Racism in Fandom: My Experience with The 100
So with the 100 about to start again (NOT going to watch it though), I thought it would be a good time to talk about how racism in fandom and television and my experience with the 100, as well as why I, along with many others should have realized it was problematic from the beginning, not only when a lesbian was killed (this is also the reason I deleted most of the 100 posts off my blog, even the ones after Lexa’s death).
In February, the majority of the blogs I followed were freaking the fuck out over Clexa. So I thought, why not? I’ll binge watch it. Everyone I followed was going on and on about its great representation. But while watching, I kept having the nagging feeling something was seriously wrong with this show.
My first feelings of discomfort came when Wells, a black character that should have been a main was killed only a few episodes in and barely mourned by any other characters. My thoughts were “Hold on, this doesn’t feel right”. However, I was new to the fandom. I didn’t trust my judgment. And since everyone I followed seemed to think the show had the best representation of any show ever, I thought “maybe it’s just me. maybe since it eventually had great lgbt representation, it’s ok? maybe representation gets better? maybe i’m just being sensitive. after all, the people I follow have been on tumblr longer and probably would know if the show was problematic and say so.” And I ignored it. Because everyone else on my dash was doing the same after all.
I ignored my dislike of the fact that Monty, an Asian man, was pretty much ignored in favor of the show’s white characters, and how Callie Cartwig, an Asian woman who was set up as a main, never came back after the first episode. I ignored how Anya, played by a Nepali actress, was killed after only a few episodes.
I kept watching despite with my discomfort when Raven, a Latina woman, was set up as the second-choice love interest to Finn and passed over in favor of a white woman, and how the show essentially slut-shamed her for having rebound sex. I ignored my feelings of anger, as a Latina woman, at how Raven was also the character who suffered the most, being paralyzed by a bullet shot into her spine.
I ignored that voice in my head telling me to stop watching as Thelonius Jaha, one of the only black men on the show, became a main antagonist, and how Pike, a black man, was introduced as a new villain. How Lincoln, another black man, suffered again and again and again, and nobody called the 100 out on it. How Indra, a black woman, was forced to bear hardship after hardship.
I ignored the nagging feeling in my mind that the grounders’ costumes were brownface and cultural appropriation. How nobody was speaking out about the whole “savages” mentality the show had going on towards the grounders and the whole white-savior complex.
I ignored how Bellamy, a Filipino man, was repeatedly demonized by the fandom. How Clarke, a white girl, got a free pass for everything, as did Octavia. I ignored all that, in favor of getting to fangirl with the people all over my dash who were still screaming about Clexa (which frankly, as a ship, I didn’t even care for all that much but it was representation right? and if I wasn’t super duper excited about it I must be homophobic like everyone was telling me the Bellarke fans were).
By this point, I was ignoring a heck ton of problematic shit, just for fucking Clexa. Two white wlw who seemed to make this show “the best representation on television for everyone!!!” when really this show was problematic as HELL. And nobody I followed seemed to care, so it was ok, right? No. It wasn’t.
I finally caught up with the show the night before episode 7 of the third season was aired. OK, I thought. I’ll watch the show at the same time as everyone else tomorrow night, and we can all talk about it afterwards! And then those of you who are familiar with the show probably know what happened the next night. Lexa died.
As I watched Lexa dying, my reaction was Oh well, guess people were right about the dead lesbian trope after all. I was surprisingly numb by this point. A little sad, but the character of Lexa was never my favorite, and I’d kept watching through the deaths of numerous minorities, right? The show would still be representation. Surely if the fans on my dash weren’t upset about the treatment of POC in the show and still considered it good representation despite that, Lexa dying wouldn’t be that big a deal, because it was still representation. Right? Sure, it was uncool, but I’d convinced myself to look past all the other shit the show gave minorities. It had become second nature by this point. Even as a queer woman, I was pretty much unfazed and didn’t realize the implications of Lexa’s death anymore. Until I got on tumblr and my dash was exploding.
Everyone was SO ANGRY about Lexa’s death. Everyone I followed was enraged. I thought “holy shit I’d better get angry about this fast”. And I joined the spree of angry anti-jason rothenberg blogging.
