Warning: The following contains spoilers for the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Sleepy Hollow” season two mid-season finales, the “Person of Interest” season 3 mid-season finale in 2013, a plot point in Chronicle from 2012, and the fact that Snape killed Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the 2008 film and the earlier 2005 book.

Oops.

With that out of the way, I suppose I should introduce myself. I am not Tegan. My name is Micah Pearson, and I’m the Web Designer/Executive Producer of JustTegan.com. Tegan asked me to gnash my teeth and growl at you for a while regarding the topic to which I’m eventually going to get. Well, that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s the end result nonetheless. To be fair, I’m not exactly growling at you, per-se; but mostly in a general direction of at the world as my fingers stab the keys on my laptop with ever-increasing intensity over the general irritation I have about today’s subject. There. I’ve introduced myself. Now It’s time to get to the heart of the matter.

In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, after which he became one of the most bankable actors of his day. In 1971, the Melvin Van Peebles classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and the studio produced Shaft blasted into the box office and established that black cinema could possibly be a thing and began a full-blown movement, creating it’s own genre and subculture. But even with a legacy that powerful, it’s forty three years later, and we’re only just now seeing any significant diversity in some parts of Hollywood. And yet for every cast like the one on Sleepy Hollow, a great genre-show-that-could on TV, we end up with big budget whitewashed behemoths like Exodus: Gods and Kings. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, because that’s a whole other problem. It just lays the groundwork, because even on shows like the aforementioned Sleepy Hollow, they feel the need to kill the black guy.

When I was watching the mid-season finale, Orlando Jones finally got pulled out of his under-utilized corner, like Baby from Dirty Dancing, and was given his time to shine. Occasionally referenced in order to provide a plot point or do a favor for the protagonists, only to be forgotten about entirely moments later, Captain Irving’s character had been beyond squandered after earning a place in many a fan’s hearts last season. So to see him back with the crew, a full-blown soldier in the war for humanity, I was ecstatic! He fought the Horseman of War! He kicked its ass!

Then he died.

I was upset, of course; but only from the perspective of a fan who’d lost one of his favorite characters. However, there was another itch in the back of my skull that hadn’t quite registered. Especially when even the writers of the show said that “he was the real first soldier on the hero team to die. We wanted people to know the stakes.”

A week or so later, I’m chilling out catching up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its rather bananas finale. They established Inhumans! They gave Skye powers! They killed off the supposed season villain in Whitehall! They turned Mack into a zombie sentinel! They killed Trip!

Wait, what?

Then the writers came out and said, “we wanted to show the dangers of Terragenesis and needed one of the others to pay the consequences.”

They killed one of two black male leads, and turned the other one into a zombie automaton.

Suddenly, I’m flashing back to 2013, and the mid-season finale of Person of Interest when they put a bullet into Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson). You see, it was a twist. They’d spent the entire episode (and ads in the preceding weeks) making you think it was going to be one of the other leads in the show that was going to die. Then, almost as an afterthought, blam. The only black lead in the show? Dead.

“We wanted a death that would resonate with the fans. Something that would drive the rest of the characters.”

In a world where there are so few positive black characters in entertainment, in a world where there are so few minority leads in entertainment, in a world where I can’t turn on any media without seeing another black person being murdered by those sworn to protect them, can I please have my fantasy that black people have a chance of survival?

When Officer Daniel Pantaleo got away with murdering Eric Garner scot free and without indictment, I sighed and shook my head. Again, the country in which I inhabit is one where the leading cause of death for black men is murder, and systemic institutionalized racism is nothing new. This case is another in a long line of cases. The difference is that people have finally noticed that this has been the status quo since before any of us were born, and that people who think that the Civil Rights movement won in the 60’s were living in a pipe dream filled with self-denial.

