There's a recent history of genre shows featuring the type of female characters that fans want to see more of: Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany finally received an Emmy for her brilliant portrayals of multiple clones, while Mr. Robot's sharp women characters—hackers Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and Trenton (Sunita Mani), and FBI agent Dominique Dipierro (Grace Gummer)—played a part in the show receiving critical acclaim. However, these breakout shows do still mostly feature white actors—but a few of them are working hard to remedy this lack of diversity.
Over the past few months, fantasy and science-fiction TV shows have gifted viewers with three new leading heroines whose ethnicities are fiercely underrepresented in Hollywood. There's Sleepy Hollow's new lead, Indian American actress Janina Gavankar; Emerald City has cast a Latina Dorothy with Mexican American actress Adria Arjona; and SyFy's The Expanse has established a fan favorite in its Martian character Bobbie Draper, played by Polynesian actress Naren Shankar.
When FOX's Sleepy Hollow first graced screens in 2013, it had one of the most racially diverse casts on television. At least half of its characters were portrayed by actors of color, including Orlando Jones, John Cho, and Nicole Beharie as co-lead Lieutenant Abbie Mills. However, over the last few seasons, Mills has become more of a sidekick to Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), the storylines focusing more on Crane's past while leaving Mills out of the loop. During the show's third season last year, she was stuck in a sort of purgatory for several episodes, and behind-the-scenes tension ultimately led to Beharie's departure.
Many fans were angry, and there was concern that the most recent season would essentially become "The Ichabod Crane Show." But Gavankar's Diana Thomas has proved herself the show's real star. The character—an agent from the Department of Homeland Security—has become essential to the show's narrative, and Gavankar's emotional acting has added depth to the show itself.
NBC's Emerald City had a rougher start than Sleepy Hollow did, but Arjona's Dorothy is far from the version of the character that Judy Garland played: She's a little older than previous iterations (at the ripe old age of 20), and in her previous life, she was a cop, which means she can handle herself in dire situations. (In this latest The Wizard of Oz retelling, the Witch of the East's death was no accident, as Dorothy used her wits to help her escape the witch's wrath.) The show has gone as far as to directly acknowledge Dorothy's Hispanic background, instead of leaving her ambiguously brown.
The Expanse, on the other hand, had already featured actresses of color in its first season, including Iranian American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo and black actress Dominique Tipper. This season, the writers introduced the Martian faction through the eyes of Roberta "Bobbie" Draper, a strong and smart Gunnery Sergeant in the Martian marines. The character is Polynesian in the book series the show is based on, and actress Frankie Adams is of Samoan heritage. Within the first few episodes of the season, we see her not only as a leader of a group of testy marines, but also as the one questioning the higher-ups of the Martian military.
Each of these roles given to women of color help normalize the idea that anyone can be a hero. The entertainment industry as a whole is becoming more diverse, but it still has a long way to go—so it's good to see that television is taking extra steps to be more ethnically diverse. Over the last few years we've seen the realness in familial comedies about people of color like Black-ish, Fresh off the Boat, and Jane the Virgin, but seeing women of color as heroines is inspiring in a different way—especially to those who feel like their representation is severely lacking.