Analysis: The Tropes of Women of Color in Sci-Fi – Version 2 (The Traitor)

Definition of the Trope: The traitor is the one who is either in league with the bad guys, ends up in league with the bad guys, or is discovered later to be in league with the bad guys. On shows where there are already Caucasian women (and especially if the same show features at least one Black Male cast member for the “Good guys”), women of color will often show up as members of the evil organization – whether the evil organization is the one involved in the over-reaching story arc or simply the local bad guys being featured in the current episode.

Why the Trope Fails: The Woman of Color cast in this role, like so many others, will rarely, if ever, have a fleshed out character, nor a valid story reason why this character above any other was deemed necessary to work against the story’s sympathetic protagonists.

Additional Trope Notes: Producers, writers, and directors will often talk about how much the character will impact the story, and will sometimes make note that the character will hold some kind of key to the story in general.  Sometimes they will be central to the struggle of one or more of the main characters.  The problem is that, in the end, this is all not very relevant to the reason why the show or movie decided to place a Woman of Color into yet another Antagonist/Contagonist role.

How to Avoid Falling for This Trope: When creating an antagonist for the hero to struggle against, understand that the idea is not to shock your audience with a cheap moment, but rather to allow the audience to appreciate the progression of the characters. Although Women of Color have historically had the hardest time being cast in roles in Science Fiction and Fantasy multimedia, the tendency of producers and casting directors to cast WoC in antagonist and contagonist guest roles is still far too prevalent, especially when played against the numbers of Women of Color in non-Heroic versus Heroic roles.  Remember, what your character actor does is just as important as who the character actor is.  This is not to say never to cast Women of Color as Antagonists – far from it.  Just as important, however, is that you do not cast Women of Color only in Antagonist/Contagonist roles.

Maggie from UniSol 4.  Proving you can do the right things and STILL get the bad end of crappy writing.

Maggie from UniSol 4. Proving you can do the right things and STILL get the bad end of crappy writing.

Example of the Trope: Maggie from Universal Soldier 4: The Return. This one was sad to see because it appears that this part was simply a last-second write-in. Maggie was one of Luc’s (Jean-Claude Van Damme) partners when the attacks began. While Luc fought against the evil universal soldiers while keeping Lois Lane-wannabe Erin Young out of trouble, Maggie kept Luc’s daughter Hillary out of harm’s way, even as Hillary suffered from a brain tumor. Her reward was to be captured by S.E.T.H. (The Evil Computer), killed, and turned into a Unisol.

Maggie also earns Version 5 (The Tragic Mistake) because she “sacrifices” her life to save Luc in one of the most pointless scenes of the movie. Considering that the entire movie is one action film cliche after another, this is saying alot.

Sharon "Boomer" Valerii.  At this point, the audience is 'blissfully' unaware that she is actually one of the show's Cylon antagonists.

Sharon "Boomer" Valerii. At this point, the audience is 'blissfully' unaware that she is actually one of the show's Cylon antagonists.

Example of the Trope: Sharon Valerii (Boomer) from Battlestar Galactica. This was a case of trying to provide an OMG!Shock moment for the audience, but instead giving the audience the same tired tropes found in Sci-Fi’s predecessors.

Tryla Scott.  Now, we're supposed to be shocked and dismayed when she is revealed to be one of the "bad guys."

Tryla Scott. Now, we're supposed to be shocked and dismayed when she is revealed to be one of the "bad guys."

Example of the Trope: Tryla Scott from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Scott was supposed to be a shining example of a woman who does good – she became the youngest person to rise to the rank of Captain in Starfleet, surpassing Captain Kirk’s record. Unfortunately, it would later be revealed that she was taken over by the Bluegill parasites, as were many other members of Starfleet. Note: Captain Scott is the only Woman (as well as being the only person of color) shown to be infected.

Captain Benteen.  Loyal Starfleet Officer...for the Wrong Side.

Captain Benteen. Loyal Starfleet Officer...for the Wrong Side.

Example of the Trope: Commander/Captain Benteen from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Commander Benteen started as Admiral Leyton’s adjutant during the Dominion War. During a suspected attack by the Founders on Earth, Benteen spearheaded Leyton’s attempt to perform a coup d’etat against President Jaresh Inyo, to the point where upon given command of an uprated Battlecruiser, she attempted to halt the delivery of evidence regarding the insurrection (which would have implicated her) within the Federation.

Kasidy Yates.  If it weren't for the cheap attempt at angst, Kasidy would only be on this page as an exception.

Kasidy Yates. If it weren't for the cheap attempt at angst, Kasidy would only be on this page as an exception.

Example of the Trope: Kassidy Yates from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Kassidy Yates started out as a simple freighter captain who managed to woo the heart of Captain Benjamin Sisko. They would begin their own dance of love, and the two grew very close. Unfortunately, in the world of OMG!Shock-based sci-fi, this love affair would come to a halt when it was revealed that Kassidy Yates had been ferrying supplies for the Maquis rebels. The only bright spot out of this would be that Kassidy would return after serving her sentence in Federation detention and Benjamin (and his son Jake) welcomed her back with open arms.

Sithandra of Aeon Flux.  When is a Good Guy not a Good Guy?  When the Hero of the Story turns against them because the Good Guys have no clue.

Sithandra of Aeon Flux. When is a Good Guy not a Good Guy? When the Hero of the Story turns against them because the Good Guys have no clue.

Example of the Trope: Sithandra from Aeon Flux: The Movie. When Aeon goes rogue, Sithandra is called in to stop her. Of course, despite having known and worked with Aeon for a number of years, she immediately takes the assignment. Needless to say, Sithandra could have also been given both Version 3 (Incompetent) and Version 4 (Tragic Warrior) because of both her failure to even score a single hit on Aeon – and her pointless death later on in the film.

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6 Responses to Analysis: The Tropes of Women of Color in Sci-Fi – Version 2 (The Traitor)

  1. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country | Loose Cannon

  2. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Lean on Me | Loose Cannon

  3. Thanos says:

    Now I wasn’t gonna see Aeon Flux (you said it was @*#&#***@!!!) that I should not watch. Now after reading you incisive comments on the POC with tropes 3 and 4 I feel I must find a copy and see how horrible it truly is…. And ST4 is much better than Final Frontier…

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Watch at your own peril – it will be almost two hours of your life you will never be able to get back.

      And “The Voyage Home” is better than The Final Frontier – in some respects…but you have to discount the fact that this movie is almost a carbon copy of “The Motion Picture,” only with a Time Traveling element.

  4. class of fitness says:

    I hold heartly agree about ‘universal soldier: 4. maggie could’ve been in the hold movie instead of erin young. there’s some fans of this movie agreed she should have lived, i’ve seen this film a couple times on tv mostly. and every time i watched; i hope it would be changed but never do.

  5. Andrew says:

    The Dominion War didn’t begin till the end of season 5 and Benteen was a dupe rather than a traitor. She’d been misled by Leyton to believe that the Defiant was under the control of Changelings. It was Leyton who wanted Sisko and company killed because they sought to reach Earth and expose him. http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Erika_Benteen

    Is Susan Gibney who played Benteen even a WoC?

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