In the current television landscape where diversity is a big talking point and internet hyper-vigilence, it’s not hard to stumble across a controversy. While there are those who might say that this is just tumblr activism, many, such as yours truly, look at this level of watching as deepening the conversation between art and audience. All of this is why a weird trend has arisen that I think needs examination. In the past week, three actresses (all women of color), have either left (Kat Graham), been written off (Arden Cho), or killed off (Nicole Beharie) from their respective shows The Vampire Diaries, Teen Wolf, and Sleepy Hollow.
Shows change actors all of the time, but I can’t recall a time where multiple actresses of color were announced to not be returning to shows whose success was partially contributing to their acting. It’s alarming because all of those women were integral parts of the show they were on. Kat Graham’s Bonnie is the descendant of the greatest line of witches, Arden’s Kira Yukimura not only was Scott’s love interest after the death of his first love, but her arrival brought new mythology and the 2nd best villain the show has ever had. Nicole Beharie was the co-lead of the show, half of its most popular ship, and whose character was a Witness, someone who should have stood the test of time a la Ichabod Crane.
It’s hard not to wonder about what behind the scenes foolery is going on that might have contributed to this, particularly with Beharie, who was infamously not invited to do the DVD commentary for her own show. Arden’s vlog explaining her exit from Teen Wolf seems like it’s coming from someone both saddened and relieved to be leaving (the show has all but wasted her character). In fact in the video, Arden says that “Sometimes in a show where there’s so many characters, there isn’t always room for everyone and everyone’s storylines,” aka it hurts leave but I wasn’t getting much to do. (This is the third major actor from that show who had similar reasons for leaving, the other two being Colton Haynes and Tyler Hoechlin). I’m unsure of Kat’s reasoning, other than having been on a show for 7 years, but sufficed to say that there’s surely a story there.
As someone who is a fan of this genre of storytelling, I am a big proponent of equal opportunities for everyone to contribute and be killed off a supernatural show. You have to or else the stakes in the show will be non-existent. But anyone who watched True Blood can tell you that just because it can be equal opportunity death wise doesn’t mean they will be well-earned or even on-screen (RIP Tara). How could a show like Sleepy Hollow, which has been struggling with ratings since forever, kill off the lead and before consummating a relationship even the EP has noted was more than friendship?
Given the climate of diversity I mentioned above, any one would have to take note of some of the problems here. All of these shows have courted fans of diverse backgrounds and attempted to leverage this for storylines and ratings, so it’s hard to have actors leave and not feel like the show is working against its best interests or the audiences. Each of these shows is so hevaily driven by its fandom, leading to renewals when all hoped seemed lost and given how diverse their fandoms are, this could spell the end for Sleepy Hollow, if not Teen Wolf. (The Vampire Diaries is already confirmed to be ending next year). In the case of Teen Wolf, I’ve had long-standing issues with how the show handles the race and ethnicities of both its cast and characters (Tyler Posey is Mexican American and his character Scott has maybe referenced his race once). Seeing Arden leave means that the strongest racial component of the show is also leaving Teen Wolf with her.
Where do these shows, and other supernatural shows go from here? Well in the case of Sleepy Hollow, they’re pretty much damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they cast anyone other than a woman of color to co-lead, they will be actively going against the show’s concept and potentially driving fans away if the character is too close to Abbie Mills. (The new actor’s character had better not be randomly related to Abbie…) In terms of supernatural material in general, having actors of varying colors, sexualities, and ability will only get you so far. Equal story consideration, respectful portrayals, and more detailed characterizations should be the norm. Character specificity is actually how you craft universal stories, which is necessary if you’re going to have wolves, demons, and vamps flying at you characters every week.
What do you all think about these actresses leaving?