‘Sleepy Hollow’: A New Day for Race on TV?

With a black female co-star, Fox's new show is part sci-fi, part ghost story, without the identity politics.

Still of Nicole Beharie in Sleepy Hollow (IMDb)

Sleepy Hollow is also greatly grounded by Beharie’s performance. In her competent hands, Abbie is a fully formed person, with her own complicated backstory. (What was that creepy thing that she and her sister saw in the forest when they were kids? A demon?) Together, she and Ichabod form a modern-day salt-and-pepper pairing, good-naturedly debating the merits of the Revolutionary War era versus the ubiquity of Starbucks in 21st-century living.

Sleepy Hollow does what I wish more television would do: Like Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, it’s matter of fact in the way it treats race, acknowledging it without belaboring the point. “You’ve been emancipated, I take it,” Ichabod says when he first meets Abbie.

Her response? “OK. I’ll play along. I am a black female lieutenant with the Westchester County Police Department. Do you see this gun? I’m authorized to use it. On you … Slavery was abolished 150 years ago. It’s a whole new day in America.”

In lesser hands — Meagan Good’s undercover cop in NBC TV’s now defunct Deception comes to mind — this could be a real scenery-chewer of a line. But Beharie keeps it understated, ironic, light: Yeah, I’m African American, she seems to be saying, and the sky is also blue. She keeps it moving, unhampered by the constraints of identity politics. Her Abbie is a no-fuss, no-muss everywoman, attractive, but decidedly unglamorous, a woman who’s got a job to do and does it — well.  

Here’s hoping television, currently enjoying a renaissance, will bring us many more similarly emancipated black women characters.

Teresa Wiltz is a former deputy editor at Essence.