By Amy Tonta
This article contains spoilers for Season 3 of Killing Eve.
When talking about diversity and representation, we often talk about what we see as a spectator. But it is essential to also talk about inclusion behind the camera. Ask, just exactly who are the people writing these stories that we invest our time in?
In particular, looking at characters of colour, Killing Eve is one of the many television shows currently airing that features a protagonist of colour.
In this case, it’s Eve Polastri, played by Korean Canadian actress Sandra Oh.
You would think that the titular character of a TV show would have more prominent screentime, right? Well, much to our disappointment, this wasn’t the case with season three of Killing Eve. The third season concluded on the 31st of May with the constant question of; What happened to Eve? Where is she?
It seems the question was soon answered when Killing Eve writer Kayleigh Llewellyn tweeted a photo of a live stream of the writer’s room, which was immediately met with backlash. The now-deleted tweet featured an image of the nine writers as they held up wine glasses with broad grins on their faces. The cause for many to raise eyebrows was the fact all nine writers were white.
New questions emerged; Why isn’t there a single Asian writer in that room? Why is there a lack of diversity in the writer’s room of a show with a Korean lead?
Unfortunately, this absence of Asian writers was all too apparent in the writing of the third season.
Eve was sidelined, and her screentime was less. When the audience was lucky enough to see her, her time was mostly spent investigating the death of her friend, Kenny and the attempted murder of her husband, Niko. The six-month gap between the events of season two and season three also didn’t present the audience much insight on how Eve was coping after being shot by Villanelle.
After the initial success of the first season, it was blatant that Villanelle was a fan favourite, and so as the show progressed, her screentime became greater. Though it is fair to say that she is also the main character, it seems the writers have forgotten just who precisely the titular character is. The show started with Eve; it is her investigation into Villanelle that serves as the driving force, that lunges her into the cat and mouse chase between the two characters.
Fortunately, with Sandra Oh, serving as executive producer on Killing Eve, this has allowed her to push towards having ties from her cultural identity into the writing of Eve, which she spoke about in a recent video interview for the LA Times. Oh talked about a scene featured in the first episode of the third season, where Eve shops at New Malden, a suburb in London that consists of the largest Korean population outside South Korea.
However, she has also been critical of the lack of diversity behind the scenes. She openly spoke about the issue with Kerry Washington in her Variety: Actor on Actors interview, stating that the U.K. is behind. The majority of the time, she is the only Asian person on set.
It contrasts to Kerry Washington’s experience on the set of her TV show Little Fires Everywhere. Explaining in the same interview that their writer’s room hired many different people with different backgrounds to ensure the writing was authentic as possible.
While it is promising to see Sandra Oh uses her position to infuse her cultural heritage into her character, the backlash of the writer’s room continues to loom a dark cloud over the show. It should be an eye-opener, a moment for the crew to reflect and make a change. Though Eve’s race has never been a prominent aspect within the show’s narrative, this backlash should open the doors on a conversation about allowing creators of colour to have input on these characters.
Unfortunately, Killing Eve is just one example of this debacle with another recent case involving the Freeform show, The Bold Type. Aisha Dee, who plays one of the main characters on the show, Kat, is biracial and took to Instagram to address the lack of diversity behind the scenes of the show—stating that the show took two seasons to get a BIPOC in the writer’s room. Three seasons to get someone in the hair department who knew how to work with her hair.
She was also vocal about her opinion on a controversial storyline that involved her character enter a relationship with a conservative woman, to which she believed is something her character Kat would never do.
These two incidents involving Killing Eve and The Bold Type should discuss inclusion behind the scenes within a wider scope. This is not to say that white creators can’t write characters of colour—this is merely stating that there should be more diversity in a writer’s room, especially concerning writing characters of colour. Having more inclusion brings forward authenticity to these characters—infusing their cultural background into the story and deepening the narrative.
While it may not be intended for writers to sideline minorities, it still happens too often. There needs to be more input from people within these communities behind the scenes. Different people, different experiences—it’s as simple as that. Allowing these voices within the writer’s room is a step toward preventing more harmful stereotypes from being perpetrated.
But it is important to note that 2018-2019 has seen an increase in diversity and representation not only on screen but also behind the scenes. It was found that screenwriters of colour had increased in the past two years, jumping from 7.8% in 2017 to 13.9% in 2019. These statistics were only for film, however.
Two notable examples of how diversity behind the scenes can tell authentic stories of race are The Farewell (written and directed by Lulu Wang) and Moonlight (directed by Barry Jenkins based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play). Both films focus on race and identity and are told through an authentic lens, written and directed by people who have the experience to tell these stories.
While this focuses on predominantly characters of colour, this applies to anyone who is viewed as “the Other’, marginalized people who still seek representation of themselves in a positive light. We all have different experiences, different ways of moving around the world, and it is the job of these creators to tell these stories. One step closer to that is allowing more diversity behind the scenes because what occurs there reflects what happens in front of the camera.