Friday, August 24, 2012

Race on the Falling Skies

From the very first episode of Falling Skies I was drawn in.  I have to admit that I am a sucker for the whole aliens invading the earth routine.  In this case I was somewhat heartened to see that even though it was yet another clear example of White men must save the world, at least there were  few characters of colour whose roles seemed necessary to the functioning of 2nd Massachusetts.  People of colour certainly did not exist in the percentage that they should have on the show according to population demographics but to see them out on missions and sometimes in a leadership role did give us some hope - hope that I was to soon find was sorely missed placed.

I think the most glaring problem Falling Skies has with POC is death. POC die. They die over and over again. A named POC on this show has a lower life expectancy than a hedgehog on a motorway.

But wait, I hear you cry, this is a dystopian battle for their lives! Of course people die! Well, actually the 2nd Massachusetts doesn’t lose that many people, not that many named characters. I even counted the deaths in season 1 - and got a grand total of 5 casualties. 5 deaths. Of those, 4 were POC. There was one white casualty, I recall from the 2nd Massachusetts, and he was an un-named extra. To match that was Click, Parker and Mike all singled out for death.

The second season doesn’t get much better. We’re introduced to Jamil - another named POC, a named POC with actual lines! And a love interest! Perhaps even his own story (hah, as if!) aaaaand, death. Even Diego, Jeanne’s boyfriend, was killed or disappeared off screen - he couldn’t make it to Charleston. The only white character I can think who died in second season was Jimmy - who was dramatically and epicly grieved over with a beautiful, moving, painful funeral. Contrast that with Dai, who truly took the prize for the second season, for dying in the last episode - almost in passing. The other characters barely acknowledge it, a token reference at best while they all flock round to grieve over Red Eye, the rebel Skitter’s death. The alien got more grief and more pain than Dai, a character who has been on the show since the very first episode.

POC die in numbers that far outstripped white people on this show - which is worse when you consider how utterly outnumbered they were to begin with. There were plenty of minor white characters who could have died in the fighting - Tector, Jeanne, Lyle, Pope, Porter (who really really needs to die) anyone from Charleston (which is overwhelmingly white).

We’ve also had some deeply problematic storylines, starting with the redemption of Pope. Pope began as a criminal racist and was integrated into the 2nd Massachusetts despite his many, many horrendous actions that never get this man kicked out. This man went well beyond his 2nd - or even 7th - chance. He actually ends up with Anthony, a Black man, as one of his allies who even follows Pope into his own self-imposed exile.

But there can be no greater contrast than to look at Ben and Rick. Does anyone remember Rick? He was the other harnessed child, along with Ben, who had his harness removed. Ben’s story? Overcoming hardship and isolation, becoming a major fighter against the aliens, always been on the human side, becoming integral to the group and, eventually, being instrumental in the alliance between the humans and the rebel Skitters. Ben is a major character, his harness is a source of strength and power and he has been the saviour of the whole 2nd Massachusetts more than once.

Rick? Rick is never accepted. He’s near catatonic most of the time, communicating in monosyllables at best. He is never trusted, he never becomes a useful part of the group. Worse, he identifies with the aliens more the humans and he is a traitor to the 2nd Massachusetts. He attacks Uncle Scott and even feeds information to the aliens - and eventually, like so many other POC on this show, dies. The contrast is glaring.

It quickly became clear that though these people of colour did get to on missions that they were just there to fill a gap on screen and certainly were not expected to speak or interact with any of the far more important White characters. I think that T-Dog on
The Walking Dead actually had more speaking lines than Dai did in season two of  Falling Skies. Even though the people of colour clearly had more experience fighting the skitters inevitably the role of  the role of leadership always went to a White character.  By the end, they actually had less chance of leading than a Black quarterback in the NFL.  Present but silent is just another form of erasure though it does give the illusion of inclusion. The only POC who has any regular speaking part - or particular character development - on the show is Dr. Glass and most of her interaction is through Tom, her love interest. Lourdes, Anthony, Dai and Jamil are very much in the background. What is even more galling is we’re seeing new characters introduced - like Tector - (and even Maggie and Pope came after Dai and Anthony) coming onto the show and having greater attention than the already present POC.

We can almost guarantee that next season there will be a new POC introduced - simply because this show has killed off all of its tokens. But it would surprise me if they live to the end of the series and they won’t get any kind of speaking role. Even the crowd scenes seem to be getting steadily whiter. This show started with a lot of potential for racial inclusion - certainly more than we’ve seen before - but with each passing death and each silent token it has thoroughly killed any hope we have for decent inclusion.