Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Core Response 4: Racial, Color-Sighted TV

This week's readings and screening focusing on Black/Brown people, Black/Brown people on TV, and Black/Brown people on TV's effects on TV and people, reminded me of my favorite television show, Wonderfalls. Like a lot of great television, FOX cancelled Wonderfalls after four episodes. Fortunately, the entire first season had already been made, and so they were later released on DVD. The show was created by Bryan Fuller, a gay white man, who also created Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. Wonderfalls centers on Jaye, a white woman in her twenties who is "over-educated and under-employed" who has an existential crisis and inanimate objects start speaking to her. It's Rob Thomas meets Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jaye's best friend, Mahandra, is Black. She's the token "Black best friend" character seen on so many shows. The fact that such a trope exists shows both progress and a total lack there-of. But Bryan Fuller is smarter than your average bear and the characters he writes are, too. And I think that's a huge part of this discussion that's missing. In Wonderfalls, Mahandra's Blackness is addressed directly, and it's funny and smart and sad. For example, in one episode Mahandra reminisces about her and Jaye's shared high school nemesis, a cliche blonde bitch, having put activator in Mahandra's shampoo. They show an old yearbook photo where her eyes are red and her hair is "completely out of control." But in episode twelve, Mahandra decides to make a claim: not only is she Black, but she's also Native American. In fact, she's one-eigth Satsuman and she wants to officially add another "other" to her legacy. Jaye and her sister Sharon drive out to the reservation to "help" her file her claim.
               (re: application)
          So what happens after you hand that
          thing in?
          They verify my claim and then I’m
          embraced by my people as a part of 
          the Satsuma Indian Nation.
          That’s awesome.
          It’s also fraud.  You’re not an
          Indian.  You’re black.
          Uh, one eighth Satsuman on my
          grandmother’s side.  This doesn’t
          take away anything from the six
          eighths of my heritage that was
          ripped from their land exploited by
          whitey.  I’m just embracing the one
          eighth that stayed on their land
          and was exploited by whitey.  But
          even a fraction of my fraction
          makes me eligible for full tribal
          And a cut of the gambling monies.
          This isn’t about money.  It’s about
          tribe pride. However, if qualifying for a title
          four federal grant will pay off my
          student loans then justice is

The entire episode is shot on the Satsuma reservation with a colorful (does that make me colorless?) cast, and in the end Mahandra's claim is rejected. Now, the fact that I'm pretty much the only person who has seen this episode (not true, but not too far off either), negates any impact the episode may have had on culture, but I do like to think of it as a good example of a character on a show that is not post-racial, not color-blind, and in fact her "difference(s)" is what makes her interesting, and is addressed blatantly, albeit comedically.  

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