Friday, September 30, 2011

‘The Vampire Diaries’: What People of Colour Do When They Aren’t Snack Food



Over the three seasons of The Vampire Diaries, several characters of colour, not including the random walk on characters that were usually fed on by Caroline have appeared on the show:

Bonnie Bennet (Kat Graham)
Sheila Bennet (Jasmine Guy)
Emily Bennet (Bianca Lawson)
Pearl (Kelly Hu)
Anna (Malese Jow)
Luca Martin (Bryton James)
Dr. Jonas Martin (Randy J Goodwin)
Greta Martin (Lisa Tucker)
Bethan (Jenny Perillo)
Harper (Sterling Sulieman)
Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino)

This may seem like a decent representation; however, what the numbers don’t reveal, is that these characters were either in servile positions, or were so far separated from their African-American culture that they were rendered almost invisible or race neutral. It is also worth noting that this story is taking place in the south, and the ratio of Black to White is far higher than what is actually represented on The Vampire Diaries.

The only two characters to show any real independence and self interest were Shelia Bennet and Emily Bennet.  Shelia wanted to impart her culture and history to Bonnie.  She set very strict boundaries on her interactions with vampires, and made it clear that she did not exist to serve them.  In fact, Shelia actively threatened Stefan to warn him from harming Bonnie in anyway.  Yet, for all of her warnings and precaution, she still ended up dying to free the vampires from the crypt. 

Emily was in a servile position because she was a slave; however, she used the power that she had to create a better future for her descendants, demanding that they would never know what it was to be a slave. Emily was also not afraid to use her power against vampires when she felt that it was a public good.  Considering that Bonnie has a heritage of strong Black women, it is hard to understand why her cultural awareness is almost non-existent.  It is almost as though Bonnie is a White girl conveniently painted Black for the purposes of inclusion cookies.  I can say this confidently because in the books written by L.J. Smith, not only is Bonnie White, there are no regularly occurring characters of colour. 

Bonnie often seems to have no real independent existence outside of Elena. She exists to serve Elena, on our podcasts we even joked about Bonnie being put back into the “plot box” until Elene needed her again. It seems especially gross to see this when we consider that Emily, Bonnie’s ancestor was a slave who served exactly the same purpose for Katherine. Both was there to provide magical solutions to whatever problems Elena/Katherine had. A matter only made more distasteful by Mystic Fall’s constant worship and romanticism of the Founders that Bonnie is expected to participate in. As a descendant of slaves, Bonnie should take no pleasure in any celebration of antebellum south.

Even when Bonnie herself disagreed with what she was asked to do (being considerably more suspicious of the vampires) she still acted for Elena. Even when the spirits of dead witches, of Bonnie’s ancestors, are telling her not to do something, she ignores them in favour of Elena. Though Bonnie realises that she is pushing herself to perform more and more magic, she ignores the personal cost up to and including, nose bleeds, passing out and extreme pain. Most glaringly of all, at the end of season two Bonnie is ready to die to save Elena. 

Outside of Caroline whom Bonnie distrusts now that she is a vampire, and Elena, Bonnie is closes to Jeremy Gilbert, Elena’s brother. Jeremy actively pursues Bonnie and she is resistant at first because of the age difference between them rather than race. This stands of another example of the desire to construct Bonnie as White though she is supposedly a character of color.  Anyone in an inter-racial relationship will tell you that race is something that constantly needs to be negotiated and yet Bonnie and Jeremy have had no such conversation. Bonnie has not even wondered privately if she is being fetishised and considering the history of Black women and White men in an American context, I find this extremely unrealistic. 


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