I’m sitting at home, waiting for the dizziness to stop (stupid sinuses, stupid vertigo) and thinking about last week’s and night’s episodes of Once Upon a Time. Ever since Mulan showed up at the beginning of season 2, I’ve been pondering on how diversity is handled in the fairy tale world. After all, this is a fairy tale world that includes (real) tales from China, not to mention the genie from Aladdin, so we’re not limited to the tales of white western Europe (and medieval western Europe was a whole lot more diverse than many people give it credit for). One of the seven dwarves appears Asian, the guy who plays Sidney Glass/the Mirror/Genie is black. There are a (few) others, but few who are named and whose backstory we see anything of. Though the actress who plays the Evil Queen/Regina is Latina, she’s not portrayed as Latina, so it’s hard to count that as one in the win column.
While the show has its problematic side, I am enjoying the direction the main storyline is heading in this season—going to Neverland, reuniting a complicated family across generations and adoptions, digging into the nuances of heroes and villains. The idea that Henry can have two moms who both love him, and that he doesn’t have to choose between them, is a good direction for the story to be going. And I like that they’re finally going to be confronting Emma’s emotional distance between herself and her parents, her orphan-ness, this season, because that was kind of hinted at but never really taken head-on in previous seasons. I like that there seems to be some chemistry between Emma and Hook, which will be complicated when Neil/Baelfire finally reaches them.
But I’m highly disappointed with how the show handles its characters of color. Have you noticed how many of them die or get locked away to be forgotten compared to other characters? Sidney (who disappeared to star on Revolution, never to be mentioned again), the fiance who was trying to sabotage magic and kidnapped Henry (who could as easily have joined up with their team, but no, just got killed off; granted, so did her white partner in crime). Lancelot, who is dead before we ever meet him.
We’ve got a spinoff coming up later this week (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland) and it would have been a perfect opportunity for exploring a story for one of the surviving characters of color, like Mulan, who seems to exist only as a helper character for the white characters so far, not a hero in her own right—she’s even in a love triangle with Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip, rather than with her own love interest from her Disney story, Li Shang. We never see very deeply into her backstory—season 2 really dropped the ball on her potential. Though perhaps we’ll see some chemistry between her and Neil while Emma’s feeling a little drawn to Hook? I don’t know. Not really feeling that direction. I’d rather see her be a hero in her own right, rather than a love interest who’s only important because she helps the main characters.
I think it’s a missed opportunity in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. And it’s also just plain confusing: instead of spinning the story of Alice in Wonderland off from the Mad Hatter we met in Wonderland (who also disappeared, never to be spoken of again—so many dropped threads in this show)—who was supposedly Alice’s father, somehow the 10-year-old daughter of the Mad Hatter in Once Upon a Time’s world morphs into a teenaged girl from Victorian England. There’s never been time travel in this world before—Baelfire spent quite a bit of time in Neverland before Emma was born before all the curse stuff happened, and we know about this passage of time because he landed in Victorian England before getting taken to Neverland.
But in this new spinoff, Alice’s father is a normal Englishman who has had Alice institutionalized for delusional thoughts and mental illness (i.e., she imagined Wonderland as a girl, but it wasn’t real, they claim). Whatever happened to the Mad Hatter from Wonderland who we met in OUAT who had been so crucial to the plot at one point?
And Alice is older than she was in Storybrooke. Yet the Knave of Hearts leaves during the storm when magic comes at the end of season 1 in Storybrooke, so we know it’s the same world—that is, Alice was in that town as a 10-year-old at the same time—so what’s going on?
And the genie from Aladdin was Sidney Glass, who ran The Daily Mirror, the Genie who became the Mirror because he loved Regina so much. So who is this genie? And related, why is Jafar coming into the story at all?
ETA: Also, wasn’t Cora the Queen of Hearts? Where does this new Queen of Hearts come from? I’m utterly confused about the entire premise of this as a spinoff of Once Upon a Time.
I could be wrong about the guys who play the love-interest genie Cyrus and the Knave of Hearts (perhaps they are multiracial or of Latino or Middle Eastern origin, but it doesn’t appear so), but what it seems so far is that the only person of color in the spinoff is Naveen Andrews, who plays Jafar. Given Once Upon a Time’s track record of trying to redeem bad guys, perhaps this isn’t the case of “guy of color is the bad guy,” and I hope that’s the case… and I hope that Jafar doesn’t end up dead by the end of the mini-series.
What does this mean for POC in the Once Upon a Time world? So far, not much good. I’d love to be proved wrong by this season of OUAT or OUATiW, but I have little hope that I will based upon their track record.