The absence of any notable women of color in Jessica Jones is a huge missed opportunity for similar equal and intersectional representation. It's also unfortunately offset by Jessica and Trish -- for all the crap that life has thrown at them -- still being two white women from privileged backgrounds, both of whom have been given as many chances to fail as they like without suffering the same legal or socio-economic consequences that people of color experience for the same failures.
We can count on one hand the number of non-white women who play any kind of recurring role in Season 2. Perhaps the most notable is Sonia, the ex-wife of Jessica's new Super/casual boyfriend; a one-note, angry mother who Jessica has to rescue her own son from and calm down -- not the best way to avoid stereotyping your sole female Latinx character. Then there's the two African-American women of note: Marilyn, Alisa's second prison guard, and Detective Sunday, both of whom showed real promise... only to quickly wind up as just two more numbers on Alisa's kill count.
The show also has a bad habit of recycling words used by people of color to give voice to their oppression, and appropriate them for superpowered people. In one episode, Jessica objects to Sunday saying "you people" and in another she claims Oscar is being "prejudiced" against her. Oscar patiently reminds her that she's not a "protected class." Analogies between superpowered people and civil rights issues have been something that the superhero genre has been playing with for a long time. It was woven into the creation of the X-Men. But, just like Jessica Jones is doing now, back in the '60s, X-Men tried to be a cipher for minorities while failing to actually represent hardly any of them in its character roster. The few times it did try to, we got clumsy stereotypes.
It's not that using superpowers as a marginalization metaphor can never work, but the visual of a white woman whining that no one understands how oppressed she is in front of people of color is an uncomfortable one. Especially when the thing she claims to be ostracized for isn't something she was born with. And, what about the implications that this "otherness" created, or at least, amplifies, her mother's savagery? Drawing parallels between race and superpowers in that instance is more than just uncomfortable -- it's dangerously irresponsible because it perpetuates one of the oldest forms of racism: The colonial belief that its people of color's nature to be "savages," and they must be tamed by white dominance.
It's worth pointing out these problems were raised with creator Melissa Rosenberg in a recent piece for Vanity Fair. In the interview, Rosenberg acknowledged, "There aren't enough women of color in meaningful roles. [...] My focus has always been women, and I think I need to focus on that -- but include more women of color, people color. Eka Darville, who plays Malcolm, has sort of been carrying the flag for us. I think its sort of happened that our three female leads were all white, and when we were designing the show, it just didn't occur to me." When the interviewer, Nicole Sterling, asked about diversity in her writer's room (which might have helped avoid these pitfalls), Rosenberg said the issue had been raised. "Detective Sunday was a great character, and then it was like, 'Someone has to die.' And I thought, 'Aww...' It's killing the one woman of color."
Rosenberg also talked about the fact that every episode of Jessica Jones Season 2 had a different female director, which is really commendable. But, that commitment to female empowerment isn't operating at full capacity when it excludes women of color, and worse, is fully aware that it is, too. Hopefully, a third season featuring our favorite prickly P.I will work harder to remove this blemish on an otherwise super-strong feminist record.
Streaming now on Netflix, Jessica Jones Season 2 stars Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, J.R. Ramirez and Janet McTeer.