I mentioned recently that I recently started watching CSI again, after years of not watching. It’s on, and is some of the only Western programming I have access to on a regular schedule…hey, my brain gets tired of trying to do Korean all the time, and I need a break occasionally. I mentioned that the way they killed Warick brown off of the show left a foul taste in my mouth. I was deeply disappointed in their decision to have the only PoC character in such a brutal manner (admittedly, I don’t know the actor’s reason for leaving the show). He’s gone, and it was more than a bit jarring.
Then, just a few episodes later, a stewing and tired Gil Grissom leaves the show, setting up two important things b/f he exits gracefully (I think it is important to note the differences in Warick’s and Gil’s leaving). He a) announces the addition of a new character, and b) names Catherine is successor, and rightfully so. She is senior. She is qualified, and had already been working in that position on a different shift and in Gil’s absence in the past. I was excited, I was beyond thrilled to have Catherine’s character step into that role. In all of the CSI franchise there has not been one female lead, and my mind couldn’t think of anyone better to be the first than Catherine Willows, a character I loved from the very first scene of the very first season.
I was also looking forward to finding out who the new cast member/team member would be. I had hoped it would be a PoC, b/c I think we are ridiculously under represented in mainstream television (women and PoC seem to have token slots filled on all of my favorite shows, w/ few exceptions that I can think of, those being Grey’s Anatomy, and Bones off the top of my head, but I digress and that is another post).
And then they announced that Laurence Fishburne would be the replacement.
I was simultaneously excited and disappointed.
Excited, b/c I find Fishburne to be an excellent actor (even w/ my loathing of the Matrix movies). It would have been great to see a lesser known PoC face get an exciting new role, especially since we knew they would be starting as an entry level player, but I was not surprised that they would bring on someone big to fill the gap left by Grissom’s exit. Another quality actor playing a brilliant scientist.
But the hype surrounding Fishburne’s entry to the show completely overshadowed what I felt was my crowning moment for sticking out CSI through a lot of moralistic crap and disappointments. Finally, a woman takes the reigns of the lab, poised to do a kick ass job, and we find the addition of a more famous man completely upstaging her. Were I Marg Helgenberger, I would find myself a little put out.
While I am not prepared to weigh the two sides of PoC vs Woman in any way, I am reminded that this shit doesn’t happen in a void. This isn’t just a coincidence that we bring in a man to outshine a woman in a special moment of accomplishment. This isn’t about me privileging one over the other (b/c I do identify as a WoC, which conflicts me on this). This is about taking what should be a woman’s story and turning it into another story about men taking precedence.
I am not exaggerating Fishburne’s role, either. In the series’ 200th episode, approximately 2/3 of the episode followed Fishburne’s character, w/ the remaining time divided among the remaining players who have endured since the earlier seasons. A man supposedly in a low ranking position, albeit well educated, going through a mid life career change takes more of the spotlight from the lives of the others around him.
I can’t properly frame my feelings in regards to a Black Man or a White Woman. I have no idea why a WoC couldn’t have taken the role. There are plenty of Women of Color w/ big names if that was the motive (anyone ever hear of Angela Bassett…or Jada Pinkett Smith?). I can’t help but feel the decision was based on, whether intentional or not, the fact that men are the standard. In order to keep the male viewership, I am sure it was perceived that they would only be able to tolerate watching a man take center stage, no matter how little sense it makes to the limited story line. No way would any self respecting man stay tuned if Catherine was running the show and being the exceptional woman instead of the ordinary second fiddle, I am sure (/sarcasm). I admit that I actually enjoy the character, Raymond Langston. I have been amused watching him try to learn the ropes of his new job. The character is already well developed. My point really isn’t about his abilities as an actor or the character.
I continue to be not surprised by these things, but it doesn’t help my disappointment.