Why “Walking Dead” is dead to me

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SPOILER WARNING:  No, screw it.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair

And here, predictable as clockwork, is the balancing essay to my comments about “Focus” just a few days ago.   No, my optimism is still high, for the movie, our country, and the human race.   But it is important to speak about this because I’ve watched it for five years, had innumerable conversations about it, and while I often loved the show, at times it felt like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

I’m done with “Walking Dead.” And the Upton Sinclair quote needs to be modified to be understood in this context: it is difficult to get someone to understand something if understanding would cost them pleasure, or cause pain, or acknowledge their privilege.    It isn’t quite “you can’t wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep” but if you combine the two, you’re pretty damned close.

##

Two years ago we shot the short film “Danger Word,” the story of a grandfather and granddaughter trying to survive after the Zombie apocalypse.  (SPOILER)   They were the only human beings in the movie–everyone else has already succumbed to the zombie plague.   And trust me, white people on the production noticed.   “There’s a tiny Confederate flag in the trading post.  What are you trying to say?”   “The mannequin they shoot at is white.  What are you trying to say?”

Human sensitivity.  We like seeing positive images of ourselves.  We like to identify with character onscreen.  When Hitchcock killed Janet Leigh (shockingly!) in “Psycho” after establishing her as the main character, that master director and his writer, Joseph Stephano (and perhaps the original author, Robert Bloch) knew that this would create emotional dissociation with the audience as they desperately searched for someone to empathize with.  And the closest person we could find was…Norman Bates.  Explaining part of the impact of this seminal horror film–they literally turned the audience inside out.    They must have been shaking when they left the movie.

For fifty years, I’ve pointed out the disproportionate death and dehumanization of black characters in movies (I’ve only been able to quantify it for the last twenty-five or so, that “no non-white male lead actor has ever had sex in a film earning over 100 million domestic.”  And there is always someone who challenges me on it.  Good.  Try.  You will lose. And then begin to ask why implying it, or showing them in after-glow afterward, or making a verbal reference to lovemaking, or a hug, or whatever, isn’t the same thing.  So predictable.  It is to laugh.)

As I said in the earlier essay, when I was a kid, the other kids in the neighborhood wondered why I bothered to see genre films.  They knew it would ultimately be a painful experience: “how’d they kill the brother this time?”   Killed disproportionately (and tragically, sniff sniff) often saving white characters (there isn’t a dry eye in the house. By Grabthor’s Hammer! He will be avenged!   And I’ll comfort his wife while I’m at it…), or desexualized (in my twenties I came up with what I called the “breeding circle” theory of racial imagery: in adventure and SF movies, the black characters would be either too young, too old, too fat, too gay, or too dead to be sexual competition).

The first time I ever, and I mean EVER saw anything about this said out loud was on an episode of “In Living Color” when they did a riff on the “Lethal Weapon” movies.

Image: A black man screaming like a little girl as his white partner pilots their car like Speed Racer.   Announcer  “He can’t drive!”

Image: The same black man held helplessly by one thug as his white partner (Jim Carrey) beats up two guys with karate moves.  Announcer:  “He can’t fight!”

Image: The white guy making out with a girl. The black man is watching, huge grin on his face, giving a “thumb’s-up.”  Announcer: “He’s not interested in sex!”

Announcer (continued):  “But when his partner is injured, it’s time for THE SIDEKICK to step in!”

Scene: A cheap dive.   The black guy is bellied-up to the bar.   A sexy white woman slides up next to him.

Guy: “Did you get the information?”

She slides his finger along his arm.   “No.  Not yet.  But…I’ve got a room upstairs. We could go up and have a LOT of fun.”

He looks at her, owl-eyed, and says: “Baby, I’m a black man in a `crossover’ movie.  You’re barking up the wrong tree.”

##

I died.  I couldn’t believe they’d actually SAID it.  Holy #$#%, were they INSANE?

##

Another piece you’ll need to understand my thinking: the “bottleneck” is not “racist Hollywood liberals.”  And it is not “White America” if by that you mean that somehow white people are more racist, evil, or oblivious than anyone else. No, there’s nothing special about white people at all, positive or negative. They’re just people. But there are emergent qualities of human psychology and sociology that one can see again and again in our history, whenever one group has numerical, economic or other power over another, the broad version of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.  Or the expression of Octavia Butler’s famous maxim that a core problem of human beings is:

  1. The tendency to think hierarchically.

  2. The tendency to place themselves higher on that hierarchy.

To consider themselves, in other words, more human.

Last piece you need: The theory that these tendencies can be seen less in what we say consciously or publicly than in the entertainments we choose.  That we can measure it by the movies that earn money (what images are acceptable?  Unacceptable?) and the television shows the public finds popular.

Is this plausible?  Well, try looking at any heated political thread, and it is clear that  liberals AND white Conservatives largely believe that their political opponents will lie, cheat, distort, defame and edit reality to warp each others’ positions.    If they believe that about themselves politically, is it really a huge stretch to posit that this human behavior isn’t as bad across racial lines?

Remember: I’m not specifically talking about YOU.   Unless, of course, you happen to be human.  Ahem.

##

O.K.  To Walking Dead.   In the first season, they introduced a crew of survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.   All good.   Sheriff named Rick (white, of course) is the hero.   First couple of episodes, they had a black father and son.  Intelligent, capable, bonded.  Love’d ‘em.  Rick went on.   A few episodes later, they introduced another black character, “T-Dawg.”   The only character on the show without a real name–just a cultural label.  All right.

He wasn’t particularly smart, nor did he have “agency,” and soon after we meet him, he and another minority (and I believe some women and an old man) are held captive by a single redneck.   Who is promptly slapped down by Uber-Rick. I had to shrug at that: typical wish fullfilment.  “Well,” I remember commenting to Tananarive, “clearly all the writers on THIS show are white.”

Fine.  But over the next seasons, T-Dawg went downhill.  He had no interest in women, he never had a good idea, he virtually shuffled his feet, rolled his eyes and moaned “Dey’s zombies in dere!” Okay.  Still enjoyed the show.  Hell, I’d gotten used to that during all those childhood horror movies.

I remember lecturing at a university, and was asked why I loved genre so much, if I felt it was so problematic.  I told the truth.   I was raised without my father, by my mother and sister.  No uncles, brothers, older male cousins to hang with. Nothing.  I was small and slight and bookish and  unathletic.   And predictably, the girls wanted little to do with me.  I wanted desperately to “be admired by the men I admired, and desired by the women I desired.”  So I sought out images of Manhood, wherever I could find them. And adventure/SF had some great, simplistic ones.    James Bond, Simon Templar, Conan, Tarzan, Mike Hammer…I ate ‘em up.

There was a problem, though.   In EVERY case, and I mean 99% of the time, either black people were excluded or, if they WERE mentioned, it was in a servile, cowardly, evil, or sacrifical fashion.   It hurt terribly–both that these authors felt that way, or that, rather obviously, their audiences lapped it up.

I read anyway. As I said to the audience, “I sacrificed my melanin on the altar of my testosterone.”

And kept my thoughts mostly to myself, at least partially because when I DID say something, my white friends simply denied it.  I was imagining things.  Gee Steve, you’re so smart to be so over-sensitive…

Right.  And just maybe I’m smart enough to know what I’m talking about.   Disturbing possibility, yes?

Back to “Walking Dead.”  It got worse.  I read the original comic book, and realized that the only black male character was named “Tyreese.”  He was alpha, smart, competent, brave. Everything “T-Dawg” was not.  And I noticed that they shared a first letter on their names, gender, and race.  And asked myself how much of a coincidence that might be.   Math isn’t my strong suit, but roughly I thought that you’ve have to multiply 2 (gender) X 26 (odds of the first letter) X about 8 (likelihood of race) to find the coincidence thingie.  Let’s see–roughly 1 chance in 416 that this was a coincidence.

So what would I call T-Dawg?   I’d call him “Tyreese 1.0”.  Why would someone do this?  Well…I looked at the show creator, Frank Darabont.   Was there anything in his filmography that would hint at a psychological problem with darker folks?

He’d done “Shawshank” and cast Morgan Freeman race-neutral.  Didn’t that say something positive?  Well…maybe.  I had to factor in that Freeman, for all his gravitas and talent, has made an entire career out of being a eunuch.  He is the only actor in history to have eaten shit onscreen more often than he’s been passionately kissed (did you SEE “The Power of One”?) and has never had a love scene in his entire career.  He is the sacrificial, magical Negro spiritual guide of all time.  (Did you SEE “Bruce Almighty”?) So… I might have to look deeper.

Didn’t take long to find “The Green Mile.”  Now, “Green Mile” was an experimental novel by Stephen King, published as a series of monthly chapters. It tells the story of a prison guard (played in the film by Tom Hanks) who comes to realize that a prisoner on Death Row is an extraordinary, magical being, probably innocent.   And although John Coffey is smuggled out to heal a white woman, and becomes human Viagra for Hanks, he is ultimately executed anyway.    Now, that sounds pretty bad, and Stephen King doesn’t have the best track record racially (he tends to exoticize and “spiritualize” his black characters to an irritating degree) but he is also deeply humane, and far too talented a writer to fail to give black people inwardness.   His problem is lack of familiarity, not hostility or fear.

Note the difference between King and Kubrick’s Dick Hallorann in “The Shining”: A spiritual guide, yes.  But what did Stanley Kubrick do to him, once they cast Scatman Crothers?   He KNOWS there is danger at the Outlook.   Leaves his sunny vacation after a psychic call.  Snow-buggies across miles of countryside to get to it.   Then walks in without paying the slightest attention and Jack Nicolson hits him in the chest with an axe.   Spiritua guide, sacrifical negro and IDIOT all in the same package.

Well, I loved “The Green Mile.” The title is a reference to the terrible, finite quality of human life.   Coffey dies, but so will we all.  I cried at the end.  King rocks.

But the movie…something went wrong. I watched that film, and when I walked out, realized something was off.   For some reason, what I’d loved in the book I hated on the screen. And after a couple of days of thinking about it, I realized what Darabont had changed from the book.

In the book, the Hanks character believes Coffey to be innocent. And he calls the governor’s office and pleads with the warden to delay the execution.  And fails.   Painful.

But in the movie, he KNOWS that Coffey is innocent, due to a psychic vision (that shows Coffey was arrested for trying to HELP two little white girls) and…does nothing. Nothing.  Doesn’t pick up the phone for thirty seconds to try to get Coffey freed.

Understand: there are about five minutes of stupid mouse tricks in this movie.  And they couldn’t spare thirty seconds.  Sure, Coffey says he’s tired and just wants life to be over.  Of course he does: he has been ill-used by life.  This is his down-point, his “dark night of the soul.” And it is the point where Tom Hanks should have given a stirring speech and gone off to save him…and then tragically failed.

Let’s put it this way: if “Lassie” had been accused of biting Timmy, and was scheduled to die, and at the last minute Timmy woke up from a coma and told them the collie was just trying to save him from wolves, the entire climax of the movie would have been a frantic cross-town car chase through red lights, with cops screaming after them, to save that dog.   I’ve literally NEVER seen anything like Green Mile’s abandonment of an innocent character.

And if you cannot empathize with how it felt to be black in a white theater, watching a movie made by white people, with the only black actor on screen dying because he tried to help two white girls, and the white actor we’re supposed to empathize with didn’t see enough humanity in him to pick up the @#$$ phone…let’s say you probably won’t understand what I mean when I say I’m not surprised that Tom Hanks said “yes” to “Captain Phillips.”

So..Darabont lost my “benefit of the doubt” and I could feel that the little “racial identity monitor” in the back of my head was starting to pay attention to “Walking Dead” on a new level.

It got worse. I had a writer friend, white, with whom I shared my concerns about the show.  He knew people on the staff, and get this: They told HIM that the reason that “T-Dawg” was written so shallowly was that the ACTOR Iron E. Singleton was a “bad actor.”   Well, why not fire him and bring in someone else?  Oh, he’s a good guy.  Wouldn’t that be mean..?

@#$$  no.  It would be business, IF THEY GAVE A DAMN.  Remember “Jerry McGuire”: it ain’t “show friendship.  It’s show BUSINESS.”

Every heard of blaming the victim?   Give the actor nothing, and blame him.   I actually BOUGHT that for a couple of weeks, so inclined am I to believe in better angels. And then it just fell apart.  I couldn’t see a way it made sense.

If I was right they’d taken a terrific male character, emptied him, and then blamed the actor for what they’d done.

The internet started buzzing about T-Dawg, the complaints growing.  “No,” they said.  “T-Dawg isnt’ Tyreese.  We’ll bring Tyreese in later.” Yeah, right.   I kept my “1.0” theory: they’d “floated” the emasculated version, but gave themselves plausible deniability.  When people complained too much, they would bring in the “REAL” Tyreese.  Strong. Smart.  Macho.  And Michonne’s lover.  Oh yeah, that’s right.  When the introduced Michonne, she was so much stronger and smarter than T-Dawg he couldn’t have shined her shoes.   But the REAL Tyreese is coming, right..?

(By the way, anyone notice how long it took Michonne to have the slightest inner world?  She was an object, an archetype, not a human being until they finally flashed back to her relationship with her cousins.)

Ummm…no.  When they finally brought in Chad Coleman from “The Wire” and announced him as Tyreese I was happy.  No, he looked softer than the comic “Tyreese” but we can work with that.  He would be dynamic, intelligent, sexual, have inwardness, right?

Well…not quite.  He came with a black woman named “Sasha,” and I initially thought she was his girlfriend.  But as time went on, I was disturbed by the fact that they didn’t clearly define their relationship.  Then someone told me she was his sister.  Had I missed that?   There clearly hadn’t been any extended fraternal moments, no clarity, even if I’d missed a line somewhere.  That was strange.

Uh-oh. That pesky “inwardness” thing that kept Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) a mere fantasy for Garcia for nine years on Criminal Minds.

Of course, they killed off T-Dawg.  He died sacrificially, trying to help a white woman–the tried and true trope we know as The Sacrificial Negro.  Sob sob.  And afterward, the white characters spoke of all the wonderfulness of T-Dawg, all the terrific things he’d done and said, and how he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Medical School but gave up wealth and fame to help orphans in the Balkans…well, maybe not that last part. But he had more life after death than in life.

So noble, though.  Well, maybe Tyreese 2.0 can finally shine…

Then…he was clearly made  beta to the other males.  EVERY  other male on the show was smarter, more of a leader and tactical thinker.  Even the kid. Even the women were more alpha and dynamic, including his own kid sister.  Little girls were telling him what to do.

Uh-oh.  Or “WTF”? Take your pick.  He made tactical errors. He baby-sat the kids instead of taking point. They had feminized him, just chopped off his balls and distributed them to the other members of the cast.

Finally, they gave him a love interest (shooting their tender scenes as indirectly as possible) and I said: “oh oh.  They’re gonna kill her.”) and they did, within an episode.  Sob sob.

I kept hoping and hoping, but as they made it clear, all he had going for him was a deep conscience and sensitivity (he cried very well) and from time to time he’d go mindlessly berzerk and kill everything in sight.  Wow. What a thinking human being.  Let’s just say I would happily have bet dollars to doughnuts that there wasn’t a black person of any consequence anywhere near the writer’s room on THAT show.

They introduced another black male character, let him be Sasha’s boyfriend…and immediately killed him. Hey, a black preacher…who turned out to be a coward who betrayed his flock.   And then a kid, the former “Everybody Hates Chris” star.  Not bad, but…remember what I said about “too young to be sexual competition”?  Ah, the breeding circle.  Nice predictive capacity.

So they took a mid-season break, and the story was that when they came back, they had some big changes.  Big, big changes.

We’ll see, I thought.

Watching last night, I IMMEDIATELY noticed changes.  Wow.  The black people were talking amongst themselves like real human beings! Tyreese was actually talking about his childhood with Sasha!   What the heck?   And the actor looked like he’d been to the gym–not as soft.  His chest was suddenly larger than his gut.  He moved with more authority.  I sat up, focusing. SOMETHING was very different.  He was philosophical, directed, seemed more aware and awake.  Damn near had “swagger.”

Where had THIS guy been?  And then…he got bit by a little zombie kid.  Followed by an agonizingly prolonged dream/fantasy sequence in which they gave him more humanity than they’d given all the other black characters on the show combined IN FIVE YEARS.   It was GRUELING.   The black twitter-stream was pain-filled.  People were crying and praying.  He was all we had. Our only character to identify with.

And he died.  They buried him without killing his brain, so who knows, maybe he’ll come back and booga-booga the other stars.   Oh, run, here comes our tragic friend, transformed into one of the damned for our viewing pleasure…

###

This morning, T send me a link to writer Zig Zag Claybourne’s  blog,  speaking of a black actor.  The following paragraph stood out:   “Dying had become pretty old for Len Turman by the time he turned forty-six. He’d played the voice of a robot, and the robot had died. He’d been the young black dude in a platoon of brave men, and he’d died. He’d played a sword-wielding immortal and felt good that in the film he was supposed to have lived over four thousand years…until an older, evil immortal deceived and decapitated him. He’d had things rammed into him, poured over him, sliced diagonally across him, shot through him, horribly-gone-wrong spliced into him, lemming-ed off a cliff, absorbed, bitten in half, exploded, knifed, poisoned, burned, and even—as the only black man in a film about the French revolution—guillotined. He’d performed every stunt imaginable and acted against a rainbow assortment of special effects screens. He had yet to have onscreen sex, which is why he got into acting in the first damn place, and today was his birthday. Birthdays were tailor-made for deciding when certain shit was about to stop.”

 

That was great.  But what caught my attention most was the following:

 

“We quit.

 

“No more will we die while lesser actors go on to numerous sequels. No more will we turn our backs on wounded villains or provide chewable ethnic flavor.”

 

“Well,” somebody said.

 

“We are not your surprise twist endings, your tragi-comic sidekicks, or your security officers. We are actors, dammit—”

###

 

Well damn.  He said it.  I got into this field partially because I love writing,  and partially because I love genre.  But partially because I saw a great, bleeding hole in the mythic image systems.  And believe there is a feedback-loop between the art and the culture.  In other words, the attitudes of the culture can be seen in the art it embraces.   That there is a relationship between these images and employment and incarceration rates, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

 

But it works the other way as well: art, properly created, can communicate and awaken.  It both leads and follows.

 

I will never, ever stop fighting that fight.  But I don’t have to watch a show that has proven, to me, that its creators and creative staff do not consider black folks to be of equal humanity and value.  Yeah, I said it.

 

Those of you who still enjoy it…good.  I wish them and you, no ill, and hope you have fun.  But I’m tired of dying in the shower, and refuse to identify with Norman Bates.  Is that too harsh?  


Try living it from my side.

–Steven Barnes

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14 comments

  1. I understand your anger about the treatment of black men in entertainment, but at the same time I’m not having the problems you’re having with the deaths of black men in this series.

    I never thought of T-Dawg dying for the sake of a “white woman.” I always saw T-Dawg as a character who died while trying to be a part of a group and save everyone (something he had difficulty with a certain times during Season 1). And, I never considered his character to be less than everyone else simply because he wasn’t white or a cop like Rick or a lawyer like Michonne. I always thought he was just one type of character in the diverse group of characters in this universe.

    I also don’t see why everyone keeps complaining so much about the deaths of black men on this show. There have been, and continue to be, a lot of people of color in this series who haven’t died. Morgan, who has been in the series since Season 1, is still very much alive. Michonne is still alive. Father Gabriel didn’t die when Tyreese died. There’s Noah. And, there’s still a tone of POC whose outcomes we don’t yet know, such as the family from Season 1 who went off their own way and the Vatos.

    I’m sorry that so many people seem to have a problem with the lead being white and surrounding himself with some white people, but that’s the story.

    It’s about Rick and his family, and his extended family, trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse. And yes, they are going to cross paths and associate with other white people in Georgia and other areas as they’re traveling around just like the Vatos all grouped together.

    Yet, Rick hasn’t just grouped together with only white people. Except for when he briefly went crazy after Lori died and refused a home to Tyreese’s group, which also included two white people, he has always extended a hand to everyone they’ve crossed paths with no matter their skin color and that’s not something you would see every person doing in our world. People instinctively herd together with others who are like them and yet Rick has seen the best qualities in everyone they’ve come across and has tried to accept everyone.

    I also don’t know why people keep saying that Tyreese’s death didn’t have meaning or that he died because he was black. In the previous episode a pale, white girl with blonde hair (the stereotypical heroine type or horror movie survivor type) died killing a bad person and her death was kind of dumb and not really that heroic. Yet, it fit her character just like Tyreese’s death fit his.

    These are two characters who were too trusting in this world. As Beth killed Dawn it’s unlikely that she thought ahead in any way that she might be killed. That was one of her biggest character flaws. She often needed others to keep her safe and aware of her surroundings. Tyreese’s was that he had given up his ability to see everything around him to survive as he grew more depressed with the world that he lived in. He told Karen that he couldn’t do it any more… and that was when they still lived in the prison. He couldn’t handle killing and always looking around him. His death re-emphasized the point that Rick made to Carl in the church, one of the main themes, about how it can all end in a second. Tyreese was also living with a lot of guilt and how he died made it clear that he was done with the life and had been done for a while.

    So, until Morgan, Noah, Michonne, Glenn and the rest of the POC in the series all start dropping off while a majority of the white cast members survive, I’m wouldn’t be so judgmental toward the writers.

    After all, there have also been a ton of white characters who have died throughout this series, including main characters. I mean, yes, there aren’t as many POC characters overall as viewers might want, but if you’re going to run percentages… consider how many white people have been cast as villains or have been killed off. Although the Vatos initially came off briefly as bad when they weren’t, there hasn’t been a single POC villain in this series. Instead, if you want a list of stereotypes, there’s been every good and bad white stereotype you can imagine, including the Philadelphia/NY mob-like white characters who try to take over in the sticks, megalomaniac white guy, primarily white cannibals, redneck white people, crazy military white people, crazy and prejudiced white deputy, fat, white guy who dies because he can’t run fast enough, white prisoner who isn’t that smart and a bit of hick and even the bearded grandfatherly Christian white type.

    So, you know, maybe take a look at the series from a different point of view. There has been a disproportionate number of bad white people portrayed as compared to people of color. Even Father Gabriel, Michonne’s lover and friend and the POC characters who followed the Governor can’t be called stereotypical POC villains because their actions were more the result of fear and human nature than outright crazy or stereotyped. Father Gabriel is now on a path to redemption and the rest are dead. Yet, Rick’s group is still much more diverse than what many viewers would expect:

    Yes, there’s white people, but it also has a Hispanic-American (Rosita), a Korean-American (Glenn) and four African Americans/Blacks (Sasha, Noah, Father Gabriel and Michonne) at this point in the series. The white people in the series are a) related to Rick (Carl and Judith) b) characters from the original group (Carol and Daryl) c) Maggie (the Farm) d) Tara (Woodbury) e) Abe and Eugene (DC).

    That’s a very diverse group that includes people from each of the areas they’ve visited. Six People of Color and 9 Caucasians. It’s almost an equal representation. And, if you exclude Rick as the lead and the children, there IS an equal representation among the adults.

    What other series on television right now does that good a job with diversity?

    Like

    1. No, you don’t understand my anger–although you believe that you do. I never said he died because he was black. I said he was dehumanized and infantalized, and that the black male characters had less “alpha macho” quality than any of the white males, most of the women, and many of the children. If you’re fine with that, cool. But it is purely a fantasy, and reflects the beliefs and preferences of the writers and producers. If you think the same thing would be true were there POC on that staff, you are, I think, much mistaken.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I notice that the follow-up correction that I wrote minutes after my original comment is still waiting moderation and that your response really doesn’t address any of my counterarguments.

        Okay. Well, you’re right in that I don’t see Tyreese as being “dehumanized and infantalized” or that all the black characters are portrayed as “alpha macho” than the white males.

        Many of the so-called “alpha macho” while males in TWD are actually less true alpha male types than they appear at first glance. When you start ripping apart their characterizations, they are very much more like children trying to figure out their place and “acting” like macho men. Take Daryl. He’s considered one of the biggest “alpha” men in the series by many, but he is actually a follower who craves attention and support and has incredible low self-esteem. And, Tyreese often was right up there with the so-called macho men with trying to be more than what he felt inside so as to not create hopelessness or demotivate those around him.

        Also, there’s a huge difference between being a gentle individual and being infantalized.

        I wonder… IF Tyreese had been made more “alpha macho,” which I can only assume means portrayed like Rick, would there have been complaints that he was too much the “violent or angry black man” stereotype?

        Before you answer, keep in mind that a lot of fans actually complained that he was being stereotyped as too suddenly violent and angry when he was upset after Karen’s death (something that should have been interpreted merely as natural anger over someone MURDERING his loved one).

        From my perspective… I believe that if he had been taken any further than the direction the writers went then there would be a lot of viewers complaining at length that he was being stereotyped as too macho or too angry. The writers and producers have to tread a very fine line in this series to make everyone relatively happy. In fact, every writer and producer no matter the series these days are always treading a line between the fans who accept the story as is and see the efforts they make to make casts diverse and the ones who pick every little thing apart and try to say that everything they do has stereotyped tones.

        I honestly don’t know about how many people of color are on the staff or consult in this program, but again…

        Father Gabriel isn’t demanized or infantalized. He’s merely a human character who has weaknesses. Noah is just a kid. And, if we’re going to talk “macho”… Morgan has never been dehumanized or infantalized. Instead, he’s been portrayed as ultimately very macho. Beyond being sensitive as family man (which good family men would be), not killing his wife (which most people would have difficulty doing) and the craziness after his son’s death (which would happen to most people and also happened to some of the white males), he’s never been portrayed as anything other than alpha macho. He kept himself and his son safe until he first crossed paths with Rick and for some time after. He saved Rick. He took control of a town and kept people from taking what he built there while having lost his mind over losing his loved ones. He’s now running around ALONE in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

        That’s pretty impressive. That’s very alpha macho. Sure, he didn’t take over a group, but that just makes him a lone wolf type, which can still be an alpha type.

        ***

        Going back the characterization of Tyreese again:

        He’s a man that lost hope. That’s not stereotyped… that’s something that can happen to anyone no matter their skin color. And, yes, he was gentle and kindhearted. So? How might that equal “dehumanized or infantalized”? Because, I don’t see anything else in this characterization that could be interpreted those ways.

        Hershel was gentle and kindhearted. He refused to kill the walkers in the barn. Are you saying that Hershel was also dehumanized and infantalized? Because, for Tyreese’s gentleness and kindness to be interpreted those ways then Hershel would have to be interpreted the same.

        And, if Tyreese came off as too gentle versus the comics, then that’s a creative and/or acting choice and not necessarily stereotyping. But, again, he was always portrayed as caring and protective in both. And, any man, no matter his former professions, might be less macho than those professions would dictate. So, yeah… former football player and bouncer, etc. Maybe, his nature is why those professions didn’t work out for him and he moved around from job to job? And, he wasn’t childlike because he was gentle and cared about kids. He was portrayed as a kindhearted protector in the series from the very beginning with the adults he was traveling with when they came to the prison.

        As for T-Dog: (please excuse my earlier misspelling of his name): Okay. In later seasons, he didn’t get a lot of dialogue and I don’t know what decisions behind the scenes caused that to happen, but there were a lot of characters who didn’t get a lot of dialogue at the farm. And yes, he was a beta male and not an alpha male. Well, you can only have so many alphas in a group. That’s pretty much why Shane died and the group split briefly at the church. Rick is the alpha male because, again, the series is about Rick’s journey.

        But, T-Dog wasn’t portrayed as less than human or an infant at any time. Go back to Season 1. He suffered greatly because of dropping the key and leaving Merle behind. But, that depiction was merely of someone who cared about people. He was depicted as someone who rose above his personal dislike of a stereotyped white redneck to go back after the man even though he might get killed in the process because he was extremely human and a better human being than many in the group, a lot of them white, who thought Merle wasn’t worth the effort. As for his arm injury, a lot of people no matter their skin color would ignore their injury, let it get infected, complain about the infection and maybe act out. His smoking? A lot of people in the series are smokers. His dialogue? Again, we don’t know a lot about his background, but he’s not the only person whose dialogue includes vernacular from the regional or social influences.

        I don’t know what else to say. As a writer myself, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at these characters and the way they’ve been portrayed. They’re not perfect, but they’re not horrible.

        I wish you could see how well the writers have actually done as compared to many other series.

        Do I think that there are areas that the writers and the entire cast could have done better? Yes. But, that’s true of any series and we also don’t know how much the PTB for the network has influenced the decisions of the writers or the editing process. Ultimately though, given the material, the acting, etc… it’s a good series.

        I would invite you to watch series like Teen Wolf and Supernatural, or at least read the many fan complaints about them, to really get a feeling for series in which the writers fail horribly when it comes to stereotyping People of Color versus a series where the writers are obviously trying to depict people from a variety of backgrounds. In fact, with TW and SPN, the writers and networks have gone on to make fun of the fans who complain by continuing to do things that are absolutely horrible in this day and age (i.e. promoting severe stereotyping, bi-erasure, POC erasure, misogyny, rape culture, etc); whereas, TWD’s writers have taken complaints into account and have tried to improve at least in most areas. After all, in SPN, black characters usually disappear after an episode or they’re killed off immediately or depicted as evil. That’s a lot worse than TWD.

        And, in any discussion about how TWD’s creatives have failed fans, there should be talk about how they’ve failed with LGBT+ representation and queerbaiting.

        They had a lesbian couple which then turned into the a lesbian must die trope. Outside of the series, the actors and creatives played up little winks and nods between two of the male leads which is queerbaiting. Now, they’ve also gone the gay-/bi- erasure route with Daryl. He was portrayed as a complex character who might have been, given the past dialogue between he and Merle and descriptions of his upbringing, bisexual or homosexual. After Kirkman suggested in a written comment that Daryl might actually be one of the two, the backlash was so severe from straight fans and those who could never see Daryl as being anything other than heterosexual that Kirkman buckled and tried to erase his earlier statement by going on television and saying definitively that Daryl has always been heterosexual (missing the part where his written comment wasn’t the first time that he, the writers or cast hinted that Daryl was bi or gay).

        In my opinion, creating a complex LGBT character or queerbaiting and then erasing it is far worse than creating a fantastic character like Tyreese, portraying him in a complex, well-realized manner which included him having a love life and lost love, and then giving him a death that matches the characterization and the overall themes of the show.

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      2. You might not want to watch “Legion” with Dennis Quaid where they kill off BOTH black men who were trying to save white people SMH.

        Like

  2. In the comment above, I meant “ton” instead of tonne.

    Additionally, to clarify my last sentence…

    Obviously, there are other shows across genres with diverse casts, but I’m pointing out that there are a lot of fantasy and horror shows like this one that don’t have this much representation in the core grouping or even overall.

    I can’t even recall how many POC with talking roles there are on Game of Thrones beyond two former slaves. Some will argue that it’s because the show is representing a world in which POC have fewer rights. Yet, there could be more representation. It doesn’t need to be a primarily white cast.

    Teen Wolf and Supernatural are two more shows more deserving of being criticized for under-representing, stereotyping and killing off POC and minority characters.

    Too many people are complaining that TWD isn’t diverse enough when there are a lot of popular shows that can’t use the GoT excuse that are far worse and deserve a lot more criticism and attention.

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  3. Too much to answer all of it, but they changed the character from the comics, taking all of his force. The women and children were more aggressive and forceful. I could care less what “some people” might say about the “angry black stereotype”—it is hugely obvious that there are no black people in the writer’s room, and the kinds of things I’m talking about would never happen if there were. If you don’t think I’ve watched other shows where it was even more insulting, you’re kidding yourself. I’m glad you liked it though. I’ve had enough.

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  4. Again, I’m sorry that the show has upset you so much. I hope you find something else that fulfills you and meets your expectations.

    You ask people to try living it from your side. I would say again the same to you.

    I would recommend that you try seeing the portrayal of Tyreese from a viewpoint that isn’t based on seeing the worse in how white writers present characters of color. I would recommend that you try to see from the perspective that his portrayal was not some form of white fantasy wish fulfillment, etc.

    You seem very much taken with this idea that there can be no other reason for the character’s gentleness and morality, and lowered aggressiveness and forceful behaviors, than the lack of black writers in the writer’s room.

    But, here is the reason why I’m asking you to really put aside the activism cap for a moment and take another look:

    You’re upset that the comic version of Tyreese wasn’t presented onscreen. You believe he would have been if there had been black writers involved in the writer’s room.

    Yet…

    The writer of the comic version of Tyreese that you like so much WAS in the writer’s room. This same writer of the more aggressive and forceful version you wanted onscreen is also white.

    ?

    ***

    – Could it be that faced with an already well-liked aggressive and forceful character in the form of Daryl and a moral center in the form of Hershel, the writers had to take Tyreese in a different direction or risk losing a LOT of fans who were already complaining before the character’s arrival that they didn’t want to lose Daryl?

    – Could the PTB, fearing a drop in ratings should they replace Daryl with Tyreese, chose to take the characterization in the different direction so that they could actually keep the character in the show as long as they did given the backlash they were already receiving over the possibility of Daryl being killed off and replaced by Tyreese?

    It would be great if the story from The Walking Dead comics was presented exactly onscreen as it appears on the pages of the comic books, but the TV version is more like a partial reboot with characters filling in different roles, some characters combined, etc.

    Now, again, I’m not denying that maybe there’s these possible behind the scenes issues involving stereotyping taking place. I don’t know anyone on the series. So, I can’t tell people about rumors I’ve heard.

    All I can say is that I do believe that there should be more POC writers, including black writers, writing TV shows. But, I don’t believe it would have mattered in this case and, again, I don’t think that this version of Tyreese was so horrible.

    You mentioned earlier your dislike of “Uber-Rick” and how the entire situation you described was “typical wish fulfillment.”

    That statement tells me that you’re only looking at this show with a certain set a of glasses (perspective) and you’re ignoring other possibilities as you watch.

    Now, I know that we all bring our personal experiences to our viewing experiences, but as a writer I would expect you to set aside the expectation that every motivation behind every characterization is somehow consciously or subconsciously racially driven and try to see these characters as more because they ARE more.

    Sure, they may also be less and some aspects of them may be entirely presented for the wrong reasons or in ways that drive stereotypes, but… again… every scene between Caucasians and POC characters isn’t the result of stereotypes. I would argue that many of the scenes are just interactions between people.

    Anyway, again I’m sorry that the depiction of POC characters in TWD hurt you this way. I truly wish I could show you what I’m seeing and why I’m not seeing it from a fantasy perspective, kidding myself or mistaken.

    I wish you could see Tyreese as I see him: This well-rounded, strong, beautiful and amazing black man who didn’t need to be more aggressive and forceful to be a great character.

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    1. It isn’t Tyrese as an individual. It is the entire set of “black characters” I pay attention to. Individual cases will always vary. Patterns tell the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This person J, must be a shill for that show. Anyhow, thanks for this article as it confirms my reasons for not watching most of these television shows out there.

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  6. This was an excellent article…many shows with ‘Black characters’ do those same characters a grave injustice on all fronts. Even the MMORPG I play, whilst gratifying in the sense that my “toons” can look like me, falls massively short when it comes to addressing the blatant racism against my avatars, and those others who dare to adorn their own with dark skin. People of the LGBT community are more protected in online games than non-white people. On that note, I will stop before I derail this topic!
    🙂

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  7. I was fucking DONE with a capital D with this show with that pulled that shit with the Michael Rooker character and tired like all hell to make him “sympathetic” despite the fact that he was racist as fuck. You can have the Walking Dead!

    Like

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