Women of Color in Sci-Fi TV (2015 – present)

Women of Color in Sci-Fi Television (2015 – present) Interspectional

Since 2015 (and a little bit earlier), there has been a massive increase in the amount of women of color that we see in sci-fi/fantasy media across network, cable and streaming platforms. With this increase in representation (and we can always use more), the conversation has shifted a bit more from just putting women of color in speculative properties to exploring how we are being represented and what are the overall messages being send the audience. In this episode, I explore those ideas with transmedia social justice producer and co-host of Trek Table, Claudia Alick and Community Advocate and co-host of Pop Chatter podcast, Natacia Knapper. We look at #StarTrekDiscovery, #Watchmen, #LovecraftCountry, #Flash and so much more. It’s a fun, intense, definitely going-to-challenge you conversation.

You can follow Natacia on Twitter @nknapper and you can follow Pop Chatter Podcast on Twitter at @PopChatterPod 

If you are interested in learning more about the Baldwin House project follow @DCW1MutualAid

You can follow Claudia on Twitter @Callingup and you can follow Trek Table Podcast on Twitter at @Trek_Table

If you are interested in learning more about Watch Nights and F*** The Gala, go to www.callingupjustice.com 

Episode Transcript

Latisha: Hey everybody. And welcome back to Interspectional. I am super, super excited for this particular conversation because we are talking about women of color in sci-fi television, but specifically from 2015, up until the present. Now, if you listen to some of my first episodes, I explained that me doing the Woman of Color in Sci-fi Television panel is how I got started.

I did that at Awesome Con. I did that at BlerDCon. It went to Dragon Con, somehow without me, but that’s another story for another time, but when I’ve done those sessions, they primarily focused on TV shows from like the 1960s up into the present up until that point. And there’s a lot to cover, but there’s not a lot at the same time because you’re talking about one or two women of color showing up in these types of media per year for a long time or maybe five or six as we get into the 90’s and the early 2000’s. And around 2015, there was an explosion.

We saw women of color in sci-fi on the Syfy channel and on networks and on streaming, especially. And that is its own thing, I feel. Yes, an add on to this long legacy, but also just this new territory that I find is really interesting to investigate. So I am really excited to have these two guests with me, as we talk about, this new phase in kind of representation, what does it mean?

The types of things they’ve created and what we hope to continue to see in the future. So I’m going to have them introduce themselves. Natacia, could you go first? 

Natacia: Yeah, of course. I’m really excited to be here. Again, my name is Natacia. I’m happy to finally be talking with you with Latisha. I feel like you’ve been trying to get me to come to one of your panels forever and our schedules just never seem to be aligned.

So I’m glad that it finally happened. And I just have so much to talk about. Again, yeah. My name is Natacia. There’ll be a time for me to talk about socials and plug all those things later. I’m sure. I am a black femme non-binary and yeah, I have a podcast where I talk about Marvel stuff and all kinds of other things.

So yeah, I’m excited to really dig into it with y’all. And, yeah, happy to be here. 

Latisha: Super excited to have you here. I’ve actually been on three episodes of the Pop Chatter podcast, which one half of the hosting team Lindsay being the other half, it is always a fascinating conversation. So I am super excited to have her with me.

And yeah, I’ve been trying to get her for a long time. So I’m like, YES! Finally! Claudia, please tell us about yourself. 

Claudia: I am a transmedia social justice producer and a lifelong scifi and fantasy mega-nerd. And I’ve always had these real deep thoughts in my head about it and have struggled to find a community, to communicate about the things with around science fiction.

And it’s only been in like the last decade where I feel like I could have, not only the conversations I want to have, but hear other people having them, which has just been amazing. So thank you so much for having me. I identify as a disabled non-binary black female AFM, and you can reach me at callingupjustice. com and then you can also check me out on Trek Table podcast, talking about Star Trek Discovery. 

Latisha: Trek Table Podcast is so much fun. You hear so many unique perspectives. So I highly recommend that podcast. And for me, puts me in a space where I’m thinking about science fiction more deeply. All right. So my first question to the both of you is in the past seven years or so, what has been your favorite depiction of a woman of color in sci-fi/fantasy and why? So we’re talking 2015 to the present. 

Natacia: So I do have two characters I would like to name. The first character is actually May. Agent May from Agents of Shield. So that’s definitely 2015 on. But the show technically starts in 2013.

I don’t know if that’s cheating, but I would say that May is probably, just like one of my go-to female characters in Sci-fi and like in a comic book world. First of all, Agents Of Shield was definitely like straight up sci-fi. When you get to the later seasons, they weren’t even trying. It went into space. It got wild. Like I’m telling you. People, if you’re just looking for a really good sci-fi show, I think it’s okay to skip the first two seasons and just go deep, just go right into the space with them. But anyway I digress. May, I really loved because she has such a great arc on that show.

 They really start her off from a place where she’s really leaning into some of those tropes that you see with strong women. Where it doesn’t even feel like this is like a woman or femme character, it feels like it is a male character that they are just giving a female identity too.

 This is such a standard trope that we see all the time. I think it’s something that you in particular see with women of color, but they really allowed May to be a more and more vulnerable character as she opened up, as she built this community, as she became more part of this family. You saw her actually grow and learn and become more emotional through the people and the relationships that she gains. And I was having a conversation actually on my podcast where it was focused on like the women of Star Wars. Where it is very rare that we see women allowed to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. I feel like it’s either one or other, or we define strength in being like physically strong.

And there isn’t like strength in vulnerability. I just think that May, especially in the later seasons, this was a really beautiful balance of both. And it was just so kick ass. I just loved watching her fight people. It was really great. You have no idea how many times I’ve gone onto YouTube just watching scene after scene of May just kicking people’s asses. 

Claudia: Fighting herself! Do you remember the one where she was fighting herself! Come on. 

Natacia: So good. Some of the best fricking fight choreography. I just really loved, loved her. 

Claudia: Have you see her on Boba Fett? 

Natacia: Oh, I could talk. Sorry. Don’t get me started on the Book of Boba Fett. I am a Star W ars person but May! A bsolutely incredible! Love her in Agents of Shield. Ming-Na Wen. Just I’ve loved her ever since street fighter. 

