We sometimes overlook how TV can be a powerful platform, a weapon by which writers get the opportunity to pass on important messages on social issues and act as a trigger that can fuel vital conversations. Recently, limited series such as FOX's Shots Fired or HBO's The Night Of helped shed light on police brutality and racial profiling, while also providing a much-needed critique of America's criminal justice system.
A few days ago, Collider published an interesting hour-long interview of Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow's showrunner Marc Guggenheim about the making of both shows. The interview might be of interest if you are a fan of the CW's #DC shows but it's a particular passage that caught a lot of people's attention:
"Last year we introduced the idea of doing one topical episode per season. Last year we did gun violence, this year we're gonna do another topical episode as well. I really wanna tackle Black Lives Matter and I have a story idea for that."
If Arrow has proved one thing after five years on TV, is that it does not have the range to address such a sensitive subject. For all its action and stunts, Arrow has a really bad track record at writing fully formed characters and functional human relationships. What makes the writers think that they could handle such a heated topic?
The Episode About Gun Control Was Unsatisfying
A few examples of their previous lackluster episodes might put in perspective the argument currently taking place. The simplest one that comes to mind is last year's attempt at a "political episode" about the subject of gun control. Unfortunately, the episode spent most of its time exposing both sides of the argument, only to refrain from taking a final stance. Not only that, but it completely neglected the only person of the team who's been an actual victim of gun violence.
Doing a political episode means that a show can't make compromises – the writers have to commit and take a side. If they're serious about the message they want to convey, they have to be willing to alienate a part of their audience. This is the price that every show trying to address social and political issues has to pay, and it's something the Arrow writers tried their best to avoid – but that's where they failed.
When Arrow began, it quickly rejected its comic heritage and the social conscience that made Oliver Queen more than a wannabe-Batman. To decide to suddenly come back to the Green Arrow's roots after five years of discarding it feels cheap and manipulative. Moreover, a show cannot pretend to be able to discuss such important issues and present every side of an argument in a single episode. It is something that must be earned and felt through consistent narration. The audience has to believe that those issues have always been an integral part of the story and not just a publicity stunt.
The Lack Of Black Writers Damages Credibility
Like most shows on television today, Arrow suffers from a serious lack of black writers, which is even more concerning in this context. Marc Guggenheim, Arrow's co-showrunner, decided to address the controversy with a less than satisfying tweet:
Some background is important to understand how clumsy and ludicrous that tweet is. In five years, Arrow has never had a single black writer in its writer's room, and the way its black characters have been portrayed is evidence of this lack of perspective. Arrow has only had three (or four, depending on how you count) significant black characters throughout its run, and all of them are now dead, gone or just completely irrelevant.
Diggle or Walter are characters that have been part of the show since the very first episode, so if the showrunners cared so much about them and how they were portrayed as black men, why didn't they decide to "bring someone in" sooner? Not only did they never have the presence of mind to hire black writers, but they now want to do it for a single episode because they suddenly feel confident talking about racial issues – a subject of life and death for the black community that they essentially dismissed for five years.
Further Problems Writing Female Characters
In the same vein, #Arrow's treatment of its female characters has never been above reproach. We saw what happened to Laurel Lance whose character's potential was nipped in the bud when she was only beginning to be appreciated. Despite her huge fanbase, Felicity has known her fair share of ups and downs since Season 3, even to the point of creating a schism between fans of the show.
A character who might embody the problem even better is Amanda Waller, Arrow's only significant black woman character. She was unceremoniously killed in Season 4 and her death was inconsequential. It was a slap in the face to every black woman watching the show, as they were deprived of the only character who looked like them. If the writers struggle to accurately depict white women and are incapable of valuing black women, how can we expect them to gracefully address a subject that encompasses the entire black community?
A Show About "Saving Star City" Forgot Its Most Underprivileged Citizens
The Glades, Star City's poorest neighborhood, was almost entirely destroyed by Malcolm Merlyn, a white man who decided to condemn hundreds of underprivileged people of color because his wife was killed in the same district. This is when a racial discussion should have taken place – this is the moment Arrow should have chosen to talk about poverty and its racial implications. Season 2 barely addressed the subject and essentially dismissed it to the point that the audience almost forgot that The Glades ever existed.
It is an important subject that the Arrowverse and especially The Flash, which has an entire black family in the forefront, mostly ignored and stirred away from. The CW has never been the place to talk about politics and racial issues and I don't see how Arrow, a show which did its best to avoid talking about racism altogether, could be the right place to discuss such an important subject.
It's clear that Arrow does not have the range nor the writers to talk about Black Lives Matter. The CW should instead leave the subject in the hands of another DC show that hasn't been promoted nearly enough: Black Lightning.
Do you think Arrow should tackle Black Lives Matter?