Ok, so I’m going to start this out by saying that I’m a real fan of Defiance. I really appreciate the way SyFy has taken a futuristic concept filled with alien races, extinction politics, racism and gentrification on a galactic scale and simplified it with themes of survival within a wild west/brave new world context. However, despite my appreciation for the show, I have to note the shows lack of diversity. Or more accurately, its maintenance of diversity levels. If I’ve lost you, just give me a minute and I’ll explain what I mean.
At the end of season two, Tommy Lasalle, played by Dewshane Williams was killed off. Tommy was the only African American character of note on the show. In the first episode of season 3, Rafe MCawley played by Graham Greene was also killed off. Graham Greene is of Native decent and the only other noted character of color on the show. By the end of the first episode of season 3, we’re introduced to two new characters representing a long thought extinct race of Votan (alien) predators known as the Omec. These two new aliens are, you guessed it, played by black actors. Ultimately, the number of actors of color on the show has not changed, despite the changes to the cast and story. I would refer to this as a maintenance of diversity levels.
I bring this up because their seems to be an unwritten rule about the number of people of color allowed to play in lead or supporting roles on television shows and in movies. Unfortunately, based on this analysis, it would appear that Defiance has started to fall victim to this unspoken bias. Moreover, it appears that Defiance is also keeping with another unspoken tradition of assigning people of color roles as aliens, as opposed to acknowledging that persons of color exist in the future under their own merits. Take for example Worf on Star Trek the Next Generation or Teal’c on Stargate SG-1. In the case of Defiance, people of color do not have to be painted purple in order to have a place in the future. Nor do we need to be styled like Arabs in order to stoke fear and anxiety on a subliminal level. Oh did I forget to mention that the Omec look like purple Arab Bedouins or North African Moors. I could draw parallels to othering, fear mongering and playing on radical racial stereotypes based on race and geopolitics, but I won’t, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
With that said, I believe Defiance is both well written and apropos in the way it tackles contemporary issues like race, gentrification, government responsibility, social strife, privilege; as well as a host of other social issues through the lens of science fiction. Similar to the way Stan Lee and Marvel addressed the rising discontent in American society surrounding racism and injustice in the civil rights era through the X-Men. My comments should not be taken as an unabashed critique of the show, but rather from the perspective of a fan who would like to see the show continue to grow and not be saddled by the baggage of Hollywood’s and by proxy America’s biases.
These are just my thoughts, please share yours in the comments section or on twitter at @potbellysamurai or @theblackgeeks.