buffy the vampire slayer revival

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: it’s time that talent of color get their own narratives, not white hand-me-downs.)

I don’t know why Hollywood continues to ignore us (AKA people of color) whenever we throw free ideas up into the air about great original narratives centering on minority characters that can easily be adapted for TV or film. They know these stories exist. They know they already have built-in audiences. Still, they choose to not even consider it. They’d rather take an already existing white film or TV show and remake it with minority actors in roles immortalized by white talent — like they’re planning to do with the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which will star a black actress in the title role.

This is not okay.

According to Friday’s announcement, the new series will be written by showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen, whose credits include Fringe and Alias — which prove she is clearly more than capable of helming a fantastic and progressive narrative. The fact that she is a woman of color also means that she may bring a sensitivity and veracity to the character as well. But this is not about her worthiness or potential to make a great series. Rather, the issue lies in the same old tired trend of remaking white shows and films with minority talent that dates back even before The Wiz and includes Steel Magnolias, The Karate Kid, and Fahrenheit 451.

What’s insulting is the thought that we’re supposed to be happy with whatever representation we get, without understanding that what we crave and demand goes far beyond the simple presence of a person of color on screen. It’s about substance. It’s about the opportunity for an actor or actress of color to be able to stand on their own merit and not in the shadows of their white predecessor. It’s about the importance of highlighting original stories by and featuring talent of color — without presenting it through a white gaze.

Trust me, if you type in “black woman vampire slayer” or “black woman sci-fi avenger” in Google right now, you’ll be able to find numerous original narratives just screaming to jump off the shelves and onto the screen. Or, just ask any self-proclaimed black nerd on Twitter to give you some examples and you’d need to need a notebook to jot them all down. But too often, white Hollywood refuses to see black humanity if they don’t have role in it.

The frustrating part is that I love Buffy. A badass woman who takes down the underworld with some mean fight skills and a stake while also tackling high school exams? I am so here for it, forever and always. But creator Joss Whedon had seven whole seasons to embody intersectional feminism by adding an equally complex, badass, and long-lasting character of color but chose not to (Kendra played by Bianca Lawson was fantastic, but she was only in three episodes!). To use this reboot to try to right that wrong is just sloppy.

It’s especially egregious in today’s golden age of television when we have successful original genre series led by characters of color that are intentionally and unapologetically black on their own virtue — including Black Lightning, about a black superhero dad fighting injustice with his two equally heroic daughters, and Luke Cage, the quintessential story of the bulletproof black man — which have been eagerly devoured by audiences. Creators of color have proven time and time again that they don’t need hand-me-downs from white creators in order for these stories to not only exist but also thrive. But white creators, on the other hand, are determined to contradict that.

Take the upcoming Charmed reboot, for example, which replaces its original white lead cast (Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano) with Latina actresses Madeleine Mantock, Melonie Diaz, and Sarah Jeffery, who will reprise the roles of a trio of witchy sisters battling dark forces (which coincidentally also boasted the writing talent of Owusu-Breen). I loved Charmed, still love Charmed, but there is no reason for it to be remade, and definitely not with a Latina cast — particularly when there is a perfectly original series titled Brujas, also about Latina witches, in the pipeline. To make matters even more infuriating, the Charmed revamp has been pointedly described as “feminist,” implying that the original was not (it totally was). Talent of color deserve more than the opportunity to fix what white creators think is flawed about the original series.

None of this is to say that remakes recast with minorities don’t have the potential to be great. The current One Day at a Time series with a Latinx cast is one recent example of a reboot done exceptionally well — and it never feels like it’s sacrificing the culture to do so. It’s earnest, timely, and wonderfully acted. But it could have just as easily been titled something else with the same quality. I get it; it’s important to show that minorities can be just as layered, imperfect, yet inspiring as their white counterparts. But why would they have to go to such lengths to prove that in the first place? And why must it be perpetuated that minority content cannot succeed without the foundation of whiteness? This discourages audiences away from the plethora of great original programming starring minority talent that we have right now.

That includes Vida, Starz’s freshman breakout drama that centers on two Latina sisters in the wake of their mother’s death. In doing so, it also highlights themes of gentrification, identity, and intimacy. It’s a beautiful narrative, helmed by Latina showrunner Tanya Saracho (who’s also behind Brujas), that vividly portrays the strengths and conflicts of a culture that Hollywood so desperately wants to whitewash.

So why would there be any urge to diminish original stories that center around minorities? Is it that white Hollywood sees their success and feels threatened? Or is this the only response white Hollywood has come up with to counteract the increasing demand for diversity on screen? Above all else, this annoying trend also points out how there is a glaring lack of voices of color in the decision-making process. That is a problem that can easily be solved. But the question is: does Hollywood want to?

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