Latisha: I feel like she has like the franchises that I love, like not even a trifecta and there’s an EGOT for you are awesome at everything you’ve ever done and completely beloved. She has earned that. I’m just like you just need to name it after her for everything that she’s done. Here’s the thing about so much of her work. And this is also why I think a lot of the stuff is important. The chances of people getting Tony’s, Golden Globes, Oscars for any of the Sci-f i TV work, even in some of the Disney animated work or whatever, super unlikely, like they don’t touch any of that stuff.

Rarely anyone can tell you who won the Oscars or golden globes, five years ago. We can all pretty much tell you at least one scene that we remember in Street Fighter. Like those are the things that stay with people. And yet, somehow our society says that those things don’t need to be awarded. And I have major questions about that, but I digress. And you said there were two, Natacia. 

Natacia: Okay the second one, I’ll be a lot more brief. The second one I feel like this might be a little maybe controversial, but Regina King’s character in Watchman is another character that I absolutely love. There are aspects of that character I struggle with and we’ll dive into that a little bit more later, but her depiction of Angela /Sister Night is just so moving. It is a performance that I actually think about all of the time genuinely.

Like it’s one of those things where again we have a strong female character who’s just allowed to be deeply vulnerable, deeply emotional. And that’s actually where she gets a lot of her strengths from. For a show that really delves into the trauma of being a black person and the history that we have to live with as being black people in this country, she managed to move into this role in such a way where she was able to really fully own her power as a black woman, while also not being defined by her trauma as a black woman. It was just such a beautiful and balanced performance. Honestly, anything that Regina King does. But that performance is one that has stuck with me. And I revisit more than I do most shows, but yeah those would be my two choices. 

Latisha: Those were great and I love that detail. Claudia? 

Claudia: This is a fun conversation. So I struggled to give you an answer partially because I struggled with favorites and picking one, but also because I feel like there’s actors that I deeply love. Even as I find the cultural productions, they are inside of problematic on different levels.

For instance I love Gina Torres in Serenity. Oh, she is so good, but I could never mention that cause it’s complicated. Also so many of these actors who I love are always playing an assistant or a helper or a best friend to a centered white person, usually some centered white dude and I’m like I’m not sure I like that story. So I’m going to name my girl. Sonequa Martin-Green! Sonequa Martin-Green! Captain Michael Burnham! I love Captain Michael Burnham. I could name the actress that plays Owo on there is so good as well. Michelle Yeoh is amazing.

Natacia: Oh My God, Michelle Yeoh! 

Latisha: We already knew like Michelle Yeoh was a legend of just incredible proportions, but the range she is allowed to have on Discovery. All the characters really, but like Georgiou is just so fascinating and hilarious. There is no reason why this murderou s woman should be that funny. Like freaking hilarious. And also you just look at her sometimes you like, “I don’t want to say you have a point, but you might…” 

Claudia: And the chemistry between these actors. These are actors that are so good at what they do. It’s a delight. It’s not only a delight to experience the storytelling that you’re getting.

It’s not only a delight to get the scifi beats that are fantastic and amazing. And the fight choreography. Oh. But just a tense piece of dialogue between Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh, so delicious. So yummy. Just the best. 

Latisha: One thing I actually want to mention because I absolutely enjoy Discovery as well. And the levels of the journey that Michael Burnham goes through, I find incredible. And the different ways family is defined and redefined and questioned is rather incredible. And can I talk about yes, much has been talked about Michael Burnham having natural hair in space, but the fact, and spoilers if you haven’t seen it, the fact that the last couple of seasons sista-girl has braids. I’m just.

I don’t know, like outside of maybe Martha Jones and I have questions about that, but I don’t remember actually seeing like braids and protective styles like that anywhere. On top of that, you know what this means? Do you know that Michael Burnham has braids means? That there is a braider in the future! Like someone got the hair and lit the fire underneath the braid. Or put it the hot thing of water. And like they’ve got hair oil in the future. Hair oil! 

Natacia: That’s so exciting.

Latisha: I’m just saying. And even though it had its problems, I really enjoyed Jurnee Smollett’s performance in Lovecraft Country, like there are levels. So many levels to that too. Her performance stuck with me in many ways, not just ” Ooh, that one gave me shivers”. But it was also amazing to me. Even, I thought in the first episode or the second, when they finally reveal like the monsters in that episode. The fact that by the time you get to the monsters, that it’s almost a relief. 

 It’s like by the time it gets to the strange grotesque, whatever. It’s like “Finally, something other than the human monster that I’ve been having to deal with.” It’s this moment, which I feel is so specific and I feel like you have to have lived that in order to write that. It’s like, how can the appearance of a multi-fanged, tentacled whatever, be like, “Oh, finally!” Like, how do you get to that moment? You make something in real life that’s scary. And you finally moved to the fiction part and you can let something go, which is just like an epic piece of storytelling to me. 

Claudia: I have to admit, I have missed out on the amazing performances and that particular cultural production. I wanted to watch it. And I was like, “Oh, this will trigger all of my PTSD.”

 I’ve tried to approach it a few times. I haven’t been able to experience the trauma that’s involved. I feel like it’s a traumatizing experience to watch the show. And I really want to, so I’m hoping that a few years, maybe when there’s less racism in the world. 

Natacia: It’s feels likely

Latisha: I actually want to hit on that cause I feel like that is a legit experience specifically with black media or black focused media, because some of the things that get put out you’re like “I would like to, but this will hurt me.” ” I would like to, but this will be a problem.” And the advantage of often looking into science fiction is to explore themes with a bit of remove.

So you can get some of that space and yet talk about these things. Granted, we were talking about sci-fi from 2015 to now, but if you were going to go all the way back to The Next Generation, specifically, a lot of the Data episodes. They’re talking about agency and they’re talking about whether this being is property or not. They’re talking about these things. I wonder what analyses we’re going for here, but yet you can look at them with a sense of remove. You can look at it without saying “I am re-traumatizing myself in the process”. And that can sometimes be the advantage of sci-fi.

Claudia: That makes me think about how back in the day, they didn’t allow us to be in anything. Blackness was erased, but blackness is interesting and amazing. So it was sampled and culturally appropriated to make the whiteness actually interesting. That’s why Data is interesting. Data is there because they can’t actually tell stories that actually explore the fundamental questions about disenfranchisement of human beings. Having an entire class of human beings who aren’t treated as full human beings. You think they could do it with Geordi, but they didn’t do it. So anyway, I do want to get back to 2015.

