When will Once Upon A Time have a POC character who isn’t evil, dead, or Mulan?
Admittedly, the world of Western fairy tales and Disney movies is overwhelmingly white. But if they’re adapting fairy tales in a number of ways, including making Rumplestiltskin involved in everything, they can surely mix things up a bit in the race department. Sure, we had a non-white Lancelot and Magic Mirror last year, but they’re both now dead. And even if that would be too “controversial” (add a sarcastic eye-roll here), there are non-white Disney characters who would make interesting additions to the show: the cast of Aladdin, Tiana and many of the cast of The Princess and the Frog, and more characters from Mulan, to name a few. Yet the only one POC Disney character who has appeared in the show is Mulan, and she’s been criminally underused. She and Aurora were one of the most potentially interesting elements of this season, but since Christmas they’ve been completely forgotten, except for the one-time appearance of Mulan in one of Belle’s flashback stories. My fingers are still crossed that this plotline will return, but it doesn’t look hopeful, for this season at least.
So in this episode, we met Neal’s fiance properly. I was already a little nervous about this, since the show clearly wants us to cheer for Neal and Emma, and that typically means that the existing love interest must horrible/evil and completely unlikeable, so that the viewers can count down to her “getting her comeuppance” and disappearing from the scene. No shock then when it’s revealed that she knows about the magic, that she contrived their meeting to keep up-to-date about Storybrooke, and that she’s actually a psycho killer. The audience knows that she’s crazy and evil, that she tried to kill fan-favorite August, and that she doesn’t love Neal, and so they can get wholeheartedly involved in despising her and waiting for her downfall. Unfortunately, for a show that is usually so good with its female characters, she falls completely into the dismissive unlikeable-other-women trope, and unlike villains like Regina, Rumplestiltskin and even Cora, it doesn’t look like she’s going to get the sympathetic/”this is why she’s the way she is” treatment.. The fact that she’s a rare POC in the show only makes it more problematic.
Of course, I don’t think that the writers made her an ‘evil POC’ on purpose, just as they probably didn’t intend to kill off every similar character with the exception of Regina (evil!) and Mulan (no longer around). But the cumulative track record is concerning, especially considering the way that the show treated its minor POC characters in this episode. They were walking East Asian stereotypes, including the “Wise Magic Doctor” and the Thai girl whose only job is to lie in August’s bed at the beginning of the episode. This show can do better than setting its mystical episode in East Asia, and killing off diversity as soon as it appears.
It might be difficult around the cheesy dialogue, but the show writers really need to take stock of the characters, their roles and fates, and what message the big picture sends. Allowing the return of Mulan, or introducing a character like Aladdin or Jasmine, would be a good start.
It’s proved that it can be excellent at writing female characters. But it’s really time for it to expand that thoughtfulness to other areas.