But I kept thinking, “Sure, a lot of dead lesbians are on TV. And that sucks. But there are even more dead POC on TV. None of the Clexa stans I followed gave a shit about Wells. Or Anya. What makes Lexa different? What makes the death of a white queer woman on a show more bigoted than the repeated torture and death of POC characters?” Then I started branching out of the small circle of Clexa blogs I followed. I went into the “anti-the 100″ tag. And I found people talking about all the shit I had thought was wrong before that. And I realized “Holy shit. This show was terrible from the beginning.” And suddenly, all the Clexa fans were talking about how awful this show was to minorities, after Lincoln died. But why now? Why did it take the death of Lexa for the Clexa fandom to realize how awful the show was to POC? And if Lexa hadn’t died, would there be as much of a stink about Lincoln dying by the fandom? If we kept watching despite the death of POC after POC until a queer woman died, what makes us different from those who would continue to watch after Lexa died? I felt extremely guilty. Here I was, ignoring racism in the show because I wanted to fit in. To jump on the Clexa bandwagon with all the others. And I felt like it served me right, in a way, that the day I caught up was the day Lexa died. Because if I tolerated other minorities being killed off, I should be able to ignore a lesbian being shot.
I found myself blogging a lot about Wells. How Wells deserved better, just like Lexa. I went on a spree where I reblogged numerous gifsets of Wells. I deleted those along with the rest of the 100 posts eventually, because I didn’t want to think about that show again. I was ashamed to have been a fan of the show. But I had learned something from it. I’d learned not to ignore my instincts when I saw discrimination in action. And that the world was bigger than the group of people I followed. That just because something is big on tumblr, doesn’t mean it’s flawless, or even good. That I can’t count on one perspective to tell me what’s right.
I almost started watching Supergirl recently, because I heard great things about Sanvers on my dash, and Supercorp videos kept showing up on my recommended on YouTube. But I never made it past the first episode, because I noticed a character that I’d never seen anyone talk about on my dash. James Olsen, a sweet, kindly, handsome black man who was set up as Kara’s love interest. So why was everyone shipping Kara with a white woman? Yes, queer representation is great, but didn’t Sanvers already exist? Why ship Kara with Lena, when she could have a beautiful adorable interracial relationship with James? Did something happen to James later on? Did he die, leaving the rest of the white cast (as far as I’d seen at that point) unharmed?
I was determined not to make the same mistake again. So I researched Supergirl, to see if it was problematic before I started watching. And boy, was I glad I did. Not only was James apparently ignored and passed over in favor of a white love interest later, but Lena Luthor, a disabled character in the comics, was played by an abled woman. And Maggie Sawyer, a Latina character, was played by a light-skinned Italian woman instead of a Latina actress. And yet the fandom didn’t seem to care. They were upset that Kara was with Mon-El, yes, but only because she wasn’t with Lena. Or they threw James in their argument as an “option”, basically arguing that if Kara wasn’t going to be with Lena, she should be with James and not Mon-El. But James should be the first choice. He was clearly set to be Kara’s love interest, as far as I know, but he was passed over for a white guy. Why have Supercorp instead of Karolsen, when you already have a queer relationship and no interracial relationships on the show? And why were there so few posts about the clear ableism in having Lena Luthor as an abled character? Why so little outrage when the creators of the show said the reason the character wasn’t in a wheelchair was because they wanted her to be “sexy and badass”, implying that they didn’t think anyone in a wheelchair could be sexy and badass? And why was everyone hyping up Sanvers, and not seeming to care about the whitewashed Latina character? Why didn’t anyone care that Floriana Lima regularly went for Latinx roles despite not being Latina?
I’m Latina. I’m white passing, unlike my mom, and I acknowledge my privilege. I’m not profiled or called names, and I’m lucky in that sense. But I’ve been told I wasn’t Peruvian, because I didn’t look it, and I’ve taken that from people again and again. And yes, it may seem stupid, because being told you’re not Peruvian is nothing compared to the racism my mom has faced. But having people ask if your mother is your nanny is insulting and painful, and being told your culture isn’t yours because of how you look hurts. So learning that an Italian woman could be Latina when the world has told me repeatedly that I wasn’t stings. It felt like I was being told that Floriana Lima was more “Latina” than I was, despite her not even having a cultural connection.
I never watched the second episode of Supergirl. Because I wasn’t going to ignore racism and ableism again, just for the sake of queer representation. It wasn’t worth it. And maybe I was selfish this time, because the whole Floriana Lima thing hit a little closer this time. But I still had a moment where I thought, “What if I watched it anyways? Can it be that bad when it has queer representation?” The answer? Yes. It can.
I encourage everyone who watched the 100 for Clexa and ignored its racism like I did not to make the same mistake with Supergirl. Because, if you think about it, Lexa’s death wasn’t that surprising after all. When a show treats other minorities like shit, what’s to stop them from doing the same with queer characters? And even if they treat queer characters well, why should queer representation be prioritized over black representation, disabled representation, latinx representation, etc.?
If we ignore discrimination on TV as long as it isn’t aimed towards us, we’re no better than those who ignore homophobia in shows. Queer representation shouldn’t be more important to us than representation of POC or disabled folks. Yes, you’re right. Lexa deserved better. But so did Wells Jaha. And so does James Olsen.