 Like I’ve noticed that once you center a black person in the story, you can’t speak in code. You actually have to have some things that are just black, that aren’t a metaphor for blackness or the black experience. 

Latisha: There’s no metaphors to be had. Culturally, I feel that many people in the black community are fairly direct. Just linguistically. I will tell you what I’m thinking. I’m telling you what I’m feeling.

I do not have time to be passive aggressive because there’s so many things going on because the amount of brain power taking me to not say what I really mean I could use for something else like survival, which is not necessarily the case in other linguistics styles. So it’s an interesting concept.

And actually this leads into my next question, because thinking about it for the longest time, the call, when it comes to media, has it been like “representation matters”. And now it seems to somewhat evolves into like “authenticity matters.” Because even as we’re seeing more people of color, I feel like there’s even more of a call of “Is this person actually person of color?”

“Is this person actually a black person?” Are we seeing those linguistic markers or is this someone, who you just put in this role and didn’t take into account all of the culture and history that they were bringing to them. So I wonder if that’s being pushed, what does that mean if characters of color get “messier”, or if we have more villains. Are people ready for that?

Natacia: Yeah. So I’m gonna touch on Watchmen again really quick and say that I know that this is like an unpopular opinion, but I am actually a pretty big fan of the show “Lost”. I feel like nobody’s willing to say that. 

Latisha: In spite of it being a cultural phenomenon that everyone was into at some point in time. 

Natacia: That show really was that girl back then. I’ve been a big fan of that show and Damon Lindelof, who was the showrunner of Lost for the majority of its run after JJ Abrams left. There were a lot of issues with the characterization of black people and other people of color in that show. There’s so many examples, I don’t even know like where to start. The fact that one of the only main black male characters they leaned into the deadbeat dad characterization, the fact that they got another black lead character then killed them off on screen, like in the most violent way I could imagine.

I think about that death scene all the time, it was so violent. And while that show was like violent in moments, it was just… It glorified that death in a way that was very disturbing. So many problems with the way that they wrote the Asian couple.

There’s so many things that went wrong, but what I actually do think is really important is that over the years, Damon Lindelof has had other projects and over time he is actually in a strange way, learned from a lot of the cultural mistakes that he made with Lost.

So by the time we got to his creation of Watchmen, he was very intentional in creating a writer’s room that featured a lot of black writers. And it was very clear that black writers were involved because of how black people were characterized on this show. Now, I will also say that I love the conversation of authenticity and allowing black people to be villains and to allow them to be complicated people. That we’re not putting black people into one simple archetype or recreating the same types of characters over and over again.

But what I worry about is when I look at the conversations that we’re having on social media. The commentary that I see in different online spaces, I do think that black characters and other characters of color are actually critiqued in ways that white characters aren’t. When I look at the way that people had so much grace for a lot of other male, white centered Marvel characters, for instance, but the level of dialogue and critique that was like happening around Shang-Chi was frustrating at best. And expecting a level of , not perfection, but I think we all know that people of color, black people in particular, but people of color have to meet a certain threshold of being able to do everything right. To be the best at what we’re doing. To always make good choices. And every time our choices are even a little bit faulty. I feel that the critiques are so much harder. And what I worry about in expanding and having more complicated characters, even though I feel like that’s necessary, I think that the conversation is going to be hard and toxic for a while still. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen, but I think we should be prepared to experience a level of, I don’t know, If the word is like backlash that I want to use, but I do think that it’s going to be harder to excuse the behavior, I guess. If that’s the best way of putting it of people of color who are doing things that many white characters have been doing for many generations in sci-fi TV and movies. 

Latisha: Doing for many generations and still beloved. I feel like the villain who we stan for, the villain that we appreciate and say,”Oh my gosh, they’re such a mess, they’re my favorite.” Like having that character be a person of color. To have that character who was that messy upon mess and be someone who’s not white. Okay, during the pandemic, I’ll admit I had a Vampire Diaries moment. Are we ready for a black Damon Salvatore? I don’t think so. And then he gets everything. I’m just saying.

Natacia: To be honest, people love Lando Calrissian, but I don’t even think people are ready for a show that totally centers on Lando Calrissian. Because it’s not just going to be this like fun black man that is like going around, getting into hi-jinks. He’s going to be doing Han Solo shit. And I don’t actually think that people are ready to allow black people to show up in that way without critiquing them to death. 

Claudia: This is what you brought up for me. For a long time, we were in a casting paradigm where there can only be one. Now, this is partially economics. They don’t want black people to get paid. You’re not gonna have a black lead cause the lead gets paid the most. And also that the cultural production is reinforcing ideas about whiteness, which is why you can have sexy, evil white dude. Why? Because American culture wants us to have really good feelings about sociopathic white dudes with lots of power. They want us to feel so good about them. They want us to be like, “Oh my gosh, you’re being genocidal and destructive, but you’re so sexy and hot. I hope you get with Rey.” The thing right in American culture. So that’s why, and this is the Spike versus Killmonger paradigm or the Damon versus Killmonger paradigm. They will give us characters that are sexy, brilliant, that have an amazing argument. And then they will make sure that character does something so awful and horrible that we will have to write off everything good about their argument.

 Killmonger is persuasive, except that he kills his black female partner. I don’t remember the name of that actress, but I was excited cause I was like, “I wonder what she’s going to do? What’s going to happen with ‘Oh, she was a prop for the narrative to force us to hate him and to also dismiss all of his arguments and go for the more centrist politics of Black Panther.’ Okay. Okay. All right, Hollywood. I can’t forget that Marvel at its core is imperialist storytelling.” I am here for it and I love it, but it is what it is. 

Natacia: Yeah. The imperialist storytelling of Marvel is just so wild. I don’t know if you watched Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but when I tell you the end of that show,

Latisha: I think there’s a difference. There’s the end of that show. And then there’s the end of that show because there are two separate endings, one I enjoy. And I like very much, and one, I have many questions about, so you gotta be clear. 

