‘Riverdale’ Star Vanessa Morgan Points To Inequality Within Show

by Erik Amaya

Even within the seeming bastion of diversity and LGBT positivity that is Riverdale, one of its stars is pointing out a constant failing of the series.
As TVLine noted, star Vanessa Morgan took to Twitter on Sunday to say she is “tired of how black people are portrayed in Media, tired of us being portrayed as thugs, dangerous or angry scary people. Tired of us also being used as sidekick non dimensional characters to our white leads. Or only used in the ads for diversity but not actually in the show.” The latter part of her statement is a direct critique of The CW program, which continually sets her next to Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) and has yet to give her a storyline that is truly her own. In her debut as Toni Topaz in the program’s second season, she was seemingly introduced as a potential love interest for Jughead (Cole Sprouse), but this quickly turned out to be a misdirect as she came out to him. Subsequently, she was there for Cheryl when she realized she was gay. But in both instances, the storyline was not Toni’s.
It is a failing the show continually struggles with. Even before Toni, the program’s only other prominent black character, Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), always seemed underutilized. Granted, she had more stories than Toni, but they always dissipated quickly and, as Morgan suggests in her tweet, Murray and Josie always felt more like part of the publicity machine than valued parts of the show’s world. Both the actor and character moved the spinoff Katy Keene, where they have fared better.
Morgan amplified her thoughts on Tuesday, adding, “Too bad I’m the only black series regular but also paid the least. Girl I could go on for days.” Morgan was quick to say none of this is the fault of her castmates because they have nothing to do with the writing of the show. Which leads back to the subtle ways systemic racism works. Both the lack of story for her character — or even a quantifiable history before Jughead met her — and the smaller rate of pay speaks to something so subtle, the producers of the series may not even be aware they are participating in it. But whether conscious or unconscious, it is important to examine this problem; particularly on a show as youth-facing as Riverdale.
Working toward a truer equality is not easy and it requires this sort of examination of popular shows, both from within and without. And, hopefully, Morgan’s thoughts on the topic will lead to a richer story for Toni when the series returns next year.

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