Last month, the AV Club published an essay entitled, “Fox is changing the landscape for black men on TV” (you can read it here). In it, they argued, “Fox has managed to quietly introduce some of the most well-rounded roles for black men in the last decade—and this year’s slate of new shows goes even further.” They pointed to characters portrayed on New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Sleepy Hollow, and Almost Human as being signs of progress in the depictions of African-American characters on network television.
Around these parts, this article inspired us to take a look at the shows we watch and search for some racial diversity. Not surprisingly, very few characters of color came up from American TV shows outside of the Fox shows mentioned by the AV Club. Troy (Donald Glover) on Community and Bonnie on Vampire Diaries were the first two that came to mind. When attention turned to our beloved Arrow, we were relieved that David Ramsey was around as Diggle because beyond him there wasn’t a whole lot. The widow of Diggle’s brother, Laurel’s co-worker from the first season, Detective Lance’s police chief boss, Michael Jai White in one episode as Bronze Tiger, and “The Mayor” from earlier this season were the main ones that came to mind.
Maybe this is a genuine problem, and maybe it’s no big deal. Either way, it appears as if the show’s producers intend to add more racial diversity to their Flash spin-off. To do so, they are reportedly making some massive changes – not just race – in their version of Barry Allen’s comic book love interest/wife, Iris West. From BludhavenBanter (via ScreenRant), the following is a supposed casting call for Iris West and her father for the Flash pilot, both of whom are meant to be full time characters on Flash [huge potential spoilers ahead]:
IRIS – 22-28 – African-American – As smart as she is beautiful, Iris is in grad school studying psychology. She’s also Barry’s mile a minute, fast-talking, quick-witted best friend. Her father, Detective West, took in Barry when his mother was murdered, and his father was wrongly accused and imprisoned for her murder. In a tough childhood for Barry, she was the one “not tough” thing. She’s unaware of Barry’s strong feelings for her.
DETECTIVE WEST – Late 40s to Early 50s – African American -Detective West is an honest, blue-collar cop who’s seen it all. A soulful, funny caring father to Iris, and a surrogate father to Barry, West came up through the foster system himself. He took in Barry after his mother’s murder and his father’s imprisonment. He believes in Barry and supports Barry’s efforts to prove his father’s innocence.
In the comics, Iris West is traditionally Caucasian and works as a news reporter. She’s Barry Allen’s primary love interest, and the two were married for quite a while before things got real crazy and he was killed off in 1985. In the New 52 continuity, the two had gone on one date before deciding to just be friends, Iris leveraging their friendship to get the inside scoop from Barry on open police investigations. In some ways, the above character descriptions sounds like the Iris West we know, but in other ways it’s a radical departure.
Now, before you get upset remember this:
Granted, they didn’t change the race of the character, but when they created Arrow they largely ignored the comic book version of Laurel Lance. Instead, they just re-created Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal) from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, named her Laurel Lance, and gave her a modified version of Laurel’s father in the comics. For that first season, at least, that worked out beautifully. Based upon these descriptions, it sounds as if they intend to establish another Quentin-Laurel dynamic on The Flash except it will be titled into a more positive, caring direction and not simply recreate the character dynamics of Arrow. We want them to do something different, right?
This is certainly a risky move as the reaction to Gal Gadot’s casting as Wonder Woman has rather recently reminded us how fans don’t like their image of a character being messed with. It’s also not a move which should be praised for the mere purpose of tokenism – “Yay, they’re going to have more than one full-time African-American character!” For my part, the change in race does not register as much as does the apparent change in profession, as when I think Iris West I think news reporter. Then again, she could certainly eventually become one on the show. However, it is an interesting insight into where they’re going with this potential Flash TV show, which is scheduled to begin shooting next March and has only just now begun casting. The sad thing, of course, is that this is just a pilot. If the CW passes, we may actually never this thing (at least not legally).
What do you think? Don’t care? Or you read the character descriptions and still don’t see the version of Iris West you know anywhere in there? Let us know in the comments section.