Abbie Mills Needs Love Too

I have a question for all the television showrunners and writer’s rooms out there:  Why is it so difficult for you to write for women of color?  Why is it so hard to write us as fully-formed human beings with all the emotions, flaws, weaknesses and strengths that everyone else has?  Why do television writers continue to bungle this so badly?

Recent case in point:  Grace Abigail Mills.  During the last season of Sleepy Hollow, Abbie was sidelined in service to showrunner Mark Goffman’s baffling attempts to make Katrina Crane relevant.  Abbie essentially became Ichabod’s sidekick, relegated to bravely swallowing her own pain and fear while acting as a caretaker, marriage counselor, and financial support to the Cranes.  For those of you who aren’t aware, this bait and switch resulted in Sleepy Hollow shedding millions of viewers over the course of the season and caused the show to teeter on the verge of cancellation before FOX renewed it for a third season.

I’d venture to say that if it wasn’t for an outcry by the fans, Abbie would still be playing second fiddle to the now-dead Katrina Crane (who likely wouldn’t be dead) and would still be mistaken for Ichabod’s sidekick by the media (yes, that happened).

I’ll admit that while the show has mostly reinstalled Nicole Beharie to her rightful place as Sleepy Hollow’s co-lead, some improvements with Abbie’s characterization still need to be made.  Sure, it’s nice that she’s an FBI agent now and that we actually got a chance to see her relaxing at home for a change, but what about things of a more interpersonal nature?  We’re into the show’s third season and we’ve yet to see Abbie date, be kissed, or even be told that’s she’s beautiful.  The folks over on Bones didn’t seem to have a problem remarking on Abbie’s beauty during the recent crossover, but for some reason the Sleepy Hollow writers can’t seem to muster up the ability.  And you know what?

A lot of the people I follow on Twitter are still pretty active in the fandom, and through them I was made aware of a discussion betweeen Sleepy Hollow creator, Phillip Iscove, and several fans.  There was a very interesting back and forth that revolved around my above complaint.  His response?

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And that right there is the problem.  Abbie has been pushed into the “strong black woman that doesn’t need a man” box since season one.  Yes, she’s guarded and doesn’t trust easily.  And yes, she has abandonment issues and takes her duties seriously.  But that doesn’t mean she can’t love and be loved.  There are plenty of people on TV and in real life that have the above issues and still manage relationships.

Crane’s wife died less than a year ago, and that sure hasn’t stopped the writers from giving him an active love life.  He’s had two present-day women making eyes at him, and he went out on a date with one of them thanks to Abbie’s matchmaking.  And need I even go into details about the Betsy Ross romance we’ve been forced to endure?

In two and a half seasons, Abbie’s romances have been either offscreen, in the past, or merely hinted at.  Luke disappeared after season one,  Hawley was her sister’s ex (yuck!), the cute photographer guy from last season was a one-off that we never saw again, and Daniel is an old flame that is currently her boss.  She’s breaking dinner dates with Daniel, while Crane gets to go on dates and have cutesy texting sessions.  The only thing Abbie is doing is working, Witnessing and playing matchmaker while Crane gets to get his mack on.

Really, show?

And the Halloween episode.  Sigh.  They dressed Abbie up as Queen Bey herself, yet no one remarked on it.  Sigh again.  Has anyone in the writer’s room seen Nicole Beharie?  She’s drop-dead gorgeous and no one noticed this?  They really expect us to believe that Crane wouldn’t react?  At all?  Not even an eyebrow raise?  A lip quirk?  Something?  Anything?

When Ichabod ignores Abbie’s costume, yet calls Zoe and her ridiculous Betsy Ross outfit “effervescent”, it sends the message that Abbie isn’t desirable.  That the black woman isn’t worthy of the male lead’s attention, but the white woman is.  Whether that was the intention or not (and I’m going to posit that it wasn’t), that is the sneaky little subliminal message that worms its way into people brains.  And that’s why it’s so dangerous.

Women of color characters—especially black ones—don’t have the luxury of “not running to romance” or being solely focused on their careers.  Not when everyone else in the cast is allowed to lead full lives.  Shondaland notwithstanding, black women are often portrayed as sexless, undesirable, strong (which translates to not needing companionship), not feminine, not vulnerable and therefore, not needing or deserving to be cherished or loved.

Showrunners need to stop ignoring intersectionality when it comes to the feminist ideals they swear they’re upholding and do right by the characters they claim to love.  These characters can be strong and still cry.  They can be brave and still weak.  They can be loved and still be independent.  Nothing will be taken away from their characterizations if they are written to be fully-fleshed out human beings.  In fact, it will only make them better.

But I’m really preaching to the choir here, because a reminder only seems to be needed when it comes to women of color characters.  Either these content creators don’t understand the harm they’re doing or aren’t trying to.  Whichever it is, it’s problematic and needs to stop.

10 thoughts on “Abbie Mills Needs Love Too

  1. YASSSSSS! I have been looking forward to this post and you did not disappoint! All truth here, no lies. I think their mishandling of Abbie’s character is a huge reason why the show is circling the drain. I’ve pretty much stopped watching a show I was looking forward to recapping for this site.

  2. I’m still scratching my head about the Betsy Ross character and how it seems like whenever there was an incident in the past with the creature or disaster of the episode, how she seemed to always have the solution or knew someone that did. I mean that seems a little out there for me. I mean I did miss the first few episodes but I just wonder how is it that she seems to be the perfect female hero with the exact solution to save the lives of the older time. Ichabod is of course left out of everything.

    It worries me that if they do what most people I’ve talked to fear and bring her in the present day, she will just have all of the abilities to take care of anything and screw Abby even though she’s suppose to be a Witness and an important character. I don’t know and of course they are pushing what looks to be a romance plot with her and her boss because yeah sure. I mean I have never seen Abby like this with Irving once. They acted like colleagues and friends. This new guy is a colleague too and yet I feel that they are pushing for more with it the more I watch. Like in POI when Carter was pushed into dating Cal because whatever and then of course his death was meant to present the reason why she went after HR even though most of us didn’t feel anything really out of it. It might be a thing where it will be a reckless act by Abby if the guy gets into trouble and screws herself up. So yeah, seems like the WOC are sounding like they are only meant to be strong and realistic but when a man comes, they get all the jitters and things like that and do stupid crap for them. I don’t know. I’m probably just imagining things because of that moment in the recent episode which I didn’t even hear what the guy said to Abby but it obviously affected her. I didn’t know the bug bite was truth serum too. I thought it just made the people go crazy and paranoid.

  3. I’m beginning to think that they best thing the fanbase can do is shut Sleepy Hollow down – just end the show by not watching it.  These arguments are beginning to sound like the ones I heard about Katrina last year.

    Showrunners have shown again that they would rather trash a show, forgo the advertising revenue, and dismiss awards and potential cultural status than showcase black women in a way that honors who were are.  In recent memory, at least three shows had the goods – Person of Interest, Sleepy Hollow, and The Flash  (Scandal falls in a whole other category) – and each time black women have come up empty.  I know there is still hope for Abbie and Iris, but really?  How many more times are we going to sing the same old songs and make the same complaints?  I am beginning to agree with two bloggers – ‘Muslim Bushido’ and ‘Not Your Girl Friday’ – the best thing black women can do is either turn off the television, work together to produce our own content, or stay neutral when watching television (with the complete understanding that any representation of black women is going to show how white America wants to see us – not necessarily who were are).

    I understand that things have changed.  Ten years ago, black women in fandoms didn’t have a prayer of effecting any change when such characters were dismissed – I remember the carnage. POI’s ratings drop after Carter’s death (TPH’s dismissal), not to mention what happened with Sleepy Hollow last year, is a testament to the persistence of an argument.  But how many more TV shows are we going to make the same complaints before we all have had enough?

