United Colors of BSG

As you may know, I moonlight as a teacher when I’m not bustin’ Cylon(z), and one area of teaching I enjoy immensely is African American/Black studies. It’s a delicate and wonderful thing to have civil conversations among diverse groups of people about the things that make us different – and to what extent they play a part in our lives.

That said, this is not a reckless comment, but rather a careful observation and a request for polite discourse on the subject: how are non-white characters portrayed in BSG? (We could say it doesn’t matter, since BSG is an alternate and fictional universe, but we must concede that all art comes from a real context, and the audience for the show lives in that same world context.)

A website reporting on discussion at the recent ComiCon in San Diego mentioned the following:

“Another member of the audience applauded the racial diversity but commented on the seeming play to the stereotype of the ‘spiritual negro.’ The leader of Gemenon, a planet well known for following the verse, is an older black woman. Moore admits that they weren’t aware of it until later and that it was an unfortunate oversight in casting, given how careful they usually are about this. Specifically, it’s important for them to not show prejudice and fear of Other through race, gender, or any other human characteristic. That’s why they have a woman president, the best pilot is a woman, and there are representatives of all races scattered throughout the show. The idea of racism – the issue of self vs. the Other – needed to be played with through the human vs. Cylon didactic. With the issue of the ‘spiritual negro,’ the creators had wanted a more spiritual world, picked Gemenon, cast an actress, and when they looked at it later, they realized that it had happened. It’s true that she was the right actress for the role, but they only realized in retrospect how it could also be taken.”

I admit I wondered myself early on in the show if there wasn’t a hint of unwitting stereotyping here, since a number of black or African-descended characters seem to be religious leaders (like Elosha) or hail from the religious colony of Gemenon (including Cpl. Venner, who smuggles chamalla into the brig for Roslin, andSarah Porter, the Quorum of Twelve representative of Gemenon). However, I don’t see anything wrong with casting whomever they like for the roles, and it can be noted that these three characters are portrayed as quite moral. With the exception of Dee, though, it does seem that other significant black characters get quickly shuffled offstage – Simon the Cylon doctor, Sue-Shaun the Pyramid player, Bulldog. I doubt this is intentional, but it’s always worthwhile, IMHO, to think about it anyway.

For what it’s worth, one sci-fi fanrecently told RDM face-to-face at the Nebula Awards that she thought the show needed more black characters, and he responded by saying, “That’s a fair criticism.”

Mytheory has long been that BSGtranscends ethnic and gender barriers in a way few shows have dared, and the egalitarian spirit that pervades the show is welcomed by its audience. I suspect, though, in some cases, that ethnic, gender, and other issues such as this will come up, and we should be sensitive to them. (Note: “sensitive” is different from “PC”; “sensitive” means thoughtful and decent about it, as opposed to obligingly inoffensive.)

Maybe the creators of BSG should consider casting more people of color if they want to reflect a universe more like our own.That said,the show demonstrates a thoughtfulness and integrity on these issues that I’d be glad to see more of, in the Sci-Fi world and in ours.

49 Responses to "United Colors of BSG"
  1. Tanu says:

    Hi guys, i’m back, sort of. i’m still living out of boxes but at least my bed is set up and my computer is on. I still haven’t been able to listen to the recent episodes but it seems that this issue has probably not been discussed in an episode so i’ll comment on it as fresh.

    To be honest, by the first few episodes into season 2, i had thought that the show was in fact playing on the “spiritual negro”. Elosha was a black priestess; the leader of Gemenon is black; the guard who helped Laura Roslin during her imprisonment on galactica is black and all three of these charaters are highly religious. Many of the black characters on the show have identified themselves as from Gemenon.

    I’d assumed that this particular colony had a high population of black people and also religious people. Just as in my country (india) you see a high population of brown people and most of them follow the hindu religion. I would not be offended if i saw a TV show where several brown people were portrayed as hindu. All of my black friends are religious and of all the black people i’ve ever met, only a handful have not been religious (or i never found out about their religious beliefs either way). So why is it offensive to show this on TV? The religion the characters follow does not define them (with the exception of Elosha but she played a priestess so i’m not sure it counts) so why does it matter that the creators conceptualized a colony that is very religious and has large population of a certain skin color.

    Perhaps it is simply that i have not been exposed to the same things as others who object to this choice but i do not see this offensive.

  2. The Alpaca Herder says:

    As to Rick Worthy, the actor who portrays Simon, getting shuffled off-stage it is simply a matter of availability and money. He is trying apparently to be a pretty prolific actor. He is cast in Fallen, an ABC Family production that I’ve been seeing ads for in the strangest of places, and shows up quite a bit in other places like the series finale to Dark Angel. For Rick Worthy BSG is just one show among many on which he can act and . You run into this same problem with Carl Lumbly, the actor who portrayed Bulldog, in that BSG was just a guest appearance and that he is not only in demand as an actor apparently but costs quite a bit of money to have in an episode especially since Alias (where he played Marcus Dixon) is finished.

    As to Venner, that plotline was just problematic. As the RDM podcast track notes there was discussion about what to do with the character once the break-out was accomplished. That really was a problem because although he was a great actor…where would the character’s story go without essentially rebooting the individual character?

    I am just not sure if this is a matter of race being an issue or if it is instead economics and writing having the biggest impact. Although we see very little of Corporal Venner and Simon we also see very little of Leoben, Boxey, Captain Kelly, and others. With such great actors, such a large cast, and the budget that the show has which is not limitless some thought has to be given to such. Vancouver is a big area for production and some actors we have seen on BSG can show up in quite a variety of shows at the same time which limits their ability to have screentime on BSG. Sometimes writers also write themselves into corners and just do not flesh things out like they should have or could have. Plot lines involving Gemenon and the Gemenese just have not been fleshed out too nicely. As Dualla is a Sagitarron we can at least note that Sagitarron is mixed as seen in the third season episode “The Woman King” where all sorts of Sagitarrons were getting offed…but such then begs the question as to how that fits in the mix.

