Friday, June 22, 2007

The Next Logical Step

...after killing off most of the women and characters of color:
David Anders, best known for playing the evil British freelance spy Julian Sark on TV's "Alias", will play ancient samurai warrior Takezo Kensei in NBC's sci-fi drama "Heroes" next season.
There are times when loving this show takes a lot of effort.

(reported by Strange Horizons)

11 comments:

Niall said...

The casting of Anders is bizarre. However:

after killing off most of the women and characters of color

This is too simplistic. Taking the list on Wikipedia, 22 (46%) are female and 16 (33%) are characters of colour; of those, 6 women (27%) and 4 characters of colour (25%) died, compared to 9 of 26 men (35%) and 12 of 32 white people (38%).

This is based on a quick count, so I may have missed a few; it also ignores the events of the finale, since we don't know how many of those deaths will stick. (But since most of those deaths were male and white, they're not going to make the statistics any worse.)

Heroes has problems in its portrayal of race and gender, but the raw number of deaths isn't one of them.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Fair enough. What I should have written is 'after killing off mainly women and characters of color.'

it also ignores the events of the finale, since we don't know how many of those deaths will stick

My guess is none of them.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Just to clarify: I'm talking about main and recurring characters, not Molly Walker's father and Sylar's here one minute, gone the next victims.

Niall said...

Still doesn't work, I'm afraid. If you limit the deaths to characters who appeared in more than one episode, then you end up with 3 dead women and 6 dead men; and 4 dead characters of colour against 6 dead white characters.

The perception is partly due to the fact that a lot of women and characters of colour died in a bunch around midseason, and it wasn't until the end of the season that they evened things up by offing all the white guys.

Where things start to get problematic is looking at the way characters have died and how the deaths have affected the other characters and the larger story. The raw numbers aren't the problem. Even looking at white hats vs black hats -- my gut reaction had been that the good women and the evil men died -- doesn't stand up. (There's also how the various characters are used while alive, of course, but that's obviously a completely separate problem.)

Abigail Nussbaum said...

By my count, there are four dead women (Simone, Eden, Charlie and Jackie) and two non-white men (Isaac and Simone's father) against three dead white men (Linderman, Thomson and Ted). I'm of two minds about Mohinder's father, who dies before the story begins but who appears frequently in flashbacks and dream sequences.

So I think I'm still right. Of the major character deaths, most have been of either women or characters of color.

That said, I do agree that the raw numbers are less problematic than the individual treatment of each death.

Niall said...

OK, if we're going into names...

For some reason I was mentally tagging Charlie as a one-episode character. So yes, four women. I was including Papa Suresh in my count, though. Otherwise I agree with your count.

But I don't agree with your analysis. You can't compare "men of colour + women of colour + white women" to "white men", because in any set with a decent balance of races and genders that's going to come out with a larger number in the first set. (If they're killing people at the same rate regardless of race and gender, you'd expect there to be the same number of dead white women and dead white men.)

If you break it down by gender you get (Simone, Jackie, Eden Charlie) vs (Ted, Thomson, Linderman, Charles, Isaac, Papa Suresh). If you break it down by race (accepting that we're lumping all non-whites together) you get (Papa Suresh, Charles Devereaux, Simone Devereaxu, Isaac) vs. (Ted, Thomson, Linderman, Jackie, Eden, Charlie).

If the number of white men dying outnumbered all the other deaths combined, which seems to be what you're looking for, that would suggest something seriously odd was going on, probably that the source pool had far more white men in it than other types of people. So I still think the more useful statistics are (a) the proportion of characters of colour and the proportion of women in the cast as a whole (which are not bad) and (b) the separate proportions of each set that die. Those are the numbers that tells us whether one group is being disproportionately killed. And that doesn't seem to be the case.

One of the really interesting things about Heroes, when it comes to this sort of discussion, is that it has such a large pool of characters. Give it another couple of seasons at the current rate, and there'll be a big enough sample for someone with enough time and enough knowledge of statistics to do an actual comparison with the general US population and see whether there really are any significant differences in representation.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I chose to lump women and non-white men together because both groups have a tendency, in Heroes and in television as a whole, to die in ways that serve the main (white, male) characters. Women die so that their deaths can help or galvanize men (Charlie, Eden, Simone - only Jackie dies to save a woman). People of color die so that their deaths can inspire or bring wisdom to white characters (Isaac, Charles Deveaux). The three white men on my list die to move the plot along, not in service of other characters.

This, however, is moving closer to your argument, that we should be looking at the quality of the various deaths, not the quantity.

Niall said...

Hey, I agree with all of that! :)

OK, inevitably a caveat: I can't really justify classifying Ted's death and Isaac's death differently. I would say both are move-the-plot deaths; for all that Isaac's power notionally gives wisdom, in practical terms all it's about is giving Sylar his next plot coupon. And I wouldn't say Eden's death either helped or galvanized a man.

But in general terms we're now agreeing.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Hey, I agree with all of that! :)

I aim to please.

Re: your caveats. Isaac repeatedly states, during his death scene, that in dying he is showing the other characters how to defeat Sylar. I don't see it myself, but Heroes has never been very good at details, so I'm inclined to believe that the writers intended for Isaac to die in service of others but didn't quite manage to get the point across. While it's true that Eden doesn't die for a specific man, she puts herself in mortal danger in order to help Mohinder, and her death galvanizes both him and Bennet.

Niall said...

re: Isaac: Oh! I hadn't thought of it that way. My recollection was that he was defiant in death because he knew he had already shown the others how to defeat Sylar, not because in dying he would do so. But I could be wrong.

Nic said...

I've heard elsewhere that there may have been a mix-up in the reporting of who Anders is going to play. I hope so, because I agree - it would seem deeply odd to cast a white guy in the role.

He was excellent as Sark in _Alias_, so I'd like to see him get a good role.

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