Saturday, July 21, 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is getting a reboot: complicated feelings... ACTIVATE!

Creepy uncle that loves telling stories about abused girls who kickypunch their way to empowerment, Joss Whedon, is set to executive produce a new series for the character who helped make him a nerdy household name back in the decade of crop tops and rapey presidents. Wow, things sure have changed! Yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is coming back to television but this time as a black woman because... intersectional feminism?

Look, maybe it's just that I'm having an allergic reaction to all the dust I kicked up after using this website for the first time in over five years, but I'm not sure I feel so great about more Buffy from ol' Josh. And knowing that Monica Owusu-Breen, a black woman herself, will serve as head writer and showrunner doesn't tamp down my uncertainty as much as I wish it would.

Because I should be excited, right? More Buffy was one of the things I wanted most over a decade ago when Tara, Michelle, and I started this fansite which is dedicated to Buffy. A shared love for this character and this show, cliche as it is, is the genesis for the friendships that helped me survive through some of the most tumultuous times in my life. And Buffyfest itself is the website where I learned that the trick to writing is to just do it, that the key to building relationships with creatives is to just ask, and that you can actually make a living off of shitposting on the internet. Buffy and the 'fest she inspired are the building blocks of my personal and professional life.

So why aren't I happy?

At first I thought maybe it was because I, selfishly, always hoped that the inevitable return to the world of Buffy would finally usher in a story about a transgender slayer. The idea that a young trans girl could find affirmation of her womanness through the simultaneous exhilaration and horror that is being the slayer is something I've dreamed of for actual decades now. A trans slayer is a dream I've shared with a lot of other non-cisgender folks over the years -- even Tara herself, Amber Benson, told me at a New York Comic Con several years ago that she thought the new slayer *had* to be trans. 

But I think even if I did get that wish, I'd still be hesitant. Part of that, sadly, is because Whedon is involved, a feeling that would blow 2008 me's mind. Joss's ability to write through a feminist lens has been called into question repeatedly in the last decade. Whedon has rightfully lost the faith of fans for a myriad of reasons, whether it's fridging Felicia Day's character to enable the villanous rise of someone like Doctor Horrible, the repeated use of violence on women's bodies as an avenue towards expressing the power of womanhood, or the allegations that he was having sex with multiple young actresses in a way that suggests dubious consent. Things like that give me pause when I hear that Joss will be even remotely involved in crafting a new Buffy story.

There's something else about this Buffy reboot that rings hollow, too. While, yes, Breen will serve as showrunner, Buffy is not her creation. And yet both before and after the original Buffy film in 1992, there have been stories of vampire hunters written by women of color, a fact pointed out by many culture critics.
I'd ask, "Why not a TV series based off of something like Minion," but I already know the answer. I knew it before, while attending the Nerds of Color Pool Party on Saturday night at 2018's San Diego Comic Con, writer, Valerie Complex, referred to the Buffy reboot as a "cash grab." Valerie talked with me about the obviousness that people like Whedon want to appeal to (and make money off of) black women, but they clearly don't know how to do that.

I've been having a lot of conversations like this lately, even more than usual. That same day, I was sitting down with Orlando Jones and we wound up talking a lot about his friend and frequent collaborator, Bryan Fuller. Jones pointed out how Fuller for all his success, is still the showrunner most famous for always getting his shows canceled -- or, in the case of Star Trek: Discovery, the showrunner who fired before his creation even debuted.

Jones pointed out that part of Fuller's repeated challenges stem from the natural conflict between network and creator. Sure, Fuller bringing his experiences as a queer creator to the world of Star Trek sounds great as a headline, but the reality is never as uplifting or as "diversifying" as what's being claimed. Because, sure, a gay man writing Star Trek is great until he actually wants to show gay people being as sexual and as diverse as straight people are. Then those who hold the purse strings say, "Can we dial this back a little?" And then they keep saying dial it back until we're Will & Grace in space. And that's not diversity -- that's pandering from people who want the LGBTQIA audience but don't want their baggage.

Would it be any different with the Buffy reboot? Whedon has never been very good at getting his way with TV execs (see: the cancellations of Firefly and Dollhouse) and Breen doesn't have the kind of clout to get her way, either.

Buffy who?
And while Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil have been able to escape the oft inevitability of blackness as monolith with The CW's Black Lightning, that doesn't feel so much a sign of the times at it is a sign that Black Lightning wasn't as established a property. Black Lightning could have failed without the CW's Arrowverse having to skip a beat (it's not even part of the Arrowverse). But Buffy, one of the most famous "feminist" properties of the last quarter century is another matter entirely. Buffy is just too big to believe that TV execs would allow for the risk of genuine diversity. "Buffy's black now," and that feels like the most we're likely to get.

That just won't cut it. That's not enough to pull in the viewers TV executives claim they are trying to represent. When Black Lightning exists, when Black Panther exists, when Luke Cage exists, when Shonda goddamn Rhimes exists, that just isn't enough.

And I wish I could say that the reason I'm writing my thoughts about the Buffy reboot on Buffyfest as opposed to SYFY WIRE where my byline has found its home for over 7 years is out of pure nostalgia. But the truth is that I'm also doing it because WIRE is owned by NBC Universal Comcast and what I really feel and want to say would absolutely be tamped down so that we don't offend some of our "less political" readers. Even at WIRE, which is just a website for nerds entirely unaffiliated with Buffy or Fox, any remotely strongly worded criticisms for something like a Buffy reboot would be edited down and finished off with a "these opinions do not reflect those of Universal Comcast."

None of this is to say that a Buffy reboot will be definitely be bad. It might be good! For all we know that new, black Buffy Summers will also be trans and be joined by a host of people of color and LGBTQIA folx that entirely eschew colorism and queer stereotyping (looking at you Warren "bury our gays" Mears).

But I'm not holding my breath. And if it were up to me, we'd be getting a Vampire Huntress Legend series instead of the goofy prospect of a new Buffy/new Charmed crossover. Which, in fairness, I would absolutely watch.