Why Iris matters to me
There’s a reason Iris and Westallen are so important to me. As a Black girl, I will naturally gravitate to the person who represents me on-screen. I like seeing Black women get more visibility, more room to play different kinds of roles, and in fact, shine in central roles instead of being in the periphery. I am nearly 30 years old and it’s only in the last decade that TV seems to have woken up and realized that Black women can be leads, can be love interests who are cared for and adored, can be both action heroes and soft and feminine, can be independent and vulnerable at the same time.
Before Iris, there were two Black female leads I absolutely loved but who didn’t always get the love and respect they deserved from fans or even the show. Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson), and Lacey Porter (Kylie Bunbury).
Detective Joss Carter, Person of Interest (CBS)
To me, it seemed pretty obvious that Carter, an attractive older woman would be a natural love interest for the lead character, John Reese. They had great chemistry together, and their interactions would range from the downright hilarious to the deep, solemn and intimate – and this was all as friends. On any other show featuring an exasperated detective working with an unorthodox man in a suit, these two would have been clear endgame (Mentalist, Castle, Lucifer), but POI producers claimed that romance didn’t really fit this kind of show. I took that at face value, even as lost romances drove both the male leads in the show. A ship featuring the two men sprang up, and I saw that phenomenon in action (slash shipping as a way of circumventing the black female lead). But for the most part, the two shipping fandoms actually coexisted peacefully.
So the show kept teasing, kept having them flirt, kept having this thing dance right to the edge of romance, without ever going there. Jim Caviezel, though, definitely played his character Reese, as if he was in love with Carter. To the point that he initiated an unscripted kiss in one of their final scenes together. Some parts of the TV audience exploded with indignance: where the heck did that kiss come from??, they bellowed. They had never seen anything remotely romantic between the two characters ever. Either they had been blind, or they had simply never wanted to see it. This, like Sleepy Hollow, also suffered from the “Can’t men and women just be friends? They are my brotp. So tired of romance in every show.” complaints.
Only after Carter died did they explicitly refer to her as someone John Reese was in love with. Another lost love to add to his angst. If only he had not been so hesitant (he, or you POI writers?). And only after Carter died did the show seemingly change its mind about romance, having a full-blown romance between two of the main female leads. But hey, that’s none of my business.
Let me say though, that Carter was very well written during her tenure on the show. I grew to like her more and more over the seasons. I started off pretty ambivalent, but Taraji won me over. Even her relationship with Reese, defined only as “whatever this is” was a joy to watch. She was an important member of the team, with relationships with all the other team members, plus her own nemesis later (not a whole lot of her home life but still). But even though POI was brave and innovative in other ways, it always seemed a bit too scared to go there with Carter and Reese. Her death was an ignominious end to a fantastic character, was done just for shock value, and turned a good number of fans off the show for good. Also, the show had always been a hybrid sci-fi/police procedural but losing Carter upset that balance, and the sci-fi aspects became more prevalent, alienating other viewers. The show’s ratings never recovered.
Lacey Porter, Twisted (ABC Family)
Lacey Porter was a lot like Veronica Lodge in Riverdale: a spoiled princess with a huge heart and a complicated home life. She was a third of Twisted’s main trio of erstwhile friends, which also included reformed juvenile killer, Danny Desai (Avan Jogia), and earnest loner, Jo (Maddie Hassen). The show was supposed to join Pretty Little Liars as an ABC family guilty pleasure. But inconsistent storytelling (they got a new writing team between the first and second halves of season one, leading to a significant drop in quality) was it’s main downfall.
The first half of the season did get a couple of things right. The suspense was there - did Danny really murder his Aunt as a child, or was he covering up for someone? And what about the fact that a girl died just as he got out of juvie and slinked back in town? It was great. The other stroke of genius? Danny and Lacey. Danny had Barry Allen levels of thirst when he saw Lacey again for the first time in 5 years. Like he drank her in every single time he saw her (btw, in real life this can be creepy as heck, but on TV, well).
Anyway, the two actors had amazing chemistry, and fell in love head first, with Lacey moving from suspicion and wariness to total conviction that Danny was innocent.
In the second half of the season, the new writers broke Danny and Lacey up, and #PoorJo’s unrequited crush on Danny was finally… requited. “It’s always been you.” He says to her, which made little to no sense. Danny and Lacey had heat. Danny and Jo reminded me of custard.
The show threw away one of its strongest assets. An overall mess of a second half spelled doom for the show and it was gone with a whimper. But for a while, Twisted had given us an interracial relationship featuring two POC, and given it time and attention. Kylie made Lacey as lovable as Camila makes Veronica, but unlike Veronica, we didn’t get to see her home life very often either. We had an entire episode about her family that took place at her younger sister’s birthday party. And the show didn’t even bother to cast a girl to play the sister. Lol. I mean, come on. Try. In contrast, we saw Danny and Jo’s home lives in every episode.
Iris West, The Flash (CW)
Now back to Iris. The difference between these shows and the Flash, is that the latter has been clear from Day One, that Iris is the love of Barry’s life. Unlike POI, they actually took the plunge, and unlike Twisted, they have stayed consistent throughout about their endgame. You can’t know what it means to see this woman be earnestly and wholeheartedly loved like this, by a superhero. She’s the Lois to his Superman, and it’s not a role I had ever ever imagined I would see a Black woman in.
It’s not surprising that there are haters. There was a predictable whitelash. Iris, like many Black and female characters, was under increased scrutiny at every turn, and many times criticism turned into vitriol. And although crackshipping is all over the show (Cisco x Peekaboo ♡), only SB was insidious enough to replace Iris in her own narrative with the closest white girl.The ship was crowned before anyone had seen the GG and DP act opposite each other, on the show or even in the first trailer. But it was formed after Candice Patton was cast as Iris. It pained me to think that there were people who were so repulsed by this beautiful Black woman that they would make up a ship with literally nothing to go on and then make so much noise about it, that people began to think it was real. I sometimes see posts saying that they ship SB out of love for them, and not hate for Iris. Some joined the Flash fandom years after the premiere and can claim ignorance. But, regardless of whenever they joined, the beginnings of the ship were rooted in anti-black racism, and I don’t think 3 years has been enough to actually distance it from that. I’m a fan of live and let live because there will always be a diversity of opinions, but we can’t be disingenuous while we are at it.
Now, the writing on this show is nowhere near POI quality, and I have said a lot in other posts. The only thing I will point our here is that in Season 1, because Iris didn’t know The Flash’s identity, the writers had to construct an entire world just for her (CCPN). That season, we saw journalism progress from a class project, into a hobby, into a genuine interest and then flower into a passion. Without CCPN, Iris would barely have been in the show since it mostly took place in STAR Labs, and the Police station.
Since then, it seems that because Iris is in the know, the writers aren’t working as hard to build her own world around her, which is sad. I’m glad she is more visible, and I am glad that she and Barry have the romance to end all romances (he proposed twice!!!), but I hope that the writers will remember next season that Iris’ career matters too. It’s part of that representation that we value so much. Who are the major black journalists on scripted TV? I can’t think of any off the top of my head. There is still a lot of story to tell with respect to Iris’ professional and even social lives.
So, yes, I have experienced some fandom foolishness around Black women. I have seen writers give their Black female characters half-baked story lines compared to some of their white counterparts. I have seen shows underestimate the draw of these Black women to their own detriment (looking at you, POI and Sleepy Hollow). Iris West, for all the shortcomings in her writing, sits in that TV Black Girl Hall of Fame, for being a demonstration that black girls can and should be adored, loved, uplifted and protected.