Underappreciated Actress of Color #12: Freema Agyeman

If you've read my special edition post about Miss Sara Ramirez, then you've probably got a good idea what I'm about to say about Freema.  Yes, she's been on soaps, and on a Law & Order spin-off, and yes, she's won and award or two.  And yes, she's done well before reaching 30 (which she is right now).  However...yes, you guessed it: I think the TV & film industry could do much better by her.

My beef, of course, was her role as the rebound companion on Dr. Who, in which she played the poor black girl* mooning over the white guy hero who was still mooning over a white girl...so of course there was no room for Miss Gorgeous & Brilliant in that three-way.

Stuff like that...rubs us raw, guys.  And telling us how Martha served as "social commentary" was bullshit.  When she worries for her safety during the slavery era, and the Doctor brushes her off saying he's "not even human"--WTF was that?  He's still a white-skinned alien walking around during the slavery era, isn't he?  And yes, she's a med student from upper class family...but we see her "forced" to pose as the Doctor's maid in episode where her beloved Doctor yet again is mooning after a white woman while Martha's mooning after him.

Ewww.  Fail.

Freema has the face of a goddess, the glow of an angel, and the voice of a siren--and a dedicated following.  She's one of those women who, if you don't find her attractive, the problem ain't her.
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*Yes, I know Freema's mother is Iranian, kids, but do remember that Martha Jones is black.

**Update**


Comments

  1. Girl you already know this ish is unacceptable. I really wish her the best of luck in terms of her career and wish she'd be nominated or recognized by NAACP or JET or Essence or something. We need to support all of our sisters.

    Have you seen her in Law & Order: UK. It's striking because she's surrounded by White males who, after a certain incident I won't spoil, really care for her and appreciate her. It made me long for Doctor Who to be so considerate. Ugh And she's a dynamic actress in the few moments she has to shine above Jr Prosecutor(i.e. legal secretary in Season 1), especially in the last episode of Season 1.

    Also what I love about that show, is she constantly reminds them of their White Privilege as a Black woman working for CPS. Guh she is amazing

    Anyway Great Post :D

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  2. Haven't watched L&O:UK, but I will not most definitely have to. I've noticed that if I want to see WoC in a decent, I've increasingly had look to the UK...much like when I want to hear some decent contemporary music.

    I don't know what's going on over there, but USA could take a few notes.

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  3. I agree with you that Martha was much underused in general, and maybe with some of the other things you say. But I have to take issue with the shipping thing:

    "Freema has the face of a goddess, the glow of an angel, and the voice of a siren--and a dedicated following. She's one of those women who, if you don't find her attractive, the problem ain't her."

    None of this entitles her character to a relationship with the Doctor. Human relationships don't work that way. It's not a rational decision on objective merits. I will say I am disappointed with the Martha/Mickey ship, just because of the suggestion that they did that because they're both black.

    Also... I'm getting the impression that you're imposing some American racial understandings on a British TV programme. Just some numbers I pulled off Wikipedia, America is about 75% white, 12.5% black, 12.5% everyone else, while the UK is about 92% white, 2% black, 6% everyone else. As a British work, the new Doctor Who statistically under-represents white people, who are about eleven in twelve Brits. Considered as something set in London (when on Earth), on the other hand, maybe it gets that right, but arguably under-represents South Asians.

    There should be better representation of non-white people on American television, but looking to British imports for that probably isn't very helpful.

    "wish she'd be nominated or recognized by NAACP or JET or Essence or something."

    This is the kind of thing I mean. bcbgrl33 should probably consider which "N" is referred to in "NAACP".

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  4. None of this entitles her character to a relationship with the Doctor. Human relationships don't work that way. It's not a rational decision on objective merits. I will say I am disappointed with the Martha/Mickey ship, just because of the suggestion that they did that because they're both black.

    And this is what I take issue with.

    When I talked about Freema's beauty, it no longer had anything to do with the Doctor. Furthermore, those who ship Martha/Ten--that's their preference and their fantasy.

    However, my point is that we need to see more WoC portrayed in healthy romantic relationships (see previous post). Everyone who "takes issue" with the Martha/Ten ship following always assume that all people who think Martha was underused mean she needed to be with the Doctor--uh....no, not all of us mean this.

    Many of us wanted to see her with SOMEONE who matched her mentally & emotionally, and who treated her well--that's all.

    Reread the part of what bothered me with Martha's portrayal, because people have this annoying tendency to either skim it, skip it, or just "not get it" altogether. Martha's infamous nickname, "the Rebound Companion", was given to her for a reason. Women of color--who are not represented nearly or appropriately enough-- were horrified to see a brilliant, beautiful, black medical student being told in episode after excruciating episode just how little she amounts to, and how no matter what she accomplishes, she'll just "never be good enough". Even worse, this exceptional black woman was shown mooning over the Doctor who claimed to be broken-hearted, and yet perked right up the moment a pretty white woman guest-starred.

    Characters like Martha merely serve to stroke the white ego--male & female--and this is what invokes the ire of WoC.

    Also... I'm getting the impression that you're imposing some American racial understandings on a British TV programme...There should be better representation of non-white people on American television, but looking to British imports for that probably isn't very helpful.

    What a white thing to say.

    When actors of color--regardless of nation--step onto Western film sets, they are "reppin'" for POC everywhere--we take note of their work, and pay extra attention to the plot and dialogue.

    Freema is a good-looking, talented actress--period. She should be honored in her homeland, as well by POC here in America--period. I'm a fan--period. I'd like to see her in more projects--period. I'm not alone in this--period. This has nothing to do with me "looking" abroad for additional non-white representation; this has to with me--and other WoC like me--simply supporting actresses of color and calling the industry out on its bullshit.

    You might as well have asked why I, a black blogger, am also demanding more roles for Asian, Latina, and Native American actors/actresses as well, while you were at it.

    And FYI, if Hollywood can shower Kiera Knightley, Nicole Kidman, and other white "imports" with roles, wealth, and accolades, then imports of color should be no exception--period.

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  5. However, my point is that we need to see more WoC portrayed in healthy romantic relationships (see previous post).

    Oh, I see. OK. But I think your "we" is American.

    When actors of color--regardless of nation--step onto Western film sets, they are "reppin'" for POC everywhere--we take note of their work, and pay extra attention to the plot and dialogue.

    This strikes me as a rather American attitude, to expect British actors of colour to carry the weight of representation for POC in America as well. But I don't think the producers considered race (or anything else) in America in particular, or if they did, they shouldn't have.

    Yes, it does mean that Martha as a maid is going to have Unfortunate Implications when seen with American eyes and against a backdrop of American representation, something that might be a little less of a trope to British eyes. Equally, since black British people are not generally the descendants of slaves, slavery is seen with just that extra layer of historical remove. Does that make the Doctor's characteristic unconcerned dismissal more acceptable to black people in Britain? I don't know, but I'm not convinced you do either.

    Bear in mind RTD did not create Martha Jones as a specifically black role until casting Freema, and a white woman might well have been the Rebound Companion. Would that have been better? I don't think it would have meant "saving the black token" for her or someone else in a better role. Someone needed to be Martha, and I think Freema did it pretty well.

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  6. @ sagredo

    Again...VERY white things to say. *shakes head* You should just quit now.

    My "we" is not American. My "we" is WoC.

    That you're still having trouble grasping this screams racial ignorance and denial. I'm getting a whiff of sexism off you too.

    "Does that make the Doctor's characteristic unconcerned dismissal more acceptable to black people in Britain? I don't know, but I'm not convinced you do either."

    No...you clearly don't.

    I, on the other hand, do know. I actually make an effort to find out with black Brits think (it's a POC habit, you know, this whole "paying attention to each other's issues" thing) and surprise, surprise...we're on the same page. One experiment I used to conduct was to actually watch British TV with black Brits and fellow Africans, sit back, and let them do all the commentary. It didn't shock me at all that everything I wanted to say automatically came out of all their mouths, not just one or the other.

    'Cause POC...often on the same page with these issues.

    You're pitting British media v. American media in regards to actors of color, and it reeks of fail. You obviously do not know what actors of color on Western sets go through, what they represent to POC worldwide, and you've clearly made zero effort to actually find out.

    Good thing it doesn't stop you from sharing that uninformed opinion though!!!

    FYI, if Martha had been white, it wouldn't have been an issue. White women still have Rose and every other white character the Doctor falls for to identify with (they're given an "option", as white women usually are in media).

    It is also likely that RTD would have treated a white Martha much differently from black Martha. White characters often planned for one thing usually end up getting something better (here's where it helps to pay close attention to writer/director commentary and interviews on such matters).

    In the meantime, I'm seriously getting the drapto vibe from you.

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  7. Great responses. And the raceFail continues.

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  8. Wading in rather late and never commented on your blog before but:

    a.) I hated how Martha was treated but had absolutely NO desire whatsoever to see her partnered with the smug, hyperactive, shouty, annoying twerp that was "Ten" along with his Brit-Pop Jarvis Cocker schtick. I found Tennant's constant mugging absolutely unbearable and yearned for Eccleston to change his mind and return, because at least there might have been a chance of a mutually respectful, intelligent, platonic, and above all ADULT relationship between Nine and Martha.

    Instead what we got was this absurd, inexplicable, tweeny, lovesick insta-crush forcibly shoe-horned into the plot in order to emphasise how 'desirable' the Doctor supposedly was, and of course highlight how utterly incomparable and 'unforgettable' Rose was. Ugh. (Why on earth would Martha have been attracted to a moron running around randomly screaming 'Alonsi' anyway?)

    As a character Martha deserved far better than the thankless task of being dragged in as a 'transition' companion (post-Rose and pre-Donna) which involved her needlessly yet, constantly being positioned as "second best" to the deathly dull, dependent and deeply immature Rose. I'm sick to death of narratives that desperately *need* to put women of colour in 'their' place (second-rate, second best, second fiddle unimportant, side-lined and lesser) so that we can all attend to the all-important business of worshipping the wonder of white females. *rolleyes*

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  9. Oh - and as for this:
    "Someone needed to be Martha." But what exactly does that entail? Being snapped at, treated coldly, overlooked, often put in perilous situations while being left to fend entirely for herself (and more often than not, the Doctor too), being heavily leaned upon as a crutch - without the Doctor having the balls or the emotional honesty to admit that that was what he was doing; all the while being made to feel like a superfluous tag-along?

    Tell me - why does anyone *have* to play that tired, sad and futile role, hmmm? (And what's the bet that had Martha been white, she would have been treated far better, especially when a character like Donna proves this hypothesis to a tee. The Doctor didn't want to 'romance' Donna, but he certainly didn't treat like she was something stuck on the bottom of his shoe and afforded her some regard and protection.)

    Funny that whenever we're dealing with narratives that deify white men and inevitably adulate white women, that 'someone' - some Other - *has* to play "that role.".. And funny how that someone is almost always conveniently a WOC or someone who falls outside of white, hetero and cis sexual ideals.

    As a non-American viewer of colour, I found it dispiriting to watch the initially bright, quick-witted, brave, intelligent and accomplished young woman from Smith and Jones, rapidly devolve into someone who clearly felt inferior. I was relieved when she at least left that asshole on her own terms and openly gave herself the props that she was never going to get from anyone else, least of all, the narrative.

    Who gives a shit about romantic heterosexist hierarchy and 'reward' anyway? I just wanted the show to pay its dues and give the character some modicum of respect and a measure of dignity rather than taking an almost malicious delight in scorning, rebuffing and taking her for granted a potentially excellent COMPANION, week after week to the point where the series actually started to make my stomach churn.

    By that point I no longer cared whether the Doctor treated her well or not - I just wanted the narrative to take greater care with and of her - and it didn't.

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  10. One last thing:

    As for Sagredo's ridiculous comments that Black Brits wouldn't take issue with the treatment of Martha since apparently "Black British people are not generally the descendants of slaves"...could s/he be anymore grossly, or perhaps comically ignorant? Does s/he realise that MOST blacks in Britain are of West Indian descent, *right*? (Windrush generation of immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad etc?)

    And the West Indies is in the Americas - part of the so-called 'New World' etc. which ended up being inflicted with horrors like Columbus, Spanish conquest (along with Dutch, French, German, and the British intermittently taking 'turns'), genocide of the indigenous people, and uh - the Middle Passage and yes, slavery and other such 'Unfortunate Implications'.

    Or does s/he actually think that slavery was exclusive to North America (never mind places like Brazil or explaining away how all those black people 'magically' got there. *eyeroll*) Do you really think that slavery is an experience exclusive to North America and that only black Americans were slaves? Ever heard of the so-called 'black diaspora'? Because if you haven't, then in all seriousness the only person who is being narrowly "America-centric", is YOU, while presuming to talk about Black Brits (and condescend to speak for them) when you clearly haven't a clue about them or their history/issues.

    Yet, by your own admission YOU DON'T KNOW so what are you arguing about?

    I'm a West Indian myself but I certainly don't feel some mythical 'remove' from slavery. Martha on her knees scrubbing the floor, or Martha protecting both the good doctor and his fair and stoic lady love didn't appeal to me in the slightest because it's a tired old narrative (black persona s sidekick, helper, servant, useful tool) that black people the world over are treated to time and time again.

    Slavery or no, I'd be surprised at any self-respecting black person or half-aware person worthy of the name 'woman' who didn't feel that the treatment of Martha was shoddy and deeply problematic.

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  11. Funny that whenever we're dealing with narratives that deify white men and inevitably adulate white women, that 'someone' - some Other - *has* to play "that role.".. And funny how that someone is almost always conveniently a WOC or someone who falls outside of white, hetero and cis sexual ideals.

    Girl...preach.

    As for Sagredo's ridiculous comments that Black Brits wouldn't take issue with the treatment of Martha since apparently "Black British people are not generally the descendants of slaves"...could s/he be anymore grossly, or perhaps comically ignorant?

    Hardly.

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  12. Thank you so much for this. I remember watching the Martha episodes with my ex girlfriend, and how stoked we were that he had a Companion who was both smart and educated enough to keep up with him, and even challenge him at times. While we WERE heart-broken about Rose, we were still unbelievably excited about Martha as a companion, and unbelievably disappointed at how poorly she was served. As a character, she deserved better, and as an actor, Freema was way too kickass to be limited to a short stay as the Rebound.
    And every time I rewatch Doctor Who nowadays, I always skip Those Episodes in the slave era, because although I would love too see as much of Martha as possible... everything about them is absolutely gross and they make me want to take a cheese grater to the Doctor's face. And the writers' too, for that matter :/

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