    These thoughts are, at best, incomplete but maybe can kick-start conversation somewhat.

  3. The Alpaca Herder says:

    My apologies for an incomplete sentence above. I wrote:
    “For Rick Worthy BSG is just one show among many on which he can act and .”

    I meant:
    “For Rick Worthy BSG is just one show among many on which he can act and make it onto television screens.”

    I am thinking this might make a good paper for this: http://www.geocities.com/pcascifi/proposal.html

  4. Dan, the Lord of Kobol says:

    Hey guys. Know it’s been awhile, I’ve been caught up in real-life and lack of new BSG angst.

    This is a topic I myself have been considering. I’ve never bought this racial sterotyping argument when it comes to BSG. I’d just like to go on record as saying that I agree with Audra. BSG seems to transcend racial boundaries in many respects.

    It’s not about the latino commander, or the black priestess, or the white president. It’s about the responsible, determined captain; it’s about the priestess who lost her faith, then regained it; it’s about the president who illegitimately– about the president who will do *anything* to keep the species alive and functioning.

    It’s not about races. It’s about people. Oh my god, Michael Jackson flashback…

    “It’s not about races, just places, faces…”

  5. Pike says:

    Tanu, it’s an American thing. 😉

    The objection to having say, a black woman play a very spiritual person, is that for many years here that was one of the stock portrayals of them. Some people get offended when seeing them in this role, as it may appear to be a continuation of that stereotype. A rough equivalent would be seeing an Indian as either a convienence store clerk of a programmer (for a hundred years.)

    It’s a sad, really, since it means that some talented actors might still be denied parts that they’d be good at because of the color of their skin.

  6. Audra says:

    “…Where your blood comes from is where your space is. I’ve seen the bright get duller – I’m not about to spend my life bein’ a color.”

    (For Dan) 🙂

  7. Phil says:

    I also noticed the ‘Spiritual Negro’ phenomenon during my initial watching of these episodes. While it can be argued that each instance of casting can be chalked up to random chance, it leads one to wonder why certain actors ‘seemed’ right to the producers for the the role of a religious, wizened person that can help a white person through their difficult trials. Now it has to be said that in each case none of the portrayals of these characters were in anyway negative and that each actor did a fantastic job. The problem for me was that because of the overuse of this particular stereotype in TV and film, I was momentarily pulled out of the show for an instant. But this begs the question: are the producers at fault for triggering a stereotype that I am aware of and bring to the show myself?

    Overall though, the producers should be commended for their commitment to ethnic/racial/gender equality in casting the show. This legacy goes back to the original Battlestar Galactica with was one of the first scifi shows to cast African Americans in prominent roles (Colonel Tigh and Boomer). This was one of the few things that original BSG did better than Starwars, which it was trying to emulate. Actually, true credit should go to Star Trek, but that show was so far ahead of the diversity curve that it actually shouldn’t be considered part of the same legacy. On the other hand, gender equality was more advanced in original BSG than in ST. However, in the 1970s diversity was typically just seen as including African Americans, while Hispanics, East Asians, South Asians etc. were still few and far between in these shows (other than ST).

    Outside of the modern cultural issues of multi-racial casting, there is also an element important to the story. We are still trying to figure out the relationship between the Galactica universe and the Earth as we know it, and the ethnic make-up of Colonial society may be of some importance (i.e., did humanity originate from Earth or Kobal?).

  8. Armando says:

    You know, I hadn’t really thought about this issue much, mostly because, like Stephen Colbert, I don’t see race. Seriously, actually, it’s more like what you’ve said, Audra, that the show seems to transcend these typical racial stereotypes for me. To wit: I was going to make a snide remark about it not mattering since the hispanic actor is in charge. Being hispanic myself, though, I have to say that Edward James Olmos’ ethnicity does not actually translate to Bill Adama’s for me and I end up not paying it much mind. It seems to me that the casting on this show is blind and, perhaps due to the structure of television/film casting or perhaps because of racial biases/stereotypes which are far more entrenched than we think, certain actors of certain ethnicity have ended up playing certain characters.

    It’s a good question and one I wish I had more time to ponder right now, but, like Tanu (and I feel your pain, let me tell you!) I am slowly rising from out of boxes as the Armando household has just moved…AGAIN (we do this almost every year. Must be a composer thing). With this move and the looming semester I hope I will not be too much of a stranger around these here parts, but if I am, please do not take my absence as reflective of a lack of fondness. I’ll be back to full power soon, I hope. (And hopefully, so will Tanu. Hang in there!)

  9. Radio Picon says:

    I cringed during the episode where Helo suffocates the Cylons in Season 3. They bring Simon out with that steel collar around his neck attached to a long pole, think he was in shackles too. I am sure they didn’t mean any reference to slavery…but it was sort of an iconic image of it. I know they used that same device on Grace Park once too, but much more powerful on Simon.

  10. Eyeless says:

    I think the show handles race issues perfectly. Part of my mind is always bugged by even discussing this though, because I believe that “celebrating diversity” unwittingly perpetuates our easily offended racial ettiquette.

    At least Galactica avoided the stereotypical “bad-ass black guy with ghetto connections to draw in the urban chic demographic.”

    And stereotypical “one all-around likable black man with no negative characteristics that could pin the show’s creators as racists in any way.” Though that one has thankfully been mostly phased out in recent years.

  11. Number 13 says:

    Very interesting, especially since there’s a new Amazon.com interview with Joss Whedon about the new Serenity DVD where he talks a bit about BSG. He says flat out that it’s his favorite show, one of the best shows ever, etc…, and then talks about the women in BSG and how it’s not like “Hey, look at these powerful women!” They’re just doing the same things the men do and they all work together. I think the same can be said for the particular races that are represented in the main cast in that it’s just how casting worked out. We also see that skin color matters not (Dee and Lee, Dee and Billy), while the planet you’re from seems to cause plenty of prejudice feelings.

    That being said though, I pray that they bring Billy Dee Williams on as an old friend of Bill Adama. Bill goes to get lady advice from Billy Dee, he hands him the last can of Colt 45 and says “It works every time” while winking at the camera. End of series.

  12. Armando says:

    “That being said though, I pray that they bring Billy Dee Williams on as an old friend of Bill Adama. Bill goes to get lady advice from Billy Dee, he hands him the last can of Colt 45 and says “It works every time” while winking at the camera. End of series.”

    At their first meeting, though, Billy Dee greets Adama, “why you double-crossing, no good swindler. You have a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled.”

    Then he betrays him to the Cylons only to regret his choice and sacrifice everything he has for his friend.

    It’s crossover gold, 13th! Gold! 😉

  13. Mike P says:

    I feel ignorant: I was unaware of the “spiritual negro” stereotype and just thought Elosha was really, really cool. I never thought race was an integral part of who that character was, and was sorry to see her go. Oh, well. Learn something new every day. (Now, I’m thinking the “spiritual negro” stereotype will make me re-watch Deep Space Nine with more aware eyes — hm, has anyone ever charged DS9 with a similar playing of stereotype?)

    One ethnic minority character, I presume, is Gaeta, and I haven’t seen him mentioned yet in this discussion. I don’t know what ethnicity he is, but he clearly isn’t a WASP. He’s a very interesting and complex character, what with his relationship to Baltar and all — so I wonder if anyone has had thoughts on him in terms of stereotyping or lack thereof?

    I will say that, aside from Cmdr. Adama, it does seem that all the major “heroes” are Anglo. I realize BSG defies the simplistic hero/villain dichotomy most of the time, but I also think that — for anyone who cares to see it — the “shifty Asian” stereotype could be lurking behind Boomer. Luckily (or intentionally?), the show also has a shifty blonde bombshell (although she, as femme fatale, is a gender stereotype writ large — though she may just be in Baltar’s head, in which case it is, perhaps, excusable). I think it says more about Hollywood as a culture that, when it came time to cast Apollo, Starbuck, Roslin, Helo, Tigh, Tyrol, Cally, the roles all went to white actors, because we (in USA in 2007, anyway) still tend to have a stereotypical identification of “white” with “good.”

  14. ShinyFab says:

    I did wonder, especially after Bulldog’s absorption ‘somewhere in the fleet’, about what keeps happening to the few African American/black characters seen in BSG. BSG has been admirable in terms of strong females treated, with few exceptions I can find, equal to the men. Not to mention a Hispanic military leader. As a Hispanic female, I was practically giddy. However all of the black characters just seem to disappear after a short time. Elosha dies, Bulldog disappears, Simon shows up for a few random episodes but hardly ever do you see him milling about on a Cylon ship, and I can’t remember the last time I saw Sarah Porter or Cpl Venner. I respect and admire BSG in terms of how it has portrayed gender, sex, and race. But when it comes to the few black characters we see and their rather easy dismissal, I do think it should be addressed.

  15. Pike says:

    Well, much as it bugs me, Dee’s still around.

  16. Dave says:

    In the early part of the show, yeah I saw the “Spiritual Negro” part too. However, I was also concerned that Dee would be relegated to an “uhura”-Type character. Was almost expecting her to say “Hailing frequencies open” at any moment. However, I am very glad to see that they expnded her character very quickly – even though she broke Billy’s heart. Hell, she’d prolly break mine too…**sniff**

    However, I do agree with ShinyFab, although BSG really stepped up on strong female characters – blacks are not as prevelant as they should be, I would think. I grant you, less then 40K of a species, you’re gonna get slim pickings of any one major group, but still…

    Outside of Dee, they are kinda there for a second and gone the next. Even Simon really didn’t have much of a character arc beyond the fact he was a Cylon doc. Didn’t even see him on the “bridge” of the Cylon baseship (unless I missed him) – and I think Audra’s favorite cylon was even there. Audra loooooooves Brother Cavil. (making kissy noises) 🙂

    Im also finding myself wondering how this will be addressed on the Pegusus druing Razor. Admiral is white, XO is white, new charactrer is white, so…….

    anyway, that’s my buck and a quarter ( that’s two cents with inflation, marketing, research and development, etc…)

    Dave

  17. Number 13 says:

    ShinyFab- Perhaps Simon is on another part of the Cylon ship away from the other crazies. Hey, it just occurred to me, if you’re a Cylon, you could have a massive orgy with yourself. Perhaps that’s what he’s doing. lol

    And Bulldog’s on the same ship as Boxey, which hopefully got lost on the way to the algae planet. Really though, the actor who portrayed Bulldog probably cost a fair amount to get and with a limited budget they can’t bring him back every 4 episodes to show us he’s still kicking.

  18. Boomer "The Brother" says:

    Dee’s still around. Yippee!!!! Her character is growing, which is good.

    On a different note, I wonder how many black folks watch the show?

