The Talking Dead: No Habla Zombie

by Santino J. Rivera on December 5, 2012 in Cultura

The Walking Dead is a great television series. It has captured that attention of the nation with a human drama centered around less-than-human storylines. But it is not without its own flaws, one of which is the lack of racial diversity on the show.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Glen Mazzara, the executive producer and one of the writers for The Walking Dead. His Twitter feed usually consists of promos for the show but the other day he posted a link to an article in Slate that criticized the show for only allowing one black guy at a time among the living. The Tweet ? “One Black Guy at a Time.”

The article noted that the show’s only black female character, Michonne, was not allowed to use words to settle conflicts – she always resorts to the sword. Rick, the show’s main character, has used reason to get out of a bad situation on more than one occasion. Why does the black chick always have to be pissed off, silent and bloodthirsty?

I started Tweeting Glen Mazzara because I have long contended that The Walking Dead had racist undertones, whether the show’s creators fully realized it or not. I will admit that his Tweeting the link to that article at least says he’s aware of it.

For one thing, there are no people of color “in charge” on the show.

Both Rick and The Governor are white guys. On the show, there’s this weird (and typical) white male-dominated fantasyland where people of color and women fall in line to the whims of their leaders. The only people of color on the show serve as “muscle” to help sustain this white-male-dominated post apocalypse. Even Michonne, who is a loner and a total badass, has to fall in line under Rick and again, she is never allowed to say much. Why?

Would it change the show if Rick was black? Would it still be as popular? Would people stop watching if The Governor was a Mexican guy and had managed to secure a safe zone? I don’t know – that’s up for debate. But ask yourself if Walter White from Breaking Bad or Dexter from Dexter were black – would those shows even exist?

In the original O.G. zombie flick, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, there were many nods to the Civil Rights Movement. The zombies weren’t really supposed to represent the living dead. So how does that fit in to our modern zombie apocalypse, what with the current political climate revolving around the danger of “illegals” and or the “Latino” vote that scares the shit out of both political parties? Again, are they really zombies that these people are killing? You decide.

Can you kick in
$5 or $10 or $25
so we can
make more ñews y satire?

Por Plis?

MR. POCHO SAYS ¡GRACIAS!

So I and another Xicano friend started in on Glen Mazzara on Twitter about the show. I pointed out that there are ZERO Latinos in the zombie post apocalypse and that further, there are no people of color in charge of anything. I pointed out to Mazzara that the first season had some seemingly Latino gang members but that that was not a surprise coming from the age-old Hollywood Shuffle where those are the only kind of roles we get.

I also noted that Atlanta has a large Latino population, the majority of which is of Mexican descent but there are no Chicanos on The Walking Dead! WTF?

Can we at least get some chingón zombie vatos slumping across the screen saying, “Orrrraleee..cchhhhzzz,” before the Great White Hope (Rick) shoots them in the head? No? OK.

To my surprise, Glen Mazzara responded to my Tweets.

He was quick to point out that in the current season, one of The Governor’s “guys” is played by Jose Pablo Cantillo. This made me laugh because it only further illustrated my point.

OK, one of The Governor’s main henchmen is played by a Latino. Great. How many memorable lines has he had?

Right.

Again, we fall into the black and Latino actors playing muscle for the white-guys-in-charge stereotype. If that’s the show’s answer to there being diversity in the zombie apocalypse, I’ll pass. (Just kidding, I’ve totally sold out because I love this show but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop bitching about it).

But Glen was at least willing to listen to my rant. I told him that it was frustrating to be continually stereotyped and or invisible in pop culture and he replied that he “gets it”. He also told me to “just wait” which leads me to believe that there will either be a shift in the racial politics of the show (i.e. maybe Cantillo will gets some speaking parts?) or that he wanted me to shut the fuck up.

Either way it was a memorable exchange with one of the head honchos of the show. I also told him that should he need a “Chicano zombie consultant” for the show that I’m available. No really, Glen…I’m available!

The Walking Dead is just one show but this theme is repeated over and over again in most of popular culture: we’re either stereotyped a la Hollywood Shuffle or we’re invisible. The difference today is that if you bitch loudly enough, the people creating these shows might hear you. Is that going to change anything? I don’t know.

It does illustrate, however, that the need for Latinos from all walks of life to inspire children to enter the arts is stronger than ever. Maybe in a couple of generations we can create these shows and diversify them ourselves. It’s important for professionals to show kids that we can be lawyers, judges and CEOs but it is equally important to show them that we can also be writers, directors and producers.

And zombies.

Santino J. Rivera is an Indie Publisher and Author @ Broken Sword Publications

{ 11 comments }

J. December 5, 2012 at 10:26 AM

The problem comes down to the fact that Hollywood types most likely never come into contact with non maid/gardener/thug Latinos in their daily lives. On top of that they obviously don’t socialize with any otherwise it wouldn’t even be so difficult to include Latino characters. Writers (as you well know) write about what they know. If they have no contact with Latinos outside of the ones they interact with (maid/gardener/nanny) it becomes nearly impossible to get quality Latino characters.

It’s a difficult problem to solve because Hollywood is the ultimate “good old boy” network. Actors who’s parents were actors. Actors who’s parents worked in studio management. Writers who families worked in the industry. Writers who are friends with the other writers.

Look at the show “Girls” and the push back when people were talking about nepotism. All the defenders of the show screamed people were being anti-Feminist or being critical of people who worked hard to get their show on. Yet I don’t recall seeing any acknowledgement from those who pushed back that the people involved in “Girls” all had huge advantages over any other group of unknown women trying to accomplish the same thing. There are probably hundreds of better and funnier writers and actresses out there who will never get their show on the air because of how Hollywood works.

Jenny December 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Although you do make many valid points, I’ll have to disagree with you on a few topics.

As a big fan of the Walking Dead comics, I think I may know what Mazzara means when he said “just wait and see.” There are a few strong African American characters that are going to make an appearance in the next few episodes and seasons. One of them happens to share the leadership spotlight with Rick. There’s also a Latina who becomes one of the main characters. I don’t think she’d make it to this season, but she’d be in either season 4 or 5. The Martinez family was a main family in the beginning of the show as well. Either way, the comic has enough diverse characters that they can use on the show to keep people who are focused on that satiated.

And as far as Michonne goes, she’s one of the strongest leaders of all the characters. Her silence wasn’t supposed to be a negative aspect to her. It just shows she’s taking in a ton of information and she thinks before she acts. She’s a calculating, smart character and the strongest female character on the show.

We don’t know that some of the zombies aren’t Latinos. After all that makeup and whatnot, they could be any race, ethnicity, or gender. Sometimes it’s even hard to tell whether a zombie is a man or a woman. If anyone were to complain about under representation in the show it should be Asians, Indians and Native Americans.

In all fairness, the one black man at a time had me laughing so hard. Starting with Morgan in the very first episode, when one showed up, the other died. I thought the universe was going to explode when Oscar and Tyrese coexisted for a bit. However, if they follow the comics in terms of adding new characters, we’re going to have some new black males that coexist for a WHILE.

Overall, The Walking Dead is about more than race. I’m a Latina, and I don’t watch the show and think “man, I can’t relate to any of the characters because they’re not Latina.” I honestly don’t care what race they are. They could have green skin and speak with some sort of foreign accent and I’d be fine with it. All that matters to me is that the show is phenomenal and I’m glad the writers, producers, and actors are doing all they could to keep it that way.

Santino J. Rivera December 5, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Hi Jenny – I haven’t read the entire series and am just commenting on the TV show so far. Like you, I’m hoping the “just wait” comment from Glen bodes well. I agree about Native Americans and but Asians? One of the main characters (Glenn) is Asian.

Glen Mazzara, the exec producer of the show read this article and liked it so that is very encouraging.

Thanks for reading.

Jenny December 7, 2012 at 7:22 AM

:) Reading it was my pleasure! It’s a good article that sparks a good debate.

Also as for Asians, that’s what I meant. Glenn is Asian, but he’s the ONLY one, really!

Rick Grimes December 5, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Shut the hell up. No one cares about your opinion.

evr December 5, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Hollywood really needs to get with the program. They’re still catching up with simply featuring POC (and women!) on shows, however, we have passed that point. It’s not enough to show diversity, its about the undertones, what those characters are about.

You can say “oh it doesn’t matter what race they are as long as the story is good,” but it does matter. It reflects the larger undertones of our society.

When the majority of shows have a white male lead and no one blinks twice, it shows the subconscious acceptance towards white men being in charge — as if they were born to that role, in our entertainment and our society.

Whether we like it or not, TV influences how we feel about ourselves. Execs might say “oh well, it’s just TV, it’s not real,” but it is real, because at the end of the day we are just animals influenced by our environment, and TV is an extension of our environment — maybe not physical but certainly ever-present.

TV has the chance to show we’re not all undocumented maids and gardeners — we’re just people. Hi.

Maria December 5, 2012 at 12:43 PM

So we make noise for better representation of the races & the moment they get killed off or do something immoral, we then rant about THAT. Quit complaining!

Santino J. Rivera December 5, 2012 at 1:08 PM

But, Maria, if we quit complaining then we’ll still have white guys playing Indians in westerns…like Cherokee princess Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger film. ;)

PersephoneK December 6, 2012 at 9:00 PM

My response to you if you want to see more people of color in art… Write it yourself. TWD was conceived by a young white Kentuckian. His experiences probably shaped who he put in his world. It doesn’t make Robert Kirkman or anyone involved with TWD racist. I’m not offended when I see shows with predominantlyblack cast. I may not get them. But I’m not insulted. We need to stop the knee jerk jump to calling every limited perspective racism. It’s tedious.

Santino J. Rivera December 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM

So this is a show for young, White Kentuckians then? Got it. Thanks for clearing that up.

I agree that people of color need to start creating/producing/supporting our own entertainment…but feel free to clue me in when you find all the studios accepting this diversity. It’s not like we’re not our here trying to get into the biz…

Noemi December 10, 2012 at 1:03 PM

I don’t get the whole “just wait’ camp. People of color are not like timelords, popping in at the right time to fix things and to zip off. People of color are not supposed to be the fall guy or the special savior card. They can and sometimes are, just part of the story maybe and maybe even a major part of the story line. I know thinking this might cause one heads to implode. Further up Jenny mentioned this or that character that might make it into the screen version, but you know, it’s just not good enough.

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