Natacia: Okay. What I am talking about is the show did a really clear job of presenting John Walker as this again, the sociopathic, violent, this sort of flag waving guy and what was really wild to me is they really presented him as such an extreme antagonist to the two protagonists of that story. One of them being a black man in America, and the fact that one, at the end of all of this like, antagonistic back and forth, they were like, chummy by the end of the story for literally no reason. Nothing had substantially changed.

John Walker hadn’t really adjusted any of his behavior or how he was showing up. And yet everybody just pretended that everything that had happened for the last seven episodes had not happened. I thought I had missed an episode somewhere. Like it was so wild.

And then the pinnacle for me was at the end of the day. I love what you’re saying about needing to present like these black, revolutionary type characters as a problem as they’re like against what we should be striving for or what we should be trying to be.

And the character of Karlie who, her motivations were very like weird. Whatever, writing issues. But like at the core of what Karlie was trying to communicate was a large inequity, a violent inequity that existed. And how she was dealt with at the end of that story is wild. And the fact that Sam’s big moment in dealing with that at the end, was to give this moderate, neo-liberal, like speech at the end where 

Claudia: Falcon America is a cop!

Natacia: The fact that he was just like, yeah, let’s all just sit in a room together. Let’s all just be friends guys. Like he is a cop and like he is so pro military. It is wild. It was wild to me how they presented that. And then at the end where he takes the other black super solider we were presented with and perfectly happy by seeing that there’s a little display case for him in a museum.

And he’s just “Oh, wow. I’m so glad. I’m getting this recognition in this museum. That’s really, all I needed” was the inference and like what we were seeing in that scene. Like what I’m trying to say is, there is a very sinister way in which Marvel moves and how they present their stories.

And while I love Marvel, I have a whole fucking podcast devoted to talking about Marvel. I think it’s really important that we are talking about how these things exist in our media because that’s how we get better writing rooms. And that’s how we like push studios to do better job of representation behind the camera.

Latisha: But I also have something to add really quick because we’re literally talking about double consciousness in reference to the media that we consume, which I think is utterly fascinating.

 This idea I am able to appreciate when I’m watching on a” just tell me a story and I’m along for the ride” level. At the same time, I am watching it under the context of “this is how this would operate in the world that I actually live in.” And not only how the actual story would operate if it was real, but also this is how this story is actually operating in the world that I am in.

And so it is this like multilevel understanding of story which only certain people have to do. Also what I find interesting is that I know me when I enjoy various pieces of media, it’s like I have to turn on and off certain dials. It’s like, “Okay, for me to enjoy this, my activist dial has to go down.”

You’re just like “Please don’t do something so egregious that I have to turn it up. Please! I can deal with a lot. And if you just don’t go over the edge, I don’t have to burn this to the ground.” And then… but sometimes they don’t. But, and then… 

Claudia: I find all storytelling produced by dominant media to be sinister. So it means that I’m watching it and enjoying what I can enjoy, because I want to be a part of the world and enjoy things. But I’m the person who was just like, “This is so good. It’s also the devil, but it’s so good.” And that’s what it is to live in this country.

 My opinions are a little extreme, but I can tell when a white person wrote a storyline and a black person cleaned up the words, so it sounded plausible. It used to be, it was only white people in the room. So you could really tell when a white person was writing words for a black person to perform, and now the rooms are often mixed.

 I feel like I’m saying the same thing, but I’m loving this storytelling coming out of Star Trek Discovery. It feels like that’s a room that’s having some battles. Where there’s some people who were like, “Oh, we could get away with doing this and it could look like we are serving a black audience when actually we’re serving what the white people in the writer’s room really want to have happen. What the white producers really want to have happen.” And it feels like there’s enough black producers with power and also like enough aggregate numbers of us there.

It’s not just two writers in the room, two black people trying to hold the line who have precarious job positions. So I’m in full agreement that we have to have extraordinary diversity in the writers room, but also like in the producers as the folks who are writing the checks. This is the only way I get fabulous black female representation that I don’t have to turn my brain off a little bit, every 20 seconds to still be okay with it.

Latisha: It all goes up the line very much. And for those of you interested in learning more about television writers and what they go through, I actually have an episode about that called “TV writers Advocating for Authentic Stories”. So you should listen to that.

 I did want to piggyback something that you said a while back, Claudia, about that time in scifi television and especially much earlier where a woman of color was often like the one in the group or the one on the team.

And now I’m seeing more fantasy, particularly books, not always TV and media, but I’m seeing more women of color in community. And what do you think being in community versus being somewhat isolated from one culture, changes in the storytelling?

Claudia: Can you help me find another science fiction property to reference other than Star Trek Discovery that has black women or multiple groups of women of color in community? 

Latisha: Fast Color. I would say Lovecraft Country. Black Lightning

Claudia: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. 

Latisha: And Naomi, which is, just started, but Naomi, I still feel counts. 

Natacia: It’s really good. I like it. Just started it. And it’s really good 

Latisha: Batwoman. Look at counts or there’s more than one. 

Claudia: You saw my eyebrow just…

Latisha: I know. I saw. But there’s more than one and they do talk about quite a couple of things. And 

Claudia: Okay. Wait. Okay. 

Latisha: It took them a while to have more than one black woman on Flash. It took… Okay, I have a specific Candice Patton question toward the end, but if you want to talk about… Okay, you can literally see like Iris West’s trajectory from the beginning of Flash till now. Like crosses this entire time period of ” We’re going to just throw this black actress out there and see what happens. And leave her to the wolves” to “Wait, you mean, we actually have to consider this person?” “Oh, you actually have to consider the storyline.” “Oh, we actually have to consider their culture.” “Oh, you need more than one person.” “Oh, they need to actually have a plot and actually their own storyline.” “Oh, they need to have agency.”

And so it’s an interesting trajectory that covers the entire time span of what is this conversation. Thank you, Candice Patton for sticking around as long as you did. They didn’t deserve you. Neither do we. You never deserved anything you got and you should have more. I hope you have an amazing post-Flash life whenever it ends.

Natacia: Is the Flash still on?

Latisha: It is! 

Claudia: I don’t think it ended it’s storytelling. I think that’s still going on. I just know you’ve got Meghann. And she’s black. You’ve got the Flash’s dad is a black man. I forget that actor’s name, but I love him so much. 

Latisha: Jesse Martin. 

