Just because a showrunner is a white man, that doesn’t mean he can’t be intersectional.
You hear a lot about the importance of diversity in the writers’ room in order to have a broader viewpoint – and that’s always correct. Showrunners need to hire more diverse writers, and those writers will in turn grow up to be showrunners, and in the meantime, new voices will create more interesting and relatable stories. Truth be told, there is no room in the future for cis white men who refuse to step out of their bubble. It may not seem like it, but what we’re living through now are the death throes of their era. That’s probably what they’re so afraid of.
That’s why it’s so important to see cis white men stepping up to help create a TV landscape that includes voices and stories other than their own. That’s the future. This week, we saw two cis white male showrunners do just that.
Chris Chibnall has launched the new Doctor Who with a very clear message. His show is about a woman who wears a costume that looks good on both men and women – and that was very intentional. Her companions include a black man with dark skin and a woman of Pakistani descent, as well as the only old white man on board. This week, they all went back in time to meet Rosa Parks right when she was about to take her seat on that bus.
Normally when you take a character of color back in time, sci-fi shows shy away from acknowledging the racial impact of that decision. There was some fuss made over Martha Jones when she worked as a maid in a school for a while to watch over a clueless human Tenth Doctor, but it wasn’t a major storyline, and most shows in the past have just breezed right past it to avoid being preachy.
This week, Doctor Who got preachy, and it didn’t apologize for it.
There are no doubt a billion articles already up about ROSA, this week’s episode, so I’ll just mention the two things I found most interesting about this as a white American. One – apparently British people know and admire Rosa Parks too. What she did didn’t just resonate here on our shores, but it impacted the civil rights movement across the pond too. Such a small thing – refusing to stand up on a bus – and it had such far-reaching impact. That’s kind of amazing.
The second thing that struck me was the decision to make the white man – Graham – uncomfortable. SPOILER ALERT – our gang takes up seats on the bus to make sure that it’s full, forcing Rosa to keep her seat. If they get off the bus, it won’t be full anymore, and Rosa will no longer have to make that famous choice. Graham gets up to leave, thinking their job is done and they don’t have to watch what comes next, but The Doctor tells him he must stay if it’s going to happen. He must watch. He must be present as racism rears its ugly head. There is no escape. I saw a thread in a fan group about how sad that moment was for Graham – who married a black woman and helped raise her black grandson – to have to stand there and be the reason Rosa Parks is forced to move. I guess I get that sentiment, because Graham is one of the good guys, but I also think that moment was very much meant to remind us that we shouldn’t be able to walk away and let people of color do all the heavy lifting. And that’s a lot for a sci-fi show to say in one episode. I’ll be thinking about it for a while.
Which brings me to the second show run by a white dude but showing some social awareness this week: Daredevil.
Ok, so they do quite literally fridge a lady, which wasn’t my favorite moment in season 3, but they also bring us Agent Nadeem. Nadeem is probably of Middle Eastern descent, but we never find out because the show never tells us. Is he Muslim? Maybe. Doesn’t matter. He’s a brown man with a wife and kid and a job in federal law enforcement. His ethnicity and religion never make a lick of difference. I’m so conditioned to think Middle Eastern men are terrorists that as soon as I saw him, I assumed he was in the middle of planning an attack that Daredevil would have to stop. Instead he is an ambitious cop, flawed and human and with the best of intentions. He could have been any race, but the showrunner – Erik Oleson – clearly made a conscious choice to make him a person of color. And while we’re at it, he gives Vanessa, who has always been little more than a bit of a glass in which Fisk can pour his hopes and dreams – a lot of agency this season, even as we see her for a short time.
Just because a showrunner is a white man, that doesn’t mean he can’t be intersectional. It doesn’t mean he can’t elevate other voices and tell stories that resonate with women and people of color. I, for one, and very excited about this new world where Middle Eastern men are just people, and women get to be The Doctor. Bring it on.
Emily Blake writes screenplays with lots of fight scenes. She is a vocal advocate for feminism, polyamory, kink, and sex positivity. She makes most of her money as a script supervisor for film and television, but she also makes cosplays for clients out of her little apartment in Los Angeles.