Headed South: My Thoughts On True Blood
Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers & rough language. Reader discretion is advised.
Recently, Tambay posted a brief video clip that summed up HBO’s vampire hit, True Blood. This prompted me to share some thoughts I had jotted down a few weeks ago about the show.
In recent years I’ve found myself indulging in all manners of junk, whether it be reality television and elevated soap opera’s like Nip Tuck and Satisfaction. And most of it is awful, I don’t pretend otherwise. But no show has been more of a junk bonanza for me than the truly awful, True Blood. As a matter-of-fact, I have had a love-hate kind of relationship with the show since its premiere. Last year if you had asked me how I felt about the series, I would have said…hopeful. But this year things have changed and not for the better; in my opinion, whatever potential this show once held is long gone.
When I caught up on this season, I had a lot of confidence in where this series was headed. And there are other things to say about the jumble of interconnecting plots and subplots on the show but that is not the point of this post. The point is to express how I went from excited anticipation to barely being able to sit through an episode to finally giving up on it altogether. You see, I have been following the show’s progress since the pilot episode and felt that after last season it was gaining its legs and had potential to invigorate this worn out genre of vampire storytelling. I was also enthusiastic about the return of True Blood veterans like Rutina Wesley as Tara and the lazy tongued, comical antics of Nelson Ellis as Lafayette. Last year, these characters seemed to be building solid foundations that showed growth; they seemed to be breaking away from the unfortunate one-dimensional caricatures in which they were boxed in during the first season.
However, now that I’ve caught up with the current season, my hopes for something fun yet involving have been dashed into a million tiny pieces and the object of my ire centers mainly around the characters mentioned above; Tara Thornton and Lafayette Reynolds.
When I think of how True Blood handles diversity (okay basically black folks) one phrase comes to mind…Minstrel Show. Yes I said it, because, when you see—a beautiful woman like Rutina Wesley running from a plantation house across an open field, eyes bucked and slave-attired in a long burlap sack of a night gown coupled with Nelson Ellis waving his hand and sashaying around with a gypsy-like do-rag on his head peppering every other word with mutherfucka’, bitch and hookah—this is one of few thoughts that may flash through your mind: “Look at what Massa’ up to now!”
And the inclusion of these tired images haven’t a damn thing to do with satire or anything elevated above satiating the latent biases of their target demographic. Because, lets face it, southern black people who have more going on than slavish mentality, crime, booze, drugs, poverty, hyper-sexuality and family dysfunction are not interesting for the viewing public to see; no, they must be a stone’s throw from totally f***ed to be worth the film roll.
Amid my frustration I was brought back to those days after True Blood first premiered on HBO; many times in discussions with others, I felt like the lone wolf; the person outside of the consensus that this was indeed a great and entertaining show. The reason is that from its first episode,what was presented (involving the two main characters of color) left a lot to be desired. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to Marty/Mary Sue these characters I’m discussing, not at all and hell, I like when stories are told in shades of gray…However, I must be frank...originally I didn’t like Lafayette and felt less than lukewarm about Tara; when I expressed these thoughts to some, I was usually met with replies such as this ‘Well, you ‘know’ in the book they weren’t black. The producers ‘made’ them black for the show.”
And those types of comments were usually given in that dismissive kind of way that feels more like a chastisement for having an opposing opinion, rather than information given in jest. And it’s always at the end of something else like, “at least she is black”
In my mind I would think…oh really? Lemme get this straight…because a character in a book is white (or insert whatever other race other than black) and a writer/director/producer…whomever decides to make that person black for film, anything goes? They can just throw out whatever crap they please to the masses and you and I should sit back and say ‘thank ya kindly for this shit stick you just threw at me’
No. I think not.
Why is it that we (as in black folk) are expected to be grateful and accept whatever is thrust upon us as long as it’s packaged in a darker skin tone? Why is it that, a character that was originally white is changed to black and her personality so devolved, any kinship or empathy an observer could possibly feel for her is all but diminished?
As a viewer who happens to be black, the creators of True Blood were and are not doing me any favors. I would have gladly accepted the show as the characters were originally written, if it would have given me a Tara I could laugh with and root for. But instead, they decided to pat themselves on the back and attempt to fool us with this lame attempt at diversity all the while jacking it up so bad that it’s more than apparent who the real demographic is that they were trying to reach. They are playing the race card again, this time to the tune of so-called black pathology.
But still there’s more, a bigger issue that sits in the middle of the room like a bloated pink elephant with a teabagger logo emblazoned across its forehead. It rests in the dichotomy of the two female leads and how the show represents their conflicts and the resolution to those conflicts. It’s how we see Sookie, the blond, good-nature, smiling, damsel in distress who finds love, honor, respect, admiration and lust in all the creatures of the night she meets and the situations she encounters. Hell she can sneeze and hot men come runnin’ to hand her a piece of tissue…while her best friend, Tara, the cornrowed, always irate, sad and insecure sidekick gets:
…and the list goes on.
Recently, observing some of the many black fans of this show I continue to be befuddled…
Why is it that some of us continue to support one-layered portrayals of black men and women as these troglodytic, bastardized, desperate for attention, finger-snapping, attitude laden, buck-like, neck-rolling, strong as an ox, whip me—beat me—do anything to me and I’ll bounce back kind of human beings? Hell, that ain’t even human behavior if you ask me. It’s not engaging, it’s cringe-worthy and far from sexy. At best and worst it’s ridiculous and subhuman; it’s an f’ing disgrace!
I really thought the creators behind this blood fest were turning a corner. If you look at the fact that this is a comedy-horror vampire show, and most of the plot lines and portrayals peppered throughout follow the same tone, you have to wonder why these things are even included in the story line and furthermore is there growth in all of this pathological behavior? Cause according to readers of the book, these are characterizations plucked out of thin air, “Tara wasn’t that way in the book!”
At risk of sounding redundant, again, I ask…what is the point? Is there redemption down the line? Do the character(s) rise above? Why are they even bothering? Because, lets face it, the creators started this shit! If they wanted to give us torture porn and junk food horror, they should have just stuck with that and we could all have a laugh but when they decided to interject serious shit…child abuse, alcoholism, rape, racism and such…well in doing that they have a certain level of responsibility in what they put forth. No one told them they had to make Tara Thornton and Lafayette, black. Hell they could have been Asian, Mayan…Alien...anything! Surely the Sookie Stackhouse fans weren’t rallying in the street for that character change. So what was their purpose and in doing so, was it really hard to create well-rounded multidimensional people afterward? What really changed besides the coloring?
On a positive note, I will say this: it seems like they were doing a better job at trying to humanize Lafayette in such a way that it was endearing and engaging. But even now that seems to be slipping. As for Tara, instead of showing evolution and a story line that’s embracing her in a way that shows all sides of her as a woman, we have them falling back on the same ole’ tried and true stereotypes. Good old faithfuls is what I like to call ‘em.
There’s a lot to say about the many themes the above touched on. It’s not just an issue with this show or these particular characters but a much larger disconnect in the film and television industry as a whole. With that, there isn’t much I can add to the topic that wouldn’t sound like the disjointed rantings of a lunatic and I’m not sure I want to expend the energy trying. Instead, I’ll end it here by saying that if I had one message to give the creator’s of True Blood, it would be this:
Do better or don’t bother.
For those of you still curious about checking out the show, I would be inclined to nudge you toward the latter.
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