Riverdale Controversies



Two tweets from Vanessa Morgan (actress) about the BLM movement

“Riverdale” is a high-budget teen soap opera drama on Netflix based on the vintage “Archie Comics” series. It has had a large fan base since the day it was released in 2017, due to the well-known cast. Fans were hooked from the beginning. However, the number of loyal fans and the show’s original ‘it’ factor dwindled, due to a few of the show’s shortcomings. Some fans had become critical due to the fact of change of event’s in the show’s entertainment factor, while others point out more serious issues–one of which was the glaringly apparent racial tokenism.

With the predominantly White cast, Vanessa Morgan (one of the cast members of Riverdale herself) has spoken up about the problems she has had with the unjustified side-character roles actors of color are given to play.

In a statement on Twitter, Morgan, who plays Toni Topaz on the series, said: “Tired of how Black people are portrayed in Media, tired of us being portrayed as thugs, dangerous or angry scary people. Tired of us also being used as sidekick non-dimensional characters to our white leads. Or only used in the ads for diversity but not actually in the show.” She also replied separately to a fan saying “Lmao too bad I’m the only black series regular but also paid the least.”

Those who are without a context for racial tokenism are probably able to gouge its meaning from Morgan’s tweet shown above. With that being said, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort (as to desegregate)”. In other words, tokenism is when people of color are publicly included in communities, organizations, or projects merely to make people view the situation as progressive and inclusive when in actuality they make no true efforts to help the people of color feel included.  

A revealing article on www.nalip.org titled “5 Ways Movies Fake Racial Diversity” further explores racial tokenism in Hollywood. Here is an excerpt that explains the normalization of white characters being the default in the entertainment industry:

“‘Because characters of color are rare on screen, when they appear, they carry ‘the burden of representation’, which means that they are a symbol or representation for an entire community,’ Frances Gateward, assistant professor of media theory and criticism at Cal State Northridge, told ATTN: via email. ‘For white people, this is not a problem, because their roles are so varied and so numerous that audiences do not see them as representatives of the white community, but simply the individual characters’, Gateward said.”

In fact, the creator of “Riverdale”, Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, issued a public apology to Morgan on Instagram. Here is what it read: “She’s right. We’re sorry and we make the same promise to you that we did to her,” Aguirre-Sacasa wrote. “We will do better to honor her and the character she plays. As well as all of our actors and characters of color…We will be part of the movement, not outside it. 

All of the ‘Riverdale’ writers made a donation to [Black Lives Matter Los Angeles], but we know where the work must happen for us. In the writers’ room.”

This sentiment of these last two sentences directly flies in the face of the meaning of racial tokenism–while tokenism broadcasts diversity for appearance’s sake (without truly caring about inclusivity), Sacasa’s post acknowledges that this inclusivity must stem from a genuine place of wanting equality for all.

However, the manner in which Sacasa wholeheartedly agreed with Morgan after his own actions were the offending ones may prompt fans to question the sincerity of his apology. Could this anti-tokenism post be merely another example of tokenism?

For instance, 3 out of 4 of the leading cast of “Riverdale” are white. The main characters Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones, and Betty Cooper are Caucasian, while the female lead Veronica Lodge is of Latina descent.

There are a few Black side characters, as well as an Asian young man named Reggie Mantle, whose role serves as a temporary love interest for Veronica Lodge.

All this to say, the “default” race of the show is undoubtedly white. People may view the show as diverse due to its inclusion of a Latina woman as one of its leads, and the few Black side characters as well as one Asian side character. That is the exact thinking flaw in so many Hollywood productions today–it’s easier to remember the presence of non-white characters as opposed to white characters because white is the default.

Despite its attempts, “Riverdale” has much work to do in the field of diversity and proper representation.

You can watch Riverdale on The CW, Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu.