Last season, Riverdale was criticized about the lack of diversity in its main characters. Even though there were many people of color and a couple of LGBTQ characters on the roster, they weren’t given much screen time, and barely spoke when they appeared.
So, this season, Riverdale brought in and/or increased the screen time of the people of color and the other diversity characters. Two episodes in, let’s take a look at how that’s working out.
Hiram Lodge, the Latino male, is “Riverdale’s answer to Scarface”, an organized crime leader;
Hermione Lodge, his Latina wife, has been confirmed as his willing partner in crime;
Reggie Mantle, an Asian male on the football team, which would break stereotypes, is the school’s main drug dealer (after Chuck Clayton and most of the males of color on the football team were confirmed as known sexual abusers last season);
Dilton Doiley, an Asian male, is now not only a gun enthusiast, but sold a gun illegally to Archie this week;
Mayor McCoy, a black female, continues to be corrupt and ruthless;
Pop Tate, a black male, hides in terror while his business is being robbed, which the white characters tell us makes him a coward, and then loses his business after the white characters try to save it;
Moose, a bisexual male, is murdered while doing drugs.
Did I forget anyone? We’re only two episodes in, there’s still time for Cheryl to turn out be an evil lesbian witch. Or for the Pussycats, who, so far, are innocent of the stereotypes and misconceptions that Riverdale is otherwise working overtime to promote (they have been given the black entertainer stereotype), to turn out to be a Satanic, baby eating cult. Gay teen Kevin is also innocent so far, though he does argue for the competence of his incompetent sheriff dad, so he gets a side eye from me. He’s also canceled out by gay Southside Serpent and murder co-conspirator Joaquin, who was banished to San Junipero at the end of last season. Veronica Lodge is also technically innocent, though, by her own admission, she was a mean girl in her former life as a NYC private school student, and that led to disastrous consequences. She’s also currently a mafia princess.
So, Riverdale, that’s a lousy track record with your diversity characters. I haven’t spotted any speaking disabled characters other than the elderly and very recurring Nana Rose, either, unless we’re going to count Polly, Betty and Cheryl’s sometimes tenuous grip on sanity. Another stereotype, this time for white women, who are supposedly too mentally fragile to handle adversity.
Meanwhile, Archie, who is played by a biracial actor, but portrayed as white, has become a superhero, his dad is getting out of bed early after his injury to continue being superdad, and Alice Cooper has singlehandedly discovered that Pop’s is a den of crime. Various white characters came through to get FP out of jail early, try to save Pop’s, and help with the serial killer investigation.
Where are the black and Latino science and math geeks? Where are the Asian artists? Where are the adult authority figures who are strong people of color, who get screen time and story lines?* Where are the lesbians and bisexual women? Where are Ethel, Polly and Joaquin, who are each ultimately good people, and add some diversity of experience and looks to the cast?
Riverdale needs to do better than this. Sure, its characters tend to be dark. There are ways to make them dark, or to give them a dark side, without encouraging the prejudices our culture already has.
*Mayor McCoy and Hermione Lodge were the closest we got to this last season. The mayor is the moral equivalent of Alice Cooper, but with much less screen time, and with much less sympathy from the narrative. Hermione is the equivalent of Penelope Blossom, and in season 1 was more sympathetic, and got more screen time. In season 2 she’s been shown to be more corrupt, and is becoming less and less sympathic, while Penelope has become a helpless, abused widow who’s lost almost everything she valued.