She’s the creator of the TV show Shots Fired, and she’s written episodes of Felicity, South Central, and A Different World.
Although Prince-Bythewood may not have an extensive resume when it comes to helming “nerdy” media, that doesn’t concern me at all. She clearly has a lot of experience with both writing and directing a lot of different kinds of projects, essentially those that deal with interlocking social issues, and that’s exactly what’s required for Cloak & Dagger.
It also seems fair to assume that Prince-Bythewood may advocate for women of color to appear as actors in this show as well, since in an interview at NPR two years ago about Beyond the Lights, she explained that those were the stories she was most interested in writing and directing. In that interview, she said, “It is one of my goals in life to obliterate the term ‘black film’… For me it’s just about putting people of color in every genre and making it become normal.” She went on to say that she didn’t feel discriminated against as a black woman working in the industry, but rather, “I feel what’s discriminated against are my choices — which is to focus on people of color and more specifically women of color.”
In that interview, Prince-Bythewood spoke a lot about Beyond the Lights and Love & Basketball, which are both love stories about black characters. Cloak & Dagger has, historically, featured a multiracial couple. However, for the record, I think that if Prince-Bythewood advocates for casting a non-white woman in the role of Tandy Bowen, that could change the dynamic in a compelling way. Perhaps even an Asian actress or Latina actress could take on the part. We’ll have to wait and see what happens—but so far, it looks like the Cloak & Dagger adaptation is in good hands.
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