Analysis: The Tropes of Women of Color in Sci-Fi – Version 5 (The Tragic Mistake)

Description of the Trope: Unlike Version 4, where the woman of color plays an active role in the story and displays at least a modicum of actual agency, this version will either lack agency and/or an active or proactive role in the story.  Instead, while the story will talk about the importance of the character, the character will basically act as a backdrop for some kind of foreshadowing into the darkness – OR – will remain in the background until the time comes for her to die.

Why this Trope Fails: This trope is the fusion that lies in between Version 1 (The Token) and uses portions of Version 2 (The Traitor) OR Version 4 (The Tragic Warrior).  The difference here is that the Woman of Color ends up dead from someone else’s gun only to provide angst and anguish for some other character.

Additional Notes on This Trope: Version 5 Tropes suffer from poor storytelling on the same levels as the Version 1 and Version 3 tropes, and often suffer the same poorly-written ends of character as the Version 4 Tropes.

How to Avoid Falling for This Trope: The solution for the Version 5 Trope is not the same as the one for the Version 4, which was to let the Tragic Warrior live.  Instead, the solutions for Version 1 and Version 3 are better served here.  Examine the story progression of the character and see what the character has done directly to conduct the action.  This character should not be created simply as the backdrop of another character, nor should they be created as the backdrop for a specific plot – especially if the characters themselves are not properly explored or fleshed out or given active agency.

Jennifer Sisko during happier times.  Unfortunately, to give Ben Sisko immediate angst, Jennifer dies during Wolf 359.

Jennifer Sisko during happier times. Unfortunately, to give Ben Sisko immediate angst, Jennifer dies during the battle of Wolf 359.

Example of the Trope: Jennifer Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Actually, this happens to her twice. The first time happens in the premier episode “Emissary” when she dies during the battle with the Borg at Wolf 359.  This was supposed to be the setup for Benjamin Sisko having a deep-seated hatred of Jean-Luc Picard, who had been previously altered by the Borg and was forced to do their bidding as Locutus.  (In truth, Patrick Stewart was chosen as the “Character Bridge” for TNG to DS9 as DeForest Kelly had performed in TNG’s premier for TOS).

Jennifer Sisko.  Even in the Mirror Universe, she can't seem to catch any kind of break.

Jennifer Sisko. Even in the Mirror Universe, she can't seem to catch any kind of break.

The second would come several seasons later.  A version of Jennifer Sisko from the “Mirror Universe” (first conceived in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror”) would come into the normal universe and “kidnap” Jake Sisko.  This forces his father to follow him through.  It turns out that the Earth Empire rebels had constructed a Defiant-class ship to fight the Alliance forces and needed Benjamin Sisko’s expertise to finish the ship to battle-ready condition.

The Mirror Universe Jennifer was reticent about Jake – sometimes even cold.  Eventually, Jennifer would warm up to him to the point where she decides to help him escape.  In the chaos of the battle between the Empire and the Alliance, the Intendant – the Mirror Universe’s Kira Nerys – would escape and kill the mirror Jennifer Sisko as a “warning” to Benjamin Sisko (more like the writers attempting to prevent the thought of a “reuniting romance” between the Siskos).

A Woman (Android) of Color that creates something that turns out to be "Evil."  Even if she attempts to redeem herself, Sci-Fi protocol says that she must die.  See also: Dyson, Miles (Terminator 2).

A Woman (Android) of Color that creates something that turns out to be "Evil." Even if she attempts to redeem herself, Sci-Fi protocol says that she must die. See also: Dyson, Miles (Terminator 2).

Example of the Trope: Reese from Stargate SG-1.  When she is introduced, she is supposed to be the “creator” of the Replicators (in essence, Stargate SG-1’s version of the Star Trek’s Borg).  As with nearly all extremely “Evil” Science Fiction villians of this type, they were created with a benevolent purpose – in this case, as toys for her.  Well, needless to say, the Replicators rebel against the programming and decide in short order to take over the Universe.  When the SG-1 finds Reese and reactivate her, they find out first hand why she was deactivated in the first place.

So, to stop the menace of the Replicators, Col. James T. Kirk Jack O’Neill ends up shooting Reese, and then, once the “threat” has been completely neutralized, we get a five minute justification for his actions.

And, as par for the course, even though the Replicators menace the show for next 2 seasons, we never hear about Reese ever again.

Adria from Stargate SG-1.  Her behavior could have also landed her as a WoC Trope Version 2 (The Traitor) - if she actually did anything.

Adria from Stargate SG-1. Her behavior could have also landed her as a WoC Trope Version 2 (The Traitor) - if she actually did anything.

Example of the Trope: Adria from Stargate SG-1.  She was Vala’s kidnapped child.  Her growth was accelerated by her Ori genetic heritage – and her powers would eclipse any member of the Priors by far.  Yet, she would not play much of a part in the actual Ori War – and would be used to make the Vala anguish about the life that she would never be able to have because of her rather carefree nature.

With a villain this powerful, one would think that the end episode which features her would be cataclysmic and exciting.  Uhh…Nope.  The good guys sent a bomb into the vortex that the Ori came from and…nothing.  Adria would re-appear later in several episodes in a diminished role (including as a failed host for a Goa’uld symbiote before she “ascends”) until she makes one final appearance in The Ark of Truth, where she is now fighting eternally with Morgana Le Fey.

In other words, Stargate SG-1 went to the same well again.

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2 Responses to Analysis: The Tropes of Women of Color in Sci-Fi – Version 5 (The Tragic Mistake)

  1. Lela says:

    Thank god someone is publishing this stuff. Now, we just need to write alternatives for women of color. I’m actually working on one right now: http://alissajordan.wordpress.com, but more people must be enlisted!

  2. darkdaughta says:

    Is it possible to read rather than eat manna? I’m not a christian, but I feel like this has injected something really transformative into the blogosphere and hopefully into the collective consciousness. You’ve written something so necessary, so scarce. Beautifully thought through and articulated. Many thanks.

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