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We Need to Acknowledge Vanessa Morgan’s Comments About Black Characters Being Portrayed as ‘Sidekicks’

Riverdale -- "Chapter Sixty-Five: In Treatment" -- Image Number: RVD408a_0565.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl and Vanessa Morgan as Toni -- Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW-- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC All Rights Reserved.

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Vanessa Morgan is fed up with how black people are portrayed in the media. 

And she should be. 

Morgan, who plays Toni Topaz on Riverdaletook to social media to say she’s “tired of us being portrayed as thugs, dangerous or angry scary people. Tired of us also being used as side kick non dimensional characters to our white leads.”

“Or only used in the ads for diversity but not actually in the show,” she continued, adding, “It starts with the media. I’m not being quiet anymore.”

https://twitter.com/VanessaMorgan/status/1267086887535153152?s=20

We’ve seen many African American actors assume the very roles she mentioned, but one that stood out in particular was “sidekick” as it described the 28-year-old star’s character on The CW. 

While Toni’s on-screen girlfriend, Cheryl Blossom (Madeline Petsch), is far from one-dimensional, Toni often lurks in the shadows until it’s time to prop up Cheryl. She rarely gets any screen time without her other half, she has no storyline outside of her relationship, and she’s lucky if she gets a few sentences in a scene. 

This isn’t a fault of Morgan’s castmates, who she defended writing that her role “has nothing to do with my fellow classmates/friends. They don’t write the show. So no need to attack them, they don’t call the shots & I know they have my back.”

Toni Topaz has been reduced to a sidekick through absolutely no fault or her own, and being sidelined is not a reflection or her acting. And yet, she’s the one suffering, even noting that she’s the lowest paid regular on the series. 

To truth of the matter is, Toni has been underutilized in a series that should be tapping into her potential as one of the only few women of color. 

For this reason, Morgan has made it her mission to evoke change: “To my black fans, I have now made it my purpose to fight for us. To the six-year-old me who had no role model that looked like me on TV. This is for you. We aren’t your token black non-dimensional characters. This is being black in Hollywood. I will fight for YOU.”

https://twitter.com/VanessaMorgan/status/1268231377679417347?s=20

Toni isn’t the only character suffering as the writers seem to struggle to find story arcs for many characters outside of the core four, but it happens more often to the female character than it does to someone like Kevin Keller or Reggie, two characters we’ve seen the series attempt to integrate into the storyline as much as they can.

This isn’t the first time the series has struggled to write storylines for a woman of color as the same thing happened to Ashleigh Murray, who plays/played Josie McCoy on the series for several seasons. Despite having her own musical group in high school, Josie and the Pussycats, there never seemed to be a compelling storyline for Josie, the character which many argue was the strongest, most realistic, and most grounded. It was a shame, and thankfully, the TV powers that be pushed her towards the Riverdale spinoff, Katy Keene, where she gets the shine equally amongst her diverse counterparts. That series is still led by a heterosexual white woman, but the representation on the series far outweighs that of Riverdale.

Katy Keene Mama Said Review

Katy Keene/ The CW

Murray has gotten to shine and be included in the cast the way she’s always been meant to; she’s no longer a sidekick to meet a quota.

Murray supported Morgan writing, “These are the ways we can implement real change. The beginnings of concrete conversations and plans of action that will mold our future for the better. We are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for equal treatment.”

Morgan’s statements came on the heels of a since-deleted comment that claimed Murray was written off the series because she was a “diva” who refused to share the screen with others. 

“You don’t know what the f** you’re talking about and don’t talk about my friend like that. Another thing i hate BLACK women being called DIVAS for sticking up for themselves. Maybe the show should write for her like the white characters,” Morgan responded. 

The problem extends way past these two Archie Comic shows, however. It’s become all too common for shows marginalize black characters… The Vampire Diaries’ treatment of Bonnie Bennett (played by Kat Graham), one of the few character’s of color on the series, is a prime example. 

Bonnie was technically a “core character” but never got the core character treatment. She was a strong-willed, selfless, and badass witch, but she was reduced to a character that was constantly forced to make sacrifices for her friends, put their needs above their own, and carry their pain.

