2.18.2012

Eureka: Dr. Allison Blake


Salli Richardson-Whitfield
In the tradition of Ankh’s posts about POC characters in media, I’m offering up my own pick for a phenomenon that we see far too rarely on TV nowadays: the elusive black female. And here I have something even rarer to share with you: the black female lead.

Sci-fi Channel (or should I say Syfy Channel…ugh) TV show Eureka debuted in the summer of 2006 and I have to say, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Salli Richardson-Whitfield appear on my screen and promptly steal the scene from the show’s protagonist Colin Ferguson (Sheriff Jack Carter).  I just wasn’t expecting to see a black female lead and proudly admit that her presence—along with the fact that the show is just fifty kinds of awesome—cemented my devout loyalty over the past four seasons.

According to Salli, her character was not originally written for a black woman. She has recounted the fact that she was the only WoC in a room full of white women when she auditioned, but she was cast because the creators felt that she had the best chemistry with Ferguson.  Add that to the fact that Allison is smart as hell and one-half of the show’s OTP*, and I’m sure that there have been more than a few head explosions over the years.

Spoiler Alert!
:  This list may contain spoilers for those who have not yet seen season 3.0, 4.0 and/or season 4.5.

Character Pros

1. Allison is a genius and a doctor three times over (she has an MD and two Ph.Ds). In nearly every episode, her genius IQ is on full display as she actively helps avert disasters and save lives with her awesome smarts.

2.  Allison has an active onscreen love/sex life. She has been hotly and vociferously pursued by all of her love interests to the point that there have been downright contentious rivalries for her affections. She was engaged in season three (he was killed on their wedding day before the "I do's"), and after four long seasons of "will they/won't they", she is finally involved in a loving, supportive relationship with the show's protagonist (Jack Carter).   

3. Allison has looked fierce every week since day one. Her hair, clothes and make-up are always on point.

4. You won’t find any stereotyping or caricaturing with this character. Allison is firm when she needs to be without any “angry black woman” vibes, is sexy without being sexualized, doesn’t put up with BS, is feminine yet vulnerable, and is treated with respect by everyone around her.

5. As Director of Global Dynamics, Allison is inarguably the most powerful person in Eureka. Everyone answers to her and respects her authority without question.  (Season one - DoD* liaison; season two and three - Director of GD; season four - Medical Director/acting Director of GD...this change was due to a permanent alternate timeline plot, not a demotion.)

6.  Allison is a loving mother (again shown onscreen) who would do anything for her children. 

Character Cons

1. All of her love interests have been white.  (Why do I have a feeling there's some fanboy fantasy-fulfilling here?)  Anyway, as much as I adore this show, this trend is still disappointing. I know she was always meant to end up with Jack, but it would have been nice to see her pair up with a MoC for a change, even it was for just a little while.

2. As well as the show has treated it’s POC characters, it has still fallen into the trap of making race a complete non-entity (except for a notable exception where it would have been impossible not to).  Co-creator Jamie Paglia had this to say about Eureka and race: "We've always been very sensitive to diversity in our casting, and made an effort to make Eureka a place where race isn't an issue.  (source)"  This is just a snippet of a larger quote, but I get what he's trying to say (and what he's trying to do).  It sounds really nice and all...I just think it's a bit unrealistic. We’re not blind and nobody ignores blackness. Not even geniuses.

3. We haven’t been given too much of a background on Allison's character. Besides what's been mentioned in passing (her parents are scientists, her husband died before their son was born or shortly thereafter, she wrote a medical textbook in the alternate timeline, and she'd had a second marriage), we don't know much about her life before she came to Eureka.  But given that the show has a pretty sizable main cast, that’s probably par for the course.  There's only so much we know about any of the characters.

4. Although Allison is undeniably black, her features are European-looking enough to make some viewers feel less uncomfortable (whether consciously or unconsciously) about her lead role on the show, her high-ranking position, and her unmistakable irresistibility to her white love interests.  This is certainly not a knock on Salli Richardson-Whitfield's casting (I can't imagine anyone else playing Allison), but it really, really rankles me that networks still feel the need to coddle racists.  Even Salli has said that her appeareance probably makes it easier for her to get work on TV.  So sad.

Final Verdict

Allison is a generally well-rounded and well-written character, who is likable, smart as a whip, sympathetic and keeps viewers happily tuning in each week.  I never have to question why her coworkers and everyone else in the town respect and care for her as much as they do.  I never have to wonder what the men in her life see in her that makes them so ga-ga over her or why they fall all over themselves to protect her at all costs, even to the point of risking their jobs, jail time or their lives to do it.  I get it.  (Unlike a certain heroine on a vampire-themed cable show I just started watching.  *cough*True Blood's Sookie Stackhouse*cough*)

Unfortunately, the positive portrayal of black women is still something rarely seen on TV.  I have to give Eureka's creators and writers a nod for having the testicular fortitude to 1) cast a black female lead; and 2) buck the particularly ugly trend that Hollywood has of throwing black women under the bus every chance it gets.  After four highly successful seasons, it's obvious that having a black female lead--and more than one main black cast member--hasn't driven the show's viewers away.  (Unfortunately, next summer's fifth season will be it's last, but it's certainly not because of bad ratings.  It's because of high production costs.  Damn you, Comcast/NBC Universal merger!). 

It's become patently obvious that people are craving more diversity on TV, not less.  There's no longer any excuse for the massive bout of whitewashing that's currently taking place in Hollywood.  None.

*OTP = One True Pairing
*DoD = Department of Defense

A/N: This article was originally posted on The Blasian Narrative on 9/21/11.

