Reboot culture has struck again: A new Buffy: The Vampire Slayer series is in development. From the information available so far, Joss Whedon will return to executive produce, while producer and writer Monica Owusu-Breen (Midnight, Texas, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fringe) will be working on writing the script. But the most exciting part of this news is perhaps that along with Owusu-Breen taking part in the scriptwriting, a Black woman will be featured as the lead of the show.
The news brought me a wave of conflicting feelings. Buffy was such an important part of my childhood, and in a lot of ways my first introduction to fandom culture. But part of loving the show meant reckoning with its imperfections. Like many other forms of media at the time, even touted feminist examples, marginalized people were afterthoughts. As reboots gain popularity and are dominate popular culture, I’m apprehensive that a rebooted Buffy is the solution to the demand for more stories to reflect the fantasy settings.
Buffy was an important part of my homelife. Some of my oldest memories include my mother, who was largely disinterested in anything connected to science fiction or horror, carving out time every Sunday to watch the latest episode of Buffy. Sometimes she would play the show while she braided my hair for the upcoming week, making sure to keep my eyes averted from the screen as to not give her impressionable child nightmares from the overtly ‘90s special effects. Though I didn’t watch the show itself until I was in college, I have always been attached to the fondness that my mother had for it.
Watching the entire series on my own once I reached adulthood was an incredible experience, almost like re-introducing yourself to a long-lost friend. I fell in love with Buffy and her longing to be a normal girl while carrying the isolating and unfair weight of being the only Slayer. And in many ways, I connected to Buffy and the struggles she faced, because they were sometimes the closest examples to what I was going through as a young Black woman, carrying multiple burdens. I felt conflicted by my love of the show’s charm in spite of my frustration at its treatment of the few Black female character that were featured on-screen during the show’s run. There was Kendra Young, a Slayer chosen after Buffy’s temporary death, only to meet her own end by season two; Nikki Wood, a Slayer during the 1970s who was Sunnydale principal Robin Wood’s mother and later killed by Spike; Olivia Williams, an old friend and romantic interest of Giles’ that gets a few fleeting moments of screen time during season four; and the Sineya, the First Slayer.
There’s also ample criticism of the legitimacy of a franchise still claiming to have feminist roots with a white male showrunner. Whedon, the creator and lead writer for the original Buffy, has had his role as a feminist called into question in recent years. His work on projects such as Avengers: Age of Ultron and the upcoming Batgirl film also faced criticism, because the portrayals of female characters were less developed and nuanced, hunging on tired tropes of femininity and womanhood. At the same time, many have rightfully called into question why attaching Whedon to a project has been more of a priority than hiring more female writers, directors, and showrunners.
Owusu-Breen’s involvement does address this, as does her history of working on successful sci-fi TV shows. Her role in the Buffy reboot reiterates the necessity of having marginalized people involved in all parts of creating a show to ensure the authenticity of addressing identity. But, the issue remains: a reboot of a completed franchise may not be the best solution to the desire for more media led by people of color.
There’s no doubt that science fiction and fantasy are still desperately lacking stories within popular media that are inclusive from their origins. But to solely reboot franchises that have already been done reinforces the false idea that reboots are the only option. There are incredible novels, graphic novels, and other forms of original media being created by marginalized creators with stories that are just as captivating and important as Buffy. But to push them aside in favor of retelling a story that fans are already familiar with only sends the message that these stories are somehow less than. New stories have no guarantee of success, and perhaps there is monetary safety for studios in rebooting a series with a strong fan base; but in doing so, there’s the risk of denying fans the joy of falling in love with new stories and squandering any success a new series could have. And with so much time having passed since Buffy aired its final episode, it’s high time that we give new ideas with the inclusive leads that we’ve been waiting for a chance to succeed instead.
Buffy is an important part of feminist media and, despite its many imperfections, will always remain so. People of color, especially Black people who are already erased in sci-fi and fantasy, are not afterthoughts and deserve their own mythology. Doing a reboot instead of taking a chance on a new series is not the answer to calls to be more inclusive.