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Why Is Natalie Dormer the Face of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels?

Penny Dreadful on Showtime was one of my favorite series before the final episode. So when I heard about Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, I was excited to see the show return, but nervous about how a series written by John Logan would be handling Mexican and Mexican-American folklore. This nervousness has only grown as the big-name cast seems mostly white.

The spin-off series takes place in 1938 Los Angeles, forty years after the original series, where Detective Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) and his partner Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) discover a dead body murdered in a way that seems to invoke Santa Muerte and could explode the powder keg of racial tensions in the city between white and Mexican citizens.

When it comes to the history of L.A. and nailing all the dark underbelly of the city, I have no doubts that Logan can handle all of that really well. However, I remember what happened with Sembene (Danny Sapani) in the original series, as he was underwritten, turned into a collection of ethnic stereotypes, and then sacrificed himself to help save Ethan because Ethan had a “higher purpose” to serve than Sembene. It was not a good look. The show also got the location of where Sembene was from wrong (he was from a tribe on the West Coast of Africa and then he is buried in Zanzibar, which is on the East Coast). Still, Penny Dreadful was a show based around London England and was really situated in white Victorian horror;  it wasn’t attempting to incorporate the folklore of another ethnicity while having race be at the forefront of its core narrative.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angelsfrom the premise and trailer, is very much this. Now to be fair, Damon Lindelof, the creator of HBO’s Watchmen, collaborated with mostly other white people on the episodes and that show hit the mark on a lot of ways, but it also centered Black people on screen. The face of the show was Regina King. The face of City of Angels is Natalie Dormer.

Anne Boleyn herself is playing Magda, a supernatural demon who can take the form of anyone she chooses, which I’m sure will not be used in any problematic ways at all. Natalie Dormer is great and has been a sought-after actress for many projects, but I think that if you are doing a show about Mexican folklore then your Mexican characters should be the face of the series. Tiago Vega and the Vega family fill that role, but the ties they allegedly have to Santa Muerte are already, according to my Mexican friend familiar with that figure, straight-up wrong—so that’s not a great start.

I’m not saying that the show has to be perfect, but understanding the deities and centering the marginalized people in your work should be the absolute bare minimum. We’ll be keeping an eye on where City of Angels goes.

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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.