Okay, I need to talk about Reba McClane.
I don’t know if you watch NBC’s Hannibal. Hell, I’d stopped watching four episodes into Season One. I have a low threshold for gore no matter how high the production values are. But I’m back on board for the second half of Season Three. Reba McClane is the reason why.
Casting Rutina Wesley in the role is nothing short of genius. Her performance is such a breath of fresh air, not only for a show mired in death, darkness and psychopathology but for beleaguered Black women TV viewers everywhere. Wesley plays Reba with a hint of innocence, naivete and open-hearted sweetness that we never see in Black women characters on any screen. After six years of playing the burdened Tara Thornton on True Blood, watching Wesley be so relatively carefree is a joy to behold.
I know it’s a huge fact to set aside but let’s not focus on Dolarhyde and his transformation into or ‘becoming’ the Great Red Dragon. But I don’t believe it’s relevant to this discussion of Reba McClane. Because even if he was not psychotic or scarred by abuse and disability, I think he would have fallen for Reba McClane, especially as played by Rutina Wesley. In addition to her kindness and acceptance of Francis, Reba’s able to communicate with him without artifice or double-talk. Reba’s sweetness and straight-shooting is irresistible to Francis despite his disconnection from reality. I doubt that would change if his mental health were more stable, in fact I think Reba’s pull would be even stronger.
In Reba McClane, Wesley gets to be open-hearted, sweet and unequivocally lovable on-screen. It’s such a contrast from her last TV role. Her Reba McClane is not laden down with the stereotypes generally attributed to Black women. And Ms. Wesley seems to revel in that fact. I can feel that joy in her performance.
I was so invigorated after watching Hannibal 3.9 “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun”. I had to get online and squee with a fan who had decided since Wesley was cast as Reba to view Season 3 with rose-colored, AU glasses. (She also promised fic and I’m holding her to that.) This fan loves Rutina Wesley even more than I do so we’re able to focus our fangirling on Reba/Rutina and her interactions with Francis/Richard Armitage. We’re both basically coming back to the show after skipping the first two and a half seasons. So rose-colored glasses is a pale descriptor for our delusional version of squee. In our heads, we’re watching the beginning of a great romance, not a tragedy. Yes, we may need help but we’re not seeking it at the moment.
This may sound sad to some but it speaks to the dearth of Black women characters like Reba McClane. There’s no denying she’s a love interest but her personality sets her apart from every other character on the show. Reba has no ulterior motives, no sinister master plan. She knows she’s great and wants to share that greatness with someone else. (Too bad she’s chosen a psychotic serial killer, but hey, a lot of awesome people have bad taste in men.) She’s also free from so many hurtful stereotypes that stick to WoC characters even when they’re race-bended.
My only hope is that the writers don’t lose their way with Reba’s characterization the same way that Sleepy Hollow has with the Mills Sisters, or The Flash has with Iris West. Please don’t get distracted with shiny white characters and mess up the good thing you’ve got going here. Don’t place your WoC character’s development on the backburner. Let us have this. Let us keep having great things to say when we talk about Reba McClane.