Why the new trailer for Netflix’s ‘Raising Dion’ feels bittersweet
This show will always have an asterisk next to it for me.
by Andrew Keahey
Netflix recently released the trailer for Raising Dion, an upcoming original series produced by Michael B. Jordan about a single Black mother raising her super-powered son as the government attempts to take him and use his abilities for their own nefarious purposes—or as we know it, “standard government stuff.”
Based on the 2015 short film by Dennis Liu, it was slated to become a series even back then, but stayed in production limbo until only recently, when Michael B. Jordan’s production company scooped it up and Netflix nabbed it for distribution.
If you’ve read my other writings on Black representation in media, you know how passionate I am about seeing our people in major roles on screen; roles that until only recently were seemingly reserved for the same 15-20 white actors and actresses. They’d play the same parts over and over in stories that, in most cases, would’ve lended themselves better to people of color. We all saw it, and we’d always speak up, but the box office spoke louder, so we were pushed to the side.
Until recently, the “Sassy Black Friend” was largely what we were utilized for; a voice of reason in the lives of inept caucasions, there to provide much needed truths in the form of comic relief, and then hook up with the only other Black character present. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Sometimes we’re also servants, like drivers or maids. It’s our main source of Oscar nominations. But Raising Dion is one of those projects that made me feel hopeful! A superhero film where Black people are front and center, and just when my high from Black Panther had begun to wear off!
The original short film is exceptional in highlighting the plight of the Black single mother, while delivering a heartfelt message of love, and drawing viewers in. It made me want to know so much more about the universe. At the end of what basically amounts to a TV pitch trailer, I was sold. This little super Black boy had my attention.
The video went viral. People loved it. Cogs were in motion! Executives were talking! It wouldn’t be long now, right? Well… Not quite. Fast forward four years—a long time to wait for some good, original content—and then seemingly out of nowhere, I see the trailer for Raising Dion appear on my Facebook feed, and it looks good! I hadn’t seen the original film in some time, but it more-or-less matched up with my memory of what I’d seen before. They were making my show! I was thrilled!
I just had to write about it. Black people in horror and sci-fi has always been my jam specifically, and I wasn’t one to miss the opportunity to speak on something I was passionate about. I wrote up the pitch and sent it off to my editor less than five minutes after seeing the commercial, and started writing the piece before I even heard back. I brought up all the information that I could, and began to outline what I was going to say, when I noticed several comments that stood out to me.
“Dark skinned women just can’t catch a break”
I read these words on Twitter, and many others like them. I knew immediately what had happened, and went back to the source material to confirm. I realized then that the actor playing the titular “Dion” and the actress playing his mother in the original short film have much darker skin than the performers cast in the new series.
Colorism is nothing new in Hollywood. When people of color, especially Black people, do manage to get those precious film and TV roles, it’s typically people on the lighter end of the spectrum, and this is a problem both on the screen and within our own communities. Part of what made Black Panther so successful when it premiered was that it cast darker skinned women in roles of prominence to a degree we rarely see, and that is atypical for a big budget production. Those roles are usually given to the lighter skinned because of the aforementioned biases.
Hell, I can only go so far into my own Facebook feed before I see posts saying things like, “lightskin girls do it better,” post raising up those with a “fairer” complexion and devaluing our dark skinned sisters. There’s an incredibly toxic belief that dark skin women are angrier and not traditionally what’s considered to be beautiful, and those harmful stereotypes are not only historical, but pervasive to this day. So, here we were with a role that was originally intended for a darker skinned woman that was instead given to Alisha Wainwright, who is much, much lighter.
Now it’s easy enough to dismiss this as being incidental casting. It might just be a matter of these particular actors and actresses having the best auditions, and so the production went forward with them. Maybe they weren’t even the first choices, and people who looked closer to the original cast had scheduling conflicts. All kinds of factors could have gone into that decision right? Well…
Michael B. Jordan has been getting the side-eye from Black women for a few years now, having to constantly defend himself from allegations that he favors white and lighter skinned women over their darker skinned counterparts. He even went so far in defense of himself that he ended up comparing different colors of women to different flavors of milk, which of course nobody was particularly fond of. He also lamented his critics as people seeing things in “black and white” in a rambling statement that essentially boiled down to “I don’t see color,” which people also didn’t like.
You would think that one of the main stars of Black Panther would be able to recognize the value of dark skinned representation, considering the massive success that the film saw as a result of such inclusion, but we’re forced to confront the fact that Jordan’s personal biases have potentially marred what could have been starring roles in a high-budget sci-fi show for a dark-skinned performers.
All in all, I still think the trailer looks good. I still like the concept, the focus on a single mother and her son who she’s trying to raise right, and the demonization of the government. Those are all solid hits for me. This is a show that I’d normally be very excited to see from Netflix, or in general. Hell, it still might be.
This is an original story given a proper budget, a chance to tell more of our stories and to show them to a wider audience. A chance for us to elevate some of our creatives who might not have otherwise gotten the opportunity at all. But no matter what, when I hit “Play” on episode one, this show will always have an asterisk next to it for me now. Because, unlike Michael B Jordan, I’m not rich enough to be “colorblind.”
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry.