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Friday, October 24, 2008

True Blood

OK, after initial resistance to the much-touted hype, I've finally hopped aboard the True Blood train, mainly because of its characters, sassy Tara and her even sassier and quite gay cousin Lafayette. Which is a bit ironic, because I had sworn off the show after the first ep due mainly to my first impressions of these two. The characterizations just blared, particularly Tara's in-your-face attitude and Lafayette's two-snaps and a circle affectations. Can we say stereotypes, people? Anyway, I wasn't going to participate in yet another dramatization that portrayed black folk as nothing more than buffonish caricatures for the amusement of others. But out of sheer curiosity, I watched the second and then the third episodes and soon found myself being drawn in despite my racial misgivings, mainly because there's a complexity to the characters that offset the sometimes grating stereotyping.

And if you have any doubts that Alan Ball just doesn't quite get black folk (although I applaud his efforts to give equal time to black characters and at least give them more layers than some of the black characters offered by the main networks), just check the descriptions I got from the official HBO True Blood board:

-Tara Thornton (played by Brook Kerr Rutina Wesley) - Mid to late 20s, Female, African-American. Smart, articulate, impatient and beautiful, Tara does not suffer fools gladly; in fact, she doesn't suffer them at all, which is why she frequently gets fired from her jobs after telling clients/customers what she really thinks of them. Good friends with Sookie, Tara winds up working at Merlotte's bar with her, where the plain-speaking Tara informs an oblivious Sookie that the owner, Sam, is obviously in love with her. Tara herself has a thing for Sookie's brother, Jason, but she's more concerned about Sookie's potentially dangerous attraction to a vampire. UPDATED 3/5/2007: Southern; Authentic Southern accent is required.

-Lafayette Washington - 20's-30's, African-American, solidly built. Lafayette is not in the least bit feminine - EXCEPT WHEN HE WANTS TO BE, even though when he's working the grill at Merlotte's he sports lipstick, eye shadow and club wear under his chef's white; at his day job with the County Road Works he wears a doo-rag and jumpsuit pulled down to the waist, revealing his powerful torso, making him look like a gangsta rapper. Gay and unapologetic -- in fact, he's strong enough to do serious damage to anyone who gives him any grief about it and would relish such an opportunity. Lafayette loves making the girls at Merlotte's crazy with his frankly sexual talk. Recurring. (Bold items mine)

Strange how being black and articulate seem to be distinct from one another, as though blacks are intrinsically inarticulate, so any ability to speak clearly and concisely has to be an extra-racial trait. Did no one learn from Joe Biden's initial assessment of Obama being "clean" and "articulate" and how this gaffe came back to bite him on the ass? Obviously Ball didn't.

As for the doo rag and gangsta rapper threads, what can I say? A few years ago, I showed a white co-worker a rough draft of one of my works in progress. The plotline involved an African-American stuntwoman on an inner city movie set where she ruminated how the producers included every stereotype they had ever read about black folk right down to the doo rags the male actors were forced to wear. My co-worker thought I was playing up the racial angle too much, which might possibly turn off a mainstream audience. It's just another bit of irony to see that I wasn't far off the mark when assuming that producers don't budge too far from the stereotypes they continually perpetuate. Yes, black men do wear doo rags and gangsta paraphenalia; make that some black men. Many others don't. But I guess if you're trying to portray a "ghetto brutha," you gotta get wid the program. Yet I have to admit that the doo rag does give Lafayette a bit of flair. And Tara wouldn't be the same without that in-your-face attitude.

But what has taken the edge off these stereotypes are the glimpses of vulnerability and humanity I see with both characters, especially when Tara is around her mother or Sam. And Lafayette is just straight-up (pun intended) entertaining. As a matter of fact, I can truly say that except for these two, I wouldn't be watching True Blood, because the main characters just ain't doing it for me. Sorry Sookie and Bill fans.

PS: BTW, I know who the serial killer is. :->

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 10/24/2008 09:45:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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