A couple of months ago, Riverdale star Vanessa Morgan spoke out about how her own show made her a "token" Black character.
Now, Bernadette Beck is chiming in with her own experiences on the show, explaining how being thoughtlessly sidelined may hurt her career.
Bernadette played Peaches ‘N Cream (yes, that oatmeal flavor is the character’s name) on seasons 3 and 4 of Riverdale.
Speaking to Elle, she explains that her character "was made out to be very unlikable."
Bernadette knows that playing villains can be part of acting — sometimes a coveted part — but fears that she is now an "unlikable person in people’s eyes."
She notes that Peaches ‘N Cream has no apparent backstory — not on the show and not one given to her.
(In contrast, Sir Patrick Stewart was once given a 40-page document on his character as prep to play a voice role in a game in which he dies during the prologue)
Peaches ‘N Cream often only appears in the background, almost as an extra in scenes.
"I get it," Bernadette emphasizes, "there’s always a protagonist and antagonist."
"But I never had much of a story plot," she notes.
Bernadette continues: "Or enough character development to even be considered an antagonist,"
She notes that some villains are given development and expanded upon. Her experience was anything but.
"I was, for no reason, depicted in a very negative, unattractive light," Bernadette laments.
"And," she points out, "I’m not the first Black actress to show up on set, stand there, chew gum, and look sassy and mean."
Apparently, producers told Bernadette that her character would be "sassy" — an unfortunate stereotype, and a direction given far too often to Black actresses.
Peaches ‘N Cream was initially said to be a character who "always" speaks her mind.
But what are we then to conclude from the fact that she has very little dialogue. Head empty, full of bees?
"I feel like I was just there to fulfill a diversity quota," Bernadette admits. "It’s just to fulfill points."
She laments that she has felt "completely forgotten in the scene more than once."
Sometimes, writers, directors, and showrunners can let a character slip their mind. It should not happen with the same character more than once.
At one point, Bernadette reports, she had to "chase" down a director to even find out what she should be doing in a scene.
"You can’t treat people like they’re invisible," she expresses, "and then pat yourself on the back for meeting your diversity quota for the day."
Representation is important. Being used as a prop or a backdrop isn’t representation — it arguably does more harm than good.
That harm is done not just to the character and audience, but to the actress herself — as Bernadette worries that her career may be hurt by this role.
"Some people say it’s just a TV show," she notes, "but I’m thinking about the implications long-term."
"If we are depicted as unlikable or our characters are not developed or we’re looked at as the enemy all the time," Bernadette remarks, "that affects our public persona."
"What kind of opportunities are we losing out on even after Riverdale?" Bernadette then asks.
In contrast, she says, her white co-stars "are getting all this screen time and character development."
Many of the Riverdale stars are beloved and have massive social followings, even just the guest stars, while Bernadette feels "looked at with disdain."
Bernadette’s career has not been exclusively limited to Riverdale, of course.
She appeared in Season 1, Episode 5 of Motherland: Fort Salem, easily one of the best new shows to premiere in 2020.
Though that was a small role, many have noted that Motherland: Fort Salem has two Black female leads in its small main cast, each 3-dimensional and well-rounded.
At the end of last May, Vanessa Morgan — who plays Toni Topaz on Riverdale — lamented that she was "tired of how Black people are portrayed in Media."
She felt that Toni and other characters of color have been relegated to "side kick non dimensional characters to our white leads."
That is simply untenable. Actors and audiences of color deserve more than token casting — they deserve real representation.