Buffy is coming back and this time, she’s going to be Black

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the show. It was Season 3, part 2. I was flipping through the channels, looking for something to watch and for maaaaaaaaaaaaybe 30 seconds (possibly a minute, but, well, I wasn’t timing it, so…yeah) I landed on Buffy’s climactic battle with the Mayor. He had just transformed into a giant snake and graduation day had gone from “Wheeeeeeeeee, no more school, no more books, no more Snyder’s dirty looks” to “Um, there’s a giant snake AND WHERE THE HELL IS BUFFY, THIS IS HER WHEELHOUSE?!” i didn’t remain on the channel for long (see above, re: 30 seconds) as nothing grabbed me. I changed the channel right as the Mayoral Snake devoured someone (can’t recall who).

The next time I saw Buffy, I watched as Glory love tapped her way out of Willow’s force field barrier and absconded with Dawn (the antepenultimate episode of S5; Alexandra, that’s for you). I saw Buffy try to hit repeat on Glory’s actions–but without Glory’s strength–thus failing to save her sister.  For some reason, *something* about the end of this episode grabbed me. Maybe it was the feelings of complete and utter failure Buffy experienced, the sense of impending doom that permeated those last few episodes, or maybe it was the fact that Buffy collapsed into what looked like a waking catatonic state. Whatever the reason, I had to know more.

I made sure to set my VCR to record the next…did I really just type a sentence with VCR? Man, I feel like worn out aged cheese. Anyways…I recorded the next episode, which featured Willow venturing into Buffy’s mind to help her out of her catatonic state, and while it was entertaining, I wasn’t hooked.

What hooked me was the *final* episode of Season 5, ‘The Gift’. The snappy banter, the snazzy dialogue:

“You’re just a human. You can’t understand my pain.”

“Then I’ll just have to settle for causing it.”

 

“<gasp>…the Slayer’s a robot?  Did anyone else know the Slayer was a robot?”

“Glory?

.

.

.

You’re not the brightest god in the heavens, are you?”

the quips, the emotional arcs, the action…it all was just a great big ball of wow (over time, especially when I watched the series from start to finish, this became one of my favorite episodes, in no small part due to the satisfaction of watching Buffy FINALLY kick Glory’s royally obnoxious ass).

As I mentioned, I eventually watched every episode of the series. I also watched every episode of the series David Boreanaz Is A Sexy Vampire Seeking Redemption, aka Angel (who had THE most bangin’ theme song in the history of ever), which in some ways, I found superior to Buffy’s show. Once the series ended and Joss Whedon made a deal with Dark Horse Comics, I even started collecting the comic book series which is an official part of the canon (recently picked up the first 2 issues of Season 12, in fact). The one thing I haven’t done though, is watch the Kristy Swanson movie. I know it’s part of the history of the show, and I know it is important, but the cheesiness of the 10-ish minutes I did watch (once, in days long ago) reeeeeeeeeeeeeally turned me off. It was groan inducing. Not in the good way either.

Over time though, I found that repeat viewings of the series were…hmmm…they were still enjoyable, but there was another layer on top. My appreciation of the series found itself sitting alongside some issues I had with the show. I hadn’t picked up on these issues when I first watched the series all the way through, nor when I did it again. It wasn’t until I started chatting with other fans, reading online fan sites, and perhaps most importantly, when I began hanging out in online feminist sites.  Among the many issues:

  • ableism
  • classism (Cordelia’s ‘softer side of Sears’ comment towards Willow back in S1 is one example)
  • stigma against mental illness
  • the series’ feminist rep is overblown
  • Xander–the epitome of the “Nice Guy” was actually a Grade-A douchebag (which says a lot about Whedon, as Xander was based to some degree on teen Joss)
  • ‘magic as a metaphor for addiction’ was far from the greatest idea,
  • Angel is a creepy, paternalistic stalker

aaaaaaaaaaaand (not that this is the only other issue, but it’s the one most relevant to this post), the depiction of People of Color on the series was firmly on the Not Remotely Good Side. I mean, come on…if a white guy is aware enough to notice the failings of the show vis-a-vis race, then you know it was P-R-O-B-L-E-M-A-T-I-C. Or, you know…racist.

So, when I read that joss Whedon is working on rebooting Buffy (YES, I JUST SAID THAT), I initially got more than a little bit cringe-y on the inside. See, not only is he rebooting the show, but he’s doing so with a Black lead. Given the way the original series treated Black women characters (sidelining them, giving them virtually nonexistent narrative arcs, literally forgetting about them once they died, using them solely as a vehicle to make white characters shine), such a headline filled me with the opposite of excitement. However. There is reason to hope. A very significant one. In the form of Monica Owusu-Breen:

 

the executive producer and showrunner of the new Buffy series in the works
Monica Owusu-Breen

Midnight, Texas creator Monica Owusu-Breen has been tapped as writer, executive producer and showrunner of the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the original series’ creator and showrunner Whedon set to executive produce alongside original series’ exec producers Gail Berman, Fran Kazui and Kaz Kazui as well as Joe Earley from Berman’s Jackal Group.

