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