Friday, November 30, 2012

Haven, Race and a Blatantly Repeating Pattern

Haven is now well through it’s third season and it’s about time we looked at this show’s racial inclusion.

Or lack thereof. In three seasons we’ve had 2 regular Black characters and a few, one off-episode roles and precious little in the way of other POC. After three seasons that’s a long time to go with such a poor record.

And I know some people are going to point out that Haven is set in Maine which isn’t the most diverse of states. There are multiple problems with this argument. Firstly, the idea that there are these little white-topias lurking around is dubious. Sure, there may be places where POC are few and far between but rarely so utterly erased. If it is utterly erased then, being the cynical (and realistic) media watchers we are, we have to question if this is the motive for choosing this location rather than one where a more diverse population demographic would be demanded.

Besides, we’re disinclined to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that POC erasure is because the writers are faithfully staying true to the actual population demographics. In show after show, in even the most diverse of cities, we’ve seen a similar erasure and it feels more than a little naive to decide that the same erasure in Haven is okay because they’ve picked a setting that would “justify” this overwhelmingly White cast.

However, it is the treatment of the POC that do exist in the show that doesn’t encourage me to extend any further benefit of the doubt, even among the bit characters. They include a Black man in Season 1, Episode 3, Harmony, who is willing to make people insane and dangerous for the sake of curing his White wife. Eventually, he gets virtually exiled from the town - put on a boat with the other mentally ill people and sailing off into the sunset. And a Black woman in Season 1, Episode 5, Ball and Chain, who acts as nanny to a woman who keeps having children, sucking the life out of men to do it. I don’t think anyone can be encouraged by such “inclusion”.

In season 2 we pick up a regular Black character - Evidence (Evie) Crocker, Duke’s estranged wife. I was, warily, encouraged by the inclusion of a regular Black character, but it quickly became clear she wasn’t going to be a major character, not even to the extent that Claire became in Season 3. But the main problem with Evie is that she came on the scene as someone who was out to corrupt loveable rogue Duke. We knew Duke had a shady past and we knew he was involved in morally dubious activities - and here was Evie trying to lead Duke astray, lead him to seek ill-gotten profit rather than answers. Take that and contrast it with Audrey who has been leading Duke away from his nefarious schemes, getting him working with the police and generally making an honest man of our roguish Duke. It’s difficult not to see Audrey and Evie as in competition with each other, especially with the sexual tension between Audrey and Duke, with Audrey the “good path” and Evie the “dark path”.

This only becomes more pronounced when we find out that Evie isn’t just a self-serving opportunist out to make some money, but is deeply involved with Reverend Driscol and his anti-Troubled activities. Audrey wants to work with Duke to help the Troubled, Evie wants to recruit Duke to the people who want to wipe the Troubled out - stark contrast and competition. And to achieve that Evie manipulates Duke, lies to him and keeps an immense number of secrets from him. In the end, when her duplicity is discovered, rather than reveal the truth to him she decides to run to the gun toting men and demand they tell Duke the truth.

Rather unsurprisingly, she’s shot and killed. Duke mourns her for a couple of episodes and in the next season no-one even remembers she existed.

But in season three we had a new Black character appear - Tommy, the policeman from Boston. Just in case you thought Evie was an exception, the writers make it clear Tommy is not all good from the very beginning, showing him killing a man and disposing of a body. I was already pencilling in his name on the death certificate. Tommy then keeps a low profile for most of the series, lying to the rest of the cast and acting as minor back up for Nathan and Audrey, though Vince and Dave drop in half-way through to remind us how nefarious Tommy is.

Tommy is finally found out by Nathan as being involved somehow with the bolt-gun killer and I get to ink that death certificate. 2 regular Black characters. Both with malicious intent. Both of them lie  and manipulate to get close to the main cast. And both end up dead.

Of course, there is another regularly occurring Black character - Agent Howard. To be honest, I’m stretching things to call him “regularly occurring.” But what do we know about him? He’s a deceptive, sinister force who is involved in manipulating Audrey through her various incarnations. He’s her fake boss in the FBI as Audrey and he was her superior when she was a military nurse when she was Sarah. He doesn’t age through the incarnations and seems to be the one responsible for getting her to Haven each time and, possibly, her lost memories.

So, another deceptive, possibly malicious Black character who is manipulating Audrey. He better hope his secrets aren’t discovered because I don’t predict a long life span afterwards.

Normally I would say this is a problem with having so very few minority characters. It’s hard to show a plurality of roles when you have so few characters. But to have 3 characters all playing different variations of the same role - backed by 2 minor characters dogged by stereotypes or dubious tropes - and even this weak excuse doesn’t apply. Having more POC wouldn’t improve Haven - not if Haven is going to keep having them play the same problematic role.