There are extraordinary hours of television that stick with you because they effect and reflect the very turmoil stirring in your own soul. The second season of Queen Sugar explored the intricately complex subject of police brutality in the black community by following baby-faced Micah West (Nicholas L. Ashe) unlawful arrest and violent mistreatment by a racist police officer.
The plot unspooled in a gut-wrenching study of tragedy, trauma, and catharsis for viewers who are concerned with far more dire things than the amount of their traffic ticket when they are stopped by police. It was far more powerful than broadcast cable's attempts (*side-eyes Chicago PD, Bluebloods and Law & Order: SUV*) because Queen Sugar’s primarily black writers and cast inherently understand the nuance, shame, and fear of existing in a country build on institutionalized racism. It was a beautiful and intensely haunting reflection of the age-old reflection of the rule to write what you know.
And sadly, this is the direct opposite of showrunner Marc Guggenheim's desire to wedge a Black Lives Matter "topical episode" into season 6 of his white-boy-vigilante superhero drama, Arrow.
"Last year we did gun violence; this year we're going to do another topical episode as well. I really want to tackle Black Lives Matter, and I have a story idea for that, but where exactly that gets slotted -- we just have a range, because we like to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility," he told TVGuide.com.
While Guggenheim seems primarily focused on logistics, he should be more concerned with make-up and skills of his writers room before they, ahem, fail this issue.
Twitter was naturally buzzing with dubious opinions about this idea, and when Twitter user Joseph P. Illidge asked if Arrow had any black writers on staff. He tersely said they would be "bringing someone in."
I used to be a fairly enthusiastic fan of Arrow when the show first began. Oliver Queen was Robin Hood, remixed with swagger and bloodlust. He kicked ass instead of charmed, and had a bit of Bruce Wayne's edge, thanks to the money and a former bad boy rep. What star Stephen Amell lacked in talent, he made up in chiseled abs and salmon ladders.
But Arrow quickly began veer off course. The storylines became more outlandish and poorly conceived. Oliver Queen became more of a dictator than a beacon of hope or militant change. Crossovers with the newer, better and warmer The Flash telegraphed the show's serious weakness in acting (save for Katie Cassidy and David Ramsey). Even the action became a bit of an after-thought.
One of the many reasons I stopped live-tweeting and regularly watching Arrow in season 4 is because of its exceedingly worsening treatment of their women and characters of color. David Ramsey, who plays John Diggle, Ollie's right hand man, is stronger, tactically trained, level-headed and even spent months posing as the Green Arrow, but he's been mostly fed scraps of arcs and stuffed in a dorky helmet (only after years of fan's complaints about Diggle's unprotected identity).
The writers continually hurt and maim their female characters to stoke manpain instead of to tell a compelling story for Moira, Thea, poor Laurel, Sara or Felicity. Ms. Smoak, who was shot more times than 50 Cent in season 4, still hasn't learned how to properly defend herself or even carry a concealed weapon.
If a show can’t even deliver a decent storyline for their main characters, how are they going to tackle a subject as delicate and complex as BLM?
Superheroes exist in the realms of escapism and fantasy. Some were created to address problems of the real world. See Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Wonder Woman, Luke Cage. Others simply are not. Arrow has never even bothered to address the issues posed by its own show. The Glades, for example, are a politically correct allegory for America's inner cities. Yet Arrow barely addresses the racial make-up of the downtrodden or the fact that Malcolm Merlyn killed over 500 of its residents (including his own son and Oliver's best friend) in a fit of his own white viligantism. He is still alive because of a flimsy oath Oliver took not to kill. In real-world terms, Oliver Queen would be rage-tweeting about hugging Nazis, instead of punching them, and advocating for their free speech while claiming he can't be racist because Diggle is his black friend.
Also, Oliver Queen (who has repeatedly killed without due process) having any type of feeling about Black Lives Matter or police brutality in Star(ling) City makes about as much sense as a high school kid managing a nightclub.
With the aforementioned Queen Sugar or even blackish’s breathtaking post-election episode, “Lemonade,” it helps immensely when actors like Ashe and Anthony Anderson can bring their own feelings and experiences to the character. Unfortunately, Arrow's star Amell has bested Ninja Warrior courses and stood up to cancer, but he also has proved his willful ignorance on the issues plaguing minorities.
Two years ago, when outrage swirled over the racist treatment and arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a student who built a clock on his own only to be arrested because his teachers thought it was a bomb, Amell's knee-jerk response was to defend....the state of Texas where the incident took place and not the child subjected to needless trauma at the hands of the people sworn to protect him.
Amell is Canadian.
A man who takes the time to defend a geographical area before a helpless and brilliant child is not the man to carry the mantle of Black Lives Matter episode. (Sidenote: It's plausible that Ramsey's Diggle could bear the brunt of the emotional work of this episode and schooling an ignorant Oliver on the subject, but the show seems to have an allergy to making Ollie fallible for anything).
Ultimately, the purpose of addressing capital-I Issues is to hopefully change hearts and minds for the better. If Guggenheim & Co. truly want to be to achieve this, they should consider doing something more meaningful than one problematic very special episode of Arrow.
They could hire black writers to their staff so they can offer a different and necessary perspective on Oliver’s superhero shenanigans.
They could stop misusing their black guest stars--Queen Sugar's Rutina Wesley guest-starrred twice; Meglan Echikunwoke played Vixen for one episode; season 1's Annie Ilonzeh just vanished--and cast a black woman to play a real part on the show that they don’t casually shoot in the head ala Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s Amanda Waller (This was the reason I stopped watching Arrow).
They could write their female characters as completely as their men, instead of tying their presence and pain to Oliver or making them as interchangeable as the Black Canary’s mask.
They could give their male characters the space to be vulnerable and capable of showing other emotions besides brooding anger.
Finally, Team Arrow can avoid the BLM storyline all together, because as it stands now, it will never hit its target.
Photo Credits: cartermatt.com; thr.com
Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.