Is 'Riverdale' diverse only in casting? A look at accusations made against show by Vanessa Morgan and other cast
While on the forefront, diversity in casting is one of their shiny plus points as a popular hit show, it seems as though proper screen time and pay equality isn't their strong suit
The popular dark teen drama 'Riverdale' returns to CW on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, at 8/7c and while it's much anticipated, the show has been on the radar from some pretty hefty accusations. The series has a diverse cast for sure, from Camila Mendes an American Latina to Vanessa Morgan, who is the only Black series regular. While on the forefront, diversity in casting is one of their shiny plus points as a popular hit show, it seems as though air time and pay equality isn't their strong suit.
Accusations against the CW series
Morgan who plays Toni Topaz, girlfriend to Madelaine Petsch’s Cheryl Blossom, in the series, spoke out on the depiction of Black characters on 'Riverdale.' It was during the height of George Floyd’s protests, when Morgan took to social media to bring to highlight the fact of institutional racism. She posted a tweet on May 31, writing "I’m not being Quite anymore. #BlackLivesMatter." Along with the tweet, the actress also posted a note that read, “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. It starts with the media. I am not being quite anymore."
Morgan was initially not a series regular, she only became one in Season 3. The actress kept her word and didn't stay quiet. When a fan tweeted, "Imagine they're getting so much more bang for their buck bc ur part of an lgbt storyline too, double the diversity - DOUBLE UR PAYCHECK IMO," Morgan replied saying, "Lmao too bad I’m the only black series regular but also paid the least girl i could go on for days."
Lmao too bad I’m the only black series regular but also paid the least 😂👏🏽 girl i could go on for days 🐸— Vanessa Morgan (@VanessaMorgan) June 2, 2020
On June 9, 2020, Bromfield and Lili Reinhart took to Instagram Live to speak on the ongoing accusations about lack of fair representation on the show. In a conversation with Lili on Morgan's accusations against the show, Bromfield echoed Morgan’s point about being a “sidekick” to White characters. Bromfield played Melody, drummer of Josie and the Pussycats and Reinhart plays Betty Cooper on the series. Bromfield said, “I’m so much more, and Black people are so much more, than support systems. It becomes toxic messaging when we are perpetuating this idea that there’s any less validity to my own life than yours, that my sole purpose in this world is to support someone who looks like you.”
Josie and the Pussycats, the onscreen band that Bromfield is part of has all Black women, but she said, while "the tears, the emotion that we felt to see each other, three Black women together in a group," there were definitely faults. “In one breath, being a part of [Riverdale] was the most profound, historic, exciting thing for me as a Black actress, and on the other end, it was devastating. We stand in the background and we have a lot of attitude, or we don’t talk,” she explained. “Or, we’re only included when we are uplifting white characters," she had added.
Back in July 2020, Bernadette Beck who played the character Peaches ‘N Cream on 'Riverdale' spoke on how the show was - as a Refinery29 article called it - "tokenizing its Black and queer cast." If you're a fan of the show, you may have caught on to the fact that Beck isn't a series regular, nor does she have any sort of backstory. She plays a small role in Seasons 3 and 4 of the series. In a July 27, 2020, exclusive interview with ELLE magazine, Beck spoke about how she feels on this issue. “I was made out to be a very unlikable character and therefore, an unlikable person in people’s eyes,” said the actress. The article revealed that producers, on "mutiple occasions" told Beck that she was to be sassy and that she plays a character that "always speaks her mind." This comes as a bit of a shock considering Beck barely had any lines in most of her scenes - she appears in the background almost as a norm.
“I get it, there’s always a protagonist and antagonist, but I never had much of a story plot or enough character development to even be considered an antagonist. I was, for no reason, depicted in a very negative, unattractive light. And I’m not the first Black actress to show up on set, stand there, chew gum, and look sassy and mean. I feel like I was just there to fulfill a diversity quota. It’s just to fulfill points," she further added. Making matters a lot worse, the article also revealed that there were times where the production team actually forgot to tell Beck where to stand and she had to bring it up. "I was completely forgotten in the scene more than once. The director [would] be walking off set and I’d have to chase them down because I had no idea where to stand, what to do—I just hadn’t been given any instruction. You can’t treat people like they’re invisible and then pat yourself on the back for meeting your diversity quota for the day," she told ELLE.
'Riverdale' creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's response
On June 4, 2020, Aguirre-Sacasa responded to Morgan’s comments writing on Instagram, "We hear Vanessa. We love Vanessa. She's right. We're sorry and we make the same promise to you that we did to her. We will do better to honor her and the character she plays. As well as all of our actors and characters of color. CHANGE is happening and will continue to happen. Riverdale will get bigger, not smaller. Riverdale will be part of the movement, not outside it. All of the Riverdale writers made a donation to @BLMLA, but we know where the work must happen for us. In the writers' room."