It has been three weeks since lesbian character Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) was killed by a stray bullet on The 100, sparking a controversy over her death and the treatment of LGBTQ characters in general. Fans accused the CW show’s writers of the “Bury Your Gays” or “Dead Lesbian Syndrome” trope. Also criticized was the violent death of a lesbian character in a recent episode of The Walking Dead (Dr. Denise Cloyd, played by Merritt Wever, was killed by an arrow to her eye).
Throughout the early days of The 100 controversy, showrunner/executive producer Jason Rothenberg made few public comments, but today he has posted an open letter to the show’s fans. “While I now understand why this criticism came our way, it leaves me heartbroken,” Rothenberg wrote. “I promise you burying, baiting or hurting anyone was never our intention.”
Rothenberg went on to say that the thinking behind the episode “was to heighten the drama and underscore the universal fragility of life,” he wrote. “But the end result became something else entirely — the perpetuation of the disturbing “Bury Your Gays” trope. Our aggressive promotion of the episode, and of this relationship, only fueled a feeling of betrayal.”
You can read Rothenberg’s letter in full below:
Since our episode “Thirteen” aired three weeks ago, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading letters, blogs, tweets and articles from passionate women and men of all ages who were angered and saddened that the character Lexa was killed off immediately after a love scene with our hero Clarke. I’m still processing this. I’m still learning. But I have gained perspective and more than ever, I am profoundly grateful to you, our fans.
No series, no episode of television, exists in a vacuum. As an audience, we bring with us our life experience, the events of the time, and the collective memory of all the stories we have been entertained by (or not). Every relationship. Every love scene or act of violence. Every revelation or cliché. Every original story and, yes, every trope. The worst shows retread the formula. The best transcend cliché, opening our eyes to new ways of thinking, and welcome new audiences in.
For many fans of The 100, the relationship between Clarke and Lexa was a positive step of inclusion. I take enormous pride in that, as I do in the fact that our show is heading into its 4th season with a bisexual lead and a very diverse cast. The honesty, integrity and vulnerability Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey brought to their characters served as an inspiration for many of our fans. Their relationship held greater importance than even I realized. And that very important representation was taken away by one stray bullet.
The thinking behind having the ultimate tragedy follow the ultimate joy was to heighten the drama and underscore the universal fragility of life. But the end result became something else entirely — the perpetuation of the disturbing “Bury Your Gays” trope. Our aggressive promotion of the episode, and of this relationship, only fueled a feeling of betrayal.
While I now understand why this criticism came our way, it leaves me heartbroken. I promise you burying, baiting or hurting anyone was never our intention. It’s not who I am.
In the show-world, no one is safe, and anyone, even a beloved character, can die, at any time. My favorite shows in this genre embrace a similar sense of heightened urgency. There are several reasons why this particular episode played out the way it did: practical (an actress was leaving the show), creative (it’s a story about reincarnation) and thematic (it’s a show about survival). Despite my reasons, I still write and produce television for the real world where negative and hurtful tropes exist. And I am very sorry for not recognizing this as fully as I should have. Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently.
The 100 is a post-apocalyptic tragedy set 130 years in the future. It’s a constant life and death struggle. In our show, all relationships start with one question: ‘Can you help me survive today?’ It doesn’t matter what color you are, what gender identity you are, or whether you’re gay, bi or straight. The things that divide us as global citizens today don’t matter in this show. And that’s the beauty of science-fiction. We can make a point without preaching. We can say that race, sexuality, gender and disability should not divide us. We can elevate our thinking and take you on a helluva ride at the same time.
But I’ve been powerfully reminded that the audience takes that ride in the real world — where LGBTQ teens face repeated discrimination, often suffer from depression and commit suicide at a rate far higher than their straight peers. Where people still face discrimination because of the color of their skin. Where, in too many places, women are not given the same opportunities as men, especially LGBTQ women who face even tougher odds. And where television characters are still not fully representative of the diverse lives of our audience. Not even close.
Those of us lucky enough to have a platform to tell stories have an opportunity to expand the boundaries of inclusion, and we shouldn’t take that for granted.
For those of you wondering about the series’ path ahead, The 100 is a show where people don’t get over things quickly. This goes for physical injuries as well as emotional ones. Clarke is experiencing the profound loss of someone she loved, and she’ll carry that loss with her forever. My sincerest hope is that any of our fans who saw a part of themselves in the relationship between Clarke and Lexa can take some small comfort in knowing that their love was beautiful and real.
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