And so AMC's zombie extravaganza The Walking Dead returns from its Season 6 break with all guns blazing, and in amongst the ensemble cast shines Michonne (Danai Gurira), the stoic katana-wielding badass who has really come into her own since her mysterious introduction back in Season 2.
Indeed, the character of Michonne has been carefully crafted over the series run, cutting out some of the more problematic events from the comic books to create her AMC counterpart. She's gone from a mysterious warrior to a fleshed-out and well-developed character who is not made any less formidable by the trauma and tragedy that punctuates her life, and she's paving the way for other women of color in mainstream media; she even has her own Telltale video game, The Walking Dead: Michonne.
We shouldn't still be at the stage where any central female character in mainstream media (especially women of color) is picked apart and scrutinized under a lens more so than their male counterparts. But still, this is so often the case because it has to be. This year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy highlighted this matter more than ever and brought the debate back to the forefront of public consciousness.
Danai Gurira — an Iowa-born, Zimbabwe-raised actress — is no stranger to this debate and her work both on and off screen is showing that hope is not lost. She's best known for her role as Michonne, but she's also an award-winning playwright (In The Continuum) and activist for women's rights and Zimbabwean arts education.
Only yesterday her play Eclipsed debuted on Broadway, starring Oscar-winning actress and longtime Gurira friend Lupita Nyong'o. Eclipsed made history as the first Broadway play to be written and directed by women (with Caroline Byrne directing) with an all-female cast, primarily featuring women of color; and it's garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews thus far.
So why bring this up in relation to The Walking Dead? Well, Eclipsed tells the stories of five young women at a rebel army base in Liberia during the Second Liberian Civil War, and in a 2015 interview with Elle Magazine, Gurira explained that she based the character of Michonne largely on the experiences of women she interviewed who lived through the aforementioned war:
"I'm a child of academics. It's also part of why I create, it's my artistic mandate to commit myself to telling stories that are usually glossed over, especially those of African women."
It's easy to see how this research has formed and affected the character of Michonne. She's lived through hell, literally facing the apocalypse and losing not only her boyfriend but also her infant child along the way, yet she never loses hope, nor stops fighting to protect those she holds near and dear.
Through the A-list status Gurira's won due to her role on The Walking Dead — one of cable's highest-rated shows since its inception in 2010 — she's been able to not just craft but also market her screenplays, pushing to tell the stories of social groups often overlooked in Western media.
Most importantly, she's asking the question that many people of a nonwhite background are asking in Hollywood: Where are my stories? Gurira explains:
"I want to see women of African descent shine. I want to see them [in roles] that are intense, that are full, that are complex—that allow them to exercise their chops. I want women of color who are preparing for auditions to stop asking, 'Where are the monologues? Where are my stories?'"
The Walking Dead's recent "Richonne" reveal is important, too, as it's still not overtly common to see mixed-race couples portrayed on prime-time TV (though indeed this dynamic has been improving over the past few years), and they're already being heralded as "Hollywood's new power couple."
Any change in public discourse and the collective unconsciousness will come slowly, but creatives like Gurira are central to pushing new modes of representation. They might take a while to sink in, but they'll get there as long as we listen to their voices.