The Diversity Chronicles #06 - SYFY's "Dark Matter" Premiere Review

Welcome to The Diversity Chronicles, an op-ed series that examines diversity and representation, predominantly in Western media.

Two-Four-Six Diversity

On Friday, June 12, Syfy premiered its newest series, "Dark Matter." Science-fiction media has a long long history of being more progressive in its portrayal of POCs and other minority-groups, perhaps most notably the Star Trek series which broke tremendous ground in the 1960s and carried on doing so for multiple decades. But in examining the pilot of "Dark Matter," we see a bit of good, bad, and a whole lot of potential.

The show begins with six strangers waking up on a ship travelling through space, with no memories of who they are or how they came to be on this ship. As they do not even remember their names, they decide to name themselves based on the order they awoke, from One to Six. Removing the Odd-numbered white crew members, let's focus our attention on the introductions for the Even POC ones. There will be mild spoilers below.

Two is portrayed by Canadian actress Melissa O'Neil, who is of mixed Chinese heritage. This is fitting, as we later learn that Two's real name is Portia Lin. The importance of the heritage of Asian actors matching that of the characters they played stems from a long history of the homogenisation of POCs and Asians into one group, thus devaluing the individual cultural richness of each group. There are a few tropes we need the writers to stay away from for Two. The first is that of the 'Dragon Lady'. From what we've seen in the pilot, we're not so worried about this particular trope. Essentially, the 'Dragon Lady' trope consists of a cold, harsh, emotionless East-Asian female whose contribution to the content is her ability to kick butts through the use of usually-East-Asian martial arts. Though Two's introduction involved an exciting fight sequence, nearly every other one of the lead characters displayed some sort of fighting abilities in the pilot. They're a bunch of experienced criminals/possible-assassins, so they're bound to know how to throw some kicks and punches. The other trope we are far more concerned about is the eventual (and probably inevitable) introduction of a love interest for Two. We're not the betting sort but if we were, we'd put money on the fact that she will end up getting with a white man. Which one? It doesn't matter. But make no mistake, he will be white. Why is this? This can be attributed back to decades of history of fetishising East-Asian women as sexual objects for the enjoyment of white men due to invasions and violence perpetrated during wars. What we would love for Two more than anything, if she really needs to have a love interest at all, would be for her to be with either Four or Six. POC/POC relationships are a rare sight in mainstream media. It would be a beautifully progressive move for the writers to give POCs in similar relationships an opportunity to see themselves represented onscreen.

Four is played by Filipino actor Alex Mallari Jr. First and for starters, this is excellent because there are far too few Filipino talents who get substantial-enough roles to become household names. However, the main issue we had with the character's introduction was the fact that he just had to have decidedly East-Asian-sword-skills and he is actually meant to be (at least partially) Japanese. With a character name like Ryo Tetsuda, and a whole East-Asian aesthetic introduced for his living quarters, we couldn't help but cringe. Here we see a textbook example of the homogenisation of Asians as well a great deal of Othering. What that means is that much of the characterisation being presented shows that the non-white character is defined by his being just that: not white. There is, however, opportunity to fix this. For one, if they eventually reveal backstory in which he is shown to have one Japanese parent and one Filipino parent, that would be more so acceptable. In fact, we'd be downright giddy, as Asians with multiple Asian lineages are rarely shown. From now on, the writing needs to delve further into the content of just who this character actually is and what his motivations are. Also, this is a character we'd actually love to see get a love interest (make it Two!) Whenever discussions arise about the portrayal of Asian men in media, one of the first things that tends to come up is the matter of sexuality. Asian men are all but never assigned the role of romantic lead. So if any of these crew members are going to be getting some loving, I would hope for Ryo to be the first.

Finally, we'll take a look at Six, played by Jamaican-born Canadian actor, Roger Cross. Sadly, there's not quite as much we can say about Six just yet, seeing as how there wasn't quite as much material for him which we would analyse. One plot point that might have been an issue was the revelation that Six/"Griffin Jones" is a criminal but seeing as how five of the six crew members had criminal pasts revealed at the episode's conclusion, it's not currently a major concern. Somewhat similar to the hopes for a quality love-story for Four, it would be nice to see a healthy romantic relationship play out for Six. If you are wondering why so much has been written in this piece about hypothetical love stories/interests on a show that has had much of it's plot be about the mystery and action taking place in and out of space, the reason is simple: the show has already planted seeds and played into subtleties of racist stereotypes in this area. Case and point: the sexualisation of Two, as evidenced by the male crew members taking time to stare at her derrière when she walked out of the cockpit. Two white men, one black man, but not the Asian man, all took time to do this. What on earth does this do for the plot except offend (East-)Asian women, Asian men, and Black men alike? (We haven't even gotten into issues pertaining to the negative stereotypes pertaining to Black-male-sexuality). But this is just the sort of thing that drives us to write these posts.

As we stated previously, Dark Matter is a show with plenty of potential. One episode in and already we've had exciting action, a mystery to uncover, and a band of misfits to potentially carve a legacy of their own amongst other sci-fi legends. There is diversity here that we want to commend and celebrate. But the writing will be essential to making this a show that breaks ground and have a meaningful impact on its viewers. We're confident that O'Neil, Mallari, and Cross will play their material to the best of their abilities; we only hope that the material they're given is up to par. Your move, Dark Matter writers.

Did you tune in for Dark Matter's premiere? Will you be tuning in for more? Share your thoughts on the show in the comments section below!


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