In 2017 the TV landscape, despite the persistent whiteness of some networks like CBS, is looking a bit more ... colorful. We certainly have heavy hitters like Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay to thank for this, as their creations are sorely needed, especially as we dwell under the “leadership” (gag me) of the despotic Orange.
You know what isn’t needed, though? #BlackLivesMatter TV specials that are penned in writers’ rooms that are whiter than a pair of Chacos screaming at me about how their dad is a lawyer. But apparently, Marc Guggenheim, the showrunner for Arrow, never received that memo, since he currently has plans to use #BLM in a topical episode for the upcoming sixth season of Batman-Lite.
Obviously, this is a bad idea. A terrible fucking idea, in fact. And the reasons for that are both unique to Marc and his Arrowverse and also comparable to other shows penned by “well-meaning” all-white writers’ rooms. In the spirit of tackling these things in ascending order of specificity, let us start with the latter:
This should go without saying ... or explaining, but every so often, a well-meaning white person goes “well, actually” with their pen and makes us circle back to say this:
If you are not black and have no experience living as a black person, you have no business writing an episode about #BlackLivesMatter.
This is also the case because #BLM (and most other black resistance movements before they are co-opted by cis straight black men) exist only because of queer black women, femmes and transgender people. So not only does grasping #BLM require knowledge about intersectionality, but it also requires a commitment to it if you are planning on making fiction about it.
Of course, some believe that you need to be x race to write about y race, and rather than waste my precious time explaining why that is bullocks, I’d rather remind you of what happens when you decide to venture down a lane that your privilege and lack of intersectional knowledge have not prepared you for:
There are so many things to unpack about that episode and the show that brought it to us. Besides the show coming from the same creator, Jenji Kohan, who made white girls selling weed really cute, this same show received plenty of ire for featuring one of the whitest writers’ rooms I had ever seen, with one or two token people of color (none of whom was black, by the way):
So, as expected, the episode was abysmal. Fan favorite Poussey was senselessly murdered by one of Litchfield’s finest, Baxter Bayley, during a peaceful protest. The protest had started out normal enough but went left after Captain Piscatella purposely escalated it, triggering Suzanne’s manic episode. Anti-black racism and ableism intersected, Poussey interceded on Suzanne’s behalf and she paid for it with her life.
If you were a huge fan of hers, you got to watch her die as she was choked out and suffocated under Bayley’s weight. You got to watch Taystee wail at the sight of her lifeless body. You got to watch that same body spend days on the cafeteria floor, seemingly forgotten. You got to watch them spend an entire episode (hell, episodes) humanizing Poussey’s murderer, infantilizing him and his actions by implying that he was good kid who made a mistake.
You saw all of that. Kohan made sure you had to sit through that. And I honestly have never been so disgusted in my life. I experienced every single emotion I had ever experienced when hearing that yet another black person had been gunned down before their time.
I have not watched OITNB since.
Because for all of Kohan’s lip service about trying to tell diverse stories, she did not bother putting in the work to find diverse voices to tell these stories. And what we got as a result was typical black torture porn and an abysmal interpretation of what she and her white writers’ room think #BLM means.
That said, as badly as OITNB botched the #BLM cause, Arrow would be even worse. And here’s why:
2. Arrow has squandered every opportunity it has had to discuss race or other means of marginalization in a meaningful way.
To understand Arrow’s shortcomings, we must understand its host network, the CW. The CW likes to avoid race. Most of its shows take a colorblind approach to things, thinking themselves to be progressive in that way. There’s that and the fact that they are famous in blerd spaces for their colorist castings and believe that attractive black people (read: women) come in only two shades: Halle Berry and Queen Latifah. There have been outliers cast here and there that don’t fit that description, but in general, that’s how the CW rolls.
That being so, it comes as no surprise that Guggenheim’s Arrowverse takes on the same flippant attitude in regards to race—with Arrow being the worst offender.
Before I continue, I will say that I have not watched Arrow since season 3 Because of its treatment of women and people of color, and I haven’t watched The Flash since season 2, for a variety of reasons. That said, both shows dance around the issue entirely, not even daring to broach it.
The Flash is perhaps the most baffling example of this, because it has spent its entire existence avoiding the implications of its white protagonist, Barry Allen, being adopted by a black family (the Wests). Which is ironic, really, because even though the The Flash has featured more POC in its main cast than probably all six seasons of Arrow, it fundamentally misunderstands race, proving that diverse characters without diverse creatives ring hollow.
Arrow, on the other hand, is far worse. While The Flash attempts to look the part, Arrow is unbothered. Its longtime token black character, John Diggle, sees his character development continually shafted to make room for Oliver Queen’s brooding sessions. But none of this should come as a surprise if you are aware of how Guggenheim has treated even the white characters on Arrow.
Oliver, who originally leaned so far left in the comics that he surpassed “bleeding heart liberal” status and made Batman look quite ineffective in the process, has been morphed into a crypto-fascist by Guggenheim’s hand.
And no one has been treated more poorly than Laurel Lance.
Laurel (a white woman), who is supposed to be Black Canary, the level-headed superhero with a sonic scream that can kill and one of the best fight combatants in the DC, has turned into a hollow caricature of herself. She is repeatedly written to pine after the equally canonically uncharacteristic Oliver and gets into a cold war over him with her bisexual sister, Sara (who was mistreated and eventually fridged, only to be haphazardly resurrected). She also never really gets to grow into her Black Canary persona. Instead, Guggenheim throws her into the role to prove how reckless she is when left to her own devices.
Which raises the question: If Guggenheim cannot even get white characters right, what the hell makes him think that he has the skills to take on a #BLM episode?
Still unconvinced? I don’t blame you. But while I’m ahead, let me add one more example to the list to sway you.
To elaborate, the Glades is the equivalent of the hood and/or the ghetto in Starling City. Where Arrow and team call home. And it is central to the plot in season 1.
Season 1 sees Malcolm Merlyn (who is white) and a pack of rich elites (who include Oliver Queen’s father) spearheading a plan to purify Starling City and purge it of all its ills. If you can read between the lines, this means they were essentially planning to accomplish this by eradicating the Glades and wiping it off the map.
And mind you, this is chiefly because Merlyn’s wife—who was also white—happen to be killed there. Oliver is eventually clued into this plot because of his father’s defection and eventual death (which he repeats ad nauseam in the show’s opening sequence). However, even with that knowledge and all the help he can muster, Merlyn succeeds in using a machine to force an earthquake that makes the Glades collapse on itself, killing and displacing thousands.
In Merlyn’s mind, these people deserve to die because one white woman was murdered. Merlyn never considers, even momentarily, trying to improve the quality of life in the Glades. Nah, it’s better for him and his rich friends to blow it to hell.
Now, if Guggenheim were as woke as he thinks he is, he’d have used this as an opportunity to explore the ills of environmental racism and to explore the very dangerous intersection of racism and classism in Merlyn’s plan—a plan that no doubt included purposely murdering many poor black and brown (as well as poor white) citizens in the Glades. But none of that is elaborated on or even hinted at. Nope. Guggenheim and his creative team just decide to gentrify the Glades and then move on.
And this is the team you want me to trust with a #BlackLivesMatter episode? The same team who put one of their Jewish characters in a gas chamber during Hanukkah? The same universe who turned all their white superhero faves—Super Girl, Arrow and the Flash—into alternate-universe Nazis? The same team who botched the conversation on gun control by taking a nonstance and denying an actual gun-violence victim a chance to speak their piece? This team? This universe? In this climate?
No. Absolutely not.
Because respectfully speaking, y’all got me fucked up.