Category Archives: Television

The Casting of A New ‘Doctor Who’ Is A Victory For White Women And Not Much Else

The Casting of A New ‘Doctor Who’ Is A Victory For White Women And Not Much Else

*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, July 26, 2017.*

I’m sure Jodie Whittaker will be great as The Doctor, but this was still quite the lost opportunity for some much-needed color representation in a franchise that has only recently been diversifying its main actors.

They did it. After approximately 500 million years of Doctor Who’s time traveling, two-hearted, shapeshifting Time Lord, the 13th iteration will appear in the form of a woman. Hooray! The gender wall in one of Earth’s most beloved characters has been broken. The casting announcement of Broadchurch’s Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor broke to the sound of men’s rights activists and internet trolls shitting themselves over this most inhumane of travesties, while feminists cheered at the smashing of this one particular glass ceiling.

On the one hand this is a great step forward and a huge accomplishment for women’s representation in visual media–but here’s the thing: even with the gender flip, casting a blonde, cisgender white woman isn’t really all that progressive anymore.

As someone who grew up in post-colonial societies during the 80s and 90s where British television was some of the few readily available visual media, I was raised with the older iterations of The Doctor, his Tardis, and magical screwdriver. For someone who could change his face (sort of) at will and whose gender identity and sexuality was always questionable based on The Doctor’s behavior and antics, it always seemed odd that he continued to be played by an older white dude. When the series picked back up in 2005 and featured younger actors playing The Doctor, it did bring an edge to the series that it didn’t have before, but still it was curious that he’d always reincarnate into a similar-looking person.

I had a feeling that one day a woman would play The Doctor, and my secret hope was that when she did that casting would crush the hegemonic white paradigm that has shaped the show for almost four decades. My imaginary female Doctor since I was a kid was always of South Asian descent — and every time I virtually encountered a new and talented British Desi actress I would swap out the previous South Asian face for hers. Currently, the woman playing my imaginary female doctor is Indira Varma of Sand Stone fame on Game of Thrones, an actress who has also already appeared in the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood.

Indira Varma

In the past I’ve also imagined Parminder Nagra (Bend it like Beckham), Amara Karan (The Night Of), and Archie Punjabi (The Fall), just to name a few. I mean, could you imagine how awesome the costuming and styling could be with a Desi woman Doctor? The opportunities for spicing up the music? And especially now with a queer black companion? Um, beyond amazing.

This intensive daydreaming, world-building, and fangirling on my part has not been solely based on the fact that I’m of South Asian descent myself and would love to see a Doctor who looks like me. With Britain’s long and grotesque history of colonizing the Indian subcontinent — and the extreme racism that Desi communities face even after living in the UK for generations by now — South Asians continue to be extremely marginalized in British visual media.

South Asians are virtually erased from the majority of future-oriented dystopian media, and Doctor Who itself has only featured a handful of Desis in meaningful roles that come with a character name and lines. There’s little that is as creepy as watching visual media about the future and seeing that your own people don’t seem to exist anymore. Long before Brexit, Desis were actively erased from British visions of the future and this is a really disturbing problem.

A South Asian and female Doctor Who would have not only broken through the gender wall, but it would have paved an entire road for more Desi representation in British media as well as normalizing a cornerstone and huge British immigrant community. It would have been a further reaching blow to patriarchal norms when you take into account Desi viewers all around the world, many of whom are much further entrenched in male-dominated societal expectations than we in the West.

Yes, we need a female iteration of The Doctor. But we did not need another white one. We can get our white-women-kicking-ass jollies over at Star Wars, Wonder Woman, Mad Max, and many more. It’s time to start actively moving away from these white savior tropes that have been overplayed now for decades.

I’m sure Jodie Whittaker will be great as The Doctor, but this was still quite the lost opportunity for some much-needed color representation in a franchise that has only recently been diversifying its main actors. It’s time to move away from these white casting paradigms, and the places we should start are in the world’s most popular shows such as Doctor Who. Maybe we’ll have better luck with the 14th Doctor. Or at least now that we have a female-presenting Doctor, we can start getting more equitable representation across the board. I’m sure hoping.

 

Black and Brown Sisters Are Doing Visual Media For Themselves

Black and Brown Sisters Are Doing Visual Media For Themselves

“When the dominant visual media paradigm is one of hegemonic whiteness, there are a limited number of choices for women of color. Submit yourself to the hegemony and take whatever scraps casting agents, directors, producers throw at you even if they might be problematic. Or, smash that shit and begin carving out your own space. More and more black and brown women are choosing the latter, and it is glorious.” For Wear Your Voice Mag, June 2017. Read full post.

13 Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” is Dangerously Problematic

13 Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” is Dangerously Problematic

“It was supposed to be a show to get people talking about teen suicide, bullying, sexual assault and more. It was supposed to open and encourage dialogue between generations and demystify how insidious cyber- and other kinds of bullying can be in the age of social media. ’13 Reasons Why’ had many ambitious goals. Here are 13 reasons why it fails at every single one of them.” For Wear Your Voice Mag, April 2017. Read full post.

The Women of “Twin Peaks,” From the Trickster to the Shapeshifter

The Women of “Twin Peaks,” From the Trickster to the Shapeshifter

“In honor of Women’s History Month as well as the upcoming Twin Peaks revival, here are some alternate readings of the female denizens of that strangely frightening little mountain town. Many of these archetypes apply to multiple women at different times in the series. I’ve chosen the one for each that is most representative of her overall journey.” For Wear Your Voice Magazine, March 2017. Read full post.

These Violent Delights Have Misogynistic Ends in HBO’s Westworld

These Violent Delights Have Misogynistic Ends in HBO’s Westworld

“A clear demonstration of its ongoing misogyny problem, HBO still caters to that “perv side of the audience,” who the channel believes enjoys the constant and graphic sexual objectification of women. It’s such a shame, because if they really needed this level of full frontal nudity, the network had the perfect opportunity with Westworld to feature both males and females equally, since both males and females equally fell within that android slave narrative. Instead, they chose to toe their misogynistic party line, and focus on objectifying women to the point where it became a disgusting display of pure unadulterated sexism.” For Wear Your Voice Mag, December 2016. Read full post.

Where are all the South Asians in Dystopian Films and TV?

Where are all the South Asians in Dystopian Films and TV?

“What The 100 was telling me, on no uncertain terms, is that an ethnicity that makes up one of the Earth’s most populous regions did not survive into the far future. What in the actual fuck.

Stopped in my tracks, I started thinking about all the different dystopian stories I’ve watched over the years, to realize over and over again that South Asians often don’t exist in the future. We’ve been erased.”

For Wear Your Voice Mag, December 2016. Read full post.

The Gilmore Girls Revival Gets Real (But it is Still a Beautiful Escape From These Troubled Times)

The Gilmore Girls Revival Gets Real (But it is Still a Beautiful Escape From These Troubled Times)

“Haley Mlotek of The New York Times coined the phrase “emotional speculative fiction” to talk about Gilmore Girls, and that is still the best description of the show to date. As someone who doesn’t have a hometown, Stars Hollow has always offered me a special kind of comfort in imagining what it would be like to live and grow up in one place.” For Wear Your Voice Mag, November 2016. Read full post.