On Bonnie Bennett and the Mistreatment of Beloved Characters of Color
I remember when the official trailer came out for The Vampire Diaries back in 2009. I was in the eighth grade, possibly sitting on my living room floor in front of the tv, distracted by my homework. When suddenly a Black girl crossed the screen. I did not have the vocabulary I did as a 12/13 yr old that I now have, but I knew desperately needed representation when I saw it. I was already interested in TVD because as I child, I was really into fantasy/sci fi genre. But seeing Bonnie Bennett, and then finding out she was a witch put the icing on the cake.
Miraculously, I watched TVD for eight straight years. Always telling myself that I would stop, but I kept hanging on. I don’t know exactly why, but I believe it had a lot to do with seeing the end to Bonnie’s story. And now that I have, I got A LOT of things to say.
Bonnie Bennett was originally Bonnie McCullough in the TVD book series written by L.J. Smith. She was white with bright red hair and hazel eyes. With the series being adapted into television, the writers and producers decided to bring diversity to the main cast and casted Kat Graham, a biracial Black woman. And you can guess how mad the book fandom was about that.
First, lets discuss black characters in TVD, because for the most part, besides Bonnie and her family members (all light skinned) who all die, with the exception of her mother who gets turned into a vampire and disappears, black characters are absent. There was Luca and Jonas. Two male warlocks who befriended Bonnie, only to use her. She got comfortable with them, finally being able to talk to someone about her abilities, and they turned out to be bad people, or at least that was how they were framed. Luca was killed by Damon. Jonas was killed by Katherine. When Jonas is murdered, Bonnie tells Katherine that she didn’t have to kill him. Katherine disagrees. They are disposable.
Remember Lucy Bennett? Another one of Katherine’s pawns who is killed off after serving her purpose? Or what about Qetsiyah? The baddest witch of them all who created an immortality elixir for her true love (Stefan’s doppleganger) and was later betrayed by that true love who gave her dosage to Amara (Elena’s doppleganger)? Or what about that time they made the literal devil a dark skinned Black man?!
As you can see there was no variety in the representation of Black characters. There were bad Black characters who were eventually killed off and then there was Bonnie. Nothing less and nothing more.
So what did they do with their only Black main character? They treated her like absolute shit and never gave her a story line of her own. Bonnie was a tool to help other characters through their plights while simultaneously enduring emotional turmoil.
There are so many times when Bonnie literally saved everyone in Mystic Falls, including people who scorned her like Damon and Stefan Salvatore. I can’t count on my two hands alone how many times Bonnie was superwoman. She was always willing to literally sacrifice herself for other characters. She was always too ready to submit to death if it meant saving those around her. Bonnie was never concerned with saving herself. She was overtly strong, even up to her very last epic scene, taking on hellfire on her own. She embodied the strong Black woman trope far too many times and was never allowed a day off. Someone somewhere always needed her to use her.
Who could forget the season when Bonnie was made into the anchor. We watched her go through physical pain, time and time again. We watched her die, multiple times. We even watched her lose her magic, an extremely crucial part of her identity. Bonnie often felt like a character who was floating from place to place in the background, only brought to the forefront when someone needed something fixed, or when someone needed to dump their pain and suffering onto her.
Now, let’s talk about Bonnie’s non existent love life. She fell in love with Jeremy Gilbert, Elena’s little brother, who never got over his exes, Vicky and Annabelle (another character of color killed off after a short life). I mean the dude quite literally cheated on her with their ghosts. Bonnie’s next “epic love” was Enzo, another generic male character (white passing) with a troubled past. But for some reason, people shipped Bamon for the LONGEST even though he used Bonnie and treated her like shit as well. Remember when Damon hesitated with the decision of killing Bonnie after Kai linked her with Elena? Remember how Damon decided not to kill Bonnie because of Elena and not because, well I don’t know, Bonnie is a person who deserves life? Remember when Bonnie was left behind in the prison world, fighting Kai while Damon, of all people, got to escape? And remember when people lost their shit at the idea of Bonnie choosing Enzo (and herself) over Damon?
Nonetheless, things were starting to look up for Bonnie with Enzo. He was going to take the cure, they were going to live a long happy life together. But then Stefan violently kills him and in the midst of her intense anguish and pain, Bonnie takes the cure she was going to use for Enzo and uses it on Stefan, saving him and Elena (who he was going to kill) once again. Even after what Stefan did, Caroline expected Bonnie to come to their wedding, celebrating Caroline’s fairytale with a person who destroyed hers.
I watched the series finale. I saw the end to every character I had grown to like and hate over the past eight years. Everyone got their happy ending, except Bonnie. Bonnie’s arch ends with her vowing to follow Enzo’s advice and travel the world and be happy. She doesn’t get the epic romance that is awarded to everyone else. And before you mention Stefan’s death, Caroline is not alone. Klaus, as he promised, will be her last love. Elena and Damon are together. Bonnie, however…again…is alone. However cliche it may be, we don’t get to see her walking towards the sunset with the love of her life. We don’t even get to see her following her dreams. We don’t know what Bonnie’s dreams are. We only know that she is still living for someone else.
I wanted so much for Bonnie Bennett. I wanted the world for her, as she often gave the world to so many others. But that wasn’t her case. The writers of TVD really failed her. She was treated as a good, loyal, pet, but was never allowed to shine in her own right.
But I’ve learned to stop putting so much expectations into characters of color written by white people. Eleven times out of ten, they never do our stories justice. But in a genre where Black girls rarely every see themselves, I can admit, I did expect so much more. I can also admit that the treatment of Bonnie’s character and other characters of color still hurts.
I expected more for Glenn, and Poussey, and Lincoln, and countless others. I am currently and nervously biting my nails for Raven Reyes from the 100 who seems to be becoming a martyr. I feel the same for Sasha from TWD after last Sundays episode.
With all that being said writers should know that we don’t want to see these characters persecuted. We don’t want them to become martyrs. We don’t want them to orbit other characters. We want them to be treated like the Sun.