The Color of Love

As a writer who happens to be a woman of color, it’s important to me to see myself in books, film and art. Seeing other people of color in important roles isn’t as uncommon now as it was for me when I was growing up, but I am not just a person of color. I am ethnically mixed. My mother is white and my father was black. I was raised by my mother’s family and am more culturally white than black according to the tiny boxes people wish to place us in here in America. I am primarily attracted to men of European ancestry and have only dated and had long-term relationships with white men. I don’t think my ethnicity and dating practices make me that unique, but it has taken me nearly a lifetime to see healthy relationships between women of color and white men depicted in films, books, and on TV. In my nearly 46 years, it has been within the last roughly 10 years that it has become commonplace to see interracial couples in commercials, on TV shows, and in films that didn’t have a darker undercurrent. The specter of racism hanging over that relationship and making it nearly impossible for it to exist.

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I remember being very excited to see Lisa Bonet and Mickey Rourke’s sex scenes in Angel Heart when I was a teenager, but the older I get the more I realize that their relationship was fraught with many problems, the least of which being that she is murdered. Racism is prevalent in the film. And despite the fact that Harry Angel is aware of racism and segregation in his hometown of New York City, it is even more apparent that blacks and whites don’t mix when he gets to New Orleans. To be fair, the film is set in the 1950s, so Jim Crow is alive and well. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the police officer investigating the string of deaths that seem to follow Harry Angel refers to Epiphany Proudfoot as Harry’s nigger. What should surprise us is that Harry does nothing to defend Epiphany’s honor. I mean obviously he enjoyed her company if his blood-soaked orgy fantasy while screwing her is any indication. So, if he really does like her, at least sexually, and is worried about her safety, then why doesn’t he tell the detective not to call her a nigger? One reason is due to the history of interracial relationships in this country being either forbidden, kept secret or simply flat-out denied and erased from history. But, our history isn’t nearly as lily white as the textbooks would like us to believe.

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Like I said, interracial relationships are becoming more common in works of popular fiction, but who is writing them? Who is performing them? How are they being depicted? This summer I was shocked, delighted, and fascinated by the choice to change the ethnicity of two of the major characters in Charlaine Harris’ Midnight Texas series for the TV adaptation. In the novels, Fiji Cavanaugh, the local witch, is a plump little white woman who is head over heels for Bobo Winthrop, the handsome owner of Midnight Pawnshop. Their relationship is complicated in the novels, but the decision to make Fiji a woman of color on TV takes the level of complication to a much darker place. And, the choice to cast a very dark-skinned black man as Lemuel Bridger was interesting since in the novels his is one of the palest vampires alive. The rewriting of Lemuel’s backstory, making him a slave who kills his master after becoming a vampire, is almost a new American mythology of revenge. The first time I encountered this concept of a slave becoming a vampire as a form of freedom, was in The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez (1991). But as even Lemuel realizes, he traded one form of slavery for another.

The Color of Love: Bobo Winthrop and Fiji Cavanaugh

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Bobo Winthrop first appears in the Lily Bard Shakespeare series of mystery novels written by Charlaine Harris between 1996 and 2001. Lily Bard is an amatuer sleuth who gets involved in the darker aspects of the community she lives in. Lily’s past is also dark and she initially attempts to stay out of the public eye, but can’t allow bad people to get away with their evil deeds. She cleans houses for a living and is a martial arts student. Lily cleans the Winthrop house, and Bobo is also a martial arts student who sometimes works at the gym where they workout and take classes.

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Bobo is the teenage son of a wealthy well-connected family in Shakespeare, GA. His family is involved in the White Supremacist movement, which Bobo is extremely ashamed of and tries to distance himself from his family once he becomes more aware of their activities and the fact that they have actually had a hand in killing people. Most notably, the bombing of an all Black church in Shakespeare.

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When Bobo reappears in the Midnight, Texas series, he’s an adult and has been running from his family for many years. He bought the pawnshop from Lemuel and had established himself as a regular in Midnight, which means he has a dark past and is intentionally trying to keep a low profile. He’s one of the few human characters in the novels, but his past is dark enough to make him fit in, and his fiance is murdered in the first Midnight novel. Because she has lied to him about her identity and the fact that she’s already married to someone else, he slowly discovers that she was plant that brings back the truth of his past that he has tried to escape from.

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As I mentioned, in the novels, his best friend is Fiji Cavanaugh and she is a small, chubby white woman who is also a witch. Fiji fantasizes about Bobo and having a relationship, but her low self-esteem and body image issues keep her from getting as close as she’d like to the handsome man with the very dark past. And, he doesn’t exactly profess his undying love for her either. The TV show makes their relationship even more complicated by casting a woman of color as Fiji. Fiji and Bobo are still friends. Bobo’s fiance, Aubrey turns up dead and she is married to a white supremacist who was trying to get information about a legendary stash of weapons Bobo stole from his family to prevent them from killing more people. Fiji doesn’t know about Bobo’s past even though they are good friends. Of course, Fiji has some secrets of her own that cause a bit of havoc as the story develops. Bobo is attracted to Fiji and admits that the first time he saw her, he thought he was out of her league. Her kindness and friendship over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed, and when Aubrey dies, she’s the first one to offer comfort. And, when anything happens to Fiji, Bobo is usually the first to come running to her rescue or to defend her honor. And yet, they aren’t a couple.

