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‘Outlander’ Has a Magical Negro Problem

‘Outlander’ Has a Magical Negro Problem

Outlander, Starz, Joe Abernathy

Outlander Season 3 is… something else. I feel like I’m watching a completely different show than the first two seasons and that is not a good thing. At its core, the show is a fluffy romance story where tough, Mary Sue Claire has a torrid love affair with dashing young Jamie. That’s fine when the storyline isn’t of historical consequence, but it becomes problematic when dealing with real-world issues. Yes, its a work of fiction. Yes, it’s set in a time period filled with misogyny and racism. But the people ingesting this live in a time where ignoring about current issues is a problem.

The biggest issue I have with Outlander is its race problem. For two seasons there was nary a face of color. Not even any slaves in the background, in the 1700s. The University of Glasgow published an article titled ‘Slaves and Slaveowners in Eighteenth-Century Scotland’. According to the Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies,”Slaves were a significant presence in 18th century Scotland, particularly from the 1740s onwards.” Having your only faces of color be slaves or servants is an issue in itself, but to have them completely removed is straight up erasure.

This becomes a bigger issue when we’re in the 1940s-1960s. When I Google’d 1940s Boston demographics, the first link is Wikipedia’s History of African Americans in Boston and under the Early 20th Century we have Nina Simone, Booker T. Washington, and The Saturday Evening Quill Club. Yet, we don’t hear about these important figures when Brianna is walking around Harvard or learning about Paul Revere in class.

As of season 3, there is one Black person, Dr. Joe Abernathy. I spoke of his introduction in Episode 2 and I still contend that this close relationship he has with Claire would never be allowed. In every definition, Dr. Joe is a magical negro. For those uninitiated, a magical negro is a Black character that is constrained by discrimination or a disability, they have no past and appear one day to help a white person. The character also dispenses words of wisdom and will do almost anything to save the white protagonist. Dr. Joe does not have a family, we do not know of his journey to medical school, he is discriminated against, and is not as good of a doctor as Claire.

Dr. Joe’s only purpose in Episode 5 is to dispense wisdom about Claire’s hotness and whether she should go after Jamie. It’s frustrating that creators can still be so blind to societal issues, especially during this time. I mean the skeleton Claire connects with is found near slaves, but they are the bones of a white lady because she can’t even connect with someone who isn’t white. They literally have Claire ask Joe’s opinion on her sexual attraction and his exact words are “Well, you’re a skinny white broad with too much hair, but a great ass.” WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS OKAY?!?! Not only is it a stereotypical Black man response talking about her ass, but this is also fucking 1968! During the fucking Civil Rights Era! He could be murdered if someone decides he’s looking at her the wrong way!

I already had issues with this shows lack of representation, false tension, and misogyny, but I can’t take it anymore. I won’t be writing recaps nor watching any longer. My time is too precious to waste it on something that doesn’t care for me as a Black woman and there are too many good shows who do care about representation like Queen Sugar or Star Trek Discovery.

Tayci is a mother of 3 boys and a Ravenclaw and a member of #WizardTeam. In her spare time she tries to write, but usually plays Fallout 4 or Tropico 5. You can find her work here and here and you can find her on Twitter and Tumblr @taycibear.

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  • That comment about her ass made my head explode. Even as a white woman, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • The Boston representation is sadly on point-that is, most people have this idea that there are no people of color that live in Boston in any significant numbers or make any contributions-except when someone dies (Donna Summer) or does something that can’t be ignored (a certain president who went to law school in nearby Cambridge.)

  • As a book reader, I’ll give you a spoiler and tell you that the skeleton is Geillis Duncan. They are both “travelers” – that’s why Claire could connect. Geillis’ story isn’t over yet, and that was foreshadowing. In the books anyway, we meet other travelers, not all of them white or female. Master Raymond is also a traveler.

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