Claudia: Jesse Martin. Woo, I love me some Jesse Martin.

Natacia: Oh, I’m behind. I need to catch up. 

Latisha: Don’t forget his mixed race children who like to show up. So you have Nora and Bart who have shown up. 

Claudia: But also you’ve got the assistant or the former assistant. She was like a lawyer. And then she became she’s doing something else and she’s psychic. And she’s married to the Flash’s dad.

And so you have these amazing scenes. We just have like community. I will say it doesn’t feel like the community scenes that you have in Black Lightning. The Black Lightning scenes are fully black. And I do think that there’s a difference, not only in the kinds of ways that we actually in real life have community, but I will say though, it feels like a Flash dinner scene is blacker than any dinner scene that I’ve seen at any of the other properties in that particular Arrowverse.

Natacia: I will say, I am not as well versed in Arrowverse, but Black Lightning, I watched two seasons and there was, I don’t know, if this is a conversation for this or a conversation for another time. But I would agree with you. The way that community is presented in episodes of the Flash that I’ve seen there’s a closeness and care and an honesty to how folks are showing up for each other in that space.

And Black Lightning is a show I stopped watching after season two. I don’t actually know if it’s still on or how many seasons it had. But my issue with Black Lightning was always the way it represented blackness was in such a respectability lens that I felt frustrated a lot when watching that show.

I don’t know what the writer’s room looks like at all for Black Lightning, but it did not feel like it was like black writer’s room when I was experiencing how black people were engaging with each other and with the outside world. Because one of the things that I really love, and of course, black people are not a monolith, and everybody has like different kinds of relationships that they have with the black people in their lives.

But I know that there is a reality, a realness in how I’m engaging with people in black spaces when we are our away from non-black spaces versus how I am out in like the non-black world. And I just feel like I never saw that in Black Lightning. And I think I’m always suspicious of any sort of writing or representing of black people in community together where we’re not seeing a difference in how they are with each other versus how they are in like the non-black world.

Latisha: I see that. I absolutely see that. And the question is “A re the writers or the producers, whoever is there, are they present, whomever they are, in those spaces?” Do they know what those spaces feel like? And do they know them well enough to replicate it? Do they know it well enough to write it in such a way… Going back to thinking about things linguistically. If you talk about things like overlapping dialogue or cooperative conversation, which is fairly common in both Black spaces, but also various POC spaces also, various specific, European spaces.

You’re talking about people with a Greek culture or Italian culture you have that, and you have that, “Oh, people interrupt. Ah, people are rude.” Nah. T his is how we talk when we’re together. And you just got to catch up. And if you’re not one of those people who’s able to catch up, that’s cool.

That just means that you listen really intently and talk to someone later, but that’s how we do it. And I’ll have five different conversations while I’m getting a plate of food, but you have to have been there to see it. And then you have to experience it to be able to write it.

And then you also have to have the director and the writer to know how to shoot it. So you get that, that feel and that back and forth. And that I’m talking to you, I’m talking to you, you said something silly. I’mma hit you with a pea while talking to this person. And I need someone to zoom in on the pea that hits the forehead. I just, I need that. 

Claudia: Yes. Thank you for doing a shout out, not only for the necessity to have cultural competency in t he writers’ room. We have to also have cultural competency behind the camera and with the editors. I had a very similar reaction to Black Lightning. But it’s a reaction I have to actually 80% of the black shows that are allowed to have cultural success.

They have to follow some rules. I have conservative family members, very conservative black family members in the south, and they love those storytelling beats. They love witnessing black people looking good, having money, paying their bills. They are a fan of cultural productions that I believe serve notions of success through a lens of whiteness that serve white ideas of how we should be behaving, but are in fact racist on a level. That said I feel like Black Lightning is definitely written by, I’m guessing I’m ignorant, but I feel like it’s probably a majority black writer’s room. But I am guessing that the executives in charge of making the choices, they were serving some people who have racist notions about what is and what shouldn’t be.

It reminds me of Sleepy Hollow. And how they made the choices on Sleepy Hollow and didn’t think it was going to destroy their show. Like they just destroyed the bag cause I was watching that show. I was like, “I’m going to be here for you, girl. I don’t care who the skinny white man is. I will learn to love him.” 

Natacia: 100%.

Claudia: And then they just kept fumbling it. And then they got rid of her. That was like, “You don’t understand why I was…? Oh, you don’t want my money. Oh, you don’t want me to exist on this planet Earth. Oh, that’s how it is.”

Latisha: Okay. So Claudia, you do know the entire journey. And I do mean the entire journey of this podcast and of me doing a “Women of Color in Sci-Fi Television” panel starts with Sleepy Hollow. My very first episode, if anyone is going to watch it, (I love to plug these things because I have them) is about Sleepy Hollow for reason because it is this source of eternal rage for most Black women that I know who love science fiction. If you want to make any one of us enraged… I’m not saying violence will happen, but you will see the urge in our eyes.

Why? Because Sleepy Hollow was great. Sleepy Hollow was fun. Sleepy Hollow was enjoyable. We got to see a black woman centered in the story. It’s her entire story for the first season. And then… and then we all started villain origin stories. I’ll just leave it at that. 

Natacia: When I tell you that, one of the things I am haunted by to this day, is I convinced so many of my black nerd friends to watch that show.

I convinced so many people to watch that show. I remember being like midway through that first season and being like “This show is awesome. Telling everybody who would listen like ” Are you watching Sleepy Hollow? You need to be watching the Sleepy Hollow.” And

Yeah. I completely fell off of that show. I like every black person who was watching that show totally stopped after that. But yeah, very disappointing.

Latisha: And speaking of which combining both the ideas of Sleepy Hollow and talking about w hen black people are presented in the idea of like black respectability in Sci-fi. One of my questions is there’s a pattern, it seems of women of color, specifically black women becoming cops and/or the best friend/caregiver of the white character and black men as security or some type of guard in sci-fi/fantasy properties. So what do we think is up with that depiction? I’ve talked about that also talking about Sleepy Hollow and some other things where I’m like black woman is a cop. Black woman is a cop. Joss Carter was a cop. And I’m like “What is this that says that we think that this is the role that is ideal or fairly typical for a black person to take when they are in sci-fi/fantasy properties?” 

Natacia: Earlier in our conversation, I had expressed that one of my favorite characters is Regina King from Watchman. But I think in the same breath that I love her character, that show while it takes a very different tone than I think shows normally do around black police officers and how we look at black police officers, I can’t ignore that is a central piece to her character on that show.

 And, often, when we see a lot of side characters to the extent that you’re talking about both black women and men are definitely treated as caregivers and how a lot of our media tries to soften or have us feel more relatable to police officers through blackness. It’s a really scary and insidious thing that we see. I don’t want to belabor the point again and spend a lot of time, again, talking about Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but that is such a harmful lens and how we talk about policing and how policing shows up in our media.

Because with one breath you try to present this really like violent white version of this police officer, but then Sam Wilson very much is playing the role of a police officer like of someone who is policing. But doing it in the “good” way. And I think that this shows up in our media a lot and it’s really intentional.

Again, it is a way to get us to relate to policing, to be softer on how we look at policing and to get us to be okay with the ways in which we are as a community part of our own oppression or wanting us to play a part in our own oppression and it’s awful.

And I will say while I think we see fewer tropes, clear tropes of, uniformed police officers that are black. Sam Wilson again is not like a uniformed police officer in a traditional sense, which is why I think most people who aren’t thinking too deeply about it, do not look at that as like policing, but that’s exactly like what he represents and he’s upholding something that is really harmful to black people.

Claudia: So the question is how do you produce some white dominant storytelling that’s going to not only maintain the status quo of how the country works, how white domination works, but also what’s going to help stop a revolution. You don’t want people getting notions and starting a revolution. One thing you got to do is you have to sprinkle some black people in there.

You got to have a little bit of black representation or the white domination is really legible and we’re able to call it out. That’s why there’s so many black judges. And black chiefs of police in these movies and TV series, right? This is copaganda. This is also statistically, not reflective of reality.

So it’s bananas that you see so many black judges, black chiefs of police, but that allows you to cast that person and then not actually have them in the story very much. It allows you to have the feeling of honoring and having that character, that actor in there, but actually how much were they actually impactful in the story?

And also what’s the story they’re really telling? The story they’re telling is will actually the criminal justice system is run by black people mostly, who really like it and want to maintain it. It’s toxic and weird, but there’s a reason why the characters we get to play are the characters we get to play.

They’re the characters that are maintaining the mythologies of white domination that the characters are the caretakers. I’m thinking of the show as a Fringe , where Jasika Nicole, she was… 

Latisha: Astrid. 

Claudia: Yeah. Astrid, I loved that actress. She’s a fabulous actress by herself already. But I had such a fondness and appreciation for the character. But also again, I can really enjoy it if I turn off the piece of my brain, that goes, so “They made sure to have this one mammy character, just taking care of everybody, caring for everybody, never caring for herself.”

At one point you get a kind of a sneak into her character’s life after four or five seasons. After many seasons, you got to have her be a full character. I feel like that’s the pattern. That’s why… okay… WandaVision. WandaVIsion… This is one of my anger points with all of comic books because Captain Marvel was a black woman.

Captain Marvel was a white man. And then they were like, let’s take on a black woman. And it was like excitement. And then the people in charge were like, “You know what? That’s not a good idea so let’s just change the character and gave her weird powers.” And then they kept doing that.

They kept changing the name of the character. So as an audience member, as a comic book reading audience member, it was hard for me to find her cause her name kept changing. So now you’ve got Monica Rambo. I am so jazzed that she’s in this TV show.

 I’m watching it. I’m on the internet, making all kinds of wrong- headed guesses about what’s going to happen. And what’s really happening. In the end, I was mad. I was mad because they didn’t give her an amazing fight. They had her protecting pretend, white children.

They weren’t even real. They were real imaginary white children.

And to then she doesn’t get thanked. She just gets her butt beat. And then the white woman, I just… I had issues. I had issues. I wanted her to have her own story. And I was mad that the story that she was in was actually a white woman’s story. And she was just there to make it more, more interesting and actually she was there to make sure I would watch it. 

Natacia: Oh yeah. A hundred percent. And I’m going to be honest. I went into that show with the expectation that it would be all about Scarlet Witch or whatever. I knew that they had this black character on the show, but I knew that she was not going to be a central character.

Come on. I’m not new to this Marvel rodeo. I know how they do their story writing. But the thing that actually that got me was at the very end.

 A. Exactly what you’re saying about how they had her protecting and guarding these fake ass kids, which was like really wild, but then they took it a step further than even that.

And in those last moments where everybody in this town who Wanda had psychically manipulated and had really caused a lot of drama in the town, whether she knew she was doing it or not, whatever, like she had done this thing to this town, to these people that were all harmed and scared and angry.

And they have the scene between Wanda and Monica at the end where Wanda was just like, “Oh, they’re also upset at me.” I can’t remember what her line was, whatever, something like that. And Monica was just like, “They’ll never understand everything you did for them.” I was like, “What??!! Why would you have her say that?” 

Claudia: Because the black person has to make the white lady who did bad things feel better about herself. That’s how the storytelling is supposed to work. 

Latisha: And so we go back to, I have to sympathize with the questionably, sociopathic white character, and they’re meant to be my favorite. I’m just saying… 

Natacia: Wow!

Latisha: I’m seeing patterns. That’s what I’m saying. And then also the reason why I brought up this question cause I feel like there’s also the… how can we make the black character who we’re putting in here comfortable for a majority white audience?

How can we make them “safe”? Oh I know if we give them the authority that I typically respect, I might be able to put that position over my initial apprehension for identifying with this type of person. If I have the structure of, if you have been approved by this system, then maybe I can put my other problems that I would typically have with you to the side. So I can digest this other part of your story.

It also is like here’s the positions you were allowed to have. You are allowed to be my protector. You were allowed to be my guide and you were allowed to be my babysitter. 

That’s it. 

Claudia: We can also be a fan. The black character is allowed to be like a fan, like a best friend, like a, “Oh, I’m just here. I’m popping into the narrative to be like, “I affirm you. You’re the best.” 

Latisha: Oh no. I put that into babysitter. 

Claudia: Ah, 

Natacia: Tony Stark had a lot of 

Latisha: Babysitters, additional jobs, like seriously. Like how many people need to babysit this full grown man with too much money.

