Black Representation in Youth Dramas – Degrassi Case Study | Black Writers Week

For my visuals – check out the cool chart I made below! 

Now let’s get back to the Degrassi Characters.

Black characters in Youth Dramas typically fall into 3 buckets: The Assistant, The Token, or the representation of Trauma.

Left Image: Hazel and Paige, Right Image: Katie and Marisol

The Assistant

The Assistant can also be coined as “The Magical Negro” or “The Black Best Friend.” In other words, Black characters merely existed to assist and elevate non-POC storylines. This deprives the audience of a chance to truly understand various Black teen perspectives. In “Degrassi,” characters like Hazel and Chantay didn’t get a backstory as much as other characters. Hazel served as Paige’s sidekick, and Chantay was mainly the popular crew’s sidekick and barely got screen time. Even in the later seasons, Marisol didn’t have a developed storyline and existed to add drama to the mix. Jimmy (aka Drake), while being a prominent character, later on merely existed to advance Spinner’s storyline. Not to mention, Spinner is the same best friend that played a role in Jimmy getting shot, which is how he gets paralyzed in the first place.

For more reading, check out Andrea Desiree Lewis’ (Hazel) dive into her painful experience of not being represented on set.

Liberty on Degrassi

The Token

Tokens are when characters are meant to be the sole representation and only exist as such. Liberty, a super-intelligent, wealthy, and a bit prickly character in “Degrassi” always served as the token Black, nerdy girl. We didn’t get too much backstory on her and character development versus a very similar character in Claire Edwards, a white female, who practically had a season or two fully dedicated towards her character development. “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” did this notoriously. Mercedes was the main lead and played the “strong black woman” trope but they barely went into her backstory until right before she ended the series. Maya St. Germaine in “PLL” mainly existed to help one of the main characters embrace her sexuality. Both were tools in a story, rather than being the story itself.  

There can’t be too many tokens!

Also, there’s this strange quotient scenario going on with Black characters in “Degrassi.” It’s as if once there are three Black characters max, one has got to go. Even on Twitter, it was a joke how Hazel needed to leave the series to make room for Liberty’s brother as the main character. 

Black LGBT Characters: Where Were they? 

On “Degrassi,” Black LGBT characters were nonexistent. Broadly there’s still much more distance to go in this representation. Characters like Eric in “Sex Education,” Rue in “Euphoria,” and Coop in “All-American” are helping continue to blaze the path.

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