Sleepy Hollow just kicked off its second season, and I wanted to highlight the show here. I’ve always been fond of “The Tale of the Headless Horseman” in all of its incarnations and had a lot of reservations about the show (more on this later) but am pleased to say that it has, thusfar, turned out to be a positive show with good gender and race representation despite ostentibly being about a white guy from the 18th century.
Spoiler free–which means I don’t get to discuss some of the important character development in characters who show up mid-season.
The plot is no longer “dorky, superstitious school teacher gets attacked by a ghost” but “British defector scholar moves to the colonies and gets killed by a supernatural being, is preternaturally preserved by his wife who is a witch, and then gets resurrected to stop the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 2013.” Yeah, it’s a bit campy and overwrought premise, but it works, trust me. He’s joined by Lt. Abbie Mills of the Sleepy Hollow PD, a police officer with hopes of joining the FBI and who has had traumatic supernatural experiences during her childhood.
What is particularly notable about the show is nearly equal representation between male and female characters as well as a majority of main and recurring secondary characters who are people of color: Abbie Mills, Jenny Mills, Frank Irving, Cynthia and Macey Irving, Andy Brooks, and Luke Morales; plus Katrina Van Tassel Crane, Ichabod Crane, and the Sin Eater.
“I recently went to Comic-Con in London, I was invited without the white male counterpart of my cast. And it was packed. They knew it was just gonna be me. So that shook me. I went back to the green room and I was like… I’ve always been told, and I believed, that this doesn’t work without him.” (Essence)
Having so many POC, WOC, and women characters means that the characters’ race and gender don’t get conflated with their personality. They are not just token characters; they are not stereotypes. While the characters’ lives shaped in certain ways by race and gender, they are not stand-ins for all women or all POC.
Edit: I should mention though, that the show doesn’t always get it right. In Season 1, Episode 3 (spoilers in the LGG review), the show features Native American characters in a shamanistic role but doesn’t really have any other Native characters. (Thanks to the panelists at Geek Girl Con’s “Double Others” panel for reminding me!)
I was also concerned the show would become a romance between Abbie and Ichabod, but it’s not. Ichabod only has eyes for his wife Katrina, but his devotion to his wife doesn’t preclude him from having a deep and caring platonic relationship with Abbie and other women where there is mutual respect and admiration and true friendship. I was also concerned that Ichabod’s being “out of time,” to speak in Whovian/Torchwood terms, would become an issue, that he’d continually insult Abbie about her race and gender or romantic history and it would be treated as normal for him to do so. Right in the first episode, when Abbie tells him that she’s a free woman and a cop, he basically accepts that. Ichabod’s decision to join the Revolution was because he believes in equality AND HE ACTUALLY DOES, unlike the Founding Fathers, who go and write “all men are created equal” but then continue to participate in racist and sexist institutions set up by the colonists and that continue to plague our country 250 years later.
However, despite Ichabod being the nearly-perfect ally, as Lady Saika wrote on Lady Geek Girl and Friends,
Regardless of whether he was an abolitionist, regardless of whether he had Native American friends and allies, he is still likely to have internalized at least some of the prejudices of his time. Completely writing off any potential racism (or any -isms) on Ichabod’s part is honestly just lazy writing, and I don’t think that his character is as believable without at least some of the trappings of his time. If he’s supposed to be a fully-realized character, the biggest prejudice he expresses in the show shouldn’t be against the taste of Red Bull.
Additionally, Orlando Jones, who plays Captain Frank Irving, has a hilarious tumblr and encourages fans of the show to ship his character with other characters, a welcome departure from actors and creators who fear and dismiss their fans for reading into the homoerotic subtext of the work (because it would apparently kill us to have some queer main characters in a super-hero movie or something for once). There aren’t any queer characters yet; Macey Irving is a person with a disability.
Sometimes the plot twists are cheesy, but my overall impression of the show is that it’s fun ANDthe showrunners actually give a damn about writing diverse characters.
Content warning: some gore; some gross skin prosthetics for a demon-possessed character; various demons of various shapes; violence with swords and guns; weird plot holes. Probably PG-13.
Watch it on Fox, Hulu (current), or Netflix (S1 only) or purchase on iTunes.