Over the weekend, my sister recommended that I watch the television series Siren. I was partly excited to hear the show was about mermaids due to an interest in science fiction. The beginning of season one focuses on two mer-sisters, Donna and Ryn. While out swimming close to the surface with Ryn, Donna is violently kidnapped and taken hostage by what appears to be fishermen. We soon learn that the fishermen are actually apart of a government operation. As of a fear of too being taken captive, Ryn looks on helplessly as a military helicopter finally lifts and carries away the crate Donna is being held in.
Donna is eventually transported to a lab where she is placed in a tank, only to be abused and experimented on by doctors and scientist. Ryn, hoping to find Donna, transforms into human form in order to navigate on land. During her journey to locate Donna, Ryn encounters many human allies. Ryn’s human allies provide her with comfort, shelter, understanding and assistance. Notice, up until this point, the sisters have had two totally different encounters with humans. One nurturing and caring, the other cold and violent.
As it turns out, Ryn is unable to rescue Donna, instead Donna eventually escapes due to her own impressive intellect; while the scientist and doctors thought they were studying Donna, Donna was actually studying them This helps to aide Donna during her escape. On her journey back to the ocean, Donna and Ryn are reunited near the shore. Although excited to be reunited, Donna anxiously entered the ocean and ready to return home, but Ryn was not and did not. A small disagreement ensues between the mer-sisters because of this and Donna ultimately returns to the ocean while Ryn remains land bound.
Immediately finishing the episode where Donna returns to the sea, I made a conscience decision to not watch Siren anymore; I did not like the way Donna was represented. To begin with visuals, Donna has black skin while Ryn’s skin has white skin. Ryn is allowed to be seen as soft and trustworthy, while Donna, the representation of a black woman, is portrayed as violent and intolerant. This is important because in series, not once was it pointed out how traumatic Donna’s experience was. It’s almost a if its her fault she didn’t encounter better human beings in order to have a better experience.
It is no secret that black women have been portrayed as “angry” in the media, in politics and even in Hollywood. The trend seems to be that when black women speak, particularly out against injustices, they are immediately labeled as angry. In Siren, throughout the show and even in some posts I’ve read online; Donna is more often than not, portrayed and viewed as violent and intolerant. No one has stopped to say “You know, Donna’s first encounter with humans was extremely traumatizing. She, unlike Ryn, was kidnapped, beaten, and finally experimented on in a lab … by humans.”. Donna did not have the opportunity to get to know humans, and honestly after going through what she went through, why would she be open to that?
The subliminal messaging in Siren that women with dark or black skin are angry is counterproductive and harmful. Producers, writers and networks must be held accountable when it comes to subliminal messaging and harmful stereotypes. Mistakes in production and script writing are rare. There are no mistakes, because everything is well thought out and calculated. Much like Donna, we, the consumers, are constantly studied by the production studios to find out what we like to watch, down to what times we are most likely to watch the shows.
As an audience who happens to be human, we understand that there are good and bad humans. We, instinctively, see from an entirely different viewpoint, which is that not all humans are bad. Donna unfortunately does not know that all humans aren’t bad and Donna’s viewpoint was not explored much in the series from what I observed. I think it would go a long way if we were more critical of the messages we are allowing to be portrayed over and over. We have the power to challenge for more conscious script writing. I urge you to be aware and cognitive of the subliminal messages you’re allowing yourself to take in.