Race

As with the other sections of this document, we’re mainly concerned with Season 2/Volume 2 of Heroes. However, if you wish you bring up some elements of Season 1 that continue into or inform elements of S2/V2, that’s perfectly acceptable.

This section will deal with the concerns and criticisms we have with the way Heroes handles Race. This includes both how Characters of Color are portrayed or and their storylines/how they are handled. We’re particularly concerned with stereotypes and instances where characters of color are shown to be expendable, are only there to further the character development of the white characters, or don’t have real stories/names of their own.

Obviously you can’t completely separate plot and character and race and gender issues. But if you feel that an element is more race-based than not, include your comments here.

How this works

In the comments, post whatever you have to say about the race issuesof Heroes that concern/anger you.

If you’ve come across a brilliant blog post that you feel encapsulates your exact feelings on a plot element, please provide a quote and a link back to the post itself.

We also encourage contributors to comment on each other’s offerings, clarifying and questioning the opinions offered. If you feel strongly about a comment or post, please tell us why.

Things to keep in mind when formulating your critique:

  • The more specific you are, the better.  Reference episodes/chapters, if you can/need to.
  • Provide explanations or links defining terms or concepts Kring and the other writers may not know about/fully grasp.
  • Mention areas where the show is doing something right in order to highlight ways they can fix what they’re doing wrong.

Rules

  1. Anyone may participate in this collaboration. The idea is to bring in the opinions and views of a diverse swath of Heroes fans.
  2. Your first comment will be moderated, but once it’s approved all subsequent comments should appear right away. To ensure this, please use the same email address each time. You don’t have to leave a real email address, but only the blog administrator can see it if you do.
  3. If you quote from another website or blog, please provide a link as reference. If the commentary you’re providing is your own, please indicate such. Provide a URL only if you don’t mind us linking back to it in the “Contributors” section. It will also help if people use names or handles they go by elsewhere on the web.
  4. The point of this document is to provide civil and constructive criticism of Heroes, not to bash Tim Kring, the writers, the actors, or NBC. Therefore, try to stay on topic and don’t resort to ad hominem attacks of fellow fans/collaborators or anyone involved with the show. Heated discussion is okay, disagreements may arise, just don’t be a jerk.
  5. As we will be discussing the touchy subjects of Race and Gender in some parts, it would help us all if commenters/collaborators familiarized themselves with the articles listed here. Particularly the “How to Suppress…” and “How not to be insane…” articles.
  6. Trolls and other people who cannot follow the rules will be moderated without warning and banned if the disagreeable behavior persists.
  7. Keep comments and contributions on topic.

15 Responses

  1. I have been collecting statistics on race and gender of characters appearing in Heroes (minor and major). Season 2 stats are here:

    http://community.livejournal.com/bobthehaitian/tag/statistics

    Season 1 stats are on my home computer which I won’t have access to until next week.

    A *positive* aspect of race on Heroes is that it has FAR better representation of people of color than other shows of its type. It reliably has ~50% characters of color in each episode (at least in S2 thus far). On the other hand, this fact makes it more noticeable when characters of color are given worse treatment and less prominence in the plot than the white characters.

    I have a lot more stats than are posted on bobthehaitian, including casualties (fatal and non-) and perpetrators-of-casualties. I may get around to compiling them into a proper post at some point.

  2. One of the things that has bothered me this season is that it seems many of the nonAmerican characters are stereotypes. The Irish brother/sister team with their bar, their underworld connections, and their horrible horrible accents made me cringe every time they came on the air. The Irish = Alchohol connection is very dated.

    I also disliked the ancient Japan storyline. Other than the one-second joke effect, what was the point of making Hiro’s hero a white man? I know Hiro makes things right where the white man couldn’t but to me this does not make up for the fact that a supposedly famous Japanese icon from their cultural past was white. It strips them of their heritage for the sake of a good laugh. Couldn’t the same story be told with Hiro’s hero being a bumbling Japanese man?

    And then we have the latino twins, bleeding the tears of Mother Mary and making that link that Latinos are Catholics/superstitious.

