The Supernatural spin-off Tribes has me nervous.
The main attraction to the series has always been the relationship between Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles). But the chemistry between Padalecki and Ackles will be impossible to replicate, so I applaud Tribes' decision to not even try. By making the spin-off an ensemble cast, featuring both human and monster leads, it sets itself apart from its predecessor. Yet when it comes to female characters, I worry it's not going to be different enough.
Of the six character descriptions TVLine reported, only two are female and neither give me hope women will fare better than they did on Supernatural. Tribes features Margo, a shapeshifter trying to lead her family, and Violet, a wealthy werewolf. But based on Supernatural's history with female characters, it's not crazy to assume Margo and Violet will be relegated to side-pieces in the main male-driven story lines.
Going on 10 seasons, Supernatural has yet to find a way to treat female characters well. Generally, the women on Supernatural fall into one of four categories: lover, mother, daughter, b----. Or to simplify even further: dead or so boring they might as well be dead.
Charlie (Felicia Day) is the obvious exception to these rules because sadly, it takes a woman being gay to be treated as equal to the boys. Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes), who falls into the "mother" category, is also allowed to survive (for now) while still maintaining an actual personality. That's because she, like Charlie, doesn't pose any threat to the brothers' bond.
Every other female character though?
At least on Tribes, the fact Margo and Violet are main characters implies they'll be allowed to live for a decent amount of time. But in what capacity? Throughout Supernatural's nearly decade-long run, I can't remember a single episode that passed the Bechdel Test, a means of examining gender bias onscreen. This is something I've forgiven because the show has a singular, obsessive focus on Sam and Dean's relationship, but the same won't hold true for the spin-off. Yet the few details known about Tribes hint that once again, these women's lives will be determined by the fates and impulses of the male characters. As head of her family, Margo will seemingly take on the "mother" role, while Violet's only known characteristic is that she's a love interest for Margo's brother David. And it's a forbidden love, at that. How original?
But sadly, even if these women are sidelined into thankless archetypes, as long as they last a full season Tribes will have presented a more consistent female voice than its predecessor ever has. On Supernatural, the female character to appear in the most episodes was Lisa, Dean's painfully dull ex-girlfriend, who was featured in a measly 13 episodes (Supernatural will near its 200th episode by the end of this season). The show does have a high turnover rate for any character who isn't a Winchester brother, but it's important to note that with the constant character resurrections on the show, very few dead females have made appearances from beyond the grave.
It's not like Supernatural is created in a vacuum. The producers are well aware of the gender criticism, yet continue to do nothing about it. Even star Misha Collins has spoken out against Supernatural's treatment of women, referring to it as "gratuitously misogynistic" at a New Jersey convention last May.
"Why do they have to say 'b----' and kill all the women?" he asked the crowd to much applause. Collins, who's played Castiel since Season 4, went on to say Supernatural is "hateful to a lot of female characters" and admitted that its treatment of women "makes me cringe sometimes."
Of course, like Collins, the show's misogyny hasn't made me stop loving the series (against my better moral judgment). But the spin-off is a place where producers can right these wrongs by giving us the kicka-- female lead the Supernatural universe deserves.
I want to see women who don't have to be protected "for their own good" or killed off because they threaten the macho narrative. I want to see women who exist outside their relationships to men. I want to see women who the men respect and listen to. I want to see women I respect. In short, I want to see women who are everything the women on Supernatural are not.
This is an opportunity for female fans to feel as their voices are being heard and represented onscreen. And why stop there? Maybe the show could add a queer character (or two). And don't just casting one person of color, cast a whole bunch of them! In a world where you can literally go to hell and back, is that too crazy to expect?
Supernatural is the story of two, (supposedly) straight white men. Tribescan be the story of the rest of us.
Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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