Come Mourn Sineya with Me

I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute ... alone.

~ Sineya, the First slayer (from BTVS: "Restless")
Like many young women of color, I too watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (mostly because we didn't have an equivalent...and still don't).  In season four's episode of "Restless", I - like many other women of color - was joyful to meet Sineya, the First Slayer, a girl born and raised in Ancient Africa (but I, like many other women of color, didn't understand why in the preceding episode her spirit had to be invoked in Sumerian...um, WTF?).  I was honestly glad to see her touted as the First of the Chosen, and that her mystical origin and history all truly did trace back to the beginning.

We don't fully learn about Sineya's origins until the seventh season, and by then, Buffy's audience had gotten used to seeing one major slayer of color after the other and yet even another get killed off.

So naturally, come season seven, the all-white writing staff were more than comfortable ignoring a certain few key fails while creating the First Slayer.

1) She has a name (Sineya) and her official title would probably be "the First Slayer" and yet...she's consistently referred to as "the Primitive."  This is justified by [white] writers and fans in that she "lost her humanity" when fellow humans rejected her for her superhuman ability (after she saved their asses from a vampire...because that's how the Ancient Africans would treat a supernatural savior, you know...at least according to white folks).  On the Buffy Wiki, the writers confidently state:
...these incredible supernatural powers came with a terrible price: she lost her humanity forever. She was a powerful yet pitiful creature caught perpetually between sanity and madness.
2) When we finally meet her face to face in "Restless", she has no voice or linguistic abilities of her own, so cue conveniently handy white girl to step up and speak for her.

3) White girl ragging on black girl's appearance.  Gotta love an oldie.  From the Buffy Wiki:
...she [Buffy] mocked her ancestor for her stubbornness and her dishiveled, savage, utterly inhuman appearance. It was then that Sineya realized that she was defeated and vanished from the dreams....
*sigh*

Indeed...there are times I honestly do want to smack Joss Whedon, though I will admit such times are rare.

The seventh season also brings about an icky white feminist moment when Buffy goes back in time-ish and beats up the Shadow Men (the African shamans who created the Slayer line), and gives a self-righteous speech about how they had no right to "violate" the First Slayer, "that girl...whoever she was before she became the First Slayer."  Because apparently the alternative (you know, sitting back and watching demonkind off humans like child's play) was much better than arming a woman with superior physical abilities so she could protect humankind.

*cue fountain of vomit*

So mourn with me, people, not for this fictional character per se, but the world she was written into.  Mourn with me the hands which wrote her, and mourn with me the idiot population that was too blind to see the real violation going on here.

Place her right up there with Demetri and Zoey.

Comments

  1. Preach I remeber watching that back in the day and was like WTF even though I was like 12 at the time

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  2. Hm. To be honest the only time I've seen Buffy was that horribly cheesy movie from the 90s (maybe 80s? I can't recall). The series never really interested me, and now I have a legitimate reason as for why I might never watch it.

    Seriously, Buffy went back in time and to beat up some POC to make a point? There's far too much wrong with that concept to even begin to address, but my question is as follows: If Buffy can go back in time why can't the "Primitive" (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) just go back in time and do it her damn self? Why do we need a blonde haired blue eyed white girl beating up on "African shamans" (I take it they never specified where, exactly, she was born) when the person who they "violated" is probably not only stronger than Buffy, but likely well equipped to avenge herself?

    And that's to say nothing of how the rest of the POC slayers were handled, or the First Slayer's back story was handled. *Gags*

    I tell you, sometimes, sometimes...*Shakes head*

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  3. I think Whedon has a bad history with POCs. Like, his Firefly series. He just misappropriates Chinese language and culture, but...there are no ACTUAL Chinese people. He even has a song on the Dr. Horrible DVD outtakes about how there are no Asians seen in Hollywood...but there are, with the exception of a few minor roles and Dichen Lachman, no Asians in any of his series.