    I thought that’s where Audra was going with the discussion. Go figure. You started out talking about teaching, so I wondered if there was any discussion with black students and/or colleagues, about the show.

    Personally, I think the African-American portrayals on the show have been spot on. My wife and I both watch. She watches a little more reluctantly than me of course, but she watches with me and loves and deplores certain characters. (She thinks Baltar is a “little girl”. LOL

    As much as I love the show, I personally have been on a crusade to get more people in my circle to watch, but few can get beyond the sci-fi aspect. I’ve actually sat with my brother and made him watch the first episodes of season 1 but he prefers The Wire and Sopranos.

    I appreciate the black and latino characters, like Dee and Katt (may not be latino, not sure). And I think performances by Bill Duke and Carl Lumby have been significant and well acted.

    As far as the “mystical negro” angle, I don’t see it. That’s reaching. I was sad that Elosha was killed off. I thought she did a great job, and her role did not at all play stereotypical in my eyes.

    The only scene that made me cringe, like someone stated earlier, was the Simon in irons scene. That was just to perverse for me. I think it was done by Ron to make a point and evoke something but still it bothered me, but not necessarily in a bad way, but more like a splash of cold water to the face.

    Still this is the best show I’ve ever encountered in my 36 years, and has surpassed Trek for me along time ago for various reasons I’d like to go into at some other time.

    Later folks. You guys are doing a hell of a job on the podcast, btw.

  19. Browncoat_Bryan says:

    Okay, I am back from my forced “Don’t look at the Internets while reading the last Harry Potter book” hiatus.

    As a Black man, I’ll say this….

    I really don’t have too much of a problem with BSG. It’s all about the storytelling for me. I personally celebrate Edward James Olmos as Adama and (sorry, Pike) I also celebrate Dee, who is one of the lower ranking people of the fleet. But, that’s part of the story and I don’t think race has anything to do with it. I’ve also noticed that there are a variety of races in the ready room during the preflight briefings.

    I didn’t mind the Elosha role. To me, it was believable. She wasn’t screaming and preaching and sweating and begging for money while looking for available men. Simon is cool. The “doctor” Cylon. Now, if Simon was the one who talks to the Hybrid, we’d have problems. I think they got the right person for Gemenon (sp).

    I WOULD get upset if there was an episode where there was a ship that had a bunch of Black and Latino kids from the ghettos of Arielon (sp?) who were disruptive and “just couldn’t learn”. Roslin finds out about it and decides to pull a Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Minds) or Hillary Swank (Freedom Writers) and be the angelic white woman who saves the day by teaching those savage children how to be civilized. I would fly out to RDM’s house and pimp slap him. I would also get upset if there was church music playing every time Dee says something or if Dee decided to “break it down” in the middle of CIC with some cheesy rap music (Bear, if you’re reading this post and RDM asks for it… I have one word for you… “Don’t”). And, RDM, if you’re reading this, NO “SOUL PLANE IN SPACE” EPISODE!!! I will hunt you down and kill you.

    I do believe that Blacks are underrepresented in science fiction, but I don’t blame RDM. I don’t think it’s RDM’s responsibility to add fifteen new characters to the series just to make the BSG universe seem like a rainbow. RDM’s job is to tell a story. Period. His casting director finds the people for the parts. BSG is a good show, the best drama on television in my opinion (it’s still beating Heroes, in my book).

    Because science fiction has such low representation, I’m taking creative writing classes and screenwriting classes so that I can make my own movie (nope, I’m telling the truth, I’m really doing it).

  20. Boomer "The Brother" says:

    ^^^^ What he said, too. ^^^

    Well put. Plus, I can’t spend time blaming BSG for the way Hollywood is. I want to see writers like Octavia Butler get shine for her works. Her books need to optioned. The characters and stories rival any sci-fi out there and the characters and mainly African-American with great story telling. When that happens, I’ll be thrilled. Until then, BSG is my show. Period.

  21. Pike says:

    Browncoat: “She wasn’t screaming and preaching and sweating and begging for money while looking for available men.” LMAO! (Now I’m picturing Elosha confronting Simon for spending all his time with those white women. Bad Pike!)

    I’m glad to hear you’re going to make your own movie. It’s a good time for that, as the various fanfilms and indie projects prove.

    BtB: Adapting Butler to the screen could be tricky. Were you thinking of one in particular?

  22. Tanu says:

    Pike, thanks for the explanation, I better understand the issue now and why people may find it offensive.

  23. Mike P says:

    Boomer writes, “Personally, I think the African-American portrayals on the show have been spot on.”

    Could you elaborate on that? What, specifically, about these characters as African-Americans stands out to you? No one’s race seems integral to their character on BSG (but I say that aware that I am a member of the privileged majority in the USA, and I am not always fully conscious as I should be of how race matters).

    Thanks!

  24. Radio Picon says:

    Mike P wrote: “I think it says more about Hollywood as a culture that, when it came time to cast Apollo, Starbuck, Roslin, Helo, Tigh, Tyrol, Cally, the roles all went to white actors, because we (in USA in 2007, anyway) still tend to have a stereotypical identification of “white” with “good.”

    Maybe true, but they also cast 6 of the original 7 Cylons with white actors. And the nastiest of them were white too (by nasty I mean Doral, Cavil, and D’Anna)

    Since someone brought up Elosha…I hope they bring her back in a dream sequence or vision or something. She was cool.

  25. Altair IV says:

    I thought Audra’s point on the “difference between ‘sensitive’ and ‘PC’..” was excellent. I will have to remember that. A great point.

