Is It Really Worth the One Black Girl?

I see a lot of black girls in the fandoms I come across on Tumblr. I’m getting familiar with characters like Tara from True Blood and found out about Michonne from The Walking Dead because of these fandoms. In fact, I would not have watched TWD if I hadn’t known about Michonne and still wonder how so many black people disappeared from Atlanta when the plague broke out. However, I’m still on the fence with True Blood. Tara seems like an awesome character, but I know that she goes through so much on that show and there is the Confederacy theme that bothers me.

I tend to find out about black women characters in shows and films from various fandoms on Tumblr and Twitter. Right now the obsession is Orange Is the New Black. Not only is there an ensemble cast of black women on that show, but one of them is actually a trans black woman who portrays a trans black woman. I can definitely appreciate these things as well as the implications for Internet shows based on its success.

However, I saw that the show is based on a book that centers a white character. Even with the catch-22 of the one show with a cast heavy in people of color being set in prison, it is disappointing that the focal point of the show has to be a white character. It never ceases to amaze me that black characters have to be made more palatable by centering whiteness. Yet, I will probably eventually give in and at least give the show a chance because many of the black female fans of the show offer great resistive readings of the text and it may be worth watching.

Still, I hesitate to get into a show just because I know a black woman is in the cast. I was drawn in to Touch knowing Danny Glover was in the cast and was happy to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw as well. However, Glover was killed after a few episodes and Mbatha-Raw’s character disappeared after the first season as disposable. Gina Torres turned me into a Firefly fan and I lived for Jodie Langdon on the animated classic Daria.

However, I also know that characters such as Kendra were treated abominably during their tenures on hit shows like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Knowing that Kendra was treated in a way that would not have happened to a non-black female character has kept me from showing any interest in the show because I did not want the vicarious hurt that comes with watching a black woman torn down to build up a white one. I watched one episode of the now canceled Emily Owens, M.D. to see how the story line of the black antagonist played against the white lead female character. Not only did Emily have a black lesbian best friend, but her nemesis is portrayed as a driven shrew undeserving of the man Emily wants, giving us the dichotomy of the “good” black woman and the “bad” one.

I get a little tired of having to go through so much just to see a well-rounded black woman character on a good show. I know if I had HBO, I could see Treme and other complex portrayals of black women even though they probably get heavy. I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in its short run even though I had reservations of American women portraying women from an African nation. I may try to catch up with Justified because I have read a black female analysis of Erica Tazel’s character on the show. I’m also holding out hope for Sleepy Hollow this fall because it looks like Nicole Beharie is the lead female role (and John Cho and Orlando Jones are in it!). I’ll probably even give Being Mary Jane a shot because I’ll get more than one black woman, hence more varied portrayals of black womanhood. I also know that I’ll still hesitate to watch a show just to see the one black girl in the cast.

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One thought on “Is It Really Worth the One Black Girl?

  1. Yeah, I have the same thoughts when watching tv shows. There’s always that one token Black, and they’re never really central. In shows like Scandal, it’s different. But in general, it really is a struggle to find a good Black cast in a popular show where the lead is Black. I like TWD, but I don’t like how Mashonne has to prove herself even after she’s helped the group. The same with the other Black characters. Even though, “conveniently” it’s because they met the lead character (blanking on his name) at the wrong time in his experience when he’s losing his mind.

    We simply have to go back to the good ol’ days (the 90s) when there were well-rounded shows with Black characters and we were in control of how the story played out (minus the baffoonery). I miss those days.

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