This article contains spoilers from the first two episodes of Fear the Walking Dead.
Fear the Walking Dead, the new show from the makers of The Walking Dead, debuted last week, and it has become clear that the producers have learned absolutely nothing from outcry over the way black males are featured in the original show.
Anyone who has followed The Walking Dead knows that the show had very few POC during its first two seasons. When it finally began introducing black characters, viewers started to notice a pattern: when a new African-American male was introduced, another one would disappear. T-Dog met Oscar, and then T-Dog died. Tyreese was introduced, then Oscar died. Noah was introduced, and Bob was killed off. Over and over, it appeared that the black men on the show were stuck in a revolving door. It became a joke and a meme.
When FTWD‘s promotional machine was gearing up, it looked like the show was making a pointed effort to avoid the original series’ mistakes. They had strong female characters from the get-go. The original cast members, who, to be fair, are still being introduced, are much more diverse than in the original show. Even to my jaundiced eye, they had clearly made a concerted effort. Unfortunately, my satisfaction with the show evaporated as I looked at the three black men introduced on the first episode and tracked their progress.
- The first character, Calvin, a handsome and clean-cut college-aged man, was revealed to be a drug dealer, zombified, and killed.
- The second character, Matt, the artist boyfriend of the one of the female leads, was bitten and assumed zombified by the end of the second episode.
- The third and final named black character, the school’s principal, was zombified and dispatched in the second episode.
Yes, that’s right, friends. They killed off EVERY NAMED BLACK MALE CHARACTER by the second episode. Not only that, the actors who played these roles were not no-names: they included up-and-coming actor Keith Powers, who played Calvin the Drug Dealer; Maestro Harrell from the motherflippin’ Wire, who played the artist/boyfriend; and established character actor Scott Lawrence, who played the school principal, Art, and who has more than 100 IMDb credits to his name.
Suffice to say, the Internet was not pleased. When asked about the controversy, showrunner Dave Erickson said that once the episode was written, he cast each role with the best actor possible, and that he wouldn’t have wanted to avoid casting a black actor simply to avoid charges of racism. Erickson promised that people would be satisfied with the eventual parity in character deaths later in the season.
I’ve verified that the casting call for those three positions was for actors of any ethnicity. However, Erickson’s response still shows that the show’s producers are completely and willfully ignorant about how glaring this problem is. They seem to think that they can expect their audience to go on faith that eventually racial wrongs will be righted, despite a past history of failure after failure in this department. They can’t. In fact, I have a message for the producers: WHEN IT COMES TO BLACK MALE CHARACTERS, YOUR JUDGEMENT IS TERRIBLE. YOUR INSTINCTS CAN’T BE TRUSTED. YOU HAVE FAILED. IF SOMEONE HAS TOLD YOU OTHERWISE, THEY ARE NOT RELIABLE.
I don’t have any hope that the PTB will do anything about the embarrassingly bad track record in this area. I’ve literally waited for years with the original show, only to see that each small improvement has come hand-in-hand with a new kind of failure. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the showrunners don’t get it, don’t care to get it, and will probably never get it.