Racism, Sexism, and Hannibal: Eat The Rude

I’m an American actress and I play Beverly Katz on NBC’s HANNIBAL created by Bryan Fuller. (Spoiler Alert coming right now!!!) And she dies in episode 4 of Season 2. That episode got a lot of positive reviews, but it also incited an on-line storm of vitriol directed to Fuller himself for killing off Katz, or more specifically, for being racist and sexist. I caught wind of this myself via Twitter from our beloved Fannibals. And I thought maybe it’d be productive to talk about rather than ignore it.

Fuller cast me in a role that I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting. I rarely if ever see minorities, women, minority women, let alone Asian women, get to play characters like Beverly Katz. I rarely if ever see characters like Beverly Katz period. And her last name is Katz for Christ’s sake. Pretty open-minded, non-racist, pro-feminine writing and casting in my opinion.
As far as “fridging” (killing her off for the sake of advancing the plot or creating “manpain”)… HANNIBAL is based on the Thomas Harris novels and it centers on the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham – two dudes, so that’s where the focus will be and will likely remain. (My guess is that now that their relationship has been well established, there will be opportunity to further develop female characters. One can hope.)
With good writing, every event happens in order to advance the plot and raise the stakes for the characters in the story, so I’m not sure how any character getting killed off is a bad or avoidable thing, especially on a show about a guy who eats people.
Yes, Fuller could’ve kept me on for longer and if he had, my character would’ve probably remained in the background processing crime scenes regurgitating technical exposition. Instead – albeit not for very long – he wrote enough for Katz to make people get to know her a little better, actually identify with her, and like her enough to care when she gets killed. If people can identify with this character regardless of the color of her skin, or like her regardless of her sex without her having to play the qualities we usually see chicks play, then that’s a good thing in my opinion. If you are upset about not believing Katz would be so careless, I agree, though part of the fun of the show is its homage to the horror genre. And finding the writing unrealistic may not be enough damning evidence of racism or sexism.
And let’s take Bella Crawford. She’s a great presence in the story as Jack’s wife despite being a peripheral character, played beautifully and poignantly with great strength by Gina Torres in some of the most moving scenes of the series. Her storyline and possible demise ain’t cheap either. (And she landed a nice solid slap to Hannibal’s mug.)

In addition, what you may not know is that, though Fuller is the creator/writer, supremely respected and highly regarded, there are many other cooks in this kitchen, AKA the producers. Even though Bryan crafted Katz’s death from the get-go for the sake of storytelling – not to gleefully off a minority female – he wanted me to stay on for longer. I wanted to stay on for longer. But we’re not the only ones who have a say about that. And with the other actresses on the show who have left or may be leaving soon, they have other commitments to other projects, so scheduling and availability are other major factors. And don’t forget about the constraints of Father Time and the Almighty Budget. (You’d be shocked to know how amazing this show looks for how little money they put into it.)

Believe me, I would’ve preferred having Katz go down with a fight, but when I brought it up, I was told there was concern around showing Hannibal beating up a woman. I can see why they would be concerned. They were being sensitive not to overdo the violence against women in a story that inherently deals with violence. On the other hand, I also felt like that was sort of akin to relegating a female cop to a desk job rather than sending her out into the field. Isn’t that sort of perpetuating the notion that women are the weaker sex? So I suggested to a couple producers that they mitigate their concerns by having Katz get a good solid shot at him before dying, maybe a kick in the balls or wounding him somehow. But then that poses more issues and problems with maintaining integrity and making sure Hannibal doesn’t get caught too soon, which of course can’t happen, otherwise there’s no show. To be fair, I don’t believe they didn’t listen to me because I’m an Asian or a female. I think they didn’t listen to me because I’m an actor.

