DBW has a confession to make: I am addicted to the CW’s The Vampire Diaries (TVD).
My addiction is so severe that I lurk TVD message boards and read all the commentary. It is so severe that I’ve rewatched all of season one probably 5 times (5 x 22 episodes? That’s alot of time not spent doing meaningful things like research or shopping or going for long walks on the beach) and the 5 episodes that aired this season at least 5 times–I lost count to be honest and it also becomes hard to discern if simply just rewatching a scene over and over again should be in that math. I haven’t been this hooked on a show since like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (you may think that I have a thing about “vampire” shows and films because I’ve happened to somehow watch all the vampire movies and films, well, except for that Moonlight show, but I promise you–I don’t have a “vampire” thing. The drama is just fascinating to me. Honestly.) and that was a pretty big hook. Hell, DBW even attended an “academic” conference in the name of Buffy. Never again. Never again will I allow myself to sit in a room with scholars who choose that venue to fight over Bangel versus Spuffy. Never again will I allow myself to sit next to a scholar who tells me that if she doesn’t watch the series finale of her show that it never ended. Never. again.
Anyway, I love the smartness and the genre revisions that lie in TVD. I watch a lot of teevee and am pretty good at figuring things out and yet this show constantly surprises me. But that’s not the primary reason I watch the show. I watch the show cause of these two:
I mean, shoot, they’re great. Look at them again:
Even separately they’re a good looking white peoples.
Yes, yes, I know that when people talk about TVD they typically talk about this man:
And while I think that Damon is a beautiful man with a biting wit, I still prefer my Stelena. Seriously, folks this scene made my heart warm.
Oh my God. That was just lovely. How can drinking blood from someone’s palm make my face hot?
Okay, now you may be at this point wondering why you should continue reading because clearly DBW sounds like one of those squee! joy fandom girls who knit sweaters for the actors who play their favorite characters. Well, I am a squee fangirl but I don’t knit. So there. But there is a method to my madness. And, no, it’s not just to suggest that there needs to be more Stelena (although that would be nice).
See, I love TVD but I can fully acknowledge that as many strengths as it has, that there are just as many significant weaknesses. For example, sometimes the dialogue is just a little bit strange. And, sometimes I feel like the actors forget the other characters’ names. And, there are too many sentences that are just loaded up with prepositional phrases. “I heard them. [beat] Down there. [beat] Behind the door.” And that’s just mild annoyances.
A more serious annoyance? They KILL all the minorities. While visiting one of my favorite gossip blogs, a commenter so kindly let me borrow this chart she made. I think it’s fairly self-explanatory.
Not only that but every witch on the show is a BW. And, they’re not just your run of the mill witch on a broomstick witches either. They’re SALEM witches. Which seems improbable when the only BW witch people seem to talk about was Tituba, the slave (who in actual historical records was in fact NOT black but probably Native American). And, if to make this happen the Bennetts are actually related to damn Tituba?!? That’s just sad. But, see, that leads me up from my wonderful rabbit hole and toward the answer to this week’s question.
Why would the creators of a show pick BW to be witches? Larger question: why would they pick the main (and only) BW on the show to be a witch? Answer: because they colorblind cast the role. Let me back up a few beats.
So, this is Bonnie Bennett on the tv show:
Bonnie Bennett is Elena Gilbert’s “best” friend and is also a witch whose family has long existed in the town of Mystic Falls. Her ancestor, Emily Bennett was called a “handmaid” but uh that was back in 1864 Virginia. No pun intended but let’s just call a spade a spade and say that she was a “slave.” Fast forward to present day and Bonnie’s like the only BW and mostly the only woman of color to have a speaking part. But the story gets better.
TVD is based on a series by LJ Smith. Here’s book Bonnie Bennett aka Bonnie Mccullough:
So, what happened to transform Bonnie Mccullough into Bonnie Bennett. A little process called “blindcasting.” Blindcasting occurs when character roles do not specify a particular race. In theory, this process allows for a variety of talent, regardless of skin color, to audition for a part. Now, TVD absolutely needed to have a little color on its show because the showrunner, Kevin Williamson has certainly taken a beating for his previous shows being so white they looked like they’d been dipped in Clorox bleach. Remember this parody from MadTV?
Clearly poking fun at now just Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek but also the stable of WB shows in the 1990s that totally liked to assume that black people and other people of color genuinely liked to not be on television, Williamson seemed to want to revamp his image and become a person who likes diversity. So, the first few episodes are chock full of BF walking and running in the background as the main characters (still primarily pretty white kids with problems) stand in the foreground being angsty. And, of course, they transformed Bonnie Mccullough into Bonnie Bennett. An admirable step to be sure but you know what they forgot: To actually make Bonnie Bennett culturally specific.But this is the problem of colorblind casting because when actors of color are cast, the roles that they are taking are typically written normatively and by normatively I mean white. So, the actors are taking on these characters who, if the writers don’t accommodate the cultural difference of the actors, are still very much white characters.
Thus, Bonnie Bennett is for all intents and purposes, a white character dipped in chocolate. They changed nothing about her lineage, her family life, her personality–Katerina Graham filled the space that could have gone to anyone–and by anyone, I mean a white someone.
Now, I can hear you saying, “wait, wait, DBW, but are you suggesting that Bonnie Bennett be a stereotype?” No. I’m not. I just want the girl to know she’s black. I just want that to be more foregrounded than it is. I hate, HATE the idea that a character “just happens to be black.” Remember this little post I wrote on the Blind Side? (Click here for a refresher).
In that piece, I said:
Most importantly, because it’s “true” they’ve already diffused any real critique. It’s not about race; it’s about love. It’s about a wealthy Southern family who happens to be white and a poor, struggling but perfectly built for left tackling manchild who happens to be black. Well, I happen to have a bridge in Miami to sell you if you accept that as true. Come ON! Noone HAPPENS to be anything. You didn’t wake up and happen to lose your hair; you don’t sit down and happen to give birth (unless you’re those dumbass ladies on that dumbass Discovery channel show in which case I need you to see a mental health professional). You don’t HAPPEN to be black, white, Latino, Asian, or an alien. It is who YOU ARE. ::Calms down and drinks a little more apple juice::
Well, that is all still true. No one happens to be anything. Bonnie does not just HAPPEN to be black; she IS black and thus has a wealth of experiences and outlooks that make her different (and different is NOT a bad thing–especially on a show about friggin vampires. HELLO “Other”?) from the other characters.
And, you know what? It doesn’t matter anyway, because like it or not, we are all participants in racial formations and we all consciously or unconsciously can play into tropes. The difference is that if we were conscious and intentional about casting and race and all that, we might not step into those traps AS OFTEN. Case in point: Bonnie Bennett.
Girlfriend, for some reason, cannot find a man. Every other girl on the damn show gets some boy attention except for Bonnie. And when she does get attention? It’s a bad vampire trying to bite her and use her for some ill intentioned purpose.
Or, a bad vampire who is pissed off that she destroyed his one opportunity to rescue his really bad vampire girlfriend from a tomb like situation.
Either way, Bonnie doesn’t get it right with the men folk. But that ain’t all. Even her ability to use witchcraft and magic places her in a trope of BW and voodoo.
Also, Bonnie, according to many TVD fans has an attitude problem. She’s been called a “bitch” on more message boards than I care to count. Worse: there are more calls for her to “please die” than I care to count. Here’s the thing: Bonnie’s not my favorite character. I don’t feel about her one way or the other. But, it seems dangerously close to some unconscious racism that the “bitch” is the BW–regardless of whether they intended that to happen or not. Moreover, the calls for them to kill the black bitch is also dangerously close to some unconscious racism–regardless of whether they intended that to happen or not.
And this is the danger of colorblind casting: for me to allege racism in a place where “the character just happens to be black” puts the burden of proof on me and not the show. They did the “right” thing by casting her race blind and if there is injustice done to her, it’s “not because she’s black.” But uh, that’s not true because what happens when Bonnie dies? She’s the last link of blackness or color for that matter on TVD. Would they feel obligated to replace her with another person of color? Or, would the logic of “she just happened to be black” allow them to continue on in their world of pretty white kids with problems? And the fans who vigilantly call for her death because “she’s just written so poorly” (I wonder why)? Kat Graham’s Bonnie fell into a trope without even trying. And, she fell into being a casualty of the assault against black femininity without even acknowledging that their was a fight! Will they realize that they’re not just ending the life of Bonnie Bennett, but also killing the last kind of diversity on their show? Will it matter to them? Nope. Because they don’t “see” color.
If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that DBW calls that some bull uh..puckey. (Hi Mom!). Of course we see color. Of course we always have racial moments. And, of course, it is just as important to understand it in relation to these very close to our heart places as a television show! Because, like it or not, people are catching hell all over the world because of their racialization. And that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But how does this play out industry-wide? Well, that’s for another blog post. Suffice to say, when actress Kerry Washington voices this utter FOOLISHNESS that actually still allows her to be viable, you know colorblindness is still king:
I don’t want to ignore my Blackness, I just want to get to the pt where my racial identity is simply what makes me unique.
Excuse me? I didn’t know race was like a lovely Hermes bag we could just carry around and take off our shoulders when it got too heavy. I mean, since when is blackness thought of as “unique”? Unique honey is being able to juggle or ingest fire or being Bjork. That’s unique.
You don’t give an interview in friggin Essence magazine’s “Race in America” issue and talk that unless there’s something in it for you. And, there is: she’s supposedly one of Elle’s “Women in Hollywood.” It behooves her to act like everything is a-okay. Which sucks. Because as long as you’ve got stories like Bonnie Bennetts and Regina King’s, you cannot deny that blackness is not an optional uniqueness nor should it be. When Regina King slams the Emmy Awards saying:
Since the Emmy ceremony, I have been going back and forth about whether or not I should compose this letter. I try hard in my daily life not to engage in uncomfortable situations regarding race. But sometimes it’s very difficult to find other reasons that better explain why certain events play out the way they do. It is impossible for me to ignore the published statistics regarding the number of people of color mentioned, celebrated or honored in the history of the televised Emmys. Up to and including this year, there have been only 53 non-white actors nominated for Emmys out of nearly 1,000 possible nominations in the top four acting categories for drama and comedy.
Yep, it’s hard to bring up race. But sometimes you gotta. She continues:
And to add injury to my already sensitive nerve endings a picture of Rutina Wesley from True Blood, who attended this year’s Emmys, had a caption that read: “Regina King enters the 62nd Emmys.” No, I wasn’t there. Mistakes happen, right? Well after a few “mistakes” of how people of color are portrayed in the Hollywood media, I decided it was important to say something about how things go down in Hollywood.
Clearly uniqueness is not for people who can’t tell the difference between one BW and another.
So, there it is all plain and simple. Now I’m off to watch more Vampire Diaries.