"Sleepy Hollow": The Lesson Fox Learned about Viewers' Love for Diversity on TV

I’ve been following Sleepy Hollow since the beginning (from my first website, Moniqueblog.net), so I’ve followed the fans ups and downs, whether it came to the first Ichabbie hug or when Katrina finally got out of Purgatory. I’ve loved seeing what meta critiques the fans have, and, to be fair, I’ve tried to do my part to stop needless worry about upcoming storylines, whether I helped or not. To say the least, my relationship with the fandom has become as layered as a relationship with fandom can become. Today, I’m writing this piece to give the Sleepy Hollow fandom the props they deserve.

If you’ve followed the online drama surrounding this season, you’ve probably seen the hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter and other social media campaigns to show Fox how they felt Abbie and other characters of color were being jerked around by the writing direction. Now, it seems that not only has Fox gotten the message, but the writing is also reflecting fan desires, such as seeing Grace Dixon in the finale and resetting the storyline from the Crane Family Drama.

To be clear, this hashtag movement and all the complaining from fans isn’t just about the Crane Family Drama; the Crane drama was one of the symptoms of the illness. The actual illness of the season was the lack of support for minority characters, specifically the main characters who made the first season so powerful.

While Katrina was stuck in Purgatory, fans coalesced around Abbie, her relationship with Jenny, and the evolution of Irving into a member of Team Witness.  What was “unusual” about the show is something that shouldn’t be “unusual”; it’s a sci-fi show focusing on the lives of black people.

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Black people are chronically under-represented in sci-fi and fantasy, and a show like Sleepy Hollow breaks the stereotype. Without these characters, we wouldn’t have been able to have great moments in Season 1 that also revealed more about the hidden race conversations black people have on a daily basis, such as when Abbie and Irving both got on Ichabod’s case for repping Thomas Jefferson, informing Ichabod of the truth about his friend (and also revealing that Jefferson plagiarized from Ichabod after believing him to be dead).

Ichabod’s relationship with Abbie is also something that’s hit a nerve with a lot of fans. Their relationship is a friendship that has heavy overtones of becoming something that’s more than friends (which could be part of the writing, but seems to come mostly from Tom Mison’s real life friendship/idolization of Nicole Beharie).

Their undeniable chemistry is great to watch, but it also hit home to many fans because the potential for a relationship is there, and interracial relationships are still pretty hit-or-miss in Hollywood projects, despite the huge numbers of interracial marriages and dating situations taking place all across the country. For a lot of minority viewers, especially the ones that are in interracial relationships, Abbie and Ichabod provide a small beacon of hope that an interracial relationship will finally get their due.

Basically, what I’m saying with  a lot of words is that Sleepy Hollow fans of all races got something they may or may not have known they wanted—diversity. In a sea of white shows, Sleepy Hollow was one of Fox’s blackest. At the time, Almost Human and Brooklyn-Nine-Nine were also bringing diversity to Fox’s portfolio. Even though Fox was getting the message that diversity was the key to Sleepy Hollow‘s success, most networks believed that the real success was the supernatural element, leading to the order of shows like ABC’s Forever and NBC’s Constantine, neither of which are doing that great.

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Combined with what I believe to be a  carte blanche mentality for the writing team due to the show’s runaway success and an understandable want for more Sleepy Hollow, the show was renewed for a full 18-episode season instead of a 13-episode season. As I’ve written many times before, the season reflected how five extra episodes can mess up a story’s entire flow.

However, what also messed stuff up is the severe lack of POC representation. Where we once had Jenny and Irving helping Abbie and Ichabod, we now had Hawley and Katrina, with Jenny and Irving stuck in Character Purgatory. Instead of Abbie being treated like a lead, she was treated like a secondary character, with Katrina somehow advancing to her place. It did seem very much like someone among the writing staff wanted to show fans that despite what they want, what they will get is what they’re used to seeing on other shows; two white leads with black supporting characters.

I had gone along with the Season 2 episodes, expecting the writing to pick up, but it wasn’t until “Pittura Infamante” that really turn over my ideas about what I thought the writers’ endgame was. Even though “Deliverance” started getting my wheels to turn (since, despite my desperate need for me to get something of a character beat from Katrina to justify her existence, I was kinda not okay with Abbie doing all the work), “Pittura Infamante” was pretty unforgivable. Yes, I said it. Unforgivable.

