I started watching The Walking Dead last year after both my Netflix queue and best friend kept nagging me about it. A great story line, a zombie apocalypse…you will LOVE it, they both implied. And I did. I think I watched the entire six-episode first season in one day, and followed the show’s second season before diving into the third last month. But there are a few things off about the show and how it treats black folks — mainly that when one turns up, all he or she gets to do is be black.

First, it’s important to remember that this is a series set in and around Atlanta, Georgia after the spread of a virus that turns people into zombies, yet I can count on one hand the number of black characters that have been on that show. Of course there is no such thing as zombies (at least I hope not) and therefore the show is all fantasy, but in what world are there so few black folks to be found in Atlanta?

I couldn’t even find a cast photo with the black guy in it.

I was initially drawn in by a plot about a black man dealing with the zombification of his wife while trying to protect his child from the attacks, but once that story ended the only black characters turned rather one-dimensional. Pop culture writer Kyra Kyles of The Kyles Files describes the sole remaining black person on The Walking Dead perfectly in her post “WALKING DEAD: LESS COLOR THAN THE COMIC?“:

Oh wait, there is one black guy left.  He’s a somewhat cowardly, increasingly useless and unseen character by the name of T-Bone.

**blank stare**

Yes, T-Bone.  Some fellow Deadheads and I talked about this a week ago and I just can’t shake the questions that these casting and plot decisions raise. In the comic book, it almost seems 50/50 in terms of diversity and roles are richly, and interestingly crafted. Further, their actions weren’t defined by their Blackness, as it has been in T-Bone’s case.  He essentially existed, as one friend pointed out, as a foil to a racist character.

Like Kyra, I can’t get past the fact that the only black person on the show is named T-Bone and that he insists that the rest of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse continue to call him that when I’m pretty sure a real person would take that opportunity to just go ahead and let folks call him Terence. Furthermore, as she points out, the shallowness of this character is not a match with the richness found in the original text, a claim that many have also made about the shows True Blood (a show I love but has extremely upsetting black people) and Game of Thrones.

So what gives? Is diversity in television a lost cause in spite of the use of source material that actually has three-dimensional characters of color? Do we need all-black shows to appear on scripted television as anything but footnotes?

Speak on it!

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  1. Noble47

    Also, why are you complaining about Game of Thrones? It was set in Medieval Europe. How many black people were there, in that place, at that time?

    Next, why don’t we complain about how Akira Kurosawa MUST have been a racist, because there were no black dudes in the Seven Samurai!

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