I was super excited when I heard the rumours in the wind: A Nancy Drew show was in development.
As a kid, I devoured Nancy Drew. I was more into the vintage books than the modern updates, but I’d take whatever I could get. I may or may not have named a cat after a song in a Nancy Drew book. I would haunt the aisles of the used bookstore for copies I hadn’t read yet. I’m not the only one who grew up with her and her smart co-sleuths and their kind of clueless boyfriends. Also George was totally gay. Some people argue that Nancy Drew doesn’t represent the perfect iteration of female empowerment, but that’s why I like her. She’s a complicated character. She’s a femme, and she’s interdependent with her friends. I don’t see these things as negatives. Nancy inspired me to be curious, to be thoughtful, to question the world around me. These are all good things.
So the thought of a Nancy Drew series was pretty awesome, especially since I am sorely missing Veronica Mars after all these years. But it failed to make the cut at upfronts, much to the despair of a large portion of the internet. And, honestly, really nonsensically. This is a year where we’re making an all-lady Ghostbusters. Where female-driven cinema is proving to be hugely successful, and where blockbusters starring women are outperforming those with male leads. Audiences are clearly ready to see women large and in charge, and they’re ready for genderflipped texts (Ghostbusters, Elementary) in the mainstream. I think we can all agree that we’re ready to cope with the rise of women in pop culture.
And there are slow signs along some other axes of diversity as well. We’re seeing more people of colour cast on television, even as film characters are repeatedly whitewashed out, much to the frustration of any reasonable person who is tired of seeing white people in blackface, yellowface, redface, and other iterations of racism in pop culture. It’s one thing to develop a raceflipped text, though I prefer to see traditionally white characters cast as people of colour, but to take a text in which a character is explicitly identified as a person of colour and to cast a white person is racist. Hollywood should know better.
We could stand with better LGBQT representation, with actual disabled people appearing in pop culture, with more class diversity, with explorations of religion. Pop culture is struggling hard with the whole diversity thing, but it’s worth noting that television historically has really been at the forefront of diverse representations in a lot of ways. (The fact that it repeatedly fails so spectacularly is kind of a grim referendum on Hollywood’s ability to cope with the idea that people want stories about people other than heterosexual, cisgender, nondisabled white dudes.) But we’re moving forward.
So I don’t understand why Nancy Drew didn’t make the cut, especially in light of the shows that did — more half hour comedies about hapless dudes having to cope with having families! More procedurals! We’re seeing audiences responding really positively to television that goes beyond narrow conformity so why not give them more?
I want to see a sharp, funny, strong series that’s helmed by women. That features diverse characters who are written and cast not simply because of their gender, disability status, sexual identity, and race, but because they’re accurately reflecting society. We don’t need to use diversity only to advance stereotypes (nor do we need to write/cast diverse characters and then pretend that their diversity has no bearing on their lives). There’s no reason an attorney shouldn’t be Black, and she should talk about the gender and racial barriers she faces in law. A surgeon can certainly be transgender, and they can discuss their struggles in medical school. Someone from a low-income background can become a sleuth, a Muslimah can lead a revolution.
Pop culture matters — I know I say this over and over again, but it’s because this is true. The way we think about society and culture is driven by pop culture, and our perceptions of humanity shift in response to how people are depicted in film, television, books, music, culture. My ideal television show hasn’t aired yet, though some programmes have come close to teasing at the edges. I want it to air — every year at upfronts I hold my breath to see if it’s going to happen, and every year I let out a deep sigh after it doesn’t. I want to live in a culture where Hollywood and the networks are excited about the possibilities that actual diversity has to offer, because audiences certainly are.
They tell us that if we want something, we should just build it ourselves. But that’s bullshit, because we can’t get through the door of the television studio. We don’t have access to the education, the internships, the professional training, the opportunities. We’re discriminated against at every turn, as creators, as writers, as actors, as film crews. We try building it ourselves, but we don’t have the powerful platform of a network series — programmes like Her Story are amazing and you’re not seeing them on traditional networks, even though you should. A programme about a group of queer and trans friends dating and navigating modern LA? On network television? Sign me the hell up! A programme about a disabled lawyer prosecuting tough civil rights cases? Yes please! The possibilities are endless, but the networks aren’t interested in exploring them, and as a result, we all lose out.
Image: Nancy Drew, Rakka, Flickr