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Teen Wolf

Racial Representations

Lesley Bradshaw, Author

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Racial Stereotypes

Many of the ethnically diverse characters on Teen Wolf subvert common racial stereotypes, both negative and positive, but their casting continues to support more deeply entrenched, less obvious stereotypes. These stereotypes revolve around tokenism and the deeply ingrained prejudices of the largely white, male, heterosexual American viewpoint. 

Token Minority (McCall)

The "token minority is a character designed to get more minority groups into the plot. This serves several purposes: allows the producers of the show to broaden the appeal of the show by giving more viewers protagonists they can identify with; is useful for bringing in discussions of racial issues, gender issues or homophobia into the plot; allows the producers to avoid criticism from minority groups; fulfills the executives' desire for the show to be more ethnically respectful; [and] depending on the setting, it can merely be an accurate representation of demographics in that region or industry.”

While the incorporation of a Hispanic character as the lead is largely positive, especially considering the ways in which Scott McCall's character subverts common Hispanic stereotypes, MTV and Jeff Davis were following another stereotype: the token minority. Scott McCall meets a number of the token minority criteria, in spite of the fact that his character is generally a positive representation of the Hispanic community. Considering that “research indicates that Hispanic audiences choose different television programs than other racial or ethnic groups because that programming offers material that is, in some way, uniquely relevant to them” (Luther 91), the choice of Tyler Posey to play Scott McCall benefits the producers and the network critically and financially as much as it benefits the Hispanic community. 

Magical Negro (DeatonMorrell)

“With such deep spiritual wisdom (and sometimes — though not always — actual supernatural powers), you might wonder why the Magical Negro doesn't step up and save the day himself. This will never happen. So enlightened and selfless is he that he has no desire to gain glory for himself; he only wants to help those who need guidance... which just happens to mean those who are traditionally viewed by Hollywood as better suited for protagonist roles, not, say, his own oppressed people. In fact, the Magical Negro really seems to have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential.”

Dr. Alan Deaton (played by Seth Gilliam) and his sister, Marin Morrell (played by Bianca Lawson), subvert common black stereotypes: they are both well-educated, well-spoken, and professional. Their other main identifying characteristics, however, are problematic: they both possess magical wisdom and power that they use to help the other characters. As such, they play into a long-standing stereotype: the magical negro. In this demeaning stereotype, “the African American character has mystical powers, relies on folk wisdom instead of intelligence, and often sacrifices him or herself and his or her interests to save the white main characters” (Luther 328). These stereotypical characters are further dehumanized: “instead of having life histories, love affairs, or families, black characters have magical powers” (Luther 62). Even after three full seasons, we do not have any background on these siblings; indeed, we only found out they were related mid-season 3. They have very little backstory and/or development outside of serving largely white male characters (e.g. Derek Hale, Sheriff Stilinski, Deucalion, etc.).

Token Trio (Issac, Boyd, Erica)

“All implied to be friends, and for a mix of reasons - political correctness, as well as representing the largest target demographics in the Western world with a minimum of actual effort - you choose: a white male, a black male, and a white female.”

When supporting characters were chosen for Derek Hale's werewolf pack, the powers-that-be chose Isaac Lahey (played by Daniel Sharman), Erica Reyes (played by Gage Golightly), and Vernon Boyd IV (played by Sinqua Walls). In other words, the trio fits the stereotypical Token Trio: one white male, one black male, and one white female. The casting calls for Issac and Erica were open to all ethnicities but Boyd's specified an African American actor. The actors were intentionally chosen to represent a diverse mix of races/ethnicities. This is a common issue; “instead of discussing racial differences, and having characters appreciate these differences, many programs are color blind – they may have diverse casts, but they do not deal with any issues of race” (Conners 208). By visually representing a diverse cast in terms of a variety of skin color alone, Teen Wolf is employing tokenism to pay lip service to diversity.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this Token Trio is that, after just once season, the only character still alive is the white male, Isaac Lahey. In fact, actor Daniel Sharman was promoted to series regular when the other two characters were killed off. While the changes could be attributed to the career trajectories of the other two actors, white male character Jackson Whittmore was written off without being killed when actor Colton Haynes left the show.  

Equal Opportunity Evil & Twofer Token Minority (Kali)

“Bad guys are often remarkably open when it comes to race, gender, religion, species, and so forth of their members.”

“A cast member or show participant which represents two Token Minority groups at once. More stark when most other participants on a show are white males.”

Kali, though she is a somewhat inspirational character in that she subverts both female and Indian stereotypes by being a strong, capable, and ruthless Alpha werewolf, fits the mold of several token stereotypes: namely Equal Opportunity Evil and the Twofer Token Minority. In one fell swoop, Teen Wolf increases their female and person of color numbers. She is especially helpful in that she provides a non-standard nonwhite character: an Indian, as heavily implied in her name, despite the fact that the actress, Felisha Terrell, is actually of African-American descent. This stereotype is heightened by the fact that she is part of the Alpha pack, which consists of four other werewolf villains: all white males. Unfortunately, her subversion of female, especially Indian female, stereotypes is qualified by the fact that she is "evil" and is justifiable killed while three of the other white male villains are spared.

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