If The 100 fans can agree on one thing, it’s that Raven Reyes (played by the eternally exceptional Lindsey Morgan) is freaking awesome.
So it has been since Raven first appeared in the second episode of the show, wiggling out of her space suit to sass some dudes. She’s a straight-talking mechanic with a tough exterior, but a gooey middle. She’s fierce and she’s smart, but she has her flaws which only make her more relatable.
Raven was instantly one of my favourite characters for all the reasons above, and she would have remained a favourite regardless of the direction that her story arc took.
What I could not have predicted was that her story arc would take a turn that was incredibly important to me, and many others, on a personal level. When she was shot by Murphy at the end of the first season, I was horrified because I loved her. I did not know that her injury would impact the rest of her life, and mine with it.
Raven was left with a life sentence of impaired mobility and chronic pain.
We often talk about representation on this show, for better or for worse, but I rarely see people dig deep into how important it is to see a physical disability, and chronic pain, represented on a TV show. And not any TV show, but a plot-filled sci-fi epic like The 100.
Why Raven’s disability on ‘The 100’ is important representation
There are three typical examples of physically disabled characters in fiction. The most palatable example is in stories ABOUT their disability or their illness.
Then there are the background characters, only pulled into the spotlight when their disability or illness is used to make the consumer feel sad. And finally, you have characters that discover some miracle cure.
I can accept that each of these examples has its place. Most obviously, stories specifically about an illness or disability better allow us to absorb a person’s experience. Background characters are important, too, because any fiction should have diversity throughout.
And considering that many of us turn to fiction for an escape from our everyday lives, there is absolute value in the stories about characters finding a miracle cure. We each have different experiences. What works for one might not work for another.
But what we also need is reality. Real hope is not found by papering over cracks, but through acceptance and then perseverance.
The 100 did sort of tackle Raven’s disability in season 2. There were some lovely scenes which Lindsey Morgan knocked out of the park, particularly the one where Raven was unable to climb the pylon.
Another important moment was when Raven slept with Wick. Disabled people should get to see disabled characters engage in physical relationships! Despite this, I soon felt that the writers were falling into the usual patterns for a physically disabled character: Raven’s injury ultimately became peripheral.
But my concerns were obliterated by Raven’s near-perfect arc in The 100 season 3.
Right from the start we saw Abby telling Raven that she had to stop, and Raven’s reaction was to lash out. Being told you can no longer do things, or that you need to behave differently to protect yourself, or that your only hope is to maintain the best possible quality of life, is not easy to accept.
Raven’s reaction to Abby and to others in those early episodes was so achingly real I still don’t think I am over it. To accept her injury, Raven felt that she was accepting weakness. She simply could not do that.
Until the moment that she did.
When she heard Jaha preaching about the chip, she reacted as we would expect Raven to – with fire and scorn. Only, it is hard to be strong when you are in pain. Raven could not maintain it. She had to give in. She took the chip, hoping against hope that a miracle would happen because she could not face the rest of her life without one.
The scene where Raven took the chip broke something in me, because it showed that it’s okay to have those moments of weakness. We would each like to be strong all the time, but sometimes all you can do is break. Seeing that represented through a character like Raven Reyes was incredibly powerful.
Many stories would follow through on such a low moment with an actual miracle cure. The 100 did something different. The chip did cure Raven, in a way, but it was a false cure. And in taking the chip, Raven condemned her memories and her life to exist only within the City of Light.
To survive, Raven had to accept and embrace her disability and her pain as part of her life – as part of a life that she wanted to have.
This is real hope, and it is so important when it comes to representation of physical disabilities. In the real world, there are no miracles. Those of us suffering from chronic pain don’t need to be told that the only way we will be happy, or useful, is if our illness disappears. We need to be told that we can be happy despite our illness or our disability, that we can be useful despite our illness or our disability.
When The 100 first started, Raven Reyes was essential. Her intelligence and her courage made her indispensable to the group. Four seasons on, Raven Reyes is still essential for all those reasons. It was a struggle, and it will always be a struggle – mentally as well as physically – but Raven’s disability does not define her.
Representation is not only important to the consumer, but also to the next generation of creators. I suffer from a chronic illness, but it was only after feeling inspired by Raven’s arc that I made a conscious effort to include disabled people in my writing.
I always told myself that a person like me would not contribute anything to an epic fantasy, because how could somebody with dodgy knees be part of an adventure? In seeing these stories play out before us, we understand what is possible. If we write these stories and these characters now, more young minds will stretch for horizons that we cannot currently see.
We mustn’t forget that there is diversity in disability. Each of us feels different levels of pain at different times. We come from different circumstances, and privileges. My experience as a white woman with a strong support network would be a very different experience to that of a black woman, or a young man with autism, or a person living in poverty. The key to representation is variety. We should be able to see every type of character, in every type of story.
Chronic illnesses develop at any age. Anyone could become physically disabled tomorrow. Worldwide, people suffer quietly to not draw attention to something that has been grossly stigmatised. The more we tell stories, the more the stigma fades.
Raven’s story has inspired me to open up. To do something.
Raven Reyes is a mechanic, she is a woman of colour, she has a fierce heart and a fierce mouth, and she is physically disabled. And that’s okay. More so, it’s important.
This summer, Natalie will be hiking in Seven Sisters (Sussex, England) to raise money for Arthritis Research U.K. Her aim is to raise awareness for people suffering from chronic illnesses and/or physical disabilities, but to also raise awareness for the importance of seeing such people represented in fiction. Inspired by Raven’s arc on The 100, the fundraiser has been nicknamed #DoitforRaven.