    He's a good storyteller - which is why I've watched all of Angel, Buffy, Firefly, Serenity, and Dr. Horrible. But it nags at me how much he still excludes POCs.

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  4. @ Tahiti,

    ...He just misappropriates Chinese language and culture, but...there are no ACTUAL Chinese people. He even has a song on the Dr. Horrible DVD outtakes about how there are no Asians seen in Hollywood...but there are, with the exception of a few minor roles and Dichen Lachman, no Asians in any of his series.

    ...it nags at me how much he still excludes POCs.


    I feel you. Cordelia Chase was supposed to be portrayed by Bianca Lawson - but shit happened. Kaylee, from "Firefly", was originally supposed to be Chinese - but "shit happened".

    As for the language issue...they actually had a Chinese-American linguistic consultant on set assisting the writers and the cast, so you know there's no excuse for any fail in that department.

    That Whedon is indeed a master storyteller tends to rub salt into the wound.

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  5. @ drvagrantx,

    With you all the way.

    Because Sineya lived so many thousands of years ago (she and Buffy only meet in dreams and visions), the writers place her homeland in East Africa. When we meet the Shamans, we hear them speak Swahili (yeah...the older, noticeably well-dressed men who created the First Slayer could speak, but...she herself could not).

    What genuinely irks me even more is that the scene started off correctly. She showed proper respect to the shamans and initially deferred to their wisdom. But then white privilege kicked in.

    Humility is an acquired taste. I'm beginning to think most WP are simply allergic.

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  6. @Moi: "Cordelia Chase was supposed to be portrayed by Bianca Lawson"

    Yeah, too bad they just cast her as Kendra instead and then killed her ass off in like 3 episodes. Really too bad - because Bianca Lawson is hot as hell and would've made a fantastic bitchy Cordelia Chase. I've also never understood why so many of the slayers are white, English-speakers. I mean, MOST of the world is not! Statistically speaking, they're more likely to be Indian or Chinese.

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  7. @ Tahiti,

    Ohhhh...that bugged the shit out of me too.

    Xin Rong - exceptional slayer, best warrior we see on the entire show...DEAD.

    Nikki Wood - a true Slayer, understood her job was more important than even her own child...DEAD.

    Kendra Young - no-bullshit Slayer, literally wipes the floor with Buffy. Focused, raised from childhood to be a living weapon, even Buffy calls her technique "flawless"...DEAD.

    Buffy and Faith* - the selfish whiner and the mass-murdering drop-out...still alive.

    *Mind you, for psychological reasons, I really dug Faith's character, and I also dig how she bugs the shit out of Buffy, but...they could have killed her off at the end of season 3 (her finest work) and brought in another slayer...preferably one of color.

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  8. I've never seen a Buffy movie or television series. Sister #2 was heavily into it, but stopped watching after awhile for undisclosed reasons.

    After reading these incidents over and over again, I can't help but reach one conclusion. White people in American are mentally ill. They need fucking help. They ought to have been over themselves a hellava long time ago. One slayer of color could not have possibly caused the audience or the writers that much angst.

    Years ago, I remember reading about a group of television show writers who were reluctant to write characters of color. They said they didn't understand us enough to write in an informative way.

    Step #1 - write POC as PEOPLE
    Step #2 - consult POC actor/actress

    As for the audience. Oh... the hell with them.

    Good luck with your time away, Moi. I'll keep trying to get your books. I guess since I'm so far away, I'm on the lowest priority list the various Amazon's have. :D

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  9. @ hateya,

    Better yet...hire more writers of color.

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  10. @Moi:

    Why do I get the feeling that Swahili, despite its prevalence in the region, was simply used as a generic "African" language? And I still don't understand why she couldn't speak. I'm assuming she at least spent her infancy with her parents, so she would at least know "Mommy", "Daddy", "No!" and "Gimme!" That not speaking crap just sounds like bad writing to me.

    Also, I agree. I wonder if they break out in hives when they come into contact with it...

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  11. The "not speaking" was to emphasize how "savage" and "inhuman" she'd become.

    Swahili was most likely used as a generic language. The First Slayer's country and ethnicity are never specified.

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  12. "The "not speaking" was to emphasize how "savage" and "inhuman" she'd become."

    ...riiiiight. Who writes this ish again? Also, once again, this just sounds like bad writing to me, but since I have no context for all of this I might be biased. *shrugs*

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  13. FYI: 90% of the shit mentioned above was directly Marti Noxon, rather than Whedon, with the except of Kendra dying*. Honestly, if something pisses you off about Buffy/Angel check the credits of that episodes (season 6 Buffy/season 4 angel) and you'll usually see Marti's juvenile and offensive attempt at feminism right at the bottom. Whedon usually does okay for a middle class white guy and you can see he usually gets a more diverse cast when allowed complete creative control like in the comics/novels he's written.

    * Apparently, Joss always regretted Kendra's criminal under-use which is probably one of the reasons he kept Faith around after her first storyline ended.


    And yes, I've read way way to much Buffy review and analysis over the years.

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  14. FYI: 90% of the shit mentioned above was directly Marti Noxon, rather than Whedon, with the except of Kendra dying*.

    Last I checked, Whedon wrote and directed "Restless", which introduced Sineya. Furthermore, in the commentary, he talks about why Buffy is "the greatest slayer that ever lived".

    Whedon's regret over Kendra is more than understandable, however, it doesn't change the fact that when Kendra died, she stayed died...meanwhile Buffy gets brought back twice. Also, Kendra and Faith shouldn't have been treated like extensions of each (Whedon did, in fact keep Faith around longer so as to avoid "pulling a Kendra"); but screwing over one doesn't justifying - basically - screwing over the other. Faith shone her brightest in Season 3, and it all went downhill from there.

    And while Marti Noxon also shares the blame, Whedon had to read through and "Whedonize" all scripts before they were approved.

    *sigh* Behold the drawbacks of being in charge all the time.

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  15. *Kendra stayed dead, damn it...not "died"

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  16. I've had my problems with Whedon's portrayal of POC characters in BUFFY and ANGEL - especially with Sineya and Charles Gunn (in ANGEL's early Season 3 and Season 5).

    But I was surprised to discover that two POC characters survived the final Hellmouth battle in the BUFFY series finale - Potential-turned-Slayer Rona (no surname) and Robin Wood.

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  17. Hey,
    This is more than a few years after the original post, but if it's posted, I have a few points/questions...
    qtd: " a girl born and raised in Ancient Africa, (but I, like many other women of color, didn't understand why in the preceding episode her spirit had to be invoked in Sumerian...um, WTF?)." --- Sumerian is one of the oldest recorded, written language (other than ancient Egyptian--debatable). It only makes sense the invocation is spoken in the oldest written language, since it would have been the only one accessible. Buffy is actually pretty good with the Classics.
    Secondly, there is nothing pejorative in the word "Primitive". In fact, it actually is a title in and of itself that denotes exactly what is being hoped for.. she is "the first," or.. : "Of or pertaining to the beginning or origin, or to early times; original; primordial; primeval; first." It's not a derogatory term. It's a statement of fact, and a title.
    Also, it seems weird that there is so much grief about the other Slayers dying. The fact is that Slayers die, and they need to, as is there role. The point that Buffy didn't die is because she is unique in that she has friends. The other Slayers didn't have friends; Kendra didn't have friends. Buffy did. The other Slayers ARE an extension of Buffy, because the show is about her.. you can't suddenly switch the focus of a show for the sake of inclusion of other characters; it isn't the Xander show, either. It's Buffy's show....of course she is the focus.That's not to say that the Slayer couldn't have been a POC, (and Faith certainly could have been), however Buffy isn't, and yet the majority of Slayers (potentials excluded) were not white.
    In regards to Bianca Lawson, wikipedia states she HAD the role, but due to her own contractual restrictions, she had to drop it.

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