    To be honest, I’ve only been watching sporatic episodes the last few weeks because the show is flat. Maybe there were good reasons for introducing these racial stereotypes that I missed.

  3. Sandra (the person who commented above me, not Sandra Bennet, haha) raises a good point about making the Japanese hero into a white man, but the actual hero behind him is Hiro, and the white man ends up being the bad guy, which is a good reversal of typical stereotypes. Actually, they’ve done a good job with villains in general– before he became Sylar, Gabriel Gray was an average white guy, and I think that’s really important– especially in Sci-Fi, where often main characters are white and villains are persons of color (Jubal Early in Firefly, Gordon Walker in Supernatural, etc).

    It really frustrates me that the Haitian is known by his nationality. I understand that they want to keep an air of mystery, but Noah Bennet was known as ‘the man with the horn-rimmed glasses.’ Why couldn’t the Haitian have had a similar identifying characteristic? ‘The white guy’ or ‘the American’ wouldn’t have been a functional description of Noah, so why is it okay to call ‘the Haitian’ by his nationality?

    Actually, I think to a certain degree, no matter what they called him, it would have reflected on some kind of differently-abled-ness. Glasses, horn-rimmed or otherwise, reflect deficient eyesight, which happens to occur in such a number of people that they don’t really find themselves discriminated against (except in elementary school). Maybe the Haitian wants his privacy and so doesn’t use his name, but we haven’t been given enough of his backstory to know (canonically speaking, anyway– I’m not familiar with the online comics) so it just seems like they’re labeling him. He’s this tall, dark, nameless person who comes out of the dark and takes your memories– he’s almost the equivalent of The Operative from Serenity.

    The worst thing happening racially on Heroes is definitely the Maya and Alejandro storyline, but Allie and Katarin have already said it better than I could, so I will refer you to http://technosage.livejournal.com and http://just-katarin.livejournal.com.

    It’s interesting to note that they’ve been good about depicting interracial relationships, but that one member of the interracial relationship invariably gets whacked– Charlie of Hiro & Charlie, Simone of Peter & Simone (and Isaac, the third member of the triangle), DL of Niki & DL.

    I think Kring & Co. should definitely get credit for trying, which is far more than any SciFi show I’ve seen has done: persons of color, in Heroes, are very clearly the protagonists of their own storylines, whereas in many other shows they are either sidekicks (Aiden Ford and Ronon Dex, Stargate: Atlantis; Zoe Washburne, Firefly; Missouri Mosely, Supernatural) or villains, and a lot of POC groups are underrepresented. The problem is that their storylines, as Allie has said, often come second to the Bennet & Petrelli storylines.

  4. Nobody so far has mentioned Mohinder and Chandra Suresh two Indian characters who have little better to do other than stalk about muttering about “Eeevolution” like it is some kind of magical power. (To be fair, evolution is magic in this series. When he says “Eevolution”, Mohinder really means genetic mutation, and he really means the X-Men version of genetic mutation.)

    They are the South Asian science nerd stereotype gone mad, the equivalent of the magical Negro. What’s more they have no powers of their own. The one Indian Hero is a street kid, whose interesting power (dream-walking) and heroic potential is tossed away after one episode.

    The sad part is that there was this really powerful possibility here: a father/son scientist team that is so far removed from the developed world’s older generation Heros that the Company was never on their radar … and they were never on the Company’s either! The Company has tried to control all knowledge of and about the mutated people, but, science being what it is, these independent observers blow the whole Secret Cabal Scheme right out of the water. By, of all things, publishing a book!

    This alters the whole scheme of things and should freak the Company right out. Why aren’t they trying to suppress the publication of the book? Why didn’t they kill or capture Chandra Suresh himself? The plot season 1 hinted at this with Chandra Suresh’s murder, but then it turned out to be a cheap mislead and all Sylar’s doing.

    They’ve done a better in S2 with the Company’s seduction of Mohinder, but Mohinder is still impossibly naive. I wish he had more agency, because except for his five minutes of capturing Sylar in S1, he is still more sidekick and Magickal Science Man than an active agent.

