A Missed Opportunity by Bonnie Bennett – Black Girl Nerds
As a teenager in the early 2010s, I was the main target audience for the vampire teen romance mania. I liked everything Duskdevoured vampire academy books, and secretly watched true blood when I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to. So when The Vampire Diaries first, you know I was a loyal weekly watcher — particularly because of the promise that teenage witch Bonnie Bennett (Kat Graham) kept me.
I thought: Finally, a black girl in the main cast of a supernatural romance series! Before the show premiered, I wondered what guy Bonnie would have and how exciting her adventures would be. Unfortunately, along with everyone else, I realized pretty early on how underwhelming Bonnie’s stories and those of the other characters of color were.
The Vampire Diaries or RST continued the tradition of television shows and movies symbolizing their black and minority characters. RST is part of a long line of shows known for the way they treat their minorities as one-dimensional, as jokes or as scapegoats, or simply for killing them when the writers run out of ideas what to use them for, with them making Bonnie Bennett the dirtiest.
RST ran from 2009 to 2017 on The CW. The CW has made a name for itself in the teen drama genre by bringing us pop culture classics such as Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girland A tree hill. RSTThe neglect of their black characters speaks to a larger issue with how the CW portrayed minorities as a whole in the early 2000s and 2010s.
RST opens with 17-year-old Elena (Nina Dobrev) on her first day of school dealing with the grief of losing her parents in a car accident the year before. In true romantic vampire fashion of the 2010s, new college student and 100-plus-year-old vampire Stefen (Paul Wesley) falls for his dark and morbid temper. Thus begins the 8-year story of love, danger and vampires in the town of Mystic Falls. Similar to the 2010s, among the main cast there is only one person of color: Bonnie Bennett.
Bonnie Bennett’s Missed Opportunity
RST had a large cast of main characters, within which was the main girl group consisting of Bonnie, Elena, and Caroline (Candice King). Bonnie’s relationship with these girls was one of the highlights of the entire series. However, it was made clear from early episodes which two branches of this three-person friend group would be favored by the story.
The first thing I noticed about Bonnie’s character that made it clear she wasn’t favored by the writers over the rest of the cast was how often she completely disappeared from the story. More often than not, the reason for his absence is swept away by a brief line about his visiting family that we have never seen or heard of. You’d think it was because the actor had scheduling issues or other obligations that conflicted with filming, but no. She jumps in and out of the plot as needed because the writers just didn’t know what to do with her.
Bonnie is a powerful witch, you might even say overpowered too quickly, and is mostly used as a scapegoat whenever the writers back into a corner. If a problem or villain can’t be defeated within the logic of the episode, here’s Bonnie, back from her mysterious extended family retreat to save the day with powers we didn’t know she possessed and we don’t. have ever seen develop.
Not only was his powers confused and poorly thought out, but so was his personal life. One could argue that much of the appeal of RST is to live vicariously through the girls dating these hot Halloween freaks. And, I’m not going to lie, it was a big draw for me at 14.
In that vein, Elana has three love interests and Caroline has six in total, all of whom are main characters with their own full backstories aside from their involvement with the girls. On the other hand, Bonnie has five love interests over the course of the series, most of which are introduced only as being boyfriends to Bonnie. One of them is even his half-brother! These guys would always be inexplicably killed soon after their introduction. Bonnie ends up with underdeveloped characters who die episodes after encountering them.
We could have had a lot more interesting stories with Bonnie’s training as a young witch, her restlessness about going against her nature by helping or fighting the town’s vampires, and her handling of a truly intriguing relationship drama. Instead, her character was a huge wasted opportunity.
At least they tried… didn’t they?
To continue with the theme of Bonnie neglected by the RST team, the actor who played him, Kat Graham, even said in a vlog for vogue that she asked if her character could wear her hair naturally, but the idea was rejected by the producers. This is the reason for the seemingly endless amount of broken wigs Bonnie wears. To add insult to injury, her co-star Nina Dobrev received hair extensions and proper wig installations whenever she was assigned to play Elana’s evil look-alike, Katherine. So why couldn’t Bonnie have had the same treatment?
On top of all that, the majority of the show takes place in Virginia in the fictional town of Mystic Falls – a town that has historically deep ties to the Confederacy and regularly hosts Antebellum parties and balls.
All of the black characters are either related (see Bonnie dating her half-brother again!), witches, or slaves (called “maids” and “footmen” to make their presence in flashbacks more palatable).
I’m not saying that RST is great art that deeply fleshes out its other main characters with nuance and thought. It’s the CW. But, characters of color, Bonnie in particular, are treated as one-dimensional, while her white counterparts get a lot more attention.
The hard part is that most of Bonnie’s storylines are the most compelling in the series. In later seasons, her personality shines through more and I wish she got the attention she deserved.