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.