Race, Ethnicity, and ‘The Vampire Diaries’

In a fairly inoffensive, if silly, roundtable discussion post on AfterElton about The CW’s brilliant, The Vampire Diaries, this jumped out at me:

There’s yet to be much of a gay presence on the show. (Sorry folks, Caroline’s deceased Dad doesn’t cut it). Do you think a gay vamp making all sorts of snappy one-liners about the pretty boys in Mystic Falls would be a good thing?

Robyn Ross: I love that the show often blissfully ignores race, ethnicity, etc. because these kids have a lot more to worry about than those kinds of social issues. But sexual orientation (and sex in general) is such a huge part of the show that I think taking on a handsome gay vampire could add a lot to the mix. And let’s be honest, the banter between him and Damon would be priceless.

Because race and ethnicity are “social issues” one has to “worry about?” Wait…what?

Race and ethnicity should be central to creating character, particularly if you’re going to have a diverse cast, as The Vampire Diaries does. And so this is the one area of the show that drives me fucking crazy.


Bonnie, one of the all-powerful Bennett witches

I mean, this is a show that is set in Virginia, with frequent flashbacks to antebellum South and constant celebrations of antebellum Southern culture that conspicuously sidesteps the fact that that period was defined by American chattel slavery. This is a show that nearly always casts black actors to play witches but provides no mythological reason for this even though it’s clear that the producers are consciously deciding to always. every. single. time. cast a black actor as a witch.

Not even for the Bennett witches, who are central to the show’s mythology.

But here’s the thing: The vampire Katherine Pierce, who is also central to the show’s mythology played by lead actress Nina Dobrev, is Bulgarian because Dobrev is Bulgarian and speaks the language fluently.

The show’s producers are aware enough of Dobrev’s ethnicity to not only reference it in the show, but also make use of it (via Dobrev speaking the language in flashbacks), but there can be no indication in the show at all that the black actors are playing black characters with history, ethnicity and perspective.

In other words, race and ethnicity aren’t ignored, blissfully or otherwise. Just blackness.

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
This entry was posted in Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Race, Ethnicity, and ‘The Vampire Diaries’

  1. Pingback: squidoo lens

  2. Pingback: Islas Canarias

  3. Eric says:

    I understand the sentiment. But just as in statistics, maybe you are making that fundamental error: looking at the facts but interpreting them through an occluded lense. You do point out that the black characters are always cast as witches. One thing I thought you might also point out is that fact that maybe when black people are cast this way something fundamental to their history, ethnicity, and perspective stands out: all magical traditions, mystery schools, and early shamanism practices that every religion later came from stem directly from the depths of black people, deep in all of their collective unconscious. They are the creators and custodians to the knowledge of the higher spiritual worlds and the first to mention them all. This is not known to the world at all these days especially not black people. That stolen and widely mass reproduced and plagrized information is stored in masonic and vatican libraries worldwide. I understand the modern argument but the most off-putting thing about the show is the Originals back story for especially the reasons above. Bonnie as a character operates using a Saviour/redemption paradigm just like every other black following a monotheistic religion. All the while, they never realize that they are cast in the role of savior or scapegoat(sin eaters) always ready to clean up the messes of their juvenile and unduly worshipped masters. Watch any will Smith movie…no family but he always sacrifices his happiness and his life or his powers to fight for white people… kind of funny actually…that we all go along with it.

    • tlewisisdope says:

      You are talking about subtext, but my point is that Nina’s ethnicity becomes textual in a way that the black actors’ does not. And that is problematic precisely because of all of what you are saying. It would be more effective and richer for the show to make black character’s ethnicity textual since they are suggesting that there’s something magical about black people in this world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.