The new version, which will be pitched to streaming and cable networks this summer, will be contemporary, building on the mythology of the original. Per the producers: “Like our world, it will be richly diverse, and like the original, some aspects of the series could be seen as metaphors for issues facing us all today.”

According to sources, the diversity in the show’s description reflects the producers’ intention for the new slayer to be African American. The sources cautioned that the project is still in nascent stages with no script, and many details are still in flux.

“Nascent stages”. Ok. That means it’s early enough to change basic things. Hopefully they won’t make the character wyte again. We’ve seen that. Twice. Given that Owusu-Breen is Black, it would be best if the show’s titular character were as well. I have absolutely zero reservations with a new Buffy being Asian, Hispanic, or Pacific-Islander, but if we’re going to see that, then the showrunner ought to be of the same ethnicity and gender. That grants the character and the show a level of authenticity it would otherwise lack (for similar reasons, I would not want anyone but a Black woman being in charge of a show featuring a Black Buffy).

I also am not loving the idea of naming a Black woman ‘Buffy’. I’ve got to be honest, on top of the fact that ‘Buffy’ has been played by 2 wyte actresses, ‘Buffy’ as a name is white coded. It doesn’t scream blackness. It screams pretty much what all other corners of USAmerican society screams: whiteness. That kinda solidifies the idea that ‘Buffy’ is a wyte name. On the other hand, if it’s going to be a reboot, they kinda need that name (although it could be a nickname, perhaps one based on athleticism).

Another thing that needs to happen (and I say this as someone who absolutely loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel)–JOSS, STEP AWAY. Just stick with executive producer. I love your ability to write snappy dialogue and banter, and I think you do a pretty good job directing action scenes, but you’ve shown that your ability to write women as well-rounded, non-stereotyped characters is in the vicinity of ‘not good’ (c.f. your Wonder Woman script  and oh dear god, you screwed up with Black Widow). In the name of all that is right and good, let Owusu-Breen run the show. I suspect she knows just a smidge more about being a woman and being Black. Again, key word here is: authentic. You need someone who is in charge who can ensure that the depiction of Black women is real. Honest. Authentic.  Someone who can look at how the writers write a Black woman and say “ok, that’s not right” or “that’s on the money”. And you–personally–cannot do that. You’re not a Black woman. Obviously. Hell, you’re not a wyte woman, which shows in how you’ve written many wyte women characters. I certainly don’t want you trying to write Black women.  Oh, wait, we’ve seen that. And it didn’t go well. So don’t walk down this well worn path again. Not if you want the new series to catch on with Black women.

 

(btw, if you’re a Buffy fan, I highly advise you to read Jenny Trout’s ‘Big Damn Buffy Rewatch’, which is far more than just a rewatch of the show, as Trout views each episode through a critical lens and always, but not exclusively, through a social justice one as well, *and* she throws in some wonderful snark and humor along the way)

{advertisement}
Buffy is coming back and this time, she’s going to be Black
{advertisement}
The Bolingbrook Babbler:  The unbelievable truth is now at freethoughtblogs.com/babbler

3 thoughts on “Buffy is coming back and this time, she’s going to be Black

  1. 1

    I have absolutely zero reservations with a new Buffy being Asian, Hispanic, or Pacific-Islander, but if we’re going to see that, then the showrunner ought to be of the same ethnicity and gender. That grants the character and the show a level of authenticity it would otherwise lack (for similar reasons, I would not want anyone but a Black woman being in charge of a show featuring a Black Buffy).
    […]
    You need someone who is in charge who can ensure that the depiction of Black women is real. Honest. Authentic. Someone who can look at how the writers write a Black woman and say “ok, that’s not right” or “that’s on the money”. And you–personally–cannot do that. You’re not a Black woman. Obviously. Hell, you’re not a wyte woman, which shows in how you’ve written many wyte women characters. I certainly don’t want you trying to write Black women.

    So you basically argue in favor of racial segregation for art?

  2. 2

    No. Not in the slightest.
    I’m talking about characters being authentic. You can only have that authenticity when characters are written by people who share in their experiences. Blacks people, Asian people, Indigenous people, women, transgender people, gay people…these groups have unique experiences that lend an authentic voice to fictional characters on the big screen, small screen, comics, novels, and more. It’s not that wytes cannot write Blacks or Asians, men can’t write women, heterosexuals cannot write gays, or cis writers cannot write transgender characters. It’s that they don’t have the experiences to bring to bear when writing the characters to give them a sense of realism or to make their experiences resonate. This can be seen in the innumerable examples of writers “getting it wrong” or employing stereotypes to depict a character. A Black writer is much less likely to employ racial stereotypes when writing about a Black person. The same applies to other marginalized groups. It’s about relevant experience, not racial segregation. Thanks for playing though. Try your “gotcha” elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *