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Race & Representation of Non-White Characters — Episode 53

May 2, 2014 by Drinks at The Dal

Hale in In Memoriam

While Lost Girl has provided very refreshing portrayals of queer characters, it unfortunately has fallen into the same pattern as many sci-fi/fantasy shows in regards to its representation of non-white characters. We are joined by guest Melina Pendulum to discuss how non-white characters have been portrayed on Lost Girl, including how Hale’s storyline has been handled as well as the show’s use of the human/Fae divide as a metaphor to talk about race. You can watch Melina’s video commentary on pop culture, race, and sexuality on her YouTube channel.

Spoiler Warning: We are discussing this series in its entirety in this episode, and it will contain major spoilers for Season 4.

Season three Lost Girl cast

Trends in Representation of Non-White Characters

  • In the United States, some progress has been made, especially in the past two years or so, in increasing the amount of people of color (POC) characters on television, though there are still far too few.
  • Plenty of shows still have all-white casts.
  • If a show does have non-white cast members, they often are very low-billed and rarely get storylines of their own. Often their storylines are very stereotyped.
  • In regards to representations of POC in Canadian television, Media Action Media’s 2011 Diversity Report says, “That is, shows studied in this report were found to reproduce what Himani Bannerji (2000) critiques as the Canadian model of multiculturalism: racially and ethnically other members are welcomed insofar as they organize themselves around a White center of power.”

Lack of Diversity in Casting

  • The Fading Diversity of Lost Girl is an excellent essay written at the end of Season 3 discussing several topics in regards to the lack of diversity on Lost Girl.
  • Lack of meaningful non-white characters (except for Hale) that last more than a few episodes
  • Lost Girl uses mythological creatures/figures from a variety of cultures but often has not taken these great opportunities to feature POC in these roles

Hale

  • Hale is the most underdeveloped of the main characters
    • Season 1: token character, there to add some “urban” flavor to the show, little character development (ladies’ man, Dyson’s buddy)
    • Season 2: given some good storyline development, “non-idle rich” background
    • Season 3: greatly reduced screentime due to K.C. Collins’ busy schedule but not used well when there, became Trick’s puppet rather than a leader in his own right
    • Season 4: storyline completely wrapped up in Kenzi’s, absent in several episodes
  • Death — was Hale fridged?
    • The idea of “women in refrigerators” refers to a trend comic book writer Gail Simone noticed in comics, i.e. female characters being harmed or killed for the sole purpose of motivating the main male character.
    • This concept also can apply to POC characters — their deaths often occur to provide motivation or further the storylines of white characters.
    • Unfortunately, we really think Hale was fridged. His death happened to fuel Kenzi’s storyline.
    • Melina thinks what Bo says to Massimo in “Dark Horse” illustrates this point really well — Bo kills Massimo not for killing Hale but for breaking Kenzi’s heart.
    • Melina’s discussion of Hale’s death on her YouTube channel

Bo and Jumbee in Lovers Apart

POC Guest Stars in Season 4

  • Engelram (“In Memoriam”) — escapes any blatant stereotyping
  • Jumbee (“Lovers. Apart.”)
    • We’re conflicted about the Jumbee’s storyline. Stephanie kind of liked how the human vs. Fae dynamic worked in the flashback, showing the Jumbee in an interracial relationship, but other parts of the storyline were problematic.
    • We didn’t get to know the Jumbee’s backstory until very late in the episode. She came across as vindictive and predatory even though she was truly wronged in the past.
    • Because the Jumbee is a spirit, it is a POC character being played by white actors for most of the episode.
    • The handfasting between the Jumbee and her beloved being used as a vehicle to explore Dyson’s feelings for Bo was frustrating. The metaphor fell completely flat because the obstacles faced by the Jumbee and her fiancé do not apply to Dyson and Bo because they are both Fae (not to mention both white).
  • Kai (“Let the Dark Times Roll”)
    • More ridiculous than offensive to Melina
    • Another “urban” Black character
    • Everyone else was dressed up, but she was in her sneakers and tank top and fancy dance pants. Did she know there would be a dance off to the death?
    • Why couldn’t she get some lines?
  • Cassie (“La Fae Époque”)
    • We thought Cassie’s portrayal was an improvement over her first appearance in “Dead Lucky.”
    • In “Dead Lucky,” she was dressed in a J-pop outfit in a Chinese restaurant and summoned by a gong, mixing elements of Japanese and Chinese culture.
    • Here she was more “average,” blending into the world rather than being very obviously differentiated as “other”
  • Dao-Ming (“Destiny’s Child”)
    • Why, oh why, do we have to have the stereotypical “Asian” music? We can see that she’s Asian!
    • Long fingernails are also a common stereotype of Asian characters. Besides Dao-Ming and Wai Lin, Fang in “Fae-ge Against the Machine” also had them.
  • Laveau (“End of a Line”)
    • Why did she die but nothing bad happened to the creepy, misogynist white guy? Lost Girl usually punishes sexist/misogynist characters, but he escaped any real harm.
    • Even though this character wasn’t supposed to be the Marie Laveau, it’s disappointing that she was an homage to such a powerful female figure because Laveau was of no consequence.
    • Stephanie found her to be a Voodoo cartoon.

How Race Is Handled in the Narrative

  • Race is largely ignored in Lost Girl, which is probably due to the writers trying not to use labels. They similarly do not apply labels to sexuality.
  • The lack of labels and talking about sexuality works because there are so many different sexualities on the show, and the lead is bisexual. It doesn’t work when it comes to race because the cast and guest stars are not racially diverse.
  • The show tends to give situations historically experienced and associated with POC to white characters.
    • Lauren’s indentured servitude — The Ash who tricked her into indentured servitude was Black while Lauren is white.
    • Similarly, in “Let the Dark Times Roll,” Bruce is mastered by Kai, who is Black.
    • Kenzi’s experience in “The Girl Who Fae’d with Fire” is an homage to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with human (white) Kenzi being brought home to Hale’s Fae (Black) family.
  • These metaphors are very “post racial,” insinuating that racial prejudice and discrimination don’t exist anymore.

When Race Was Handled Well

  • “(Dis)Members Only”
    • Immigrants (including Hispanics) are being exploited by both white humans and Fae.
    • Bo figures out that a Land Wight is feeding off the immigrants, but it’s the immigrants who confront and destroy the Land Wight and subsequently the white country club members.
    • Instead of Bo being a “white savior,” the people being exploited are empowered to change their situation.
  • Bo’s Background as a Metaphor for Being Biracial
    • Kris finds Bo’s experiences on the show of being a Fae raised by humans to be very relatable as someone who is biracial.
    • Bo doesn’t have the “insider knowledge” of being raised Fae, and Fae often expect her to know things of which she has no clue.
    • Especially in the beginning, Bo doesn’t really fit in with humans or Fae.

Share your feedback or ask questions


5 comments »

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  1. I think Hale’s character could have been fully fleshed out this season even if he was playing a part in Kenzi’s storyline. His death could have easily had more build up if he was in 409 and 410.

    409: In 409 we could have seen Hale talking to his family about his relationship with Kenzi. Hale’s father could’ve had a sword fight with Hale while the two argue in between. Something to mimic Bo and Lachlan’s fight in 213. I mean a fae dating a human HAS to be a big deal with them right? Maybe he could have brought up the idea of marriage to try to win his family over. <- epic great plot

    410: Could have had Hale in 410 trying to find out more about Kenzi's family. We never got to see Hale and Kenzi compare their upbringing. This could've given some bread crumbs to how Hale found Kenzi's mom rather than it being out of the blue. They could have fit a moment in the beginning with Hale trying to comfort Kenzi over Bo pushing them out and the conversation about their families could've easily been brought up. <-epic character to character interactive relationship development on an emotional level :O

    So you see these are small scenes that could've done wonders. I'm sure 409 could've had less crow and leviathan screen time to shoe Hale scenes in. Same for waves.

    I really hope we see Hale's family make a reappearance in season 5 otherwise i will be VERY upset if his death was the last we ever see of his character or anything relating to him. They could have Hale's family show some resentment to Kenzi in season 5. Heck even include Hale flashbacks (BRING BACK KC!). This is just my thoughts on how the whole Hale death can actually live up to the standards of the character and the impact he had because believe me, when Hale died it felt like actual mourning :'(

    • Drinks at The Dal Drinks at The Dal says:

      That was another thing that really pointed up the fact that Hale’s death was about Kenzi and not Hale — we don’t see his family at the funeral. Val was in two episodes. The audience has a bit of a relationship with her. It would have been great to see her and Hale’s father again.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the episode!

  2. oh and by the way. great episode! good work :)!

  3. Sally says:

    I really enjoyed this episode, you guys, and also especially enjoyed hearing the commentary and perspectives from your guest Melina. I thought the point was very salient that when a show only has one person of color in the cast, then killing off the POC character has a hugely disproportionate impact. Thanks for not only recording this once, but twice!

    • Drinks at The Dal Drinks at The Dal says:

      It was worth recording a second time! If nothing else, the “wolf penis” comments made me laugh pretty hard. But, yes, Melina offered some great commentary. I was so happy she wasn’t upset with me that the first episode was toast and agreed to come back! 🙂

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