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Focusing on Katrina and Ichabod’s relationship is one thing. I’d actually been arguing for some sort of Ichatrina scenes that would show this so-called undying bond they have; like I said, I wanted some characterization to understand why Katrina’s a viable character. But for the show to have Katrina in Abbie’s position, as a lead, was crazy troubling. It was like watching a Bizarro World episode of Sleepy Hollow. Seeing Abbie reduced to a secondary character role was literally terrible and is so clearly NOT what the show was founded upon. I’m sure to a lot of women watching, it felt like seeing Apprentice alum Omarosa’s statement on Bethenny:

“It’s different for you and I…I am an African-American woman. You get to walk around and be mediocre and you still get rewarded with things. We have to be exceptional to get anything in this business.”

And lo, it was the same for Abbie and Katrina. As a character, Katrina has been mediocre from the beginning, yet she has been rewarded with not only being rescued from Purgatory, but to also get too much time doing nothing in Season 2, even to the point of nearly pushing Abbie out as the main character. Abbie, on the other hand, has been exceptional, and yet she was still getting the shaft. Also annoying was how in “Heartless,” Ichabod asked Abbie to look after Katrina. My reaction to that bit of tone-deaf writing was, upon later reflection, this:

First of all, if Katrina’s such a powerful witch, she doesn’t need another woman to protect her. Secondly, it places Katrina in a very disturbing position of power and Abbie in a just as disturbing subservient position. In a weird way, it’s very much what Katrina and Ichabod–for all of their abolitionist ways–would have been used to in the 18th century; the black maid helping/protecting the white mistress of the house.

Like I wrote in the #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter article this blockquote appears in (linked above),  I’m giving the writing staff the benefit of the doubt, since this underlying issue probably didn’t appear at first blush. But it would seem that a certain subsect of fans might have caught onto this and loved it, since a certain group of Ichabod/Katrina fans want Abbie pushed down.

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After Tom Mison dropped the bombshell of Ichabod being “completely in love” with Abbie, a rogue group of Katrina fans let off their frustration in the most racist way possible, with tweets like “Throw the slave in jail!” or “The slave is in jail!” (referencing Abbie’s time jump back to the 18th century), posts saying she’s a thug, and more stuff that I literally don’t understand because it’s literally insane (but you can read everything here) All of this in the name of Katrina, which is actually unfortunate, since none of this was initially the goal of Katrina as a character. This small sect of fans is now boycotting the show and want the show to die. I say, please keep not watching the show, because the fans don’t need your type of element racist-ing up the joint.

So what do all of these words boil down to? The fact that Fox and the writers are actively trying to win the fans back shows that Fox has realized that the way to get the fans back is to use what works, which is great characterization and diversity in the cast.

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Ironically, Fox has already learned this lesson in a different way, thanks to Empire. The show keeps topping itself week after week, and it’s now made diversity the buzzword on every network exec’s lips. Fox knows it’s got to cater to the minority viewers, who historically watch more TV than their white counterparts. So while Empire  has shown Fox that diversity is bankable, Sleepy Hollow has shown, thanks to the fans’ hard work, that diversity is being expressly asked for. It’s not that diversity makes a lot of money that’s so appealing; it’s appealing because the people watching TV love seeing themselves on TV. That’s what really makes diversity a goldmine, businesswise and soul-filling on a psychological, social, and racial level.

I think Sleepy Hollow‘s coming back for a third season because the network and writing team is making such a hard push to get things back to normal. But no matter what happens, the fans have shown that diversity (along with great characterization) is what they want to see on television. I’d say that in this battle, the fandom has won. Or, to quote Orlando Jones himself in his “Hollowburg Address”:

Now we are engaged in a “great” civil war (with 5 seriously pissed off Ichatrina stans and 1 Ichabod RPG Twitter account), testing whether this fandom, or any fandom, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on the great Twitter/Tumblr-sphere of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of our social media posts as a final resting place for those “real fans” who stopped using coded language and showed their true colors, so that this fandom might live. It is all together fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — those Ichatrina stans. The brave fans, POC and allies, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to throw shade or demand representation. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Photo credit: Brownie Harris, Fred Norris/FOX