Note: This post is nothing but spoilers for the Once Upon a Time episode titled “Fruit from the Poisonous Tree.”
Okay, so, hopefully by now everybody’s at least heard of Once Upon a Time. If not, it’s a show on the televisions where all the fairytale characters of McEurope are in a small town in Maine and they don’t know they’re fairytale characters, and the evil queen is now the mayor and ruining their lives. Enter Emma, the hero, who’s going to fix all the things.
I like this show. I like it a lot. To itty bitty bits and pieces. It’s strong female characters dukeing it out. It treats Emma’s decision to give up her child for adoption with a lot of respect, especially compared to how that shit usually runs. She doesn’t regret her choice, she knows it was for the best, and she’s not overcome by her ovaries upon seeing her child. And when Cinderella wants to keep her baby rather than give it up, Emma’s all about that too, because she’s like, hey, it’s your choice, and she doesn’t push her own choices on others. Like, for reals, wins all around there.
I’ve talked in the past about liking problematic things. This is an example of that. I like OUaT for the things it does right. But Jesus Christ on a cracker it does some things wrong, some things which I really can’t ignore, and I kind of feel compelled to talk about.
So from the first episode, I noticed there was just the one person of color in the entire town of Storybrooke. Just the one dude, whose name I didn’t catch at first. “Well, whatever,” I thought, “good job being like all other TV.” Then eventually I caught his name: Mr. Glass. And I realized, oh fuck the only person of color in Storybrooke is the only non-humanoid character in Enchanted Forest that we meet. He’s the magic mirror.
Yikes. Okay. Well. That’s pretty crap. But he’s kind of a minor character (another problem) so maybe this’ll be the end of vastly problematic elements concerning Mr. Glass. Right?
Well then Mr. Glass got a whole episode unto himself, and oh holy lord.
So, okay, first off, in the Enchanted Forest, he’s a djinn, and check that picture out, he’s totally exotic amirite? Because people of color are totally exotic. But that’s not the worst of it. He’s a magical wish-granting djinn who is there to help others on their journey. Do not let this shit slip past you: The only black man in the entire Enchanted Forest is quite literally a Magical Negro. Who is there to grant three wishes to his master. I’m not making this shit up, folks. I’m not even digging for it. This isn’t subtext. This is text.
And look at that outfit. Do I even have to say it?
Okay so Kingy McLeopold gives the djinn his freedom (sure) and did the djinn ever get a name? I don’t think so. I think he was called “Genie” the whole time. So okay, Genie is taken to the castle to live with the king while he sorts out his new life, and meets the Evil Queen Regina and is instantly in love with her. And despite the fact that King Leopold did him a real solid on setting him free, he immediately sets his sights on wooing Regina because, you know, black men loves to go after dem white wimmin?
So then Regina manipulates Genie into killing the king for her — and I’m not going to touch the part where Regina seems to control most of the men in her life through sex, nope — and then totally pins it on him, revealing Genie to be both dumb and led exclusively by his idiot love for Regina instead of any sliver of common sense. You’d think an all-powerful mythical being who’d lived through many ages of man and saw how grasping for selfish wishes always lands badly for others might stop and think. But nope. Because that would be inconvenient to the plot, and furthermore it would give Genie some depth, and we can’t have that. And ultimately, when he discovers he’s been manipulated and betrayed? He wishes to be by her side for all time.
Really, dude? Really? Give the black man some freedom and he gonna come up ins, murderin’ you, stealin your wimmin, and then being totally loyal and effectively enslave himself to the traitorous white lady?
Furthermore, the fact that Regina was kind of bitchy all along in this episode is pretty bland, and a real missed opportunity. The Regenie lovestory could have panned out interestingly, and instead, it was this. But that’s kind of an aside to the massive piles of racefail up above.
So, yeah. Yikes. I mean, yikes. I’m a little sad I haven’t seen anyone really calling this out. I mean, I really had to dig to see if anybody even agreed that there was a problem here.
I like Once Upon a Time, but goddamn is it problematic when it comes to race.