I’ve written a lot about the presence – or lack thereof – of Black women in television and TV shows. My post Black Woman Invisible touched on it using the show Criminal Minds to make several key points. Yes, you should click that link and read it. I’ll wait. GOOD.
I recently mentioned taking an escape from reality by immersing myself in shows about serial killers. Gotta wonder about reality when that sort of thing is soothing and escapist, however fictional. But I digress. I was getting caught up on Dexter (2006) as I saw the first season or two way back when, and it is now in its 8th and final season. FYI: Lotsa Spoilers Ahead. So bail out now. You been warned.
The show takes place in Miami in a fictionalized version of the Miami-Dade police department, where Dexter works. Miami is on the whole a very diverse place, and one would expect a television show to reflect that. If we lived in a balanced world. But we don’t, and the show didn’t. Although they tried a little bit.
The station’s boss and lieutenant is Latina, one of the main cast detectives is Latino, and there is an Asian male cast as a lab tech. This is a show centered around a white male, so I really never expected to see much more than token observations of diversity. But really, there were times while I was watching that I wished they would have just simply not bothered, rather than put forth the travesties that ensued.
Of one particular note, the woman who replaced Lt. LaGuerta for a hot minute was a Black woman. She was written as being out of her depth, unstable, and so obsessed with her fiancee’s cheating, that she eventually had a meltdown over it right in the middle of the station. And of course got subsequently fired.
I kid you not. A grown woman, who not only succeeded in a male dominated field, as to be in a position to be considered for a lead position in a major police department, is going to fall apart over some high school drama with her boyfriend, and ruin her career besides. I really. Don’t. Think. So! But she is the first and last Black woman of any note we see on this show.
Thank you writers and producers of that show for that travesty.
LaGuerta takes part in fanning her instability, in order to get her job back. Sad to see a Latina character being written pretty much only in her juxtaposition to her relationships with male characters. We never see her home life, but she is linked sexually to several characters, and while she is touted as a Grade A political strategist, it seems she pretty much only uses her sexuality in her schemes to get ahead.
The only Black male character is so stereotyped I thought my head might explode. He’s angry, he’s powerfully built, he’s ex-military. And of course has a past history with LaGuerta. I did love that he was the only one to see right through Dexter from the jump. But that was far from being enough to balance his character out.
He of course gets his name and legacy trashed by Dexter setting him up to take the fall for his own killings. Even in death, a brother can’t get a break.
I can’t begin to even tell you how awful and disgusting the Asian male character was written. I mean really. There was one point where I thought they were going to redeem themselves, and allow for the lab tech to be able to be changed into a human being, but that was short lived and came to nothing. His “ick factor” was toned down somewhat, but really, not by much, and it was very sad to see.
I know this was supposed to be a post about Black female invisibility, and it still is. All of these things are linked. That, and well, since there were no more Black female characters, I ain’t got much to write about, so I’ll be highlighting other fails to flesh this whole thing out.
The white woman as the be all end all. That was a major theme throughout this show. For the first season or two, Dexter’s sister is constantly being lauded as “hot” and “beautiful” and “sexy” and so on and on.
She is pasty for someone living in Miami. She is skeletal in body type, and plain of face. With the right makeup that she manages on occasion she can be considered pretty. With her potty mouth and sketchy social manners added into the mix, I get a strong wiff of white trash. Beautiful, sexy and/or hot notsomuch. But she is the be all end all for most of show.
She is born and raised in Miami. She ends up working as a vice cop and yet she knows not one word of Spanish beyond “gracias”, and with that background and subsequently going on to be a detective, she can’t even pronounce the word “muerta”. It boggles the mind.
Her getting promoted over a 20 year (Latino, male) veteran of the force was pretty terrible too. I know it was written for dramatic effect, and she was basically a pawn in the political wars between LaGuerta and Matthews, but still.
Debra also puts her pain about the loss of some recently returned lover over the pain of others who lost spouses, parents and siblings to the same killer. It was all about “memememe” and a deluge of WWT on top of it all. Quite sickening. But written as something that we should be empathetic about, and feel sorry for her above anyone else.
Television rarely shows therapists and psychologists in a good light, but Dexter’s sister’s therapist took the cake. It was a total fail on adoption. Pushing the incest thing was just horrible. We aren’t even talking about things like two divorced parents with teenage children marrying each other, and their kids become siblings on paper if not blood. Dexter and Debra were raised together from a young age, and did and should be considered brother and sister.
