I Need Race to Be a More Obvious Undertone in The Flash – A Fangirl’s Musings.
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
The CW has been home to some of the most entertaining young adult shows for years (Riverdale, Supernatural and Vampire Diaries, to name a few) but it hasn’t exactly been praised for its diversity. Riverdale noticeably recast some of the comic book characters as people of colour but then seemingly ran out of story for its original black cast to the point where they were missing altogether. Toni Topaz, a black, bisexual, female character (played by Vanessa Morgan), was introduced in its second season but was also side-lined for much of the show; that is, until the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 when Morgan called the show out on its treatment of its black actors, earning her a better story arc and more screen time (from what we can see so far in Season 5).
A show that has escaped the lack of diversity criticism is one of my favourites, The Flash. Boasting a main cast that is about 50% people of colour, The Flash is one of the more diverse shows on the network. But for all its diversity, the racial identities of the characters are so diluted that if they were any other race, it would have no effect on the story or characters, save for their appearances. I was always a fan of that, and still think that has its significance, because it means that our characters get to be more than the colour of their skin. We see Cisco (Carlos Valdes) not as “the Latino guy”, but as the funny, brilliant engineer/friend who is Latino; and Iris (Candice Patton), not as “the Black girl”, but as the caring, persistent reporter/wife who is Black. I think that is something to be commended, that we let our characters be multi-faceted humans and not hyper performances of one of their traits.
That being said, the conversation of race is one that the Flash team behind the cameras has had to have over the years. The character of Iris West is one that is traditionally white in the comics but was re-imagined for TV as a black woman, something that Patton got a lot of hate about, and a decision that the cast and crew of the show had to constantly defend. I always find it interesting when shows like The Flash and Bridgerton are forced to explain why they have cast darker skinned people in roles when, in my eyes anyway, the characters themselves are left unchanged. Iris just looks different; she isn’t really doing anything to make you upset that she’s changed. I know, as a black girl, that you haven’t seen black yet, and so I think ‘if we’re going to have to keep harping on about it, we might as well kick it up a notch’.
So, I know The Flash is about finding meta-humans and saving Central City, and I love its tone. I’m not about to sit here and ask you to abandon all that and become a social commentary about society’s treatment of black people. But meet me halfway? I’m not calling for monologues about the difficulties of being black in America; just small things: like soul food for dinner, hair products sitting on the dressing table (they don’t even need to be in focus!), a relative coming into town wearing one of those church hats, other details I don’t even know about because I’m African and not African-American. One of my big Flash dreams is to see what I have dubbed “the hair scene”: Iris is sitting on the floor taking out her braids and Barry is sat on the chair behind her helping her take them out (cos we all know he totally would). I mean, yeah, we got curly haired Iris in S6 Ep5, but that just left me wanting more.
These are things I like to tell myself, reading between the lines of the show, that make it more interesting for me. For example, I just realised, after 7 years of watching this show, that Barry was raised in a black family. Like if he existed in our reality, he wouldn’t just be invited to the cookout, he’d already be there. How does that upbringing, along with all the loss, affect this iteration of Barry Allen? That’s fascinating to me!
I’m not crying
I will admit, I’ve written all of this as a black girl who has somewhat of a crush on BA, but I do think the point remains. Eric Wallace, The Flash‘s showrunner, hinted that the new season will bring about a tough reality to reconcile for Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) who is a black police officer; a decision that was also made because of the BLM protests held last summer. I’m really excited to see it, not-so-secretly hoping that this opens the door for more realistic interpretations of our characters; and I am trusting the creators on the show to handle this conversation in a way that doesn’t take away from our world in Central City, but enhances it: the way its characters, in all their rich diversity, are supposed to.
*I’m in a bit of a Flash funk because I haven’t seen my loves in almost a year, so there’s a bunch of stuff about it coming from me soon. Also, I don’t own any of the images.
*The Flash comes back to us for its 7th season on the 3rd of March (Netflix date). That’s less than 2 weeks. Bless.