Severe Lack of Imagination in Sci-Fi Casting

science_fiction

If you’ve been a constant reader – shoutout to my Intersect Tesseracts! – you know I’ve spoken a lot about the Invisibility Of The Black Woman In Television & Film. I have over the years come up with the (not so secret) formula and why that happens so goshdarn often.

I also titled this post with a particular purpose in mind. In a genre where the imagination can pretty much run wild, I find it significantly galling that all that imagination seems to dry up when it comes to casting choices. The Black woman nearly always getting the short end of the stick. 

Here’s why that happens:

~*~

I address the patriarchy that comes part and parcel with the white supremacy that is also endemic to the United States of America. Yeah, it is that kind of post. If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen NOW.

When writing characters for sci-fi literature, television and movies, there comes a choice. The default “person” is usually male. And also usually white and male. So the protagonist of our particular tale is going to be a white male. (oooh! I’m a poet!)

Examples: Star Wars, Star Trek (Original, Next Gen, Enterprise & reboot films), Doctor Who, Supernatural, Firefly, Touch, Stargate SG-1, Farscape, Numbers, Kyle XY, A Gifted Man, Awake, Teen Wolf, etc.

Now when content creators want to get really cutting edge with diversity, they choose a female protagonist. The default “female person” is usually a white female. So now we have this cutting edge television show starring a white female instead of the usual default white male. Oh! Progress!

Examples: The X-Files, Fringe, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Continuum, Revolution, Star Trek Voyager, Caprica, Medium, Once Upon A Time, Xena: Warrior Princess, Ghost Whisperer, etc.

But that is not enough for some. They want to really shake things up now. So they decide to cast a Person Of Color (POC) as the main protagonist. When they decide that POC is going to be Black, the default “Black person” is very often a Black male. Because, remember, patriarchy. The default begins with the male. Same goes for any other race that is picked. (Asian, Hispanic, Native American etc). 

Examples: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Luther, Ironside (2013), Bad Boys, All the movies starring Denzel or Will Smith.

But now because we are in the modern age, some people want to really go that extra mile when it comes to diversity. So they skip past the white male, the white female, the POC male and pick the Asian or sometimes Latina female. OMG! So liberal and avante garde

Examples: Nikita, Dollhouse, The Mindy Project and whatever else you can google up. I’m too tired and depressed to do it myself at the moment. 

~*~

There is a reason the Asian or Latina is chosen as the next default. Because it can be so very easily done, very often, their race is usually written as white, (or whitewashed) with their ethnicity not mentioned, nor written in as part of the story. Many times a bi-racial actor is chosen: white mixed with the requisite Asian or Latina flavor.

Now you can see from the above examples of the secret formula for casting how the Black woman can very easily be left out. It is usually after that last above mentioned huge effort towards diversity that so many stop and consider their bases amply covered.

I can count on one hand the shows starring a Black Female protagonist: Deception, Scandal and Sleepy Hollow. As for movies, let me think for a minute. Apartment 4E. Starring – ironically – Nicole Beharie who headlines Sleepy Hollow. In theaters now, there is Baggage Claim starring Paula Patton.

I often tell people who have Netflix and/or hulu to do a quick movie and television show search. To take a look at the casting in any genre. To observe the extreme lack of diversity. Or google up pics of the audience at the recent Emmy’s. That ocean of whiteness should give you a concrete idea just how white television is. The Oscar’s fare little better.

For example. In all of the history of that award – some 84 years I believe – a Black woman has won the statue for Best Actress in a Leading Role: Only Once. That was Halle Berry in 2001.

Just.

Once.

You have to be in it to win it, the saying goes. If you are not cast in leading roles, not cast in leading roles in Oscar-contending movies, or Oscar-worthy leading roles, you will not be even on the playing field. Not in contention to vie for the statue. Forget talent and chops for a moment. It is truly a numbers game, if you think about it.

The same goes for the top acting award in television. I have not researched the Emmy, in terms of if any Black women have won it, but I did a quick skim and I didn’t see any. Again, you have to be in it to win it.

Kerry Washington nearly made history recently, although the scholarly article I read about how awards are given out at the Emmy’s she really didn’t stand a chance. Her nomination was historical in it’s own right if you stop and think about it.

Which brings me back to the lecture at hand.

~*~

Who is running the entertainment industry? Who holds the bulk of the power? Who is responsible for making those casting choices and decisions? Who is responsible for dictating what is socially acceptable and subsequently: What Makes Money and What Doesn’t?

