All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men
Arrow is among my favorite shows on television. Sure, last season wasn’t the best we’ve seen, but still, each week I tune in faithfully because I know that the show has the potential to be great. I loved the anti-capitalist themes so integral to Oliver’s development into the Arrow. I appreciated the complexity and prominence of the show’s female characters (even Laurel).
But mostly, I was here for the diversity. Black folks on my screen allowed to be badass, and multifaceted, and Black without having to name it. Ollie returned to Starling City to find Walter Steele, a Black man living in his house, married to his mama, and running his daddy’s company. His bodyguard John Diggle, tormented by his military service and his brother’s death, keeps Oliver alive and in check. Diggle also looks out for his brother’s widow, Carly. For a moment, we get a glimpse of the Bronze Tiger. And then, in season two, we get the ultimate in DC Comics badasses, Amanda Waller.
I’ve never had the confidence to cosplay, but I tell everyone who will listen that when I do, I want to cosplay Amanda Waller. Not toned, stomach-baring, New 52 Amanda Waller either. I want to cosplay animated, voiced by CCH Pounder Amanda Waller. I don’t know a Black woman who pays attention to comics that does not live for Amanda Waller. She runs shit. Not to mention she stands in this wonderful gray area, where she’s not quite a villain, but she’s also not a hero. She is complex, she has her own motivation, and she makes her own rules.
So when Amanda Waller showed up on Arrow, I was ecstatic. She didn’t look like the Amanda Waller I loved, but I could live with it. Cynthia Addai-Robinson brought a fierceness that made me feel less anxiety about this lighter-skinned, slimmed-down Amanda. And her presence made me feel better about the fact that Carly, previously the only Black woman on the show, had essentially disappeared after a brief romance with John Diggle.
This week on Arrow, a strange thing happened: all the Black folks were integral to the plot of the episode. Lian Yu flashbacks were replaced with flashbacks of Diggle and his recently returned brother Andy in Afghanistan. Amanda Waller showed up and momentarily let down her guard to show some complexity of character in her interactions with Diggle’s wife Lyla. Andy and Diggle work together to help Lyla and Waller stop an attack on Arcus.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the first flashback. At this point, I’ve grown pretty weary of Lian Yu, and Afghanistan seemed a nice enough change of pace. I mostly ignored Felicity’s scenes (she’s by far one of my favorite characters, but the whole thing with her alter ego just fell flat for me). And of course, I perked up when Amanda Waller stepped on the scene.
And then, at the end, despite Amanda Waller’s smarts, savvy, and shrewdness; Andy’s knowledge of the inner workings of Shadowspire, a criminal paramilitary organization (he was secretly involved with the group during his time in Afghanistan); and Felicity’s hacking skills; Shadowspire soldiers still somehow manage to break into ARGUS and hold Waller, Lyla, and several others hostage.
Then the unthinkable: Amanda Waller is suddenly executed by Shadowspire. Amanda Waller is EXECUTED. What?! Apparently, Shadowspire wants something called the Rubicon to which Waller has the codes. Waller randomly says something about Lyla being her most trusted agent, even though she doesn’t even work for ARGUS anymore. After Lyla and Waller both let Shadowspire know that Waller is not letting those codes go no matter whose life is on the line, Shadowspire’s lieutenant shoots Amanda Waller in the head. At this point, the only person with the codes is Lyla, Shadowspire captures Diggle and holds him hostage, then he and Andy save the day. Hurrah? The episode ends with Diggle and Lyla moving Andy into their house, and introducing him to their daughter.
I walked away from the episode thinking three things:
1) I really hope they never bring back Goth Felicity (was I the only one not into that?)
2) Amanda Waller was EXECUTED
3) This show uses Black women to further the storylines of Black men, then throws them away.
I mean, this wasn’t any random Black woman character. This wasn’t a character created by the CW’s Arrowverse. This was Amanda Fricking Waller. Her character is prolific enough in the DC Universe that she has been featured in multiple animated series, was the best part of the Green Lantern movie, and will appear in this year’s highly anticipated Suicide Squad. She has been played by Black legends like the aforementioned CCH Pounder, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Angela Bassett, and now Viola Davis. She’s faced down Batman. And she gets unceremoniously executed on Arrow. At least Diggle and Andy like each other again, I guess?
With Waller gone, the show has a useful recurring Black woman character quota to fill. (Ed. Note: She dies just in time for Vixen to arrive.) There was a throwaway line at the end where Andy mentions Carly, so maybe we’ll see her again. In the meantime, Candice Patton’s Iris West is the only Black woman remaining in the Berlanti-Verse. With Arrow writers killing off a character as ingrained in DC canon as Amanda Waller, who knows what fate Iris faces. Hopefully her proximity to the white male lead will save her life.
Tamika Middleton is an organizer, birthworker, and homeschooling mama. She is passionate about and active in struggles that affect Black women’s lives. She sometimes performs as a member of The NALO Movement. She is also passionate about birthing and healing, and is the coordinator of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective.