BiMediaWatch special: Wynonna Earp

Wynonna Earp, created by Emily Andras and based on the comics of the same name by Beau Smith, follows the adventures and misadventures of Wyatt Earp’s present day descendant, played by Melanie Scrofano. Her family is cursed with sending Wyatt’s 77 kills, who have come back as revenants, back to Hell. If the “heir” dies before succeeding in sending the 77 revenants back to Hell, the next generation must start again from the very beginning, coming against resurrected and more powerful revenants than before. In typical fashion, Wynonna started the first season trying to escape her fate, but after encountering Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson) of the Black Badge Division, she embraces her role as Wyatt’s heir.

As well as featuring the kick-arse Wynonna and Dolls, the show also features her younger sister, Waverly Earp (played by Dominque Provost-Chalkley). She does a lot of the research for the Black Badge Division, having spent many years studying the history of her family and the town of Purgatory whilst also taking correspondence courses. At the start of the first season, she’s dating her high school sweetheart Champ Hardy (played by Dylan Korrall). Despite him being a bit of a tool who hit on her older sister, Waverly seemed reasonably happy with Champ.

In the second episode of the first season, Waverly met the new cop in town, Nicole Haught (played by Katherine Barrell). Waverly is obviously interested in her, but makes clear she’s not available when Nicole asks her out for coffee. The show at this time could have gone down the tired route of Waverly staring forlornly at Nicole for the rest of the season and either cheat on Champ with Nicole or break up with Champ for Nicole (or a combination of the three). Instead, in episode 6, Waverly breaks up with Champ for her own reasons and doesn’t go straight to Nicole afterwards.

It’s three episodes later that Nicole and Waverly get together, and in the last five episodes they go through a lot including first kiss, planning their first date and revealing the true nature of their relationship to Wynonna.

Pics: Channel 5/Spiked

Now, it’d be hard to talk about a show with a same sex couple in 2016 without mentioning the trope of gay and bisexual female characters getting killed off in a wide range of shows. In fact, in between two updates by GLAAD, 25 had died, including the bisexual characters Bridey from The Family (who was never a fully realised character to begin with), Mimi and Camilla in Empire (E4), Felicity in The Catch (Sky Living) and the pansexual character Julie Mao in The Expanse (Netflix). In response to understandable anxiety about the two characters (particularly Nicolem, as Barrell isn’t a regular but Provost-Chalkley is), Andras revealed towards the end of the season that both would still be alive at the end of the first season.

When it comes to Waverly’s sexuality, the creative team has been depressingly and unsurprisingly cagey, as if how a character is likely to identify is like the twist waiting at the end of an M. Night Shyamalan film. When interviewed by AfterEllen, Andras floated the possibility that she might be gay as well as either bi or pan, despite her having had a boyfriend.

A bisexual Waverly would be a powerful stand against the many negative tropes associated with bisexuality, including the cheating bisexual, the depraved bisexual (where the character is so evil they might as well be bisexual too) or the ambiguous bisexual (who are obviously attracted to more than one sex, but never label because of all those “nasty” stereotypes). Waverly is a great character and has shown bravery in the face of powerful foes. Also, by having Waverly break up with Champ a quarter of the season before she got together with Nicole, the show avoided having a bisexual love triangle entirely.

So, it would be amazing for Waverly to rise as the bisexual bad-ass she already seems to be, but that is by no means certain at this stage. It’s worth noting in the show which Emily Andras previously produced, Lost Girl, none of the characters labelled their sexualities in canon, and apparently this was intentional.
This show has received a lot of praise for its positive female and LGBT representation, but it is by no means perfect.
I follow Maggiesawycr on Tumblr and she’s highlighted through many posts that the show’s representation of people of colour leaves a lot to be desired. Back in June, after the 11th episode Maggiesawycr had this to say about the show:

“Wynonna Earp is not a feminist show.
Does it have well-written, complex, empowered female characters? Yes. Does it have queer characters that are portrayed as actual people and are treated respectfully by the writers? Also yes. Does it have positive messages about female sexuality, strength in vulnerability, familial bonds, and more? Absolutely. But it is not a feminist show. Let me tell you why.

The show is 11 episodes in, and there has been exactly 1 WOC with a speaking role (and very, very few even as background characters). She – “The Blacksmith” [Mattie, played by Rachael Ancheril] – was in only 2 episodes, the second in which she was tortured and killed to further the story for the white characters.

I like Wynonna Earp. Really I do. The female lead is badass and vulnerable and hilarious all at once. Her little sister is also badass (it runs in the family), very intelligent, very kind, and in a relationship with the sweet and confident female cop. The male lead [Agent Xavier Dolls, played by Shamier Anderson] is a complex MOC (though one of the only on the show). The show is weird and cheesy and hilarious and charming and ridiculous and wonderful. It has a lot going for it. But that doesn’t excuse it for its lack of decent POC representation beyond Dolls, or the awful treatment of its 1 (just one) WOC character.
People are going around calling Wynonna Earp this amazing feminist show, but I just don’t think that “feminist” is a label the show has earned. Not really. Not yet.”

Andras has claimed that there was “colour blind” casting. However, this is a little hard to take seriously for a few reasons:

  •     The vast majority of the speaking parts went to white people.
  •     The majority of people of colour in the cast got given tiny non-speaking roles.
  •     At a party where “the whole town” was invited there was only one black man, other than Dolls
  •     There were quite a few women of colour who were part of the commune in episode 10, but all the speaking members of the commune were white.

Before it was announced that there would definitely be a second season, it was said there would be more effort in casting more POC in the future, and hopefully they will fulfil this promise now they have been given a another season. However, during Andras’s tenure as showrunner of Lost Girl, Hale (played by KC Collins), the show’s only main black character, was killed off and the story devolved into a dispute between two white women, so I’m not sure I can expect too much from Wynonna Earp.

I hope that Andras and the rest of the Wynonna Earp team changes course in the future, but that’s not likely to happen if the show constantly gets uncritical praise for its representation. Because of this voices like Maggiesawycr’s are important, should be signal boosted, and shouldn’t be dismissed as haters, which unfortunately I have seen happen within the Wynonna Earp fandom.

As a bisexual woman, I recognise it’s valuable to have good LGBT representation, which Wynonna Earp has thus far delivered. However, it is disappointing to me that the creative team hasn’t seen the value in extending this representation, without the harmful stereotypes, to people of colour as well.
Vicky

Wynonna Earp is broadcast on Spike TV in the UK and finished its first season run on October 14th.  

 

Read more about bis on TV, film and in the papers in our bimediawatch section.