Kat Graham as Bonnie Bennet in The Vampire Diaries (2009)

The CW Has a Lot of Diversity Issues to Answer For

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I was off last week and therefore missed being able to write about Vanessa Morgan calling out her own show, The CW’s Riverdale, for underpaying her and underwriting her. It was a powerful moment, with all the messages from the Black Women of The CW’s comic brand (and Titans’ Anna Diop), showing love and support to each in these times. Yet, it is something that a lot of shows, and especially that network, need to answer for.

With a handful of exceptions, The CW is still an overwhelmingly white network. The shows that do feature Black or non-white characters tend to be “Black” programs that largely deal with race and put the focus on Blackness in storytelling. Even with Charmed, which has two biracial Black leads and one Latina lead, there are still hardly any dark-skinned regulars on the show.

Despite being excellent shows, you don’t hear Black Lightning afforded the same respect and love from Arrowverse fans. All American is a great spiritual successor to one of my favorite shows ever, Friday Night Lights, but again, crickets when it comes from the same camps that are so excited about diversity online but don’t show up for it onscreen.

It is an issue that the network and the fandoms themselves need to deal with. From the network side, they need to be better about promoting and casting these shows. There is no reason for a show like Charmed to have so much Afro-Latina marketing, pushing it as a more diverse version of Charmed, if you aren’t going to fully explore that and cast actresses who reflect the layers of that. Not just one dark-skinned female throwaway character, but multiple recurring ones.

It took getting a Black showrunner to really get Iris West-Allen the storyline she deserved after six years on The Flash, getting harassed for being Black. Riverdale lured me in with the promise of an all-Black Josie and the Pussycats, only to give me just Josie, and even then, barely give me Josie. They recast Reggie because the actor had other commitments, yet I’m still waiting for Chuck Clayton to return in some form, even though they totally bastardized him.

The root of my frustration with The CW comes from The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff, The Originals. (I haven’t watched Legacies. I do not think I have the strength for that.)

During the entire run of that show, I and other Black fans screamed about the mistreatment of Bonnet Bennet (Kat Graham) and the way Black and Brown bodies were treated on that show. Bonnie was a plot device brought out when there was a problem that needed solving, no matter what she needed, wanted, or whether her life was in danger. Yes, there was a lot of death on the show, but as Bonnie was the only main character of color the show ever had, it was made all the more jarring how often she was turned into a magical negro rather than a person.

That trend continued on The Originals and was only made even more frustrating by the language used around its main Black male character, Marcel. His character was a former slave, eventually turned vampire, and his entire storyline was about him feeling mistreated and not considered good enough by his white adoptive family. Yet, the show never understood for a single moment the implications of what they were saying.

The CW is, on paper, one of the most diverse networks on television, especially when it comes to LGBTQ content. Despite how a lot of its shows get dismissed as campy and hammy at times, we love them. The WB/CW has been a huge part of my life, from the original Charmed to now. Just recently, it was reshared how, originally, the idea was for Cordelia from Buffy to be a Black woman, but that, as Whedon’s former PA George Snyder explained:

There was some concern at the network at the time that interracial relationships would be problematic. At that point, the WB was a different kind of network. I know that came up and Joss said, ‘I can’t have restraints on how I mix and match the dynamics. That’s part of the fun of the show, that Willow is in love with Xander, Xander is in love with Buffy, Cordelia can’t stand any of them yet finds herself drawn to Xander.’ Joss decided it wasn’t worth fighting that fight at that particular time, but he didn’t want to be hindered in the dynamic of the shifting triangles.

This is a problem the channel has always had, and unless they finally start listening to Black fans, actors, and showrunners, it isn’t going to be fixed.

But I do hope that with these actresses speaking out, something has been made clear to non-Black fans. We aren’t making this shit up.

(image: The CW)

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Author
Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.