Fellow team member, Carlyn expressed my sentiments exactly during our discussion of Sleepy Hollow season two and it’s treatment of the characters of color and their respective cast members.
Sadie Gennis, an editor for TV Guide, did a great job explaining many of the reasons Sleepy Hollow did itself and its audience a disservice in season two, including its minimized representation of its increasingly marginalized folks. The sane side of the Sleepy Hollow Fandom has done an amazing job laying out the facts, calling out the show’s writers and executive staff, asking questions and demanding answers—or a passing of the mic.
Many of my friends and readers and the assortment of other folks who are aware of my existence can attest to my adoration for Nicole Beharie and her work. So critiquing Sleepy Hollow has been a bit complicated from the beginning. Luckily through most of the first season, I didn’t need to.
I bragged about Sleepy Hollow, I put friends on to the show, attended Sleepy Hollow related events, I was invested in the show because Sleepy Hollow was a bright, colorful, shining example of getting it right and doing so with my favorite actress at the helm!
Then everything changed.
When I think about it, I don’t know that I ever had a favorite actor or actress before Nicole Beharie. There was my brief affair with Sara Ramirez and even Nikki M. James but my proximity or lack thereof to NY made it difficult for me to enjoy the latter. Along comes Beharie. The first artist in a while to embody all of what I need in a fav (talented, feminist, and willing to speak up). I’m with James Baldwin and Paul Robeson in believing that artists are and should be activists and advocates.
I’m also very mindful, in up-close and personal ways, how privilege and oppression factor into the equation. So I’m always appreciative when artists of color, especially Black women, including Black transwomen, speak up in anyway.
We often have this notion that it takes orchestrated, grandiose gestures to use our platforms to effect change. This simply isn’t true. We see proof in artists like Jerrika Hinton (Grey’s Anatomy), Janelle Monae, Amandla Stenberg (who constantly has me asking what the hell I was doing at her age), Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy), who many are calling this generation’s Belafonte, Solange and many more.
So when Beharie took to her Instagram to let us know she wasn’t happy about the fact that Sleepy Hollow, the show in which she is one of two leads, was originally going to leave her out of the DVD commentary, I experienced mixed emotions. I was happy she spoke up (and disappointed she later deleted the post), and pissed at what seemed like the final nail in the coffin for my relationship with Sleepy Hollow—a show that had spent an entire season, unapologetically showing me how they really felt.
There are some who say artists have to be patient and smart, to play the game by first getting their foot in the door and performing the hell out of the role of maid so they can get to lead a show playing a top-notch, high-profile criminal attorney; pay their dues (so to speak) before earning the right and acquiring enough footing to speak up without having the ground floor of their career knocked out from under them. I thought that’s what Viola Davis resiliently spent her career doing so that Nicole Beharie didn’t have to. We’ve heard that rhetoric before.
At what point can we get back to expecting our artists, those with undoubtedly more influence and power than us, to speak up on our behalf and to amplify the voices of their constituents, those keeping their mics plugged in? An equally important question is how do we protect and support the artists that do?
If you’re a fan of Nicole Beharie and one of those “relatively conscious” negros Baldwin was talking about, then it’s likely you understand my dilemma. Even if one of these doesn’t apply, you have to want more, want better for our artists of color, especially those who are brave enough to seize opportunities as agents of change when the mic is in their hands.
In discussing this with other team members of The Visibility Project I’m reminded of the aftermath of school integregation and the time Eartha Kitt was blackballed for speaking her mind. So what do we do? How do we hold enterprises like Sleepy Hollow accountable and at the same time protect and support the artists involved?
I’ll be honest, I was disappointed when I found out Sleepy Hollow had been renewed for a third season. I was and still am conflicted. The cancellation of Sleepy Hollow could’ve been a loud statement that the bait and switch Fox pulled won’t be tolerated—you know just in case the plummeting season two ratings weren’t enough.
Cancellation, however, could have left Beharie, Lyndie Greenwood, Orlando Jones, Jill Marie Jones, and Amandla Stenberg unemployed. Though I don’t for a moment doubt any of their capabilities to land other roles, I’m not naïve. I realize landing a gig like the one each of them held in Sleepy Hollow is no easy feat for actors of color (not because of talent–but opportunity).
By the end of my discussion with Carlyn, we concluded that we had no hope for Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. We were left wanting a bigger, better gig for Nicole Beharie, one that will treat her and her character better because Beharie and #AbbieMillsDeserveBetter. For me, this want extends to the other actors on the show.
It’s been confirmed that Orlando Jones, who plays Frank Irving, another character affected by Sleepy Hollow’s marginalization, has left the show. Many fans are feeling some disappointment and sadness at the news. Jones has been vocal and has worked to amplify the voice of fans calling for a better Sleepy Hollow, throughout season two. Whatever his reason for leaving, I’m elated he’s landed work outside of the show.
I want to be clear. I value and respect the autonomy of artists, including and especially my favs. I don’t want the status of Beharie, or any vocal artist, as an activist or advocate to overshadow, in importance, their passion for their art and their desires as an artist.
What Beharie wants is ultimately what’s important here. I’ve learned not to want more for others than they want for themselves. If Beharie is happy with Fox and Sleepy Hollow, then it’s on me to resolve my internal conflict and continue to critique and demand better of the show or call it quits after all and admire my fav in her other body of work.
If Beharie wants better than Sleepy Hollow then I’m back to the question of how do we demand better for our artists and protect them in the process?
Either way, I want great things for Nicole Beharie, and until they get their sh*t together, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow ain’t one of them.