Over at Tiger Beatdown, S.E. Smith thinks that we don’t treat True Blood’s Tara Thornton like Buffy Summers because she’s black:
Look at Buffy and True Blood’s Tara. The two characters have a lot in common; they’re physically strong, they’re assertive, they’re sassy. They are also both emotionally vulnerable, are sometimes wounded, may scream and cry and pout and stomp. Buffy enjoys a huge following (with a small minority that calls her ‘whiny’) while people pour on the haterade for Tara on a regular basis. She’s too emotional, too screamy, too…much. Buffy’s a strong female character by many people’s lists, but Tara…isn’t. There’s a reason for that.
So really, what people are usually talking about when they talk about the need for ‘strong female characters’ is white cis women, specifically. Emily pointed out in an email when we were discussing this issue that ‘…you have to be assumed weak in the first place for it to be groundbreaking.’ Pop culture routinely positions white women as wilting lilies and delicate flowers, a depiction that dates back centuries, and people understandably want to push back on that.
I’m sensitive to this line of argument, and I think there are other well-made points in the post about making female characters strong by giving them masculine traits. But in the case of Tara, I’m not sure this is correct. What’s frustrating about Tara isn’t that she’s “emotionally vulnerable, are sometimes wounded, may scream and cry and pout and stomp.” It’s that the character never grows, and exhibits consistently poor judgement, sabotaging a potential relationship with a nice, stable man and taking up with a former criminal, seeking protection with and then falling under the spell of a powerful, chaos-inclined magical entity, and then when she gets therapy and rebuilds her life outside of Bon Temps, sabotages it again for no discernable reason, taking up with a genocidal witches’ coven.
I think it’s arguable that Alan Ball’s adaptation of the character is racist. In Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire novels, Tara’s character is a recovering abuse survivor who’s sometimes brittle because of it, but she’s also a small business owner, a good friend to Sookie (though they have their fallings out), a wife and mother — and she’s white. If Ball had kept that character development arc, and committed to that emotional growth, but cast Rutina Wesley in the role, I think we’d think Tara is a hero. Instead, he both made her black and an object of perpetual humiliation. If we’re not cheering Tara it’s because the character has no discernable investment in her own life and happiness. The character’s not strong and unjustly ignored: she’s just static.