7:15 pm EDT, March 24, 2016

Why I’m sticking with ‘The 100’, and I hope you are too

The 100 fans are angry at the latest twist, and that’s good — but don’t turn a legitimate criticism into a vendetta that harms writers fighting for inclusion and representation in Hollywood.

A vocal segment of The 100 fandom is very angry right now, and for good reason. We all know by now that, a few weeks ago, The 100 killed off Lexa (played by Alycia Debnam-Carey), a powerful and intelligent leader who happened to be a lesbian. After her season 2 introduction, the character quickly became a fan-favorite, perhaps the single-most celebrated character on any current CW series. When she died, I was devastated.

Lexa was strong, she was brave, she was tactical, and she was wise. She was wonderful, complicated, imperfect; she was a stunning example of positive representation, and snuffing out her light snuffed out a lot of fan support for what is, in many ways, an astonishingly progressive show.

Yes, even now, it is astonishingly progressive.

The backlash from not just the fanbase, but the LGBTQ+ community at large, was immediate and widespread. Lexa was killed after reconciling with her lover, by a stray bullet, in an almost exact replica of a certain Buffy the Vampire Slayer scene, and in the same manner writers dispose of a worrying number of queer women on TV. Reduced to a plot point and dispatched of in a seemingly flippant manner, fans now felt betrayed, queerbaited, heartbroken, and very, very angry.

Related: The 100 season 3, episode 8 review: Holding out for a hero

Despite everything The 100 had done to normalize minorities, and despite the writers and actors’ clear love of Lexa and her lover, bisexual lead character Clarke, Lexa’s death fell squarely into the awful, pervasive Bury Your Gays trope used to kill off far too many lesbian characters (who aren’t well-represented to begin with). The writers’ celebration of Lexa suddenly felt like scorn. The manner of her death felt cheap, unnecessary. Fans’ feelings of hurt and betrayal are not unfounded, and should not be disregarded.

But here’s where I make my pitch for why you should not stop watching a show like The 100, even when it falls short, even when it falls prey to unfortunate tropes, even when it betrays you: Because it’s trying. It’s trying to provide the kind of representation most shows don’t even bother with, and after everything that happened with Lexa, it’s now going to try even harder — and we need shows that try harder.

The 100

Representation in The 100 obviously is, and has always been, about more than one character or relationship. Not only is representation in this show multi-faceted and plentiful, but since day one it has also been uncompromising and incidental. This is not a show about race, or gender, or sexuality, or disability. It is simply a show about people, which allows its characters to be as multi-faceted as in real life. Even in 2016, this rarely happens.

When I call the world of The 100 a utopia, people think it’s a typo, but I stand by it. The post-apocalyptic world our heroes occupy is full of dangers and tragedy, yes, but in the face of near-total annihilation, humanity has done something amazing: It has overcome the socially determined, biologically arbitrary categorizations that divide our world today.

Does the series have issues? Of course. Can it do better? Always. But what I love about The 100‘s approach to representation is that no one is a stereotype in the way we have come to expect ‘token’ minority characters to be, because there is no such thing as a stereotype in The 100‘s post-apocalyptic America.

The only real lines drawn are between Grounders and Arkers: the ones who never left versus the ones who did and ar now coming back to their grandparents’ home planet. This is a very different type of feud, harking back to older but no less valid conflicts, and is (in my opinion) treated with extraordinary care and nuance, with both side humanized and multi-dimensional.

In The 100, there is no such thing as gender roles. A woman takes charge, or a man takes charge; without a gender divide, no one cares either way, and worth is determined purely by competence and experience. The 100 is all about strong women, yes, but the complete normalization of women in power also means that men get to be powerful (or not), too, and it has no impact on the agency of the female characters. In this respect it is a true equality, and I can’t think of many works of fiction that manage to elevate both genders, without skewering perspective or making either men or women fetishized symbols of strength/weakness.

And finally, in The 100, no one cares about your sexuality. This has been the case since season 2, and is still the case, regardless of how the real-world writers handle real-world tropes. Clarke is still our lead, bisexual hero, who does not distinguish between her male and female lovers. She is no less bisexual for having a partner of either gender (or having no partner at all), nor should she be. And no one else on the show seems to care about the sexualities of the series’ five confirmed non-straight characters, either).

Miller and Bryan, our newest same-sex couple, have plenty of problems — and they’re allowed to have these problems, as any fictional couple would, which have nothing to do with the fact that they’re both men. It’s complicated for all the wrong reasons; their relationship gets to be real.

The 100 Miller Bryan

None of this is meant to undermine what happened with Lexa and Clexa. To be clear, I am not saying that you should support The 100 despite what it did, but rather because of what it’s still doing, and what it has always done.

In a recently published essay, showrunner Jason Rothenberg acknowledges that the writers made a miscalculation in the way they chose to kill Lexa, and — in my estimation — he has clearly taken great care to listen to his fans, to learn, to try harder:

The thinking behind having the ultimate tragedy follow the ultimate joy was to heighten the drama and underscore the universal fragility of life. But the end result became something else entirely — the perpetuation of the disturbing “Bury Your Gays” trope. Our aggressive promotion of the episode, and of this relationship, only fueled a feeling of betrayal.

