It’s almost become a running joke at this point, or so I’d thought. The concepts of cultural appropriation and Halloween have become a very obvious recipe for disaster, but it’s 2016. No one would dare! Right? WRONG!
Last week, I was excited, shocked, not that shocked and disappointed all within the span of 22 minutes while taking in my weekly dose of network television via Hulu. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and Halloween-themed television and movies are the best. Let’s be real.
Unfortunately, while everyone was lambasting Amy Schumer for her “Formation” faux pas, one of my newest favorite shows, The Real O’Neals, which airs on ABC, decided to completely take a dump on the frivolity that is this precious holiday and make me — and probably thousands of other brown and black gay/queer kids — cringe (for the umpteenth time).
The main character, Kenny — a young gay man growing up in an extremely Catholic household and school — decides that he’s not only going to play up the stereotypical sexual deviancy that comes along with Halloween. No, no, he also makes the decision to dress up as Beyoncé from her Super Bowl halftime performance this past year, in full Black Pantheress regalia and the most subtle black face I’ve ever seen (you can blame a heavy-handed contour stuck, or excess gilded glitter that was meant to give off that signature Beyoncé glow, but I’m not buying it). The whole thing, to say the least was the MOST offensive. On more levels than one.
Related: The History of Dia de los Muertos and Why You Shouldn’t Appropriate it
Not only did the show completely disregard the blatant cultural appropriation, they also used it as way to further perpetuate gay stereotypes in the process. The episode is centered around Kenny’s expectations of what Halloween is to “the gays” and he refers to it as “gay Super Bowl” (hence the halftime show reference, I suppose). But what he fails to consider, and what the show as a whole often fails to do, is represent more of the queer spectrum and the diversity that is the gay and queer community, and it’s getting tiresome.
Young Kenny’s journey has lead him to realize that his expectations of being gay don’t always neatly fit into the stereotypical narratives society has so thoughtfully set up for us. His efforts to start a gay-straight alliance at school lead him to realize the only other gay kid willing to come forth was an Asian lesbian student who he begrudgingly accepts as his only gay sidekick. And in another episode, his adventures in online dating apps lead him to a college, where his expectations are crushed — only for him to be guided by a slightly older, twinkish Asian gay college student (sensing a theme here?).
I understand the writers may feel they’re being more inclusive by adding characters of color to help young Kenny, and the costume choice was relevant and addressed the cross between the black and queer community’s struggles and triumphs. And — despite these glaringly obvious misses — I hope that they can learn from these mistakes.
Shows like The Real O’Neals offer a glimmer of hope to marginalized communities. I’m honestly still rooting so hard for this show, because a younger version of myself needed something like this to look to make me feel less alone. Shows like Queer as Folk and Will and Grace were always there, but were always missing the extra pigments I carry that set me apart. (We can only hope the new Will and Grace reboot will address some of these issues as well. We’re looking at you, Karen.) But until we address the problematic nature of popular queer shows and movies, we really can’t progress as a whole.
So here’s hoping the O’Neals can learn and grow. I’ll keep watching till the season’s end, but if I don’t notice a change, it’s going to be time for The Real O’Neals to get a reality check.
And this Halloween, remember: culture is not a costume.