9 times out of 10 it is the white male. From the owners of the studios, networks, cable companies, casting directors, writers – you name it. So they write about themselves. Cast themselves in leading roles, and cast their women in when they want to mix it up a little bit. Rarely step out of that bubble of ownership and power they exist in.

Which is why we have that invisible wall, that imagination halt that happens so often when it comes to casting. I’ll just mention one more thing before I finish up here.

I have noticed – again this happens a lot in sci-fi, my genre of choice – that Black women do get cast. Not in leading roles usually. Some of the people in the PTB decide to get really froggy and toss in a Black woman to make things really cutting edge and diverse.

Usually the character is a one-off. Just thrown in for an episode and killed off, or poorly written – a caricature instead of a character, very one-dimensional. Tokenism, racial tropes and stereotyping abound.

There is also that comfort-zone thing that must be addressed. More often than not, when a Black woman is cast in a leading, supporting and/or highly visible role, she is very light skinned and/or has “European” features and straight hair. That is the “type” of Black woman that is most comfortable for the white males that are running our entertainment machine. The “Halle Berry Default” if you will. 

Not very often will you see someone like Aisha Hinds (Goddess!) being cast. Yeah, you caught a glimpse or two of her on the bridge in Star Trek: Into the Darkness and she is currently cast in Stephen King’s Under The Dome TV series.

Aisha_Hinds

~*~

Things are changing, however slowly. I am still hopeful that America will get over itself one day. In the meantime, the entertainment PTB can take lessons from the success of shows like Scandal, and the early promising success of shows like Sleepy Hollow. (Which btw, was renewed by Fox for a second season well before the usual renew or cancel deadlines).

The hope I have, and the lessons learned will eventually bleed into the film industry as well. They can start to use the “excuse” of the sci-fi genre to start pushing casting boundaries, instead of failing so miserably.

 

I absolutely adore science fiction. So often I have to watch what is being offered up in that genre and hardly ever get to see a Black female character mixing it up and having adventures with everyone else. That hurts.

How I would love to see a swashbuckling space opera blockbuster movie or television series starring someone who looks like me!

_______________________________________________

Support those shows and movies that do diversity the right way. It never is a matter of just tossing in Black and brown faces. You know what I mean.
There are nearly 5 million MORE females than males in America. Women should be helming much more of our entertainment fare. Black people make up nearly %14 of the American population, the second largest demographic overall. 
When you look at the numbers and do the math, it makes you wonder at the dearth of Black Female representation in our television and movies. There is only one reason why this is so.
*
Learn about Non-Traditional Casting. Advocate for it.
Why should our screens not reflect what we see every day when we walk out our front doors?
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About Awake BW

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2 Responses to Severe Lack of Imagination in Sci-Fi Casting

  1. revmatthews says:

    If you want to see POC on television, simply wait for the commercial. Especially if the sponsor is a cleaning product, fast food franchise (“Love that chicken from Popeyes!”, “Don’t mess with my chicken!” by KFC, or is that Church’s?, any McDonald’s commercial, etc., etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum) or any ambulance-chasing attorney during the mid-afternoon time slot. Sickening.

    Meinike Brakes and Mufflers have decided that, since their brake service is so good, it’s now time for…..a break dance! Little Black kid does a jig, of course. Isn’t he cute?

    Sigh.

    I had to write a letter about that one. Fat lot of good it will do, but hey, somebody has to.

    • Awake BW says:

      Don’t give up on the letter writing and phone calls. I got an ad pulled from doing that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but don’t let that stop you.

      One of the main reasons I ditched television – cut the cord – is because of the advertising. I can see just from those few paragraphs you wrote how discouraging and soul-aching seeing those things are.

      I control what gets pumped into my own home. With Netflix, I watch television shows and movies with no ads. hulu plus might eliminate ads, but I won’t pay for that service, so the times when I choose to watch something from there it is from the free version that includes some advertising. For the rest of my current TV show watching there is a place on the web I go to. No ads.

      I feel, like you seem to do, that how we are portrayed in advertising – heck any media format really – is as detrimental as the shows and movies. I hope as things improve in our entertainment, so will the ads that accompany them.

      All of this is of course tied into the social standing, perception and treatment of POC in society. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but we do what we can, when we can. Seriously, kudos to you for writing that letter.

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