I am very sorry for not recognizing this as fully as I should have. Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently.

But as much as I appreciate Rothenberg’s acknowledgement of the inherent problem with The 100‘s chosen method of killing Lexa (and the staff inviting fans to celebrate her character ahead of her death, which to many fans is the real problem, as they now feel exploited), I maintain that what happened here should not undo everything else The 100 has done, and continues to do. Lexa was so important, but at the end of the day, this show is about so much more than Lexa, and it would be a disservice to every actor, writer, producer and crew member involved with the show to pretend otherwise.

The effortless reality The 100 proposes, where our current culturally dictated issues simply don’t exist, is important, and all too rare. It shows us what may one day be. Science fiction was always meant to be a cracked window through which to reflect on the world and ourselves, and The 100 is chock-full of philosophical questions and subversions of expectations. It asks the big questions: What would humanity be if we didn’t have these archaic labels to cling to? What if we were not divided and categorized? What if it truly did not matter if you were a white, straight male or a Latina disabled female, or non-straight, or any combination of looks/personality traits? What then? How would you define your worth? How would you live your life?

The 100 Raven

Of course, part of the issue is that we’ve always known The 100 was special. And that’s why we trusted the writers to give us something that few mainstream fandoms have been able to provide — and that’s why the betrayal cuts so deep.

Even in a time where we are seeing a lot more non-male and non-white representation in mainstream media, LGBTQ+ representation is the final frontier. Male sexuality in particular is still considered a mainstream taboo (much like male nudity), simply because big media still caters primarily to the male gaze. But female sexuality, while more common in mainstream entertainment, is hardly getting much better treatment. And this is why we need the sci-fi and fantasy TV shows to embrace LGBTQ+ representation when movies won’t. And even when they fall short, we need them to keep trying, until it’s normalized enough for the big studios to dare gamble on this type of representation.

I’ve said enough on Twitter about Marvel, DC and Disney’s complete LGBTQ+ erasure, which I won’t repeat here, but I’ll just say again that it feels extremely counterproductive to condemn The 100 for its missteps when it tries to be inclusive, while applauding the Marvel and DC cinematic universes for their 100% (and very pointedly unambiguously) straight, and primarily white and male, roster of characters. Money will always be the bottom line for these mammoth franchises, and scared executives would never dare to ‘go there’ to risk alienating their established audience. So, at the very least, let us not expend all our angry energy at condemning writers and directors who are actively trying to change the norms of Hollywood.

The 100 Clexa

It’s important to state again here that I’m not saying you shouldn’t be angry at The 100. Clearly, the backlash to Lexa’s death has left a mark, and I choose to believe that there will be positive consequences (as opposed to cynical executives saying “f*** this, giving these fans what they want just leads to backlash, we can make money by queerbaiting and keep them at bay while still satisfying the CIS audience”). I think writers of all shows are paying attention, and I think this might be the beginning of Hollywood understanding what the LGBTQ+ audience really wants.

All I’m saying is that The 100 still has so much to offer, and always had a lot to offer. We still have Clarke, our bisexual lead heroine. We still have Raven, and Octavia, and Bellamy, and Abby, and Monty, and Miller, and the countless other examples of characters who represent the non-binary norm, who stand for something so matter-of-factly, we don’t even question it. That all still matters. And yes, some of them likely won’t survive the show, but their lives still matter. Putting them on the screen in the first place and telling their stories still matters. Having such a surplus of representation is what will eventually fix TV’s trope problem, because we won’t be looking at token characters anymore, because diversity will be an expected, unquestioned thing.

And while I’ll never advocate for writers to let fans dictate their stories — in my opinion, that is the fastest and easiest way to a bland, meaningless media landscape, and writers need to be able to tell their stories, for better or worse — holding writers accountable is so important if we ever want to get better representation. This is the power of fandom and social media, and if we want change, we need to get our voices heard.

I believe The 100‘s writers want to hear us. I believe they’ve proven that several times over. And as an audience base, we have the power to elevate the people who try, and to work with them to bring out the best possible representation. Just look at what the Leskru charity is doing! Now that’s positive, and it says what the fandom really wants louder than words and angry tweets.

Unfortunately, it seems a big segment of the fanbase has taken a stance of totally relentless condemnation, and I think that’s a shame. We’re condemning the writers who fail, ignoring the fact that they failed because they went there in the first place. We condemn them because we feel like they owe us the representation that the rest of Hollywood denies us. But, in my opinion, these are not the writers that deserve our condemnation.

I think we’re wasting a huge opportunity to genuinely respond to those who listen, to those who want to do better. I realize this is a highly contentious topic, but this is bigger than just The 100. It’s about embracing writers who have shown they’re willing to be inclusive, that they’re willing to improve.

This is why I would never boycott The 100, and I hope you won’t either. Don’t turn your back on the show now, not when it needs your voice the most. It is already doing amazing things, but you know it can be better. You want it to be everything you hoped it could be. In many ways, it already is. And in others, it still can be.

‘The 100’ returns next Thursday at 9/8c on The CW.

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