A Toast to Marcel Gerard, The Originals’ Unapologetically Black Vampire King

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As a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals comes with a lot of baggage. People hear the word “Klaus Mikaelson” and assume it’s just another sappy drama centering on his impossibly dysfunctional family dynamics. The truth of the matter is that it is so much more than that.

For starters, the show takes place in New Orleans—a melting pot of a city with a rich history and even richer culture. It’s one of the few supernatural dramas that takes care to remember that not only do black people exist, but they can also be an integral part of the story.

I see that with Marcel Gerard, the smart and resourceful vampire who is either at odds with the Mikaelson Family or saving their lives on any given day. Raised in Klaus’ image after being rescued from slavery, he was later abandoned when the Mikaelson siblings fled the city in fear of their father. His resilience is emblematic of the millions of Africans forced to fend on their own once slavery was abolished and they were set free. Like the brave real life people who rebuilt their lives, he rebuilt New Orleans and established a prosperous system where vampires only fed on tourists while the witches and wolves were kept at bay. But that’s only part of what makes him great.

The thing I appreciate the most about Marcel is that he is not afraid to take up space. He is not afraid to exist. He demands not only acknowledgment, but respect and even submission. He’s fearless and willing to stand up to anyone, even Klaus Mikaelson, who is considered to be the most dangerous and ruthless vampire in the world.

“When I left 100 year ago, you were just a pathetic little scrapper still trembling from the lashes of the whips of those who would keep you down and now look at you, master of your domain…Prince of the city,” Klaus says to him in the pilot episode before inquiring about how he was able to create such a utopia for vampires.

“Why? Jealous?” Marcel responds. “You wanna pass on through? You wanna stay a while? Great. What’s mine is yours, but it is mine. My home. My family. My rules….and I’m not the prince of the quarter, friend, I’m the KING!”

Despite TV’s many advances in recently years, it’s rare to see a powerful black man like this be so unapologetic about who he is and what he’s accomplished, especially in this genre. I don’t get to see people who look like this thrive as much as he has (though constantly knocked down since he’s not the main protagonist), so I assumed he would die quite often throughout the show’s first three seasons.

But Marcel remains week after week and I couldn’t be happier. He is, by no means, perfect and is not immune to doing bad things or making horrible decisions, but that’s the beauty of his character. He’s dynamic and so inherently black. It’s especially apparent in scenes like the WWII flashback where he and other segregated black soldiers are surrounded and will most likely be defeated. Rather than let them die, he turns them into vampires and they are then able to take down their enemies as a fearsome unit. It may not have been black girl magic, but that scene made me feel so damn powerful. I need more of that.

Where the show lets me down, however, is in the constant reminders that he’s not actually the main star. After spending a century establishing a flourishing city, his power is quickly rescinded because Klaus Mikaelson is supposed to be the true king. Marcel did, after all, learn everything he knows from him.  And not only is Marcel supposed to accept this, he’s expected to submit to their will under the guise of “family” despite how awful they treat him time and time again. This unhealthy dynamic isn’t that dissimilar from the slavery he experienced as a boy; it’s just that now he’s unafraid to stand up for himself.

Marcel is the fire, the power and the strength I’ve been longing to see from a black character in this genre and now that he’s an enemy of the Mikaelsons, I’m worried about what will happen to him. As we’ve seen with shows like Sleepy Hollow, not even being a lead makes you safe. Hopefully, he’ll continue to do what he’s done so many times before and survive. I need him to.

(image via screencap)

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