I am a die-hard Being Human fan. Let’s start there.
I’m not talking about the American version on the SyFy channel, but the real, hardcore, original version from the U.K.’s BBC. I’ve been a vampire movie genre fan since I read Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice while I was a freshman in high school. Of course, the latest manifestations of vampires appear to be a battalion of pout-mouthed, cherry lipped, 17-year old Duran Duran rejects who were turned while still in high school. (That gives a whole new meaning to bullying.) All of the new vampires look like they borrowed they’re girlfriend’s Bonnie Bell Cherry lip gloss –you know, because vampire lips get so chapped.
Then came along a much hunkier, manlier, raven-haired, man-candy, U.K. version of a televised vampire –Mitchell. (I have a co-worker who clued me in to this special, and, needless to say, Mitchell [played by the Irish-born Aidan Turner] apparently gets a thumbs up from large swath of middle-aged African American women. Make sure to watch last season’s episode where they flash back to the 1960′s –hottie alert!)
Aside from the incredibly imaginative writing and spot-on acting, I was also hooked on the fact that the resident ghost –of an ensemble of a werewolf, vampire and ghost– was an actress of obvious Black heritage! Annie (played by the beautiful Trinidadian and English actress Lenora Crichlow) is an awesome actress and perfectly fits in the ensemble!
Even though the British got the whole monarchy thing wrong —and I can say that because I’m a direct descendant of King Edward I of England, Joan of Arce, et al… no joke– the one thing they seem to get right all the time is the casting of Black actors. (Think: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Sophie Okonedo, et al.)
Not only was Annie a resident ghost living with a vampire and a werewolf, she was cast as a third actor in an ensemble piece, not as “The Black Ghost” who makes sure to roll her neck/pop her gum/give a good sturdy, Hmmph!/smack her lips/put her hands on her hips before she manifests or disappears. She’s just one of the lead actors! Brilliant.
Believe it or not, Annie the Ghost also has a comparable number of storylines to the other leading actors –both of whom are white. Being Human (UK) has kept me enthralled every season with their great acting and writing.
Then SyFy makes a big announcement in January 2011 that they’re making an American version (read: sucks) of Being Human.
What?! Are you people on crack? That was my first thought. Then I got angry.
Oh please, oh please, don’t mess this up! I kept my fingers crossed and silently fumed at the thought of an American version of yet another BBC series. (Let’s not forget Da Ali G Show, Celebrity Fit Club, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, and American Idol. I think the only one we got right was Three’s Company.)
Let me state now that I don’t hate American television.
I just hate it when a network gets soooooo lazy that they have to import shows that have well-produced, intelligent storylines. I’m sure there are thousands of screenwriters out there who have imaginative, thoughtful, and smart scripts that are just waiting to be discovered in Hollywood…but apparently they’re no tgetting hired –especially in television. It usually takes a premium cable channel like HBO (Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Wire, Rome) or Showtime (Dexter, Weeds) to present excellent programming. But I digress…
So SyFy produces their own version of Being Human. I’m peeved off and intrigued at the same time. First, the whole copying thing just got to me. And second, I was really interested on who they would select to play the role of the ghost. (Let’s be frank, I’m sure they don’t plan on putting to white male actors out of work in a remake, so I’m just worried about the role of Annie.)
The commercials had me a bit concerned, but I stuck it out and decided to give it a chance.
The U.S. version of Being Human is pretty good –but not as good as the U.K. version. (Please catch the U.K. version! They just started the 3rd Season!) It’s passable, though. So far, a lot of people like this show…I’m sure it’s because they’ve never seen the original.
One big gripe I have about this show. Who in the hell cast the role of the ghost?
I was worried about that role because I’m very aware of the trivial casting of Black women in any role in the United States. The role of the ghost is played by Meaghan Rath. Um, she’s Canadian. Let me just get that out of the way.
I’m sure the gorgeous Ms. Rath is a wonderful person and a wonderful actress; however, I’m protective of my show and the role of Annie (named Sally in the U.S. version). Granted I don’t have any stock or personal finances involved with Being Human (U.K.), but I still like to think that as a fan, I have some creative license over the remake of the show –as crazy as that sounds.
Get to the Point
I’ve already harped on the significance of the ghost being played by an obviously Black/bi-racial woman and not having her race as a central figure to her character, but come on.
I was holding out for a thread of hope that the role of Annie would be somewhat in tact and that the role would be a fantastic vehicle for an African American actress. Now, there’s no reason to request that SyFy make some sort of statement that Sally the ghost is Black (or some variation, thereof), but there does need to be some statement as to why they chose a Canadian actress who the average American audience would assume is Latina, Middle Eastern or “swarthy”… i.e., anything but obviously Black. Granted, I’ve got a good nose for finding out who’s Black (a hobby of mine), but the average person doesn’t know and they definitely don’t care. I mean, one less role given to an African American actress means nothing to many people who think it doesn’t matter, but then again, few of them can name three movies with a competent, intellectual, Black woman character.
So my spidey senses are really tingling now because I need some sort of explanation from SyFy –like, a backstory, an acknowledgment that they changed the character on purpose, etc. I mean, for what reason did they feel the need to go with a woman of inexplicable racial background and downplay any obvious semblance of being Black ? (I’m talking about the character, not her.)
I don’t need a genealogical chart or a census form, but I do need some acknowledgment that they’ve stayed true to the intent and background of the character.
The other two characters are still obviously white, right?
In episode three (“Something to Watch Over Me”), we get a bit of a backstory on the mysterious ghost Sally. They show her headstone and her name is —Sally Malik? Now, I’m not arguing that she’s “not Black”. I don’t go into those territories because I understand identity, multi-racialism, etc., and I can probably name off everything she’s mixed with. What I’m saying is that to an American audience that is still struggling with racial expression, racial dialogue, and racial understanding, I found her role to be a poor choice in 2011. SyFy is not making some big statement other than going with the status quo.
I don’t know who they actually auditioned, but I can think of six African American actresses off the bat who could have played the role, namely: Raven Symone (That So Raven), Rutina Wesley (True Blood), Katerina Graham (Vampire Diaries), Meagan Good (Cold Case, The Unborn), Heather Hemmens (“Hellcats”) and Tia Mowry (The Game).
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So, for whatever it’s worth, I say watch the original Being Human series on BBC and see if you feel the same way about the casting choices. And if you get anything out of this posting, understand that intelligent, meaty roles for African American women are few and far between and it’s up to us (who care) to let television stations know by asking some pertinent questions, do some critical thinking, getting stations to respond to your concerns, or just not watching it.