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 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.
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?