"'It's Tough Being Different'": The Pitfalls of Colorblindness in CW's The Vampire Diaries
by Kristen Warner — University of Alabama
March 22, 2011 – 00:00
The video I am curating illustrates the drama two of the three people of color on The Vampire Diaries (TVD) face when it is revealed they are all witches. Earlier in the episode, Bonnie Bennett senses that Luka Martin (seated) and his father Jonas are warlocks who are now persuading her to trust them. In a disarming moment (beginning at 2:59), Luka tells her that “it’s tough being different.” In context of the episode, he is referring to them being witches but as I argue here and elsewhere, it also speaks to their difference as black folks in a predominately white town. Taken further, I transgressively read his sentence as a larger comment on their unspoken difference on TVD. Unspoken because Bonnie Bennett’s role on the series was blindcasted, a process where character roles do not specify a particular race. In theory, this process is progressive because it allows for a variety of talent, regardless of skin color, to audition for a part. However the problem occurs when actors of color are cast because those roles are typically written as normatively white.
My critique of blindcasting inevitably begs the question “is the solution to turn Bonnie into a stereotype”? Absolutely not. But in a town like Mystic Falls where there clearly aren’t many minorities, it would be nice if Bonnie and Luka could have an insider moment—something I refer to as cultural specificity. But they can’t because their blindcasted status allows the show’s writers to sidestep cultural differences in favor of providing the “look” (the literal, they’re brown not white look) of difference.
This is problematic for the writers generally and Bonnie and the Martins specifically because in the world of TVD, all the witches are black, reinvoking a stereotype about “magical negroes." This is the crux of the issue with blindcasting because without intentionally writing for characters of color, the show will always accidentally fall into aged tropes.
Race is a quagmire to be sure. But abandoning the effort to negotiate it because it is too difficult (or by circumventing the effort superficially, i.e., blindcasting) isn’t the answer because dodging race only makes it emerge in different and unconscious ways.