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Vanessa Morgan of Riverdale Blasts Portrayal of Black Characters

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BY June 17, 2020
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In the days since the murder of George Floyd sparked protests in every state and around the world, we’ve seen celebrities make a variety of statements. Some have made half-assed reposts, while others have eloquently expressed hard truths. There’s a sense that we’re at a turning point right now, so some people won’t stay silent. One of those folks is Vanessa Morgan of Riverdale. She posted a statement this week that seems to call out that show.

What Did Vanessa Morgan Say About Riverdale?

Although Morgan’s original statement didn’t name Riverdale, it still comes off as pretty damning regarding the show. Morgan wrote that she was “tired of how black people are portrayed in Media…as thugs, dangerous, or angry scary people (sic).” While that seems like a blanket statement about media depiction in general, her next comments seem a lot more specific. She wrote, “Tired of us also being used as side kick non dimensional characters to our white leads. Or only used in the ads for diversity but not actually in the show. (sic)” She finishes up by saying that she’s not being quiet anymore.

vanessa morgan riverdale image via The CW

To regular viewers of the show (and hostages like me), this rings true. When the show introduced Toni Topaz, Morgan’s character, she was a character with her own agency. She befriended Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) when he had to transfer to Southside High. There were even hints that a romance might develop between the two. Well, they kissed once. But ultimately, their relationship fizzled. That’s probably because it threatened the sanctity of Bughead, the show’s most important ‘ship. (There are real facts I’ve probably forgotten because my head’s too busy holding Riverdale stats.)

Toni Topaz, Sidekick Non-Dimensional Character

vanessa morgan riverdale image via The CW

Anyway, with the closing of Southside High and the transfer back to Riverdale High School proper, Toni’s characterization just kinda faded away. Sure, she got together with Cheryl, also the love of my life, but…what else? As one member of the Riverdale subreddit put it, “Toni is literally Cheryl’s puppy; she has no agency or storyline of her own.” Hoo boy, is that true.

What was her storyline in season 4, exactly? Well, she spent a good chunk of it dealing with the fact that Cheryl was keeping her brother’s mouldering corpse in the house. And then, nothing. If you doubt my calculations, tell me in ten seconds another storyline she had without Cheryl.

Can’t do it! I had trouble even finding images of her by her lonesome. Look, I love Choni just as much as the next gal, but I remember a time when Toni had her own thing going. Remember her Native American pepaw? That was a good episode. God, we were so blessed then.

And then during Riverdale‘s panel at Comic-Con last year, attendees were told that season 4 would dig into Toni’s past. Incidentally, it wasn’t Vanessa who told convention-goers that, because she wasn’t there. She wasn’t invited.

Cast Members Support Her

CW Renewals image via The CW

Vanessa Morgan didn’t speak her Riverdale thoughts in a vacuum, though. And she didn’t throw her fellow cast members under the bus. As she later said, they too have little control over the storylines or the marketing. But they support her. Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty, tweeted as much.

Ashleigh Murray, who plays Josie (now on Katy Keene), also retweeted Morgan’s original tweet. When a rando suggested that Murray had left the show because she’s a “diva,” Morgan defended her. Not that she needed defending–anyone watching the show could grasp that the show pushed Josie and her Pussycats further and further into the background since its debut.

And Morgan isn’t the only cast member to criticize the show in recent months. In a very relaxed Q&A with fans earlier this month, Skeet Ulrich said, “I’m leaving Riverdale because I got bored creatively.” You and me both, homie.

No one from the show has said anything about that or Morgan’s comments, though, which is probably for the best. After all, when Sam Witwer laughed about his character’s exit–through a goshdarn window–the show’s writer’s room tweeted, “It’s because everyone wanted to PUSH you out the window, Sam.” Ah, that must be that great writing we’ve all come to expect.

What do you think about Morgan’s comments? Let us know on social media or in the comments here. But as Josie and the Pussycats once sang, “…pretend to be nice.”

featured image via The CW

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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