18 comments:

  1. Yaaaay!!! You posted this here.

    And timely too. I was bored out of my mind, but now I know exactly what I want to watch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just wait until you get to seasons 4.0 and 4.5.

      Delete
    2. Watched them. Well, tbh, I skipped all the eps where Jack was involved with that other chick.

      Delete
    3. Aw, too bad. You missed Jack break up with Tess (basically because he wanted to be with Allison).

      Season 5 starts on April 16th at 9:oo. I think Syfy is pretty good about putting up at least the first few eps online right away.

      Delete
  2. I too have been a fan of Eureka from the very first episode and the main reason was because of Salli. I have followed her work for years and can't understand how someone so talented has been so underrated. (In my opinion anyway) In regards to the show and characters I was pleased that they didn't think twice about placing a black female in the lead. She is strong, respected, beautiful and brilliant. Usually when you see a black woman on television she is never encompasses all of these attributes. It's almost as if they believe we as black women can't pull it off. Kudos to the writers for not going the sad woe is me/ghetto past pull yourself up by the bootstraps/bitchy/compromising black woman who looks up to her man as if he is to be revered. I too found it odd that even though this is supposed to be an elevated society of scientists that race is never an issue (genius' can be racist too...no matter how enlightened they are) I want to see more of "us" shown in this light and I gladly support shows that make that attempt. I can't and won't accept any less. These shows with black women reduced to cat fighting, label obsessed (don't get me wrong, I like a nice bag too) caricatures is tiring me out. While I understand it is important to show the differences in all of us wether it be culturally, economically, physically, mentally, etc...there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I want to see more of "us" shown in this light and I gladly support shows that make that attempt. I can't and won't accept any less. These shows with black women reduced to cat fighting, label obsessed (don't get me wrong, I like a nice bag too) caricatures is tiring me out.

      Boo-boo...right there with you.

      Delete
    2. "She is strong, respected, beautiful and brilliant."

      Which is one of the biggest reasons why I'll miss it when it's gone.

      "While I understand it is important to show the differences in all of us wether it be culturally, economically, physically, mentally, etc...there's a right way and a wrong way to do it."

      Sadly, Hollywood only knows of one way to show us and it in the exact way that you stated above. I'm starting to think that along with poorly disguised racism, it's really is about the jealousy of black beauty. Why else would these fangirls zap the hell out so much when characters such as Allison, Guinevere, Tara or Uhura (and there are scores others) get any attention/love on their respective shows/movies? Their rantings are illogical and don't make a lick of sense. All of a sudden, you get the "they don't have any chemistry" excuse for why the character shouldn't be paired with whomever, or they "just don't like her" but can never explain why.

      They're getting so obvious and desperate, it's almost comical. Like Ankh says, these black women are there because the white men creating these shows want them there, which has got to drive these fangirls absolutly batshit crazy. I think it's hilarious.

      Delete
  3. I applaud actresses of color who audition for non-WOC roles...and win them. Rachel True in "The Craft", Angel Coulby in "Merlin", Sanaa Lathan in "AvP", and now Richardson in "Eureka".

    ReplyDelete
  4. Found this comment about Allison on the Spoiler TV forum:

    Marie Dupalová

    I don't like Allison's smile.. nor the actress, all her scenes are really hard to believe..

    Like Reply 5 months ago 0 Like

    The comment was so ridiculous, it's almost funny. I love how they always say stuff like this, but then never back it up with any examples or hard facts. Just a bunch of hate for no reason.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reply's of that type are always ambiguous. I would have had more respect for her if she'd just say I don't like him being with a black woman.

      Delete
  5. I was VERY amused at the episode where that women - name I have forgotten - was impersonating Allison and the screen kept going back and forth and they were wearing the same dress. I kept noticing and thinking that lady does not look HALF ... wait not even a minuscule fraction as hot in that dress as Salli. Each time they showed them in that same dress, it popped in my head and I was even more amused.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I can't speak for you, but it seems as if you've missed the point of this place entirely. It is never negative here, but highlights those of us who are often ignored not so much in our everyday lives, but by the entertainment industry. You seem to have taken a dig or two yourself. "Let me commend you on watching the Eureka show..." as if it were a shock that as a black woman we would chose to watch something with intelligence on a channel not normally marketed toward blacks and not the usual ratchet reality shows (Basketball Wives, Hip Hop Wives, etc.) If she did chose to make this a place based on race, what business is it of yours. Don't visit it. Now on to Morgan Freeman as a strong "black" representative who doesn't see color, well thats just fine. But your "strong" representative also doesn't seem to remember that he was a married man who cheated on his wife. See, just how you pick and choose what you want to recognize, let us. You're right, it doesn't matter if you're black, white, whatever...but if you are going to be a woman, follow the rules post your name.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You took the words right out of my mouth. I hate when people try to tell POC not to see race when every damn day, we're reminded in sometimes horrible ways what color we are and what our "place" is.

      And no one please throw the president and the post-racial bullshit in my face. Given the racist crap that is said and done against he and the First Lady by some folks in this country (politicians, the media, actors, musicians, ordinary folks), that would be a wholly specious argument.

      Delete
  7. @Anon

    1. Kindly don't tell me how to identify myself and I won't tell you how to identify yourself.

    2. I really don't care what your race or gender is.

    3. If you want to post comments, own up to your words and post with a name. Says that clear as day below.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Ankh

      Yup. Cendella caught it and informed me. The post was full of fail as you can imagine. I'll email you a copy.

      Delete
    2. LOL...don't you love being an admin?

      Delete

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