Natacia: The way that we are, I don’t even know how many movies in Marvel at this point, and do we know anything about Rhodey? Do we know anything about Rhodey’s life? 

Latisha: I don’t know if he got any sisters, brothers? I know where his grandma at. 

Claudia: You think when he got hurt, we’d find something out, but 

Natacia: no. 

Latisha: Does Rhodey know how to do laundry? I don’t know. 

Natacia: No idea. Does he have any thoughts about anything? I have no clue. 

Latisha: Where does Rhodey live? Does he live in California, near Tony? Does he live in DC? Does he live in New York? I have no idea. 

Natacia: It’s wild. He’s been around since the very first movie. The first MCU movie, we know nothing. 

Latisha: Again, we know very little about this character who , you’re right, has been around since the beginning. So there’s this question of when, honestly we’re talking specifically black characters right now, what would it take for the stories that we hear, the stories that we’re told to feel more fully rounded than they actually are right now? 

Claudia: I love this conversation we’ve had, cause I just had a discovery that I hadn’t thought about before, which is much of the storytelling and the way that the projects are chosen in the way they’re cast. It’s all designed around white comfort. It’s all designed to serve the most racist audience members. They’re like, “Okay, we’re going to put a black person in here. How do we make the most racist white person okay with this?” Instead of, “Hey, we’re going to tell a story. How do we make this black audience so happy with this?”

Latisha: That’s good. 

Claudia: Y’all the ones who said the things.

Latisha: Saying the things and having been like, I’m going to contextualize and sum it up in a nice little sentence and it was like, wow. 

Natacia: Yeah. 

Latisha: And I’m thinking kind of like what would it take, as people talk about, the future of this country they say that it’s very much on track to being in a “majority minority” population.

But then also what’s happening, I feel, and just one thing that kind of gets on my nerves when people talk about honestly, diversity in any context, and whether it’s white actors or white shows or whatever, not having as big of a platform as they used to. It’s “Dude, once you mean is that you’re going from 95% to 75%, you still have the majority of the pie.”

And then on top of that, that 20% what you have less of is not just going to one group of people. It is now being divided amongst at least six to seven groups of people and these six or seven groups of people have about 10 sub groups each. So you can complain, “Oh no. There’s taking this and that.” And it’s like “No! You have less of a piece of a pie than you’re use to, but you still have the majority of the pie.” And that one piece is being divided amongst multiple individuals. So yeah, we’re still not completely happy. 

Claudia: Can I do a shout out for another Star Trek property. I’m such a Trekkie! Lower decks. I am 

Latisha: Lower Decks. Oh My God, Lower Decks. 

Claudia: We have got a black captain and her black daughter, like it’s a black protagonist and their vibe. I got to say it’s set in the future. I will watch the show because it’s one of the shows I can watch where I’m not going to receive trauma. It’s a trauma-less show where I can watch it. It’s not going to trigger me to feel all of the traumas I feel about being a black woman living in America.

But also it is black. Those actors are putting themselves in the roles. There are black people in the writer’s room. And every once in a while there’s a storytelling piece where I’m like, “Okay, Yeah, that isn’t serving white dominant thought processes and patterns. That’s for me.” I like that. 

Latisha: I know I saw this thing on Twitter, where this guy, I guess he was talking to a woman and she was saying how, like “It’s impossible to really watch any type of media without any cognitive dissonance. There’s always cognitive dissonance going on.” And he’s like, “I’ve never had to do that. My gosh, what must that be like?” And I’m like “Try being black.” But also this idea of, to me, what would it be like to be able to watch media without any cognitive dissonance? Just being able to watch it straight through without having to turn down any dials.

Like what would that be ? There’s a part of me that honestly doesn’t know. And like any dials on any of my intersectionalities. What would it be like to not have to toggle that all the time in order to watch media or even one piece of media where I don’t have to do that. I honestly don’t know. 

Natacia: Yeah. Something Claudia that you’ve been talking about a bit just now, and a couple other times in this conversation is around the concept of being retraumatized or, being traumatized by watching shows. And I think I have a similar opinion because I feel like a lot of black centered shows whether they have a white writers room, a black writers room or multiple different people behind the camera who were black.

I feel like nine times out of 10, the storytelling is focused on black trauma. And what I think for me I am looking forward to seeing is I just want to see black people being on adventures unburdened. That’s actually like what I want to see. You can still have a black story that is very black, right? That like people are just living in that identity. But I would just love to just see black people living their lives, unburdened and not being centered around white people. That is what I want. And I think until we are at the place where that kind of storytelling is able to happen consistently, we are just going to have to deal with having like continual cognitive dissonance.

We’re going to have to keep dealing with like” Do I want to watch this story, even though I know it’s gonna be like really traumatic and painful to sit through?” Or “Do I want to watch the story where black people are just being very pleasant to the white supremacy they’re being presented with in their lives, within that story?”

And saying “Are we okay with that?” And I want to close out by saying just like one thing, that’s really less of a something that happened in a movie or TV show, but like the comic book story. I was actually just talking about the Civil War 2 comic book story in Marvel.

And I’m not going to get into the whole plot of what happens in that storyline, but basically Captain Marvel, the white one, has this whole thing where she has decided that Miles Morales, as Spider-Man, our Afro-Latinx Spider-Man, is a danger basically like to the world and to superheroes or whatever, and goes on this mission basically to apprehend and kill this child.

And that is like literally the whole plot, because some people think that she’s right. Some people think that she’s wrong and what’s really wild to me. And the way that story is treated is Miles is supposed to be the center of that story, but they still dissenter him and how the story is being told.

And even though he is a Afro Latinx kid, there’s no commentary about the fact that this white woman cop is trying to essentially get this black kid either murdered or jailed. And there’s no commentary around that. Also why did it have to be Miles Morales that was the center of the story. And why did this have to be the story that he centered in and this huge team superhero story? I think that’s what I’m trying to get at. It was both about black trauma and not about black trauma at the same time. And I just don’t want to see that kind of storytelling anymore.

And of course the whole story was written by a white man. It was edited by a white man. So none of this should be surprising, but I guess like a story in which black trauma is a part and not a part of a conversation of a story that was like so big and important in the comic book space at the time was just a bummer and would love to see a world where we just see Miles Morales just living his life ,swinging through the streets and just happy. That’s what I want. 

Claudia: I had a beautiful experience that does make me feel like we are moving into a better… I do think that we are having progress. And I think it’s because– 

Latisha: Absolutely. 

Claudia: I think there are more black people who are making choices and they also think there’s more of an awareness that we’re actually a gigantic dominant audience member group and that we need to be served better.

So I remember when the casting came out for Wrinkle in Time. There was a piece of my heart that sang cause when I read Wrinkle In Time, I read the girl character as a black person. I read the entire Foundation series when I was in high school, very mad that it ended on a cliffhanger.

And I read myself into the stories. I would pick a character and just go, “All right! In my head, this character is a black person now.” Now I did this with all the stories. I did this with CS Lewis. It didn’t make sense what I was doing, like with CS Lewis, I was not picking the racist character he decided was supposed to be the avatar for blackness. I was picking the character that I was like, “Oh, I’m reading this through the eyes of Lucy” cause that was the age range I was in when I was reading it. So when they made Foundation into a TV show, they made the character that I had imagined as black; they cast it with a black actress and it was gigantic.

And the universe wasn’t just a “There’s one piece of pepper and a salt mill”. It’s a vision of the future that has lots of people who look a lot of different ways. It felt like the story I was observing wasn’t one that was telling me implicitly, “Oh yeah. In the future, you don’t exist. In the future, all this stuff that’s happening now worked and you’re not here.” 

So there’s a chill I get when I watch cultural productions that are fully white. They chill me to the bone because at their heart, I feel like they’re making a promise. That’s a very dangerous and scary promise. So I liked Foundation. I’m going to keep watching that show. I liked it. 

Latisha: I’ve heard a lot of positive things on Foundation. So I’m definitely planning on picking it up. And I know for me, there’s an interesting dialogue when it comes to these type of genres, since Sci-fi typically takes place in the future and fantasy pieces typically take place in some type of metaphoric past ish, which is the question of who do you see in your past and in their metaphor past, cause just storytelling, and who do you see in your future?

And I know for me I’ve gotten to know more writers. I’ve gotten to know more creators. And, Claudia that’s like we started at the beginning of this conversation. Not only are there more black creators and POC creators, and producers and writers and all of that, but also these conversations we’re having have only really started to happen in the past five to 10 years.

It took me years, but another black person talk about Farscape with. I know that’s an all white property, but I love that shit. And I see certain things in it because of the way it’s framed. And certain things that another black person, another person of color would see that a white person might not.

And so there’s also the kind of critique and the lens of which we’re looking at, even older properties, which have been traditionally, white dominated as being like, “Oh no, I like this too. I see it this way. That’s new”, or I’m seeing it through the lens of gender, or I’m seeing it through the lens of this. And I’m thinking of the lens of that. And us putting our lenses on, for lack of a term, traditional properties also adds the richness of the conversation I think we’re having now. And I think that’s incredible. And I think this conversation has been incredible. And thank you so much, ladies.

This has been great. I want to finish up, I know you already talked a little bit about your socials and where to find you on the internet, but if you can reiterate it one more time, as well as any projects that you’re working on, that you are super excited about. So Claudia, let’s start with you.

Claudia: Sure. So I said you can definitely visit Trek Table podcast. I just can’t wait to experience this beautiful show with a bunch of BIPOC femmes and we’re going to be talking about lots of things. If you go to callingupjustice.com the two projects that I’m most passionate about are my perpetual global watch night, so black folks often on New Year’s Eve, we do a watch night just to see how we all going to be. So I made a digital watch night in collaboration with Dr. Nzinga. And then I was like, “Wait a second. We did this on the internet.” We could have the watch night happen forever. It can be a perpetual watch night.

So if you go to the website, you can leave a message for black lives and a wish for us all to stay alive and healthy throughout the year. And then I also have another project called F*** The Gala. That’s a swear word. F*** The Gala. And it is a invitation to explore a asynchronous performance art critique of the arts fundraising scene.

And it’s going to be a spicy space. It’s for folks who are like really interested in that conversation, but I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun and we’ve got some amazing artists doing like artistic reflections on racial capitalism and philanthropy and like decolonizing wealth and stuff.

So those are the two projects, F*** The Gala and the perpetual global watch night on callingupjustice.com. 

Latisha: That’s fantastic. Natacia, socials and upcoming projects. 

Natacia: Oh, my gosh. You can hit me up personally on IG and Twitter @NKnapper and napper, which is N K N a P P E R again, that’s N K N a P P E R on IG and on Twitter.

And then I also have a podcast which has been previously mentioned. I have somehow convinced Latisha to be on three times, and we’ll definitely be having her on again. And pop chatter pod, we are currently going through all the Marvel movies, really, all the MCU movies. We’re actually wrapping up the second phase.

 So I got to start thinking about what did we after we finished these movies, but you can find us on social media at pop chatter pod on IG and Twitter. Again, it’s pop C H a T T E R P O D pop chatter pod on IG and Twitter, where me and my bestie Lindsey, just talk about all kinds of nerdy shit, Marvel and otherwise.

And yeah, I think the only other thing I would plug is I am part of a housing cooperative project. I am just plugging everywhere that I can called Baldwin House named after James Baldwin, my favorite author, where a group of folks. Me and other folks in my neighborhood are working at purchasing my apartment building and turning it into a Black-led cooperative and hub for queer BIPOC folks.

And I’m just really fucking jazzed about this project. So if you want to donate, be part of it. We don’t actually have socials, but what you can do is you can follow a ward one mutual aid on Twitter. And that’s where you can learn a little bit about a project. 

Latisha: I’m so excited for that. I am putting all vibes up for that project’s success. Also a general note to all people listening. Yes, you should support ward one mutual aid, but also mutual aid organizations in your area, mutual organizations in other people’s areas, mutual aid helps us survive. And so that should always and forever be on your radar.

But specific shout out to ward one mutual aid. So thank you so much for bringing this our attention. 

Natacia: Of course. 

Latisha: All right. Folks, people who are lovely listeners and I’m so grateful for both having this conversations. And also if you have listened to this conversation, I really appreciate everyone who was part of the Interspectional community. So I just want to say to everyone have a wonderful day and I’ll see you next time.

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