When it comes to the topic of race, I avoid it at all costs. It’s an uncomfortable subject, makes me question my own innate belief system, and I wish whenever the topic arises I can be four years old, plug my ears with my fingers, and sing a song where the only lyric is “la.”
However, it cannot be ignored. Nothing too hard hitting here – we have the news for that after all – but when it comes to race in the all-encompassing “media,” I do have an observation and it has to do with one of my favourite creators, J.J. ABRAMS. Ever notice how he always has strong characters who also happen to be people of color?
The lightbulb went off for me after watching the latest Star Wars trailer where actor John Boyega is playing a very Luke Skywalker-y lead. While at first, I was like, ah cool, a black guy gets to play a lead in one of the highest grossing and most popular franchises of all time, a second later I realized I wasn’t surprised at all because of course this would happen – it’s J.J. Abrams.
Let me explain:
Insert this tough cookie: Angie Miller. Remember her as Elena Tyler on FELICITY? A no-nonsense, black co-ed defying every stereotype that Hollywood and TVLand tried to pin blacks into throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s? Outside of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, and Martin, she was one of the first black characters in a network ensemble drama that wasn’t marginalized. Yes, others came before her (hello ER and Eriq LaSalle’s Dr. Benton) but as a young woman growing up in white Kansas and Texas suburbias, it was nice to see an alternative in an otherwise whitewashed television landscape.
Then he created ALIAS, one of my ALL TIME favorite shows. Insert: Merrin Dungey. Not only was she not a caricature like Ashley from Fresh Prince or Chastity from 10 Things I Hate About You, but here was this professional, working, young black woman who obviously also grew up in white society, is a kickass small business owner and is finding love in LA alongside badass spy / BFF, Sydney Bristow.
In LOST, JJ gave us Harold Perrineau as Michael. While he wasn’t my favorite character, I admired the fact that he portrayed a desperate single father dealing with his angsty teenage son. He was just another character. Not the black character. Just Michael. AND I LOVE THAT.
Anyone remember UNDERCOVERS? Thought so. It was basically a more kitchy Alias starring the AMAZING Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe. However, America apparently wasn’t ready for a spy dramedy with two black leads. It’s ok. Gugu has graduated onto better things. ;D Thanks for trying, JJ.
Which leads us to FRINGE’S insanely smart Astrid played by Jasika Nicole, STAR TREK’S unstoppable Uhura played by Zoe Saldana, and PERSONS OF INTEREST’S curious Officer Carter played by Taraji P. Henson.
And now Mr. Abrams has this amazing opportunity to reboot one of the biggest, baddest, franchises of all time and what did he do? He cast John Boyega in a leading role.
We’ll see how the audience reacts. Hopefully they won’t freak out like they did when The Hunger Games cast Amandla Stenburg as Rue. “OMG Rue is Black?” Context clues people.
Le sigh. That is all.