Today is a sad day on my blog. Today, I must issue a rare retraction of my previously expressed opinions.
As you are no doubt aware, I often use this forum to indulge in whimsical musings on popular culture. I am a lover of pop culture. Our movies, books, and (yes, even) T.V. shows both reflect and influence larger societal attitudes on everything from politics, to racial awareness, to ethics. It’s worth keeping an eye on it.
Some weeks ago, eagerly anticipating the return of last the TV series Sleepy Hollow, I made some observations about things we as the church could learn from that surprise hit. Namely that not be afraid of embracing our own eccentricities and that we take bold steps in highlighting the traditionally marginalized–such as women and people of colour. Sleepy Hollow had been a TV series which stood out from others in it’s decision to highlight a racially diverse cast and allow women to have interpersonal conflict NOT actually about a guy.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Now well into its second season, something tragic has happen to what was once a ground-breaking series. Oh, sure, the supernatural plots are as unabashedly bizarre as always. The chemistry between the central players of Ichabod Crane and Lieutenant Abbie Mills is as awesome as ever. There is, however, something decidedly lacking in the make-up of the cast.
Now, full disclaimer time. What I am about to say is based on nothing but my own suppositions. We are entering wild speculation territory. But it seems to me that Sleepy Hollow became more wildly popular than anyone ever expected it would be. It is as if that surprising popularity suddenly made a bunch of studio producers pay attention to this little show that had once been permitted to simmer away quietly unobserved in board room meetings. One executive then said to another — “It’s great that we have a hit on our hands. We should try to get an even bigger mainstream audience! You know what we need? More WHITE MEN! There aren’t enough of those on TV.”
Enter white dude Nick Hawley (adequately portrayed by Matthew Mcconaughey impersonator Matt Barr) taking up an awful lot of screen time. Suddenly Sleepy Hollow Police Chief Frank Irving (played by Orlando Jones) and his black family find themselves relegated to a narrative no-mans land. Abbie’s (black) sister Jenny is nowhere to be found. It is frustrating to have characters I spent a season getting to know and love be shunted to the sidelines. It is even more frustrating to feel they have been sidelined to make more room for stories concerning characters who, lets just say it, are white. Heck, even the (white) headless horseman is getting a more nuanced narrative than Frank or Jenny at this point. Maybe that is not the case and the removal of certain characters has nothing to do with race. But it seems a little suspect to me.
There are a couple of points to be made from this. First … can we please accept that racism is still a factor in our society? Whatever higher-level discussions went on in planning for the second season of Sleepy Hollow, it is a fact that the season to date has spent far more energy on the stories of white characters (particularly white men) than on the stories of people of colour. And it has done so by effectively *dropping* major relationship arcs the first season so painstakingly developed. That may or may not have been an overtly racially motivated decision. I am in no position to judge that. But we cannot deny the stories that we see played out over an over again are the stories of straight, white men.
At the same time, there is a positive observation to be made. All around the comments online, I hear people crying for more screen time for Frank Irving, and to know what will happen to his family. I hear people demanding more screen time for the drama between Abbie and Jenny (and not just fighting over the attention of newcomer Hawley). That is a really good sign. That means even if there are executives somewhere who are creating little space for minority characters … audiences aren’t buying it. We want to see stories about women, especially women of colour. We want to see visible minorities having realistic, complex relationships with their families. We want to see LGBT characters who aren’t reduced to stereotypes. Namely, we want to see PEOPLE. Maybe, just maybe, things will change one day.
In the meantime, maybe Sleepy Hollow can at least salvage the rest of this season?