  5. This is not exactly a matter of race, but I wanted to say something about Hana Gitelman:

    Her character was an irredeemable mass of stereotypes, misconceptions and lack of research.

    Like every single Israeli character ever created in a non-Israeli medium, her family were Holocaust survivors as well as victims of a Palestinian terror attack. Not all Israelis have family who survived the Holocaust, and certainly not all of them have lost someone to a terrorist bombing. Using a country’s volatile and violent political history to give a character an angsty backstory is cheap.

    Like every single female Israeli character created in a non-Israeli medium, she was an warrior woman amazon super-soldier with elite combat training. Most young women in the IDF serve in non-combatant roles, and the combat units that are open to women are very limited. They do not produce super-secret agents.

    Creating an Israeli super-soldier with a fighter pilot mother and a partisan grandmother was unbelievably stereotypical and poorly thought-out.

    If the other characters of non-American nationality are half as stereotypical and poorly-researched as Hana Gitelman, then they should be altered and fixed as needed. The character of Hana herself should be retired permanently because, as I said, she’s irredeemable.

  6. I just have to add that Mohinder’s ‘Indian’ accent is terrible. It’s more of a vaguely-British lilt than anything resembling a Tamil accent (and, by the way, how come everyone in Chennai writes in Hindi?). Mohinder himself has at least had more to do this season, as opposed to last season where he seemed to be doing nothing but voiceovers, but I still feel like I don’t know him very well. His character has only been developed enough to participate in the plot; other than that, who is this guy? Does he have a sense of humor? Sexuality? Any interests outside of his father, his sister and now Molly? I’m excited that he’s there, and I think it bucks the ‘South Asian nerd’ stereotype a little in that he is put out there as one of the hunky guys of the show (and how– yum!). But he’d win over a lot more viewers if he had a personality.

  7. The only issue. You got like two black guys in the show among a ton of caucasians. Why you got to kill off the one prominent black male hero?(The haitian was originally a villain-like character) And sorry, his bi-racial son doesn’t count. I know a lot of people have died on this show, but when you got like one black guy, why not preserve him rather than whack him the first chance you get.(okay, maybe it was like the third or fourth)

  8. I wrote a post on the Twelve and how their powers are represented, as there’s a trend with white male members of the Twelve having clearly defined powers while the other members of the Twelve have either ambiguously defined powers or powers that haven’t been established. I am posting this to both the race and gender section as it applies equally to each.

    http://sabonasi.livejournal.com/383640.html

  9. This week’s episode (#10, “Truth & Consequences”) really bothered me on the racial front because I realized that we’ve hardly ever seen people outside the heroes, their friends, their nemeses (“nemesis-es”, as Warren from Buffy said) or immediate kin affect the plot line. An exception this time was the anonymous neighborhood gang in New Orleans who stole Micha’s backpack and kidnapped Monica. Interestingly enough, they were all black. And that made me remember a similar crowd of anonymous criminals in Mexico… On this show, “criminals” (at least of the anonymous, lower than scrum variety, not the Lucky Charms type from Ireland) are seemingly all PoC. What the hell is that all about?

    I’m not taking issue with the statistics of representation in New Orleans or Mexico — I’m just wondering why crime has to be a part of the story in those places, when, for example, New York City seems to be pretty free of it in this show.

  10. I initially liked the Catholic touch of Maya causing eyes to “bleed” as some paintings and statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary were said to have cried actual blood-tears. But in Catholic tradition, this is a sign of holiness and redemption, not death. I don’t like it that this legend has been perverted into something EVIL and WICKED and I consider it subtly anti-Catholic, as well as blatantly anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican.

    Immigrants bringing forth DISEASE, huh? And where have we heard that one before?

    Maya as in Mayans? Or Maya as in the Hindu deity? The Buddhist concept of illusion? Do they even know, or did they just pick a cool name out of abyss?

    Do they do these things deliberately or what?