Having said all that, I don’t for one second discount or dismiss people’s upset or frustration. There’s a lot of pain out there. First of all, dealing with death, particularly of someone you know (or feel like you know in this instance), is difficult. That’s why we love great TV shows and film and theater and art. We can actually feel our emotions, laugh, cry, and feel connected to one another, right? Secondly, dealing with racism or sexism sucks. I’ve come face-to-face with my fair share of racism AND sexism, especially in this industry. It’s disgusting. It’s humiliating, infuriating, deeply disappointing, and it fucking hurts. When you feel marginalized by the world at large, there’s great comfort and empowerment in seeing someone you can identify with on the screen who isn’t subject to clichés or stereotypes. When that gets taken away, you can feel like you’ve been fucked over once again. And unless you’ve ever been hurt merely due to the color of your skin, what’s between your legs, or who sleeps next to you at night, you probably don’t understand that kind of pain. And anger is usually our first defense against pain. And these are things you can’t physically touch or pin down or throw away or kick the shit out of, arrest and put in jail, so when any form of it might be tangible – like the white, male writer/creator of HANNIBAL – he will become the unfortunate punching bag for a lot of people’s pain.

And if you are one of those people doing the punching, I ask you to consider this: What if he’s on our side? Don’t forget this is network television, not cable. In order to sell those advertising dollars and survive, they want to appeal to the masses of Middle America. Fuller didn’t have to have any women on the show. He didn’t have to have any strong women on the show. He didn’t have to have any diversity on the show. And HANNIBAL is trying to change the antiquated model of television programming, and they’re doing it. Yes, prominent women and diversity should be a bare minimum for all shows, I agree. But one person can’t change the entire industry or the establishment overnight. Certainly there are plenty of white male writers who may have their own agendas, or may not even realize the frame through which they view the world is biased. But I wouldn’t underestimate Bryan Fuller. His entire body of work alone shows that he’s far from ignorant. And I understand some people were upset with his AV Club interview regarding that episode, but don’t mistake his passion for the creative process of writing fiction with any lack of compassion he has in real life.

Now I’m definitely not suggesting any of these issues get dismissed or that anyone should be silenced, or even that Fuller isn’t secretly the most intelligent psychopath of all. I actually don’t really know. But no one of us can change the world or the industry and eradicate racism, sexism, or homophobia alone. And while I don’t think anyone honestly believes a TV show bears the burden of social justice, I do think audiences appreciate seeing a realistic representation of the population. And it is becoming more and more obvious that it’s economically viable and necessary to do so. It’s vitally important to speak your truth, voice your opinions, express your concerns and upset, and more importantly support and praise the things you like and love. And the people who are the decision makers – the network, producers, writers – they will be forced to listen. And if you’re loud enough, they will hear you, and things will change. Though it’s always more effective to do so without getting nasty or disrespectful about it because that only pushes people further away. I’m not sure the people who are directing their anger at Fuller or HANNIBAL aren’t really angry at the old-fashioned ideas cultivated by our society about women and people of color. Let’s talk about it with civility and dignity. I don’t see how attacking anyone to the point where nobody wants to listen to any possibly valid points you’re making is going to lead to any solutions. And at least for me, I just end up feeling even worse.

I’d rather focus on the positive stuff. I got to play this amazing woman who didn’t have to sleep with anyone (not that I would have minded) or act dumb and girlie or fawn all over some guy or be a conniving bitch to get people to notice or respect me, and she didn’t speak broken English or karate chop anyone (not that I would have minded). Nobody called her “dragon lady” or “exotic.” She could shoot a gun and drive that FBI SUV like a champ. And all with the extra added bonus of being Jewish. And when I get messages and thank yous from viewers who dig that or are inspired by that, well, that’s what makes any of this worthwhile or mean anything to me. So thank you for that. I love Beverly Katz. And I loved playing her.

I tend to be forgiving of human imperfection as well as give people the benefit of the doubt. I believe in Bryan Fuller. I believe he’s on our side. And I think it’s pretty awesome that the people who watch HANNIBAL are invested and passionate and intelligent enough to bring these issues to light and make some noise. Maybe this was his design all along. You never know.
PS…I don’t wish to become the target of the vitriol, but I’m probably more guilty of racism and sexism than HANNIBAL or Bryan Fuller. I admit I unabashedly tried to point my ass towards the camera every chance I could get, and I begged them to turn me into an eggroll. Neither attempts were successful.
#GirlPower #YellowFever #RIPBevKatz #FANNIBALSruletheworld #EmbraceYourStrengthsLaughatEachOthersWeaknesses