Shadowhunters diverse cast – doing it right

shadowhunters tv show diversity poster

Shadowhunters diverse cast decisions get the show a big thumbs-up AND a big audience. The Mortal Instruments-based TV pilot airs to 1.82 million US viewers…

We have gotten diversity wrong in the past. In 1956 John Wayne played the Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. In the same year, Marlin Brando played an Okinawan translator Sakini in The Teahouse of the August Moon. There have been some vast improvements in representing minority characters, but we’re still making a lot of mistakes. The biggest example of this was last year’s Stonewall. The film not only erased the women of colour that led this movement, but replaced the real transgender and bisexual activists with the fictional, “likeable” Caucasian character Danny Winters (played by Jeremy Irvine).

Shadowhunters, based on the YA Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, is amongst a few shows that are representing minorities correctly. Shadowhunters centres on teenager Clary Fray’s discovery that she’s descended from a line of Shadowhunters. Shadowhunters? Humans born with angelic blood that fight to protect our world from demons. When her mother is kidnapped, Clary teams up with best friend Simon and Shadowhunters Jace, Alec and Isabelle to find her mother and recover her past.

The cast of Shadowhunters is a diverse bunch. While the books feature many diverse characters, Shadowhunters takes it a step further by casting people of colour as characters who were originally Caucasian in the books. This includes the Latina actors Emeraude Toubia (who plays Isabelle Lightwood) and Alberto Rosende (who plays Simon Lewis). Both Toubia and Rosende are very proud to represent the Latina community. In an interview with Cosmo for Latinas Toubia said:

“It’s really nice that [Freeform] opens doors to girls like me – to Latinas – that can take roles that are not the typical: the maid, the stripper or the prostitute. So it’s really nice that we’re changing… how we see Latinas.”

Rounding out the diverse characters are the freewheeling bisexual Warlock, Magnus Bane (Glee’s Harry Shum Jr) and the closeted gay Shadowhunter, Alec Lightwood (Matthew Daddario). Unlike shows like Pretty Little Liars and even Faking It which erased, misrepresented and actively avoided using the word bisexual, Shadowhunters promotes Magnus Bane as a bisexual character. There’s even an entire episode dedicated to the LGBT power couple, aptly named Malec.

However, the characters in Shadowhunters aren’t just Latina, or a part of the LGBT community. They aren’t just one part of themselves. They’re multifaceted people who I look forward to seeing grow and change over the course of the season.

Shadowhunters premiered on 12th January 2016 in the US and 13th January on Netflix internationally. The show is still finding its feet, so the pilot had the usual pilot problems of cheesy lines and being too fast-paced. However, the Shadowhunters TV show is already getting it right with diverse characters, depiction of healthy female relationships and portrayal of Isabell Lightwood’s choice of clothing as being “comfortable with her body”, not “slutty”. With important first steps like these being taken in the pilot, the TV series shows a lot of promise.

Shadowhunters premiered to 1.82 million viewers in the US. These viewing figures make it the top series to debut on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) in over two years. These diverse characters aren’t turning people away. Instead, they’re bringing in a big audience, a lot of whom can say that they can see themselves in this show and that they aren’t being erased.

People need diverse characters and I hope that this show can be proof that people will watch in their millions to see characters like them.