    I think there are some aspects of BSG that shows it’s writers are aware of the difference between “sensitive” and “PC”, in particular, their reference to the presumably inter-planetary, or should I say, inter-colonial, conflicts within the Fleet, inherited from it’s progenitor society. The conflicts are just there and the participants just have to deal with them, and the way the various participants deal with them vary from person to person, time to time and with varying degrees of success and failure. So it’s a ‘real’ world.

    It would be great if they had a more prominent African American actor in BSG. Not for reasons of PC-ness or sensitivity but it is in line with the portrait of colonial society as a multi-ethnic, multi-racial and at times conflicted society. I think they may have attempted to develop some new black characters on both the Cylon and human sides but none of these characters, or at least their story arcs, have really been stand outs. Maybe early cast and plot development decisions mitigate against changing it now.

    Still it’s possible we haven’t seen the last of Cylon Simon or Priestess Elosha yet. Who knows maybe Elosha was the 12th Cylon? That would be pretty wild. She fits the profile for a “Final Five” Cylon quite well. Final Fives seem to gravitate to “number two” roles, influencers not final decision makers. Elosha certainly helped direct Roslyn’s disease and drug induced visions away from being seen as purely symptoms but as ‘signposts’ for the Fleet’s journey. She has given Roslyn’s role and leadership a kind of grand purpose. When Adama first mooted a journey to Earth it was a kind of psychological strategy, a “noble lie” to help keep the fleet together. He didn’t really believe there was an Earth.

    As for another black actor in the cast, for my money I think there is still a lot we have to learn about Bulldog, his mission and possible future role. Maybe he’s the 12th Cylon. Maybe provoking human-cylon conflict for ‘higher’ purposes is what the Final Five are all about. Maybe they are in a sense “worse” than regular humans or regular Cylons. A bunch of religious nuts who go about starting genocidal wars between other peoples. Bulldog as 12th Cylon would seem to support that kind of story.

    As an aside, the original BSG series had black actors in the roles of Boomer and Tigh. Boomer was a smaller part in the original BSG plot but Tigh’s role in each series was about the same in prominence. So you could argue that the original BSG gave a bigger role to African American actors than does the new BSG series, which is otherwise more multi-ethnic than the first series.

  26. Mike P says:

    Radio Picon — Yes, you are quite right, they did. So maybe it says more about Hollywood that the “norm” for any role, good or bad, is white. I don’t know. Anyway, thanks to you and to others who have pointed out that whites get “equal opportunity” to be the baddies on BSG. 🙂

  27. Audra says:

    I just gotta say, I am so proud to be part of this great community, where we can talk about controversial topics with respect. In many ways this reflects some good experiences I’ve had in the classroom – I’ve found that when you get all kinds of folks together from different backgrounds, people really do want to talk about this stuff, provided that there’s a safe and respectful atmosphere for it. I believe that’s the key.

    Phil and Dave, I am totally on with what you’re saying.

    Eyeless said: >>Part of my mind is always bugged by even discussing this though, because I believe that “celebrating diversity” unwittingly perpetuates our easily offended racial ettiquette.

    I have to admit, Eyeless, that I disagree with this. I understand your concern, since talk about this sort of thing unfortunately can often degenerate into uncomfortable silences or downright insults. But, that said, in a respectful environment, we can and must talk about important ideas like this. They are critical to the way we live our lives and see the world. Besides, I’m certain that if we don’t talk about it, we give up the reins to things like stereotype and rumor. This is our chance to communicate – the great uniter. 😉

  28. Audra says:

    Dave said: I think Audra’s favorite cylon was even there. Audra loooooooves Brother Cavil. (making kissy noises)

    *Pointing finger* I’ve got my eye on you!

  29. Pike says:

    Dave, I’ve long thought the same thing.

    *cough*http://galacticawatercooler.com/2006/10/20/elegy-for-ellen-tigh/

  30. john patrick says:

    yaaaaaayyyyy! for Audra! It’s ALWAYS a good time to get ethnic!

    So when are we going to see Filipinos in space? (insert nurse joke here).

    I haven’t read GWC in a while; I’m in China now, studying Chinese with a bunch of other Americans. In America being Filipino is often being invisible; I never thought I could be *more* invisible… but then I came to China.

    There are other ways they could have picked a stock black character; e.g., a minstrel, say, or a cheerfull bartender. I, personally, like the image of a black spiritual leader, it says something different than a white, asian, or latino spiritual leader. However, I know that my black friends often have different sensitivites than I do.

    Once upon a time, in a former career, I helped high school kids put on an assembly about raising money for the dominican republic. The kids put together a skit, and one kid had to be the coffee bean. The coffee bean was a funny character, so they chose the funny kid, a filipino kid. A lot of my black collegues got very, very uptight about seeing a brown kid in a coffee bean costume, and when we talked it over, all I could tell them was the pinoy kid is the only one with… personality. A point which they had to concede.

    I respect their sensitivities, and I don’t blame them for getting uptight about the minstrilization of filipino kids. But I do think there are worse choices than a filipino coffee bean, or a black spiritual leader.

    The best was afterward, when we got an angry letter from the vice principal about how we treated kids “of diversity.” What an ass. My ethnicity is Filipino American, it’s not “of diversity.”

    And once again, I commented on a brilliant post and managed to make it all about me.

    One last thing: I am a Cylon.

  31. Mike P says:

    Incidentally, and this has *nothing* to do with BSG (although there are some key references to “Transformers,” and there is a mild fantasy element), I heartily recommend anyone interested in issues of race in America read Gene Yang’s graphic novel, _American Born Chinese_. Yang weaves together three seemingly very different stories to explore what it means for us to accept those who are different from ourselves, as well as to accept ourselves. Big thumbs up from me.

