In Memoriam: RIP, TV Characters Of Color That Were Killed Off This Week
This has certainly been a momentous week in Hollywood. Not one, not two, but three different actors of color have either been killed off on their respective shows or else have announced their inglorious exits. These were all main– or, excuse me, former main characters who were partly responsible for their shows’ popularity…and then had their lines spliced up.
The trope of a black person being the first to go in any horror film is a timeless one, stemming from a lovely mixture of good old fashioned racism and Hollywood’s love of meaningless quotas. Since it would’ve been simply ghastly so cast a non-white person as the lead, the roles of Jimmy-that-dumb-kid-we-aren’t-really-friends-with and his girlfriend Jamantha have typically been given to PoC. This way, they get offed quickly and maintain America’s ideal all-white lifestyle, whilst producers get to claim that they’re the most diverse party on the block. And get paid for it.
And aren’t we so fortunate to live in a time where this model has been thrown out. We are lucky that now, in 2k16, talented PoC are cast as lead characters whose roles are then severely minimized so that they can be killed off once the head writer/producer has received their Harbinger of Diversity award.
When it happens once, it’s unfair and sick and sad but when it happens three times within the span of a few days, well…that’s almost institutional.
And so, in honor of all those whose lives have been tragically cut short due to the mysterious workings of prime time television, we would like to post an in memoriam. RIP, guys.
Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow
Picture a good hearted small town cop with a chip on their shoulder. Now remove the facial hair, the disgruntled slouch, the chapped white skin. Actually, just scrap the whole thing and throw it in the trash where it belongs. That’s what Nicole Beharie did when she appeared as Abbie Mills on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Fans were drawn to the shows’ dark and campy take on American history, it’s diverse casting choices, and most of all the on air chemistry between Mills and her partner in crime, Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison).
But that was season one. Season 2 saw Mill’s role severely diminished as storylines centered on Cranes’ family. Similarly diminished was the cast diversity; fan favorite and extreme fanboy Orlando Jones received less and less air time until he was finally asked to leave, and multiple non-white characters had been killed off. Then there was the time that Beharie posted a now deleted Instagram post noting that she had not been invited to participate in the Season 2 DVD commentary…
Rumors of her unhappiness and desire to leave the show abounded.
By season 3, the partnership was a ghost of it’s former self. So was it really that surprising to see Abbie Mills sacrifice herself to save Ichabod Crane?
"The white male lead should totally sacrifice his life to protect the *dark skinned* black girl" said no development executive EVER.
— Orlando Jones (@TheOrlandoJones) April 9, 2016
Terrible? Disappointing? Reminiscent of a number of problematic tropes we have seen time and time again? Yes. But surprising? No.
Arden Cho as Kira Yukimura on Teen Wolf
Brought on as a way for the show to explore Japanese myth, Kira Yukimura was a sword-wielding kitsune and verified badass. But her plotline was quickly (messily?) wrapped up, and when the issue of skinwalkers was all said and done, producers found themselves wondering what exactly they were supposed to do with her. Arden Cho spent her time on the show negotiating a shaky schedule, turning down outside work and neglecting her popular Youtube channel for a show that didn’t exactly know when it would need her.
Finally, her character was sent off into the desert to train and gain control of her powers, never to return despite still being in a relationship with a main character. Cho posted a video explaining that unfortunately a show as large as this one doesn’t always have time to find a place for everyone. We’re just disappointed that someone with such an interesting and unique backstory found herself on the chopping block.
But then, Teen Wolf is notorious for getting rid of its brown characters. It’s also known for giving its female cast the most insubstantial, nonsensical plotlines known to man and wolf. Unfortunately, Kira Yukimura just got the best of both worlds.
Ricky Whittle as Lincoln on The 100
Ah, Ricky Whittle. Sweet, sweet Ricky Whittle. His character Lincoln was a star of the apocalypse, the first Grounder (someone born on earth as opposed to space) the audience was introduced to. A lover and a fighter, Lincoln was a fan favorite until a run in with Charles Pike forces him to (sigh) sacrifice himself to save his fellow Grounders. He is brutally shot in the head, his body left in the mud to rot.
Is it just us, or are PoC not naturally this, uh, how should we put this, into martyrdom? Like, all the time? I mean, I’m not. Or did I miss something? Some sort of letter in the mail about having to sacrifice myself for the greater good when the time came? But I digress.
Because Ricky Whittle actually feels similarly. In fact, he goes so far to say that he was bullied from the show. He claims that executive producer Jason Rothenberg cut not only whole lines from the character, but entire plot lines, doing everything in his power to make Lincoln as “insignificant as possible.”
At least we’ll be able to see Whittle as the main character for the new Starz show American Gods, a show which is already proving to be wonderfully diverse. However, as we all understand by now, creating a show with a number of black and brown faces is easy. But maintaining its diversity and giving these characters regular air time? That, apparently, is a challenge in itself.
Stay tuned to Milk for characters of color that hopefully stay alive.