Aisha Dee Calls Out Bold Type’s Lack of Diversity, Credits Queer Fans
For all of its benchmark representation and forward-thinking storylines, The Bold Type has veered off course lately, especially with narratives for Kat Edison, the show’s leading biracial/bisexual character. The Freeform series about young women navigating career, friendship, and love at a Cosmo-esque magazine has told important stories since it premiered in 2017. It has introduced TV’s first lesbian Muslim, engaged in frank discussions about oral sex between women, tackled sexual abuse months before the #MeToo movement took off, and recently examined the rare story of a young woman choosing not to be a mother.
But a story in the back half of the fourth season that has sparked dismay and outrage in fans on social media has Aisha Dee’s Kat not only hooking up with a lesbian Republican but being pushed to consider her life’s work as a progressive queer liberal activist (who seeks to do good for the most marginalized) as too rigid. At first, it appeared that Kat’s interactions with the hard-line conservative Ava (Alex Paxton-Beesley) might just be some sexual sparks and a one-night stand, but it became something else entirely. The most egregious part of the story had Kat entering a conservative space to “prove” to the new love interest that she could give conservative opinions a chance.
Taking a cue from her social justice warrior character Kat, Dee addressed her concerns about the storyline in an Instagram post. In the post, she wrote that she’s proud to be a part of the series that has told valuable stories and she validated the reaction of fans to stories inconsistent with the characters’ values. Most importantly at this time of social upheaval, she called out the lack of diversity in the writers’ room.
“The decision to have Kat enter into a relationship with a privileged conservative woman felt confusing and out of character,” Dee wrote. “Despite my personal feelings about the choice, I tried my best to tell the story with honesty, even though the Kat I know and love would never make these choices. It was heartbreaking to watch Kat’s story turn into a redemption story for someone else, someone who is complicit in the oppression of so many. Someone whose politics are actively harmful to her communities.”
Then Dee addressed the problem with the makeup of the writers’ room:
“It took two seasons to get a single BIPOC in the writers’ room for The Bold Type. And even then, the responsibility to speak for the entire Black experience cannot and should not fall on one person. We got to tell a story about a queer Black woman and a lesbian Muslim woman falling in love, but there have never been any queer Black or Muslim writers in the room. In four seasons (48 episodes) we’ve had one Black woman direct two episodes.”
“The level of care, nuance, and development that has gone into the stories centering white hetero characters is inconsistent with the stories centering queer characters and POC,” Dee continued. “I do not believe this is intentional. We cannot bring specificity and honesty to experiences we have not lived. And when there is a lack of representation, the way marginalized characters are treated is even more important because they have the potential to empower or perpetuate damaging stereotypes that have a lasting and real effect on real people.”
In an interview with The Advocate early this summer, when there was scarcely a hint of Kat’s attraction to Ava, Dee alluded to how the story might land when fans saw how things would unfold. As in most interviews at the beginning of a season, Dee was bound to keep the plot under wraps, but she hearkened to the problematic nature of what might come of Kat hooking up with the daughter of her former conversion therapy-supporting boss — and the reason Kat was fired from the job she loved.
“We just kind of have to suspend the belief a little bit for a moment to kind of tell the story, which I think is an interesting one, and really exploring what it’s like when you do kind of develop feelings for someone that you know you probably shouldn’t. And this idea of having conversations with people that exist on the opposite side of the political sphere to you,” Dee said when asked how she thinks Kat would ever be attracted to someone who doesn’t share her belief system. “It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes, but I don’t want to give too much away.”
The 26-year-old continued to credit the show’s fans for championing the characters they love. Many spoke out in the first half of the season when Kat’s ex-girlfriend Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) suddenly took issue with Kat’s bisexual identity and exhibited deeply troubling biphobic traits. The story, out of left field for Adena, who’d always been about openness and tolerance, was a sticking point for fans who also took umbrage at the writers painting TV’s first lesbian Muslim character in such a negative light.
“I really think that the fans of the show are so intelligent and so invested in a way that is such a huge blessing. I’m really curious to see how people feel about it and what kind of conversations it brings up for people,” Dee told the Advocate ahead of the Kat-Ava storyline. “People can watch it but also draw their own conclusions too.”
“One of the things I’ve always loved about our show is that the fans of the show are super vocal and always are advocating for themselves and letting the people who make the decisions know what they like and what they don’t like. I think that this is going to be a story that really stops them. I think it’s going to start some really great conversation.”
While Dee was circumspect about revealing the story that was about to unfold, she said Paxton-Beesley was an excellent scene partner.
“I guess I’m not surprised that they found someone who was just great,” Dee said. “And obviously, she’s very different to the character she played. I feel like that’s important to say too.”
Alex Paxton-Beesley as Ava and Aisha Dee as Kat
While Dee called out the issues with the show, she also wrote eloquently of her connection to it. She began her Instagram post by sharing her experience as a Black girl growing up in a white, conservative part of Australia and how the characters she watched on TV gave her solace.
“Knowing the power that art had to shape my mind and experience, I have to speak up. The Bold Type came into my world at a moment when my self-esteem was at an all-time low…For the first time in my career, I got to play a character who was centered in her own narrative,” Dee wrote. “She wasn’t just the white character’s ‘best friend.’ She was empowered and confident, she approached the exploration of her queer identity with an open heart, and was met with nothing but love and acceptance from her friends.”
Dee continued by addressing how much the show has meant to her.
“I’m proud to be a part of something that has inspired, pushed boundaries, subverted expectations, and started conversations. We got to talk about yoni eggs and yeast infections,” she wrote before addressing the problem with diversity behind the scenes of a show that has sought to tell stories about an array of people.
Meanwhile, Dee’s costars Katie Stevens (Jane) and Meghann Fahy (Sutton) shared her post on Instagram and expressed their support.
“I’m very proud of my sister,” Fahy wrote.
Production on The Bold Type’s fourth season was interrupted by the pandemic, and there’s no word yet as to whether or not the show will have a fifth season.
But Dee told The Advocate that she’s keeping her fingers crossed. She also expressed her gratitude for show’s queer fans.
“I want to express how grateful I am to the fans of the show, especially the LGBT community who have supported the show since the very beginning,” Dee said. “I think that you all are really incredible and the reason why the show is so successful, to be completely honest. So just a lot of gratitude in my heart.”
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Tracy E. Gilchrist