  32. Audra says:

    John Patrick – Great to hear from you again! I wish I could be a coffee bean. But I’d have to paint my face, and, well, I just don’t think that’s a good idea. Besides, I’ve got plenty of lovely bean-ness on the inside.

    Mike P. – Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll look into that!

  33. Dave says:

    Audra Says: *Pointing finger* I’ve got my eye on you!

    Why are you using that finger?? And why is it pointing up..wards….HEYY!!!!
    🙂

    I do agree with Audra – it’s really cool we can talk about stuff like this.

  34. adoracion says:

    Pike-“….A rough equivalent would be seeing an Indian as either a convienence store clerk of a programmer (for a hundred years.)…”

    –um, yes. i think GAETA could arguably fit the Indian programmer “stereotype”.

    Mike P-…”No one’s race seems integral to their character on BSG (but I say that aware that I am a member of the privileged majority in the USA, and I am not always fully conscious as I should be of how race matters)….”

    —now THERE’S some sensitivity!

    Eyeless- …”At least Galactica avoided the stereotypical “bad-ass black guy with ghetto connections to draw in the urban chic demographic.”

    –did we forget the ep, “BLACK MARKET”?

    Audra–since talk about this sort of thing unfortunately can often degenerate into uncomfortable silences or downright insults. But, that said, in a respectful environment, we can and must talk about important ideas like this. They are critical to the way we live our lives and see the world. Besides, I’m certain that if we don’t talk about it, we give up the reins to things like stereotype and rumor. This is our chance to communicate – the great uniter.

    —now THAT’S SPOT ON!

    Tanu-…”The religion the characters follow does not define them (with the exception of Elosha but she played a priestess so i’m not sure it counts) so why does it matter that the creators conceptualized a colony that is very religious and has large population of a certain skin color….”

    —and i have to say that i truly wish they would explore this to the max. i personally felt let down when i saw the Saggitarons (sp?) as a hoard of Trustifarian-looking white folks. here on Earth, there are indigenous cultures alive and kicking that date to the “begining of time”–take for example the Aborigenes of Australia, the Maori in New Zealand, or the Maasaai people in Africa (to name a few). so why not that be true of at LEAST ONE PLANET OF THE 12 COLONIES? but i guess we can go back a podcast or two when GWC folks mentioned that whoever was up in the air during the time of the attack on the colonies, might not be representative of the entire 12 colonies.

    one name–Octavia Butler. PERIOD.

    EXCELLENT AND INTELLIGENT DISCUSSION! thank you!

  35. Altair IV says:

    I think to a certain extent if you look for stereotypes you’ll find them… anywhere. It’s not always the “producers'” deliberate or unconsious creation. The “consumer” can sometimes read this stuff into it in a way that would probably surprise any of the writers, cast or crew involved in the production.

  36. Audra says:

    Altair IV wrote: The “consumer” can sometimes read this stuff into it in a way that would probably surprise any of the writers, cast or crew involved in the production.

    I completely agree. I study and teach literature, and we have a rule about how you know you’re “reading into something too much” in what is a relatively subjective field of study: you support your ideas/arguments with textual evidence.

    In the case ofthe concept of the “spiritual negro” stereotype, specific examples such as the priestess Elosha and the religious people of Geminon seeming to always appear dark-skinned serve as a legitimate basis for discussion. And RDM and crew apparently thought so, too, recognizing that it might seem that way, even though they didn’t intentionally cast with that in mind.

    So, it turns out the writers and the audience looked at the product in a different way. But does that mean audience members who questioned the ethnicity issue were “wrong?” I’m not sure it matters. Because what is important is that people who watch BSG are thoughtful individuals who take notice of things like this and submit their ideas for discussion.

    I also respectfully suggest that sometimes authors and creators make decisions that reflect subconscious notions that, in practice, surprise them when others recognize it. Thus, it’s possible that someone in the chain of decision making at BSG *did* sort of think a black woman would be suitable for this or that role, and others involved thought, sure, she’s a great actor, etc., no problem, a different thought process. And this subconscious thought could be entirely positive or complimentary. OR maybe it was a complete coincidence. But either way, the result is the same, and worth looking at, if even just to keep alive the lively discussions that help us to be self-reflective people.

  37. Audra says:

    Altair IV – Let me add – you said it’s not always the subconscious creation of the writers, either. I just wanted to throw in there that I do agree this is possible, too. Sometimes people are just plain nuts about their theories of What Stuff Means. But, I’m inclined to give credence to ideas that are supportable with evidence from the show itself. They still may be wrong, but it’s worth a look.

  38. SupDude says:

    I’m a noobie in these parts and am still playing Podcasts from #48 and up, so I am WAY behind. BUT I had to jump in here with both feet and point out some history. The Matrix had the Oracle & Morpheus as ‘spiritual’. STNG had Warf and Geordi, but they were either disfigured or alien. Voyager had a black Vulcan, a near miss, I guess… There aren’t a lot of examples of normal black characters in major roles. But there are some.

    Someone mentioned that you can find stereotypes anywhere if you look for them. It’s true, specially on TV and in the movies. I LOVE BSG and I wish there were more black folks in the major roles, but I give props to ALL the cast members. RDM could have done much worse.

    This is a great forum, Podcast and community. Greetings and Blessings to you all.

  39. Audra says:

    Welcome to the ‘Cooler, SupDude.

    Since SupDude mentioned it, I want to go back to a comment by Altair IV. He said: “I think to a certain extent if you look for stereotypes you’ll find them… anywhere.”

    This sentiment really bothers me. I suppose if someone insisted there were aliens living in his house (or snakes crawling on her hands) that you could say “if you look for x, you’ll find x,” implying that the only reason you found it was because you wanted to, and further implying that it’s not real but a product of your own desires or imagination.

    But I can’t help but think – this statement has no bearing on whether something *actually* exists. We know that stereotypes of all kinds exist in our society and can be problematic. We know that if you “look for” them, you’ll find them, and by the same logic, if you don’t look for them, you won’t. But the fact hasn’t changed that stereotypes are still there, whether or not someone decides to “see” them or not.

    In relation to BSG, like I mentioned before, it could very well be the case that things that appear to be stereotypes are actually coincidences. And the person who perceived a stereotype in this case would be wrong about the show, but NOT wrong for looking beyond the surface.

    And please understand, Altair IV, I mean no personal offense by this, and I hope I’m not taking your sentence out of context.

    But I think the “you find it if you look for it” sentiment can become quite dangerous, especially since it can be (and often is) used to obscure injustices. There’s a difference between wanting to have practical evidence to support such a claim and denying the idea completely by suggesting only someone who “wants” to find a problem will find it.

  40. Boomer "The Brother" says:

    Pike:
    BtB: Adapting Butler to the screen could be tricky. Were you thinking of one in particular?

    I was thinking Parable of The Sower, in particular and Kindred. Kindred is pretty powerful and Parable, I agree would be complicated but I’d like to see someone do something with that.

    Mike P writes: Could you elaborate on that? What, specifically, about these characters as African-Americans stands out to you? No one’s race seems integral to their character on BSG (but I say that aware that I am a member of the privileged majority in the USA, and I am not always fully conscious as I should be of how race matters).

    We are in agreement. No one race stands out, and that’s a good thing. Essentially, African-American and other minorities want to be considered for their values and actions, not their color. So the fact that color isn’t played up is impressive to me. I don’t care if their are not many Black the cast. I do care that he ones that are there aren’t played with these stereotypical roles. I love that Dee is just Dee and not a chick that speaks like she from Crenshaw or Brooklyn. I see that enough in commercials (The Pine Soil lady comes to mind). So we are on the same page here.

  41. Altair IV says:

    No problem Audra.

  42. BSG-32 Minnesotia says:

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned the fact that Dee and Lee are an inter-racial couple. Race in BSG seems really to be portrayed as a non-issue, which I guess sort of makes sense being that in RL, the military was way ahead of the rest of society when it came to integration and all that.

    I think it goes beyond that tho, in this show. For starters, all dramatic forms do–at least on some level–rely on sort of “stock’ character archetypes to sort of speed up plot and characterization while telling a story, which can sadly have racial overtones, but not really racist intent I think. Sometimes its just more expedient for a story’s telling to not have to have super in-depth exposition on EVERY character, however small. It would bog stuff down. So probably a little of that is neccesary. But taking the Black Market guy, he could have been italian say, or even asian, and each of these ethnic groups could legitimatly claim it as negatively stereotypical. But lets say that character was–a college age frat guy sort of character. How would it change the tenor of that story? Would it be better? Worse? Or maybe even sort of confusing?

    I think the place that race and racism is being explored in BSG is in–and I’m stunned nobody has mentioned this yet–is between the human race, and what is increasingly (to me anyway) becoming the other human race…and that is of course….

    The CYLONS

    They don’t have feelings. They’re not like us they’re just machines/things. We can wipe them all out without pause because they are not fully human (3/5ths human maybe? Ask the Colonial Supreme court I guess). These are all familiar racist type statments from our own history. To sort of dissect the racial balance of the rest of the cast is to kind of dilute this powerful human/cylon racial dynamic so integral to the story.

    In my opinion.

    Minnesotia Actual

  43. Mike P says:

    Hey, Minnesota, nice post. I guess in a way it’s nice that no one thought to mention Lee and Dualla. We have come a long way from the original Star Trek trumpeting “Plato’s Stepchildren” as some sort of breakthrough for race relations on television, I guess. 🙂

    I think you’re right about a lot of racist questions in the show being transferred or dealt with allegorically via the Cylons. Definitely the series has pushed us as viewers to question whether we can do whatever we like to them (e.g., airlock them) because they are “just machines.” Sort of like Star Trek Next Generation did with Data.

    But I think Audra had a good intention in bringing up the discussion (see her initial post, something to the point of it being a show with real human actors from real 21st century North America [mostly!], and therefore reflecting realities of race relations today). I don’t think it dilutes the Cylon angle. I just think we’ve been discussing it in other threads, and this was the thread for something else.

    Respectfully, Mike

  44. BSG-32 Minnesotia says:

    This is such a dicey topic I’m always leery of commenting

    I don’t disagree regarding the real actors whatsoever. If i’m not mistaken, the very first Oscar given to a black person was to the actress–forgot her name, I apologise–who played Scarlet O’Hara’s housemaid in “Gone With the Wind”. Now, lots of people love that movie….but I still remember thinking the first time I saw it, “Why would the black folks help build defenses against the North?” They seemed pretty happy being slaves in that film. Total revisionist mythology there. But I’m about 99% positive that she won an Oscar for that role and it was the first time. But hardly a role that was realistic, nor flattering at all, especially with out modern eyes and ears.

    Maybe an important thing with the actors and roles is how every character is so flawed, which accenuates how human they are. BSG is such the anti-Star Trek in this regard. There are no racial issues because everybody is so screwed up, instead of all prim and perfect like Trek was! I remember a great line from the movie “Glory” (if you want to explore this sort of thing, and see pretty much every great black male actor working today) when Denzel’s character asks Colonel Shaw what’s in it for them if the North won the war. He doesn’t answer, until the best thing he can come up with is, “Well…you won’t get anything if we lose. But it stinks I suppose”. Denzel thinks about it and says something like, “Stinks. Stinks bad. And ain’t nobody clean, everybody’s all covered up in it. Be nice to get clean tho”. “How do we do that?” “Ante up and kick in like men sir. But I still won’t carry your flag”.

