Over on Angry Black Woman, there's a great post from Alaya Dawn Johnson about the basic problems with how blacks are represented on terrific American horror show Supernatural. It's written as an open letter to showrunner Eric Kripke, and Johnson does a great job laying out exactly why it's a problem that every black character on the show is either evil or killed instantly. I touched on these issues in an essay I wrote about Supernatural a few months ago, where I pointed out the extreme whiteness of the cast, and I'm glad to see Johnson exploring in detail why this is a problem. The best part is that Johnson is a fan of the show, so she's thought about every episode and has a nuanced analysis.
Here's an excerpt:
I love Supernatural. In my opinion, it's the best speculative genre show on the air at the moment . . . Like I said, I'm a fan.
I'm also a black woman, and I've gotta tell you, that's been giving me some grief.
Because as a black woman, I can't ignore the aversive, stereotypical and damaging ways that your show deals with race. I can't ignore the fact that there hasn't been a single black woman on your show who has lasted more than one episode. This includes Cassie in "Route 666″– the only woman the show ever states explicitly that Dean loves. And even that was so frustrating . . . Perhaps you will understand the extent of my problem when I say that I can count the named black female characters who have appeared on four seasons of a television show on one hand: Missouri Moseley (in "Home"), Cassie, Taylor (in "Hookman") and Tamara (in "The Magnificent Seven"). That's four women–there were none in third or fourth seasons.
You know your show better than anyone. You know that the boys are spending a significant amount of their time south of the Mason-Dixon line. There are black people everywhere in this country, and even setting your show in, say, the pacific northwest really isn't much of an excuse, but I find it mind-boggling to watch episode after episode where Sam and Dean drive through a landscape of such exquisitely evoked Americana…except without the black folk.
It's like some sort of freaky horror movie.
Not the kind you were going for? Then let's talk.
Because it's not just the black women. In fact, that's the mildest part of my problems with race on the show. Because, for better or worse, it's difficult to mess up the portrayals of a demographic you have excised from the world of your characters.
Black men, on the other hand? Well, that's where I really hit some brambles. Because every single time [they show up on Supernatural] they are tragically evil, and they are killed off to add to the emotional angst of your white leads.
Nothing is wrong per se with a tragically evil character. You have plenty of tragically evil white people on the show, too. Ruby comes to mind, but also Travis (in "Metamorphosis") and Eva (one of Azazel's other special children).
But something is wrong when you follow the same pattern with every single black character of any importance on your show across four seasons.
Definitely read the whole essay, because she brings in a lot of specific examples that make her points really convincing.