  11. Your right therem. Places outside of “White America” have been shown in a bad light. Even in a black neighborhood your own cousin will steal from you. I was going to say that Clair’s suburb was the only safe place they have shown, but then remembered that she was almost raped and would have died had it not been for her power. But for the most part, the writers have had a stereotypical view of world culture. That seems to be they’re problem in every category of this forum. They fit race and gender and plot into their traditional comic book parameters. These have been problems in the comics for many decades. When Heroes began I said “Finally, a show where real multi-cultural situations will happen along with super heroes. But no, I see the same old thing. DL’s storyline bothers me the most. My comment from The Angry Black Woman:

    “The issue that most bothered me was the portrayal of DL. Yes, he saved Nikki from a bullet and became a fireman (before he died), but what about when he was BEGGING her to “escape jail” because he couldn’t make it in the world. Started out being a wanted criminal. Not a good image of a black man. And here was a guy that was using his power before almost everybody else, but couldn’t react fast enough to save himself and Nikki together.”

    http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2007/11/21/save-heroes/#comment-25022

  12. I have noticed that “certain people” never seem to notice racism even when it is pretty blatant. There aren’t many black people in any major network program, so that isn’t really the complaint. The fact that there aren’t many of them just makes the stereotyping all the more obvious. Here is a quick walkthrough of ALL of the black people that I have seen so far on “Heroes”…

    (1)Old Guy in Wheelchair from Season 1: Character of little/no consequence. Killed off early in the season.

    (2)The Haitian: Mute black man taking orders from white superiors. If he’s not taking orders from Claire’s dad.. Then in the future(5 Years Gone) he’s taking orders from the idiot Cop.

    (3)Peter & The Psychic Painter’s “Girlfriend”: Black woman. The only licentious character on the show. Killed off, but not before dating the junkie and then sleeping with Peter. Again.. not a hero and not a particularly likable character.

    (4)Nikki’s Husband: Black convict. Flawed hero. Neither prominent nor important. Sure, his wife is a hero, but she’s also a stripper/prostitute(?) His most prominent moment in the show is when he “loyally” takes bullet for Niki.

    (6) Black Cheerleader: An extra. Bad Guy. One of the evil cheerleaders. Non-character; just prominently placed in the cheerleader scene of season 2 episode one to be seen and despised.

    (7)Black Thug in Ireland: Non-hero. Bad guy. Beats up Peter. Again non-speaking black man taking orders from white superiors. See also Haitian supra.

    (8)Nikki’s Biracial Son: No problems with him. He’s the exception that proves the rule.

    There aren’t many blacks that have been in the show at all and these are their roles. Only 1 out of the only 8 black characters in twenty-four episodes I’ve seen seems to be respectable.

  13. I just some more episodes and apparently ANY and ALL white people are able to tell ‘ol step-n-fetch “Haitian” what to do. The man has to be at least 40, but even the psychotic 24yr old girl is his superior and gives him orders. I mean…cmon…

  14. Having seen the end of S2, I am appalled at the treatment of people of color this year, and the eternal central importance of the white guys. More dead men of color (DL [again!], Alejandro), and a kickass black woman (Monica) reduced to an object to be rescued so that a white woman can die heroically. Meanwhile, Ando’s reduced to waiting around for Hiro to show up. Hiro, Micah, and Mohinder are the only foregrounded people of color on the show who have any narrative impact at all.

    And The Haitian still doesn’t have a name.

    I am not impressed.

  15. A couple of quibbles:

    1. Since Charles Devereaux was black, it’s not surprising that Simone–his daughter–was also black regardless of what happened to her.

    2. It’s my impression (I have no textual support, admittedly, but it’s my perception nonetheless) that the Haitian has no name by his choice. He concealed his ability to speak from everyone for years; I think he chooses not to reveal his name (or to erase it if discovered) as a constant reminder of his power. People call him “The Haitian” because it’s the only name he lets them remember.

    Niki’s husband and the black cheerleader? No arguments.

    Black gangster in Ireland? There _was_ a black gangster in Ireland? I honestly don’t remember. But then, that whole storyline brought the suck.

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