    Freaking awesome scene in an awesome film. And open to many interpretations, which of course reflects the difficulty and complexity of this issue. Great line. Really gets to the core of it but oddly does not at the same time.

    Someone earlier commented about “you can see it everywhere if you want find it”, which got a real response, a lot negative but very non-flame-y. I think it’s one of those weird things in life that doesn’t really align well with a binary sort of racist/non-racist analysis. There’s plenty of examples in this world about the obvious extremes at both ends of course, but a lot of stuff in life, I think falls into “sort of is but sort of isn’t” fuzzyness. And that’s where I stand on a lot of dramatic fiction stuff. But this show is so good at creating this world of conflict, and pain, and fleeting moments of extreme joy (the rescue from New Caprica, say), and so many allegories to everything from Jesus and Moses, to the decline of the Roman Empire, to…well, tons of stuff yet to be thought up. So it makes sense to me that a certain amount of modern race relation stuff is going to be in there too, open for the varied discussions like…well, this one!

    BSG-32 Minnesotia

  45. Audra says:

    Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for portraying “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. I think it was 1939, and she was the first African-American to win best actor or actress. The first black man to win best actor was Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field, in 1963 I believe.

  46. Jaz says:

    Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve been to GWC although I’ve continued to listen to the GREAT podcasts. Audra, Chuck and Sean – you rock. 🙂

    I’m loving this dialog. As an African American woman, I often find myself noticing the ethnicity of the characters, where they’re from, how they’re perceived by the other characters, etc. In the first season, I fell in love with the show, but also joked with friends that apparently, in the BSG universe, everyone that survived was “white” and “hot.” There were a few exceptions of course, but overall that was my impression. I feel like seasons 2 and 3 had more diversity (meaning more actors of color)…again an overall impression. I think they could certainly stand to have more of everyone, but I agree with Audra that they do try their best to undermine American/Western ideas about gender, race, class, etc. It’s my favorite show for this and other reasons, and I appreciate their obvious efforts.

  47. Jaz says:

    Also…the intro to this discussion by Audra was so thoughtful, concise and full of truth. You go Audra. 🙂

  48. Lei Kasarowski says:

    Hi everyone.

    Boomer “The Brother” Says: Dee’s still around. Yippee!!!! Her character is growing, which is good. On a different note, I wonder how many black folks watch the show? ”

    Anastasia “Dee” Dualla-Adama is one of my favorite “secondary” characters. That said, I was none to pleased by the way the writers handled her inter-racial relationship with Lee Adama.

    Let me explain. During the whole quad romantic drama, only the white character pairings were fully exposed. Kara/Sam and Kara/Lee were expressed onscreen. Their intimacy laid out plainly and explicitly. Where it pertained to the inter-racial pairing of Lee/Dee, their intimacy was left to implication and assumption, and relogated to the “Deleted Scenes” offscreen. If it weren’t for the Deleted Scenes and interviews concerning Lee and Dee’s relationship, I wouldn’t have been privy to just how much Lee really had fallen in love with Dee.

    With inter-racial couples on television, it seems standard to look to the deleted scenes for relationship clarity as opposed to actually viewing the show. So, at face value, there are fans who would “reason” that there is no screentime devoted to Lee and Dee’s relationship, because the writers didn’t think their relationship was worth a damn anyway. Then, you have the more “aware” viewers who already seem to know that, if they want clarity about Lee and Dee they must refer to the offscreen material, because the show executives are not going to show explicit intimacy of that nature. Even the deleted scenes were kept very conservative. So, it appears those scenes between Lee and Dee are deliberately written and filmed for the purpose of being included as reference material, because the powers that be would not include such scenes in the final edit of the episode for the “majority’s” comfortability to view. Inter-racial intimacy between black and white characters are obscured still by the “times,” even when attempting to depict love between the characters.

    This was also the case in depicting love/romance between Billy and Dee. Intimacy between them was implied and the supposed seriousness of that intimacy had to be assumed to believe Billy’s presumptuous marriage proposal to Dee. Where did that marriage proposal come from? By simply watching the show, there’s no way to come up with their relationship being that serious. So, some assuming had to take place as the viewer to buy into Billy’s “broken heart” or that Billy could risk his life going for a gun to thwart a shot at Dee, even after she warned him not to. This “implied seriousness” between Billy and Dee seemed to work just fine with viewers.

    Then soon as the coin is flipped to white-on-white characters like Kara and Sam or Kara and Lee, the viewer is exposed to explicit intimacy. Lee is a main character as well, but his scenes with Dee were kept conservative even after they were married. I actually wouldn’t have mind viewing several scenes of naked Lee and naked Dee panting and kissing with Dee on top. However, I knew that I would never be privy to such an explicit scene, not even in the deleted scenes, because conservative intimacy between black/white characters is the Hollywood status quo.

    So, I’m not going to pretend that race doesn’t affect what I get to even view on screen that would aide in fleshing out character development.

  49. justme says:

    “Maybe the creators of BSG should consider casting more people of color if they want to reflect a universe more like our own..”

    if they intended to reflect a world more like our own, white ppl would account for less than 5% of the cast 😀 ~ as much as I enjoy the storyline, it transcends no racial barriers, in fact, it reinforces them. a little more subtle perhaps, but certainly nothing new ~ misrepresentation is rife throughout the series.

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