But that said, when I go to the movies in 2012 to escape to a fantasy where people have telekinesis and can fly around with nothing but a thought, I’m just tired of seeing characters like Michael B. Jordan‘s Steve Montgomery killed for no real reason that we could tell. Aside from the villain who killed him, Steve was the only really defined character. The “hero” Alex Russell was a barely sketched out “bro” dude. But the creative team “wanted a death that would resonate.” Look. I’m glad they’re creating characters that fans are bonding with and casting minorities in those roles. But then why do they always have to be the ones to die?

I didn’t gnash in this as much as I originally anticipated. This is such a ridiculously predictable trope that has gone from being upsetting-to-laughable-to-tiresome. Find something new, Hollywood. Be better. Show us that it’s possible for us to have a different outcome than violent death. Show us that we have a realistic hope to be something more than a victim of circumstance. Show us that things can change and we can stand on equal footing, with an equal chance of survival and success. Then maybe, just maybe

Someday it will be true.



  • GlassSpiider

    I was crushed that S.H.I.E.L.D. killed off Trip. My guy and I even employed some of our go-to gallows humor about whether Henry Simmons and B.J. Britt had a bet on which of them would be the first to fall to the One Black Man rule. R.I.P., Trip.

    I felt a little differently about Irving on Sleepy Hollow, though. I’ll cop to some wishful thinking here, but… death isn’t always the end on that show. I was mad as hell when they killed off John Cho in the first episode, but Andy ended up being a recurring character the whole first season. I would be surprised if Irving didn’t come back in some capacity. My theory is, since he died without redeeming his soul, that he’ll return as Moloch’s new right hand. AND WON’T THAT BE DELICIOUS.

    • GlassSpiider

      And when it happened, I tried to think of who else they could have killed to demonstrate the high-stakes nature of the plot, and I couldn’t come up with anyone who was as important to the story, yet ultimately disposable. Hawley is too new to the crew and his motives are suspect; Jenny is black *and* a woman, so… I guess they could have put Katrina on the block again, but that would have lead to another half-season of Crane subverting the mission to get back his aggravating wife. I wish it weren’t so, but Irving is all that was left. I guess a consequence of having such a diverse cast is, when it’s time to sacrifice somebody, chances are it’s going to be somebody of color. At least Irving went out a definitive hero.

      • micahp

        The writers were pretty clear that the Irving death is temporary, which in my mind makes it even MORE meaningless and pointless. They’ve introduced a character this season that is very killable and not really necessary in the Nick Hawley character. I’m sure he has his fans, but he’s squeezing out space for established characters and is yet the newest, so his character could have had the temporary death to provide space for the established characters to step back in, have him resurrected and all the hoodoo to make him more interesting.

        But nope, gotta kill the black dude first.

  • Kalara Zrinyi

    Yeah, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D killing off black guys (Mack, Trip, Gunn from Angel) is almost as annoying as them shouting about “true believers” in Season 1 while clearly having no idea what the phrase was supposed to mean. Also killing off Plastique after making her into a good guy and an army veteran felt weird, but she’s a white chick so whatever.

    Meanwhile, I expect that Sleepy Hollow will kill off a Latino person next (perhaps the bitchy new chief of police who took Orlando Jones’ place?) just to complete the set. Maybe a Native American Indian? One who isn’t also a Wendigo? I feel quite patriotic watching the rainbow coalition of character death on that show, actually.

    • micahp

      I sincerely hope that’s not the case. I was moved and impressed when I was rewatching last season and noted that at a pivotal moment in the show, Crane was the only white person in the scene…which made me realize that at the time, Crane was the only white lead in the show (Katrina was recurring and Headless and Henry occasionally guested). This show has done wonders for diversity in casting of Genre shows.

      But note, this season: Headless, Henry, Katrina were all bumped up to series regulars, Nick Hawley was added, Irving and Jess (the latter, less so) were marginalized. Let us also not forget that John Cho’s Andy is gone as well. With the exception of Reyes being added to the cast, this show has taken a HUGE step backward in the Diversity department.