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Tag: opinion

The Expanse: a show about the future made for the present

Contributed by
May 24, 2018

I love seeing women of color kicking ass and taking names. And that's why, for the last three seasons, I've watched the women of The Expanse with a huge grin on my face. I've waited almost my whole life for a sci-fi show where the women I see on the screen resemble those I see in my daily life. So, when it was announced that the show had been canceled, we fans immediately took to social media to express our displeasure.

Like everyone else, I was upset because The Expanse is honestly one of the best sci-fi shows on television, but also because I realized that I was losing one of the few science fiction shows — Star Trek: Discovery and Killjoys being the others — on a major network with true diversity. By "true diversity," I mean that the racial makeup of the characters extends beyond black and white and exists without the modern-day racial stereotypes we always see. A prime example is Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), a man of clear Middle Eastern descent from Mars, who speaks with an American Western accent and is considered to be the best pilot in the universe. When have we ever seen a character like this?

When the show premiered in 2015, I was blown away by the show's casting — not just its stars but its background actors as well. In the first episode, there's a scene that takes place on Eros that brilliantly illustrates the diversity The Expanse's universe. In one shot I saw men and women of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent (among others) living in a future universe defined by its melting pot of cultures. This is reflected in everything we see on the show, especially in the language of the Belters.

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Being a black woman who has always been fascinated by science fiction shows and films, I've unfortunately had very low expectations of seeing other black women and non-black women of color in major roles. But in recent years, there have been incremental changes in who we see on TV, and The Expanse represents a huge part of those changes.

As the series progressed, more women were added to the narrative, and to my delight, they were mostly women of color. Up front, there's Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper is of Dominican heritage), Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo, who is Iranian-American), Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams is of Samoan and Australian Aborigine heritage), and Drummer (Cara Gee is Ojibwe Canadian First Nations).

I became so enamored with these women that I decided to read the books the show is based upon. Written by James S.A. Corey, the series tells of a universe where mankind has successfully expanded throughout Earth's solar system and possibly further, and created thriving societies on various planetary moons and even asteroid belts. With a story filled with political intrigue, mind-blowing science, and some of the most complex and interesting characters ever, the series is unlike anything I have ever read.

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Aside from the main story of James Holden (Steven Strait) and his crew trying to figure out just what the hell the protomolecule is and its purpose, the series is filled with badass women who are respected for what they can do and how they get the job done. Naomi, Chrisjen, and Bobbie are women who aren't afraid they'll be judged for being women of color. In the world of The Expanse, skin color and gender literally don't matter. Now don't get me wrong — prejudice still exists in this universe, because let's face it, human beings can be extremely stupid at times and, unfortunately, prejudice is a byproduct of that — but it's a world where people wouldn't doubt my capabilities because I'm a woman and wouldn’t follow me around stores because I'm black. That's one step closer to utopia.

What makes The Expanse so unique, apart from its stellar VFX, are the in-depth discussions about what it means to live in space and in a society where your nationality and heritage are challenged. As someone who grew up in the Caribbean, I identify with Bobbie and Alex, who feel the need to defend their Martian nationality to the very people (Earthers) whose government settled their ancestors there. Being a Barbadian living in Toronto, I don't encounter many Bajans outside of family settings, so it's only around them that my full accent and dialect comes out. For that reason, when Belters like Naomi and Drummer speak their language — officially known as Belter Creole — without shame, I feel that same pride, because I recognize certain linguistic similarities with Caribbean and African dialects, as well as the importance of holding onto your identity in an environment where others may not appreciate it.

The same week The Expanse was canceled, other networks like Fox, CBS, and ABC either canceled or failed to pick up shows in need of being renewed. This is pretty customary in the industry, but what was interesting — and, frankly, disheartening — was that a significant number of the shows canceled had women of color in the lead roles and a diverse supporting cast. The loss of these shows makes the possibility of The Expanse not returning even more daunting. The idea that TV programming is regressing rather than progressing may sound a bit dramatic, but when you look at programs like Roseanne getting a second season while others like The Expanse get canceled, there's definitely a problem. 

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In an age when private companies have space exploration programs with the objective of colonizing Mars, The Expanse — a show where that is a reality and the consequences of this colonization are discussed — is incredibly relevant. Even though The Expanse is set hundreds of years in the future, its messages on prejudice and acceptance and its portrayal of women as fully realized, complex people are perfect for the time we live in now. From the way linguist Nick Farmer created a language in which people from all over the world can hear themselves to how writers like James S.A. Corey envisioned a future where race and gender have no bearing on what we as human beings can do, I want networks to understand why shows like this are important.

So I say to the networks reading this — especially Amazon, which is said to be in talks to possibly revive the series: Be more like Holden, fighting for what's right, and save shows like The Expanse. Don’t be on the wrong side of television history. In other words, don’t be an Errinwright.

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