IDK. I just think that whole angle should not have even been in the storyline. It was a major fail and highly destructive to families that are built on adoption. Ick and ew and fail fail fail.
Of note before I move on. Nearly all the main character women and sub character women, with very few exceptions (LaGuerta, Cira Mazon, Camilla) had the same body type. Skeletal, hipless, breastless, shapeless. (Debra, Rita, Lila, Ellen Wolf, Lumen, Hannah, Jaimie etc) I wonder why that is? Hollywood casting thing? Our society touting the ironing board shape as the epitome of desirability and sexiness? I’m not sure I want to even know.
And lastly, when a Black male who wasn’t a walking stereotype was finally cast, I gave him about a season if that. I was right. He was married – though we never got to see his family – educated, vast experience in law enforcement, well dressed, articulate, knew his ish. Gunned down in the street like a dog by some European lowlife mobster. But before that ignominious end, we got to see less and less of him as each episode went by. Another token tossed in as diversity window dressing.
As I’m entering the newest and last season, I see a Black woman character slowly emerging from the woodwork. I’d seen her now and then in the background at the station and at crime scenes. She’d had a few scattered lines, here and there as the show went on. It looks like she has gained more prominence, but we shall see as the final season pans out.
Again, too little, too late.
In all of seven years they just couldn’t find a way to have a Black female main or supporting character on that show?
Here is something to think about before I go. I’m not sure what salaries are for main characters in an ensemble popular television show. But let us say, that if you as an actor get in that position, and remain there for 7 years and counting, I would hazard a guess that financially speaking, you are sitting pretty.
Edit, UPDATE to add:
Check this out for the going rates/salaries for everyone from major film stars on down to lowly extras and production assistants. Somewhere near the bottom is the breakdown for television stars. “$15,000 to $25,000 per episode an unknown actor” is the probably the ballpark I’m speaking of. Compared to some major stars who rake in anywhere from $750,000 to 1 million or more per episode, that might seem like small potatoes.
But as I said: it adds up, especially if you’re featured in every episode over seven years. And you can negotiate for a salary bump each time the show you’re on get’s renewed and/or when your particular contract gets renewed.
Dexter went for one more year – that’s 96 episodes – You do the math.
When Black female characters are not written into plots, not written as main characters, not included in storylines and main action – yes there is a problem with invisibility, and stereotypes, tokenism, tropes and the whole gamut, that can be very damaging to the psyche.
Let us put all of that aside for a moment. And go with the real life side of things. Getting a well paid job, financial security and all of that can go a long way towards changing someone’s life. That someone can in turn change the life of their family. Be able to afford great schools for their kids, top notch healthcare, live in safer areas and so on. Life changing.
When you deny those opportunities to my hard working sisters, you also deny them, their families those opportunities towards success, financial stability, education, good health and security.
This does not only go for the entertainment industry, but across the board in each and every area of employment. Racism and its systems of power within all aspects of life in this country is a huge factor in the daily lives of people of color. Its impact can determine so many things, and can set the course of millions of lives.
We live in a capitalist society. Everything has a price tag on it. Including the good life. You want better education, health care, schools, living conditions, respect, opportunities, advancement, security? You have to pay for it.
This is what I’m talking about. I’m not just harping about not seeing representations of myself on my screen just because. The result of why that happens, as well as the reasons for it are acutely harmful.
It is never “just a television show” or “just tenure” or “just a job interview” or “just a movie”. What happens in and around these structures affects lives, and that is why I write about it.
That is why I continue to point out that all of these things are related. What happens to me when I sit down at a job interview, what happens or doesn’t happen on a television screen, what happens in the aftermath of a plane crash, what happens in neighborhoods across this country, what happens in the board rooms, and box office, what happens in government and legislation.
You simply cannot live your life without realizing the complexity of the systems around you, that effect your life – effect it in ways you will not realize – until you Wake Up to their workings.
What is bad for me and mine, will be bad for you and yours. The housing and real estate crisis is a prime example. Nobody cared when people of color were being exploited. So those doing the exploiting moved on out of those neighborhoods and once white people fell victim, there started to be a worry and hue and cry about it. All too late of course and Boom Crash what a mess.
What goes around, comes around. What happens to me, will happen to you. What happens over there, will eventually happen right here.
There is no disconnect.
It is how it works.