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It takes the two of them much longer to get together in the novels, but the TV show dives right in and does a mashup of all three books in 10 episodes. Because I read the novels, I had no trouble keeping up. However, the timeline is out of whack, and there are missing characters. I’m doubtful of a second season showing this summer, because, hey, I love the show so it probably won’t get renewed…so  who knows what will happen next?

In the show, like the novels, when Fiji discovers Bobo’s connection to white supremacists and is kidnapped because of that connection, she is unable to trust him for a long time. The truth of his past and the fact that his secret put her in danger causes her to take a break from their friendship. Obviously, casting a woman of color as Fiji gives so much more weight to this revelation.

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She loves Bobo, but knowing that he was raised by white supremacists, regardless of his beliefs and actions as an adult, raises some serious trust issues and makes Fiji reconsider her feelings. It doesn’t help that Bobo is showing an interest in her that goes beyond friendship and he even tells her that he loves her.

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Bobo pleads his case, tells her that he’s ashamed of his family, but misses being able to see them. He’s completely honest with her and is worried that she’ll reject him. But, rather than badgering her and begging for forgiveness and trying to show her that he isn’t like his family, he tries to give her the space she needs to figure things out. His feelings are hurt, but he doesn’t blame her for not trusting him. He continues to worry about her and does what he can to keep her safe, let her know he loves her, and has to wait for her to welcome him back in.

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In the meantime, there’s a demon communicating with Fiji who wants to be her new boyfriend so he can have access to her high concentration of witch mojo. In the books, like the show, one of Fiji’s secrets is that she’s a virgin. In her 30s. Apparently, virgin witches over 30 are not only rare, but very powerful. And, the demon wants to get on that. The entire town is in danger, and the demon keeps encouraging people to kill themselves, because it feeds on death and the more death there is, the easier it is for him to rise out of Hell. In the third novel, Night Shift, when we find out Fiji’s secret, the male characters all volunteer to help Fiji with her…problem. Fiji is beyond embarrassed and totally freaked out that all of the men, including Joe who is in a relationship with another man, offer to take her virginity. In the novel, it has to be performed like a ritual on top of the Hellmouth, which means she has to do it in public with the lucky fella. First time jitters don’t even cover that effed up situation.

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In the TV show, Bobo offers the solution to Fiji who initially thinks he’s crazy. So, after weeks of avoiding being alone with Bobo, Fiji decides to have sex with him. Now, we already know that they care about each other and Bobo can’t imagine…or really even tolerate the thought that someone else would put their hands on Fiji. He’s a nice guy, but jealousy is kind of an issue for him beyond the desire to keep Fiji safe. At least they get to do it in private on the TV show.

The choice to make Fiji a person of color was a bold one on the part of the scriptwriters and casting director. It gives the problem of Bobo’s past more weight and addresses some of the typical concerns people have about interracial relationships. Not to mention the fact that NBC put an interracial couple on during prime time while racists are trying to make America white again after Trump’s election. AND, made white supremacists the bad guys, second only to demons. Stick that in your Evangelical Christian pipe and smoke it.

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What’s really interesting to me is the fact that Fiji never mentions race in any of their conversations. Bobo simply confesses that he was ashamed and that’s why he didn’t tell her about his family. And she says she’s upset because it was a lie of omission. He lied to her. She doesn’t say anything like, “how could you lead me on and let me fall in love with you when you were raised by racists who you’re on the run from?” His lie almost cost Fiji her life.

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But, once Bobo has deflowered her and chased the demon away…literally with his penis, all is forgiven and they become a couple. In the TV show, Manfred has more of a hand in defeating the demon, but in the novel, some much needed sex magic does the trick. Bobo’s white penis saved Fiji’s life. You read that right. Fiji’s salvation came in the form of a white man’s penis.

Let that sink in for a moment.

As a woman of color who has dated only white men, I have had the misfortune of dealing with racist relatives who make off-color jokes about my sexual proclivities because apparently black women’s vaginas are a source of fear and mystery, reminiscent of the Dark Continent itself. My exes who had never dated anyone other than white girls/women before dating me were either making huge mistakes or conquering some unknown territory according to some of their friends and family members. So, seeing Bobo and Fiji warmed my heart because I want them to be together. Despite his past, Bobo really is a good man and truly loves Fiji. And, let’s face it, they’re a hot couple. If NBC nixes a second season, my dream would be for it to get