On the surface, Hollywood may be the most diverse it's ever been, but it's far too soon for the television and film industry to pat itself on the back for a job well done. Stars from every corner of Hollywood are speaking up about their experiences with discrimination in the industry, and a number of the most vocal critics have come from the set of The CW original series Riverdale. Bernadette Beck is the latest star to call out the show, saying that Riverdale has been tokenising its Black and queer cast.
If you're not familiar with Beck's role on the show, that's part of the problem. The actress plays a Riverdale character named Peaches ‘N Cream, and she doesn't really have a backstory. For the most part, Peaches 'N Cream's only purpose in the story is to provide pops of sass in the storyline, or be a third in one of Toni Topaz's (Vanessa Morgan) ménage à trois. A gig is a gig, but for Beck, the experience feels hollow, because she's basically just there to check off a box.
In conversation with ELLE, Beck shared that her character was so irrelevant on the show that Riverdale production staff often forgot that she was there or just ignored her on set. She recalled times when she would wander around not knowing what to do because she hadn't received notes from the director. If they did talk to the actress, it was to remind her that Peaches was supposed to have an attitude.
"I get it, there’s always a protagonist and antagonist, but I never had much of a story plot or enough character development to even be considered an antagonist,” said Beck. “I was, for no reason, depicted in a very negative, unattractive light. And I’m not the first Black actress to show up on set, stand there, chew gum, and look sassy and mean. I feel like I was just there to fulfill a diversity quota. It’s just to fulfill points.”
Unlike the show's white characters, Peaches was written to be unlikable, so Riverdale younger fans immediately disliked the actress who played her. Beck revealed that as a result, she had been subjected to all kinds of online harassment from the fandom; body shaming, racism, and actual death threats were all normal occurrences for Beck.
Peaches is also one of Riverdale's few queer characters, a factor that led to Beck's casting to begin with. But the star doesn't think that queer people on the show have been given the nuanced storylines that they deserve. If anything, she told ELLE, bisexuality is merely a plot device. Nothing more, nothing less.
Her disturbing experience corroborates with Riverdale's other Black cast, many of which have described their time on the show as being particularly difficult. Asha Bromfield (a former Pussycat on the CW series) told Lilli Reinhart that being on Riverdale had been as "devasting" as it was exciting for her as a rookie actress. Ashleigh Murray's Josie was barely given the screen time that she deserved, and the actress was then severely cyberbullied after leaving for Katy Keene. And Morgan, the only Black series regular on Riverdale, shared that she was being paid the least of her cast-mates and didn't feel like her character had been given a proper storyline.
It's not an isolated incident — rather, the CW show's problem with Black women is reflective of industry-wide trend.
"Some people say it’s just a TV show, but I’m thinking about the implications long-term," Beck said. "If we are depicted as unlikable or our characters are not developed or we’re looked at as the enemy all the time, that affects our public persona. What kind of opportunities are we losing out on even after Riverdale?"
"Our white co-stars are getting all this screen time and character development," she continued. "They’re building up their following, generating more fans, selling out at conventions, and fans have more of an emotional connection with them. But if we don’t necessarily get that, and we’re looked at with disdain, what does that do to us and how does that stain our reputation moving forward?”
While many would have hoped that the blatant disregard and disrespect of Black women in the industry is a disturbing one-off, such mistreatment has been going on since Hollywood's earliest days — Black actresses have always been subjected to this kind of behaviour. And even though creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has responded to the testimonies of his cast with his own promise to do better in the future, the apologies might be too little too late.
We want representation, but not like this. Never like this.