Buffy is Black now
There’s nothing selfish about finding joy in watching a Black teenager kill some vampires.
by Andrew Keahey
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This has never been a secret. I know it, my friends know it. I’ve watched the entire series multiple times, and I own the DVD’s. In my house, there have been Buffy parties with Buffy cakes, and everyone who is unlucky enough to be friends with me when I go through my yearly binge knows the words to at least one of the songs in the musical episode. My house is a Buffy house.
I’ m not one of those fans who believes that a reboot with the same name is going to ruin the original material. It’s all still there. I mean, they can try and get into my house to re-write these DVD’s if they want to, but they’ll have a hell of a fight on their hands.
So, when I heard there was going to be a reboot of my favorite teen/drama/supernatural thriller/comedy, I got excited! Then I read that the new Slayer was going to be a Black woman, and I was sold completely.
Buffy was already rebooted once after writer/creator Joss Whedon developed the highly successful TV show from his 1992 film of the same name, swapping out the high-maintenance heroine played by Kristy Swanson for the much more relatable Sarah Michelle Gellar. Reinvention is nothing the franchise hasn’t seen before.
BTVS ran for seven seasons, and during it’s time, it tackled many issues that contemporary young people faced. Did it have missteps? Sure it did. There are episodes that aren’t exactly politically correct by today’s standards, but that is true of many properties from the past.
The overarching message of Buffy never wavered: Women are powerful, and can save the world. The new Buffy will almost certainly have the same message, while hopefully taking the opportunity to address and confront the issues faced by Black women today.
American society already goes out of it’s way to hold Black women down more than any other minority group, because at its core, society knows that Black women are catalysts for change. Those in power fear change more than anything. To see a superpowered Black woman as the title character of such a show, out there fighting tooth and nail to save the world, will be so important for Black girls and women if executed correctly.
The comments on the articles about this change to BTVS were a real mixed bag. Of course, there are the people screaming about “PC culture run amok” and that they should be making a sequel instead of a reboot. I understand that people grew attached to the original characters, and would love to see them return to the small screen, but they also need to understand that the cast of BTVS was overwhelmingly white throughout the show’s entire run.
There was nothing in the series for people of color to really attach themselves to, and while that was just the media landscape between 1997 and 2003, we have grown since then, despite all the voices that seek to hold back representation in popular media. There is no way to bring back that old formula without it feeling antiquated and exclusionary.
Early in the series, we did have a Black Slayer named Kendra played by Bianca Lawson. She was killed off after only three episodes. There was another in one the later seasons named Nikki Wood that we only saw in flashbacks to the seventies. Nikki was a badass single mother with an afro and a black leather jacket, and she was killed off almost immediately. Honestly, if they just wanted to just go ahead and do an entire show about Nikki, I’d be okay with that.
The other major criticism about the new BTVS says that we should not reboot this show because there are so many Black creators out there with original stories that should be told instead of rebooting a white man’s show with a different cast. It’s important to understand that this is an absolutely valid complaint.
Joss Whedon has been making shows and movies for years with varying degrees of success. Even though he is a producer on this new Buffy, it’s being written by Monica Owusu-Breen, a Black writer with credits on successful shows like Lost, Alias, and recently, the supernatural drama Midnight, Texas. Regardless, Owusu-Breen will still be executing Whedon’s original vision for television.
There are so many Black people out there with stories to tell, who never get the chance, because there will always be a spot reserved for the Joss Whedon’s of the industry to do whatever it is they want to do at the time. I’m sure that Owusu-Breen will bring a freshness to the show that only a Black woman can now that she’s been handed the reigns, but at what point do Black women get to have their own reigns?
At what point does a network decide that it’s time to see something we haven’t before? It’s happening with Buffy, and it’s happening with Charmed, and while that representation is welcome and important, we also need representation in giving funding and time slots to voices that don’t belong to white men.
As a fan of the original show, and an optimist who sees what the new show could be, I’m excited. Hollywood is a problematic beast, with no shortage of oppressive behaviors and predatory practices, so when we see an opportunity that could have been given to one of these brilliant marginalized voices, it’s our duty to cry out. If we don’t, nothing will ever change.
When I see that new Slayer on the screen, kicking ass and taking names, I’ll be dressed up in my Sunnydale sweatshirt eating vampire themed snacks and everyone I know who loves Buffy is invited. We can recognize the problems in the system, and still acknowledge the things we like. There’s enough in our world pushing us down and making us miserable, and there’s nothing selfish about finding joy in watching a Black teenager kill some vampires.
So, let’s make way for the new storytellers and visionaries, and also be happy for the soon-to-be-cast Black woman who will be a new kind of role model for Black girls and women of a new age.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry