'The Passage' Season 1 puts the final nail in the whitewashing coffin and addresses real social issues
'The Passage' gives a hearty middle finger to the concept of whitewashing characters and highlights the issue of criminals and young orphans being considered 2nd class citizens
Fox's upcoming show, 'The Passage,' dabbles in a lot of things. Based on Justin Cronin's novel of the same name, 'The Passage' tells the story of a young girl's survival in an apocalyptic world plagued by destruction and a dangerous virus that could turn humans into vampires.
At its finest, 'The Passage' is a wonderful simplistic amalgamation of two of the most popular genres of our times - science fiction, and the supernatural. But what the show also attempts to discuss are some relevant social issues from today's world. In its own simple manner, 'The Passage' gives a hearty middle finger to the concept of whitewashing characters on screen and also highlights the issue of criminals and young orphans being considered second class citizens.
The official synopsis of the show describes it as: “The Passage is an epic, character‐driven thriller about a secret government medical facility experimenting with a dangerous virus that could either cure all disease or cause the downfall of the human race. The series focuses on a 10‐year‐old girl named Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney), who is chosen to be a test subject for this experiment and Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), the federal agent who becomes her surrogate father as he tries to protect her.”
Unlike The Passage's depiction of Amy, in Cronin's novel, the protagonist is a 10-year-old white girl - and this is something Sidney herself didn't know until her father - a huge fan of the book - pointed it out to her. Here is a refreshing incident of reverse-whitewashing, after years of on-screen adaptations whitewashing people of color on screen. Through this, 'The Passage' did something revolutionary because there aren't too many instances of an originally white character being portrayed by a black actor on screen.
Take for example the recent, stellar sci-fi hit 'Nightflyers.' True, the SyFy adaptation of the story originally by George R. R. Martin finally represents its character Melantha Jhirl as the strong black woman she is, but that wasn't always the case with the franchise.
Initially, when Martin had published the book back in the 80s, the cover art showed the character to be a white woman, because publishers were skeptical about how well the book would do if people saw a black woman on the cover. Similarly, the cheesy excuse for a film adaptation that came out in 1987, also portrayed Melantha as a white woman, instead of her original ethnicity.
So, if anything, 2019 is the time to say goodbye to the concept of whitewashing ethnic characters just to appeal to the masses. As Sidney shared with Variety: "To be able to be an African-American girl that was originally white in the books, I’m honored, but I believe it’s no different. As long as you connect with how she is and just connect with Amy was important, and that’s what I put first before anything.”
Remarkably enough, though set in a futuristic dystopian world, 'The Passage' manages to connect to its viewers through subtle references to present day issues afflicting our society. This is highlighted by the test subjects acquired for the deadly Project Noah, that treats criminals and orphaned children as "expendables."
In a very broad sense of the term, the authorities involved in the medical trial, almost dehumanize these subjects as they infect them with the virus derived from a South American bat, which also happens to be the origins of the vampire legend. The authorities do not care if these criminals and orphaned children live or die, or what monsters they turn into.
In its own lucid, yet impactful way, 'The Passage' slowly develops into something more than just a tale of survival. Granted, that is its core element, with Amy and Wolgast's relationship budding for the exact same reason. Yet, as the journey progresses, we see more of Amy's resilience and a wonderful transition from a lost, abandoned girl, to finally finding her own voice and place amid the destruction plaguing the planet. 'The Passage' premieres Thursday, January 14, at 9 p.m. EST on FOX.