Wednesday, August 12, 2009

LOST Pandering to Racial Stereotypes?

Last year, actor Harold Perrineau from the hit show LOST said that he felt the elimination of his character on the show was a racially motivated move on the directors' part.

"Listen, if I’m being really candid, there are all these questions about how they respond to black people on the show,” he told TV Guide. “Sayid gets to meet Nadia again, and Desmond and Penny hook up again, but a little black boy and his father hooking up, that wasn’t interesting? Instead, Walt just winds up being another fatherless child. It plays into a really big, weird stereotype and, being a black person myself, that wasn’t so interesting." (The Insider)
Race is such a sensitive topic, and I know there's the idea that some people are overly reactive or paranoid about race, that they "make everything about race." There are ideas from the other side that racism is so ingrained and internalized by all of us that we absolutely must call it out to eliminate it. But how do you know when something is racially motivated? It's impossible to actually know--we can only infer based on what we see as evidence.

There are only 2 or 3 black characters that play a significant role in LOST. I don't think the fact that they are a minority means anything--it reflects reality (blacks make up approx. 13% of the U.S. population). Though I haven't watched the show religiously and instead am watching marathons in order to catch up before Season 6 starts, I haven't noticed much negative stereotyping going on with the black characters. I didn't think Rose was written as a "mammie" or any of the other tropes. Also, I love that she and her husband are an interracial couple! And, my immediate thought at the end of Season 4 was not that Michael and Walt's story line was a tired cliche. Yes, Walt is a fatherless child, but then again so are several of the other characters (in fact, there are lots of orphan/adoption themes, which I plan to post about soon!). But I also appreciated that Walt was not raised by a poor single black mother. Instead it's his father, who is very present and involved. That right there works against the biggest negative cultural stereotype (that, unfortunately, does have truth to it) that I absolutely HATE.

I could be missing lots of problematic racial stuff, though, as I've just started watching the show. Feel free to chime in.

Are producers/writers obligated to blatantly work against stereotypes whenever they create characters of any ethnicity other than white? Should they write rich and interesting characters that just happen to be of color, or would that be ignoring the reality that identity is so deeply tied to ethnic heritage? How reflective are the characters about themselves as people of color? Maybe that could be played up instead of asking the audience to do the interpreting...


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting observation about Michael and Walt's relationship. I remember being disappointed that their story line seemed to get cut off a few seasons back. Walt got kidnapped, Michael betrayed his friends to get him back, and they both disappeared. We never found out why The Others wanted Walt in the first place or what the deal is with his crazy "abilities," and that was disappointing to me. I never thought of it from Harold Perrineau's perspective, but I did think their story was interesting enough to deserve more attention and followup.

Anyway. Sorry, that was more about Lost than about race :) I think Teresa's been marathoning old seasons, too. If you guys were back in Columbus, we'd have to have some kind of Lost party with Shannon and Josh and the other newer-generation MH production editors :)

Jessenia said...

great post! i have never actually seen "Lost", but i understand the point in this message. i do not believe that it was a discrimination issue as much as i want to point the finger there, because as an actor/actress oftentimes they are not receiving the best parts in movies or tv programs. however, as you mentioned before that we make up 13% of the population and we have to take that into account. How will it look like if our tv programs were predominately African American? it wouldn't sell point blank. writers/producers have to do what is best to get rating and that is the fact of life.

i dont really have time to watch tv, but let me know when you post about the orphan/adopted perspectives in the show. look forward to reading.

Liberty said...

I forgot that you're a LOST lover!

I agree--they really just dropped Walt/Michael's storyline. As I'm re-watching Season 5, I noticed that there are no black folks left.

Ah, well. The show is awesome, regardless.

kevspam said...

Michael wasn't around to raise Walt. He does a pretty ineffective job at being a father to Walt throughout the show. Later on we find that Michael burdened Walt by telling him he murdered people in cold blood, and Walt's grandma won't let Michael see Walt.

It's possible that The Others took Walt only to manipulate Michael.