A moral compass, fixer, and the only woman bold enough to call out Damon Salvatore, Bonnie had the potential to have some of the best and most powerful storylines, and instead, they always revolved around her besties, Elena and Caroline. It wasn’t about Bonnie as an individual, it was about how Bonnie could help them achieve greatness.

Bonnie was always the loophole, she lacked proper character development, and for a series that thrived on ships, she barely got a love interest until the very end. And even then, he was killed off leaving Bonnie to suffer in silence… again. 

Bonnie Bennet

The CW/ The Vampire Diaries

Bonnie held her own, but she never got her own.

We’ve seen this play out in other shows like Dynasty. Jeff (Sam Adegoke) and Monica Colby (Wakeema Hollis) could make great antagonists for Blake Carrington, and there is a lot of family drama to dig into when it comes to the Carrington’s and the Colby’s, but instead, they are reduced to having limited storylines that are constantly getting dropped and downplayed. The lack of direction was so evident that Monica has taken a hiatus from the series. 

Even shows that are getting many issues right seem to fumble when it comes to representation and characters of color. 

Season 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina started on the right track with Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) and Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) venturing to New Orleans to seek out help from a Haitian Voodoo Priestess in New Orleans. MarySue writes it best explaining that the scenes set up the exploration of African traditions before sidelining the storyline completely and watering down the character of Mambo Marie. The series aims to be inclusive, but it reduces its impeccable talent from Prudence, Ambrose, and even Roz (Jaz Sinclair), who is turned to stone for a lot of the season, seem to be there, to being sacrifices that allow white characters to shine and become more powerful. 

Prudence and Ambrose

Netflix/ Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

It’s 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained more momentum and support than every before (tragically, due to the a heartless death of George Floyd, a black man, a the hands of a white cop), and while it may not seem like empowering black characters is something that tops the list of priorities, it should be. Representation starts at home and on our TV screens. 

It’s past the time to make necessary changes in storytelling. 

People want to feel represented, they want diversity, and they want relatable characters on shows that are well-rounded and representative of our societies. There’s no excuse.

And yes, there’s room if you write for people of color as human beings who are just as worthy of good storylines as their white counterparts. 

Morgan’s voice was heard by Riverdale and Katy Keene creator, Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, who apologized and vowed to “do better,” and “honor her and the character she plays.”

“Riverdale will be part of the movement, not outside of it,” he wrote. 

The intention should have been there from the beginning, but progress is progress. Let’s hope he keeps his promise. 

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Lizzy Buczak is the founder of CraveYouTV. What started off as a silly blog in her sophomore year at Columbia College Chicago turned her passion for watching TV into an opportunity! She has been in charge of CraveYou since 2011, writing reviews and news content for a wide variety of shows. Lizzy is a Music Business and Journalism major who has written for RADIO.COM, TV Fanatic, Time Out Chicago, Innerview, Pop’stache and Family Time.

Chicago Med

Did Dr. Zola Ahmad Leave ‘Chicago Med’ Already?

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Did Dr. Zola Ahmad Leave 'Chicago Med' Already?

Chicago Med introduced a new third-year resident to the fold in season 9—Zola Ahmad played by The Wilds’ Sophia Ali.

Ahmad’s character was initially described as “impulsive” and a troublemaker who tends to cause “headaches” for her Gaffney Medical fellows, which we saw play out in real-time when her unconventional approaches rubbed Crockett Marcel (Dominic Rains) the wrong way.

Marcel tried to give Ahmad the benefit of the doubt on numerous occasions, and Sharon Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson) even acknowledged that she was taking a big chance by hiring her on a prohibitionary basis given her track record with previous hospitals—but ultimately, Ahmad’s behavior and decisions to overstep and not follow protocol got the best of her.

When Ahmad decided to declare a patient—letting the fact that he wasn’t a good man dictate her reasoning—dead prematurely (and then attempted to justify it), nearly killing him, Dr. Archer (Steven Weber) chose to suspend her. It was very obviously a fireable offense, so it’s a good thing that the series writers held her accountable. Plus, it seemed like the perfect chance for a teachable moment and a redemption arc, not to mention, there was definitely some chemistry with Ahmad and Crockett that could’ve been explored down the line. She had potential as a character at Med, if she just reeled it in a little bit—and that would’ve been interesting to explore on a more granular level.

However, by Chicago PD Season 9 Episode 9, it was over for Ahmad. 

Did Dr. Zola Ahmad Leave 'Chicago Med' Already?

CHICAGO MED — “A Penny for your Thoughts, Dollar for your Dreams” Episode 9008 — Pictured: (l-r) Sophia Ali as Dr. Zola Ahmad, Dominic Rains as Dr. Crockett Marcel — (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)

The series seemingly listened to the Chi-Hards fanbase as Ahmad paid the ultimate price for her reckless decision; Goodwin very briefly (and in passing) informed Crockett that Ahmad was let go, something he called a “shame.”

And that was that. There was no further mention of it, nor is there any indication that she’ll return anytime in the future. Her final episode of the season was listed as Chicago Med Season 9 Episode 8—and it seems like she’ll just be a blip on the radar of the show’s long-running tenure. 

It’s a drastic decision for the series, especially after hyping up Ali’s character at the beginning of the season. Why wouldn’t they give her arc a proper conclusion? Many of the complaints from the fan base were that her character was written inconsistently—her intentions were good most of the time, it was the execution that suffered—and crammed into an already shortened season due to COVID, so they weren’t able to build her character up in a way that would’ve given her the necessary nuance; her portrayal was overly negative and it was hard to defend her actions or keep her around when each week, she was pushing buttons and creating unnecessary issues without having the tenure to excuse them or back her up, like her predecessors Will Will (Nick Gehlfuss) and Natalie (Torrey Devitto). When those two acted irrationally back in the day, they had a history with Med and Goodwin that allowed them to stir the pot. 

It seems that the writing was on the wall for Ahmad from the get-go—the lack of good character development in the writing sealed her fate prematurely and gave fans whiplash with her quick arrival and departure. 

Would you like to see her return to the series?

Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

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Editorials

Walker Season 4 Premiere Review – The Quiet

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Walker Season 4 Premiere Review - The Quiet

Walker returned to The CW for its 4th, and, likely final, season. 

Despite a 5-month time jump, the focus remained on serial killer Jackal, whom Walker and Trey were pursuing at the end of season 3, and the suspect that previously drove Cap. Larry James into a tailspin, effectively ending his marriage to Kelly before fate gave them another shot. 

Only this time around, Larry’s wife, Kelly, asks Cordell not to drag her husband down this road again—a promise he intends to upkeep, though, knowing Larry, he’ll figure out that his rangers are up to something and have no other choice but to get involved, especially since Trey’s tip for a detective reveals that Jackal, whose trail previously went cold for several months, is gearing up for “something big.”

This will be the overarching mystery of the season, while other weekly cases will also see our rangers getting into plenty of shenanigans, as they did with their pursuit of the Delmonico brothers. Also, props to all of them for taking part in a steak-eating competition and then jumping into a raid. It was bold of them, but it’s how Cordell wanted to spend his birthday, so I’m glad that despite the best-laid plans being uprooted, he was still able to feel the love from those around him.

A lot seems to have changed in the past five months, as evidenced by Walker and Geri’s steamy hook-up. Even when everything is going wrong, we can have faith in their love being a constant, which is what fans have been hoping for since season 1. 

There’s also Cassie, who blows back into town after taking a lengthy leave to go work for the FBI. She’s back with a newfound confidence about her abilities on the job, but she’s also struggling with a personal decision as she’s been offered a spot at Quantico, which means further uprooting her life and leaving behind her loved ones, er, Trey. 

Yeah, Trey and Cassie kind of addressed the elephant in the room—their feelings for each other—but neither of them was honest about it, so we’ll likely get something more truthful and heartfelt in the near future. 

Another lingering storyline is the break-in at Geri’s place that rattled Stella to her core. She hasn’t been the same since shooting and killing Witt, and it’s likely because she also lied to the police about having met him before. The officer who called her and Liam in over a “breakthrough in the case” said that the case was closed due to lack of resources, but the way he watched Stella sign the paperwork (and questioned if that’s “all she knew”) makes me uneasy—there’s definitely more to this storyline. What does he know that he’s not letting on?