     

    1. I’m starting to feel that way towards Empire in all honesty. I can watch the show but I told myself that I’m going to have to ignore this stupid crap they got Cookie doing and how she’s acting like a damn fool when the first season had her acting completely different.

      I don’t easily drop shows so I was surprised at myself for walking away when I did. There are shows that I do watch without really paying attention since it’s the same old song and dance. SH should have learned their lesson the first time and I saw someone posted in the FB Group how they are planning on moving them to Fridays and of course my mind is thinking that they are done since most shows won’t make it unless they have a good deal with the channel I think. That would explain how Bones was able to get that slot for a couple of years before coming back to Monday.

      It gets annoying when the show looks to have some potential only to disappoint you. That’s what people are probably saying about POI who are catching it on Netflix because they’d rather have 2 hollow white women characters rather than a character that had some personality and was relatable to a number of people.

  4. I’m beginning to think the same writers write TWD, SH and Flash.  I know Richonne was a possible long shot especially since that show has its own cannon from the graphic novels.  Richonne is not part of that cannon.  However after watching all of these shows this week I’m about ready to take them all out of my DVR schedual.

    Rick(TWD) has finally made that step and moved on with another character.  So no Richonne this season.  But where’s Michonne’s new boo.  She’s been alone longer than Rick but no one even looks at her sideways romantically.  Oh that’s right she’s such a BA that she doesn’t want anyone.  Ok true her pickins are slim but seriously they couldn’t find one strong guy who could compliment her BAness and want her for her and not to just be his kids nanny?

    No Icabbie this season also.  So she’s become Crane’s match maker.(sigh)  Why couldn’t he become her’s?   They started this season off with them being very distant with each other and they’ve kept it that way.  I don’t understand the distance but Crane’s recouped from his widowhood very fast.  He’s taking the plunge.  Is Abby going to get involved again with her new boss who I’m not really seeing the chemistry between.  Even if they do that its better then nothing for her.

    And what’s that?  No WestAllen this season too. They can’t even use the excuse of it not being cannon from the comics.  WestAllen is cannon in almost every incarnation of the Flash.  So the distance between Barry and Iris is for……….????  My besty would be all up in my business and almost plastered to my side if I found out that my mom had just returned from the dead.  But Barry is no where to be found. Once again The male lead is of startin’ something new romantically while the female woc lead is languishing on the side lines.

    I don’t count Scandal either cuse like you said Tree that’s a whole nother thang.  I think watching all three of these and seeing the same thing take place in all of them this past week has got my Irish up.  I may actually not watch them for a bit.

  5. IMH they will have Michonne moving out of their house soon to make room for Rick’s new squeeze.  I can see Michonne leaving because she does not want to be a third wheel and get in the way of things working out well for Carl and Judith as well as Rick, with the new woman in his life.  I think she cares that much for him that she would do that.

    What’s going to be interesting though is seeing where she moves to.  My bet is she’ll move in with Maggie to help her with the baby.  I’m not sure I want her hooking up with Morgan because I think he’s still a bit crazy.  But hey, no more crazy then Rick I guess.  Like I said her pickins is slim.

  6. Unfortunately it’s the same argument, just wrapped in a different package. The main argument is that they never know how to write for POC, because they can’t relate. Maybe you can’t relate on a cultural level (which is a falsehood, but that is another argument). Characters are based on human beings, stories are based on the human experience. So you are telling me that you don’t know how to write for human beings (another falsehood) or is it because you still don’t think of POC as humans.

    The issue is basically this if they truly write for POC, then they have to acknowledge our humanity.  If they do that then they have to confront the past and the present with all it’s issues as well. Because every good writer knows that in order to tell a story you need to start with a truth.  They can’t face the basic truth which is POC, especially Black people are human too. If they acknowledge that then you have to acknowledge all the evil dirty shit that have been done and continue to be done.

    This is why we need our own studios and tv stations so that we can see ourselves as full fledge human beings and not some one else’s idea of who we are.

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