Wednesday, November 29

Battlestar Needs More Diversity

Source: SciFi Weekly

I've been following the reactions to Toni Reynolds' letter that equated a shackled Black Cylon, Simon, to a captured runaway slave ("Battlestar's Shackles Offend Viewer"). As a black man, I didn't find the scene in and of itself offensive. Several Battlestar Galactica fans have done a great job explaining that Simon would be shackled like any other Cylon prisoner because his robotic race nearly wiped out humanity.

That said, I do believe the perception of Simon's imprisonment as racist stems from the dearth of major black characters on BSG. This has been an ongoing complaint from a growing number of black sci-fi fans since the miniseries. These fans are concerned that the show's lack of diversity gives it a "No Blacks Allowed" vibe.

This concern is understandable since, like comic books and fantasy novels, sci-fi has traditionally been stories about white people by white people for white people. This is ironic because sci-fi creators and fans always argue how "progressive" the genre is. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine underscored this hypocrisy in "Far Beyond the Stars," an episode about a 1950s black novelist (Avery Brooks) who pens a sci-fi novel starring a negro space-station captain. Unfortunately, the writer's groundbreaking idea convinces his boss to not publish the "unbelievable" book and then fire the writer, who is left devastated. Considering how sci-fi has been historically marginalized by mainstream American society, you would expect the genre to be devoid of racism. But that's not the case.

Not surprisingly, sci-fi TV shows with racially diverse casts tend to garner more praise and even attention from a wider audience because they buck the genre's lily-white reputation. Star Trek is an excellent example of this, as are current hit series like Lost, Heroes and Jericho.

Conversely, sci-fi shows with lily-white casts like BSG are going to face a lot more scrutiny and suspicion. For instance, a comic-book retailer I spoke with informed me that his black friends snub the show for this very reason. Such a reaction isn't going to do wonders for BSG's ratings.

One hopeful sign for BSG is Carl Lumbly, guest starring in the latest episode. Lumbly's character, Bulldog, has the potential to become a major character because of his presence, his antagonism toward Adm. Adama and his tragic backstory as a former Cylon POW. Whether by design or coincidence, Bulldog's addition is a good first step for BSG in shedding its "for Whites only" image and expanding its viewership.

Frederick D. Weaver
Duane1061 AT verizon DOT net

1 comment:

eyoon said...

As someone who's ethnicity cannot be described conveniently in monochromatic terms, I find it increasingly annoying that the term diversity (as it relates to race) has come to mean the same thing as "black."

Given the number of high profile roles in BSG, including Cap't Adama, not played by either "whites" or "blacks" but by the myriad races and ethnicities that make up this world, I find the author's attempt to hijack this show by playing the race card to be insulting at best and an example of all thats wrong with race relations in America at worst.

The other points to Star Trek as an example of what he considered to be an example of a properly diverse cast. I find it amusing that his idea of diverse is to cast one African American female as essentially the ships secretary. And to cast asians (in all incarnations of Trek that had asians) in roles that played up stereotypes of asians. Indeed, most of the African American actors who would later appear on Trek could only do so in full make up to make them appear as aggressive warrior aliens.

Rather than boil down races in BSG as white or black, I would suggest the author look outside of his own comfort area and see that the cast is composed of fine actors from many different backgrounds, including hispanic, asian, african, middle-eastern and yes, even european.

It's been a few decades now since TV was broadcast in black and white, let's not go back to watching it that way.