As for change, I think that in the midst of all the “I’m Walker, Texas Ranger, you’re under arrest” in case you needed the reminder, we’re also continuing to see Cordell as a flawed human and a father coming to terms with the fact that he’s about to be an empty nester. It’s the next phase of his life—and one that brings about plenty of concern over the “quiet” that will allow his dark thoughts to flourish. Hopefully, Geri will be the light to cut through all of that. 

What did you think of the episode?

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Featured

Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

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Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

I meant to write this post when Wild Cards first premiered on The CW, but time got away from me, and before I knew it, the season finale of the series was upon us! 

I’m not a huge fan of The CW’s decision to axe some of our favorite shows in its rebrand, but what does ease the pain of losing the likes of Nancy Drew is the addition of promising shows like Wild Cards

To be quite frank, Riverdale never did Vanessa Morgan much justice. She amassed a huge number of fans, who were mostly hoping to see her character Toni reunite with on-screen love interest Cheryl (played by Madeleine Petsch) in the later seasons, and while she was seemingly considered one of the “core” characters, she rarely got the storylines she deserved.

We knew she could act—but Wild Cards shows us the depth of Morgan’s talents. It lets her shine, dominate, lead,  and even carry the series, opposite her on-screen partner and potential future love interest, Giacomo Gianniotti’s Ellis. 

Morgan delivers with the role of Max, a whip-smart and very charismatic con artist who utilizes her special skillset to help a “down in the dumps” maritime officer get his mojo back—and, spoiler alert if you’ve watched the season finale, his badge and desk back. 

Despite his initial hesitation with the idea of her joining the force as a consultant, even Ellis comes around, amazed by her abilities and the way she’s able to navigate every crime scene and follow the leads to produce results.&nbsp

The two grow very close over the course of the season’s 10 episodes, largely due to Morgan’s delightful on-screen persona and presence. Even when it’s not clear whose side she’s really on (is she fully on board with helping the cops or does she have a larger-than-life plan up her sleeve to pull off her greatest con yet and help her dad George—90210‘s Jason Priestley—snag a “get out of jail free” card), you find yourself drawn to her and rooting for her because of her likable personality. 

Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

Credit: The CW

The series not only gets us invested in Max’s character—learning about her past—and what it entails for her future, but we also find ourselves rooting for Max and Ellis to finally get together… or even test the boundaries of that electric chemistry that they share (a moment that is, sadly, ruined when her husband Olivier (Dewshane Williams) blows into town). 

And it’s the mystery of Max that has all of us begging The CW to renew the series for a second season. We need more Max. We need more Ellis. We need more Morgan and Gianniotti. And we need answers. The good news is that Morgan told TVLine that season 2 of the quirky crime procedural is “very likely,” and trust that we put all our faith in her. 

As for the answers I mentioned we need, well, we need to know who killed Ellis’ brother, a murder that was the catalyst for him to get knocked down from his detective responsibilities in the first place. When he met Max, he was in a hard place, still trying to pick up the pieces of his brother’s death. And though he’s come a long way, surely, the fact that he can crack this specific mystery is one that he won’t be able to pass up. 

At the end of the finale—spoiler alert, again—Max convinced the authorities to help her pull off a heist that was two years in the works, hoping to frame her estranged husband Olivier after he steals a $33 million egg (he’s the one who betrayed her dad and landed him in prison), lessen her father’s sentence, and restore Ellis’ badge. However, there was a piece of the plan she didn’t share with Ellis—she swapped the real egg for a fake egg, and hatched a plan to disappear forever alongside Ricky and her millions. 

She didn’t expect Ellis to figure it out, though, this was one of the weaker points in the episode because she should’ve known him better than that by now, but she figured she’d be halfway across the country and it wouldn’t matter. What she didn’t anticipate in her plan is that Ricky, who was transcribing incriminating recordings from the mob as part of their safety-net policy, would find something on the drive about Ellis’ brother, namely, who murdered him. 

It’s at this moment that we see the biggest change in Max. She’s not the same person she was when the series first started. Her skills have become more valuable to helping than stealing, and she’s grown to care about someone other than herself and her father. She can’t, in good faith, leave with this knowledge and leave Ellis hanging. 

And that’s where we leave off—a promising cliffhanger on a promising series with two very promising leads. 

Your move, The CW.

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