Sense8, Netflix’s new science-fiction show, is being praised by everyone with a pulse for its treatment of transgender people. That’s great and I’m very happy that Lana Wachowski has an outlet to express her own humanity. It’s a shame she and her brother are doing it on the backs of other, equally maligned groups.
The Wachowski’s have never been good with race. Their love of Japanese culture, seen in The Matrix and Speed Racer, only goes as far as appropriating their stories and filling them with white faces. Cloud Atlas got in especially hot water for having Asian characters played by white actors in sophisticated yellow face. I suspected Sense8 was going to be in a similar vein when all the various characters of color were easily digestible stereotypes – the Latino telenovela actor, the Asian business woman who does tai chi, the African bus driver with the AIDs ridden mother. The Indian woman who’s neck deep in – surprise, surprise – a wedding. Because we’ve all seen Monsoon Wedding, right? That’s what those people do all the time!
Not so for the white characters. The Germans were organized criminals, not efficient car builders drinking beer. The Brits were rave DJs, not tea sipping gossip mongers. They weren’t even punks. The Icelander wasn’t a depressed, sun starved alcoholic eating fish and imported honey. And the American – get this – is a police officer that doesn’t kill black people on sight.
The cop’s story was the worst part of Sense8’s pilot and the part where we checked out for good. The white Chicago cop character is on patrol in what looks like Iraq. He comes upon a black gang member who proceeds to draw a gun on the cop. The cop pulls his gun but doesn’t shoot. Unrealistic, but ok. Turns out the black kid has already been shot, supposedly by another black kid. The white cop picks up the kid, despite the complaints of his Latino partner, and drives him to the closest hospital.
This is where the real insanity happens. The black nurse running the admissions doesn’t want to let a shooting victim into the hospital. I understand this is actual policy in some Chicago hospitals, but having a black woman so vehemently enforce the policy against a kindly white cop? I was annoyed, but I kept watching. That’s when I was treated to what might be the most insensitive, outright racist thing I’ve seen on TV in a long while.
The white cop is sitting around waiting on word of the black kid’s condition. That’s when the black admittance nurse tells the white cop that it would have been better to let the black child die because one day that black child might return to the streets and kill a (most likely white) cop. That’s right, a black woman told a white man black lives don’t matter. The wife actually turned to me and said “It would be immoral to watch anymore of this show”. Just to prove I’m not shitting you here is the transcript:
Nurse: Dr. Manno just came out of surgery. Life signs are stable. He’ll probably make it.
Cop: Ok. Thanks.
Nurse: Can I ask you a personal question? If he lives and kills someone, let’s say a cop, how you gonna feel about that?
Cop looks down, unsure how to answer.
Considering #BlackLivesMatter has been in existence for over a year now this can only be seen as a reaction to it. JMS and the Wachowskis are forcing a black actress to make a point conservative pundits have been pushing all year long: black people are violent animals who need to be put down before they harm someone of real value. White people aren’t part of the problem. They just want to help. Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Sense8 may very well evolve into something that’s not so steeped in this kind of racial insensitivity by the end of the season. Maybe it’s characters of color move beyond their white approved niche’s. I’ll never know. The above scene is unforgivable in our current, or any other, political climate. It’s a gross distortion of reality which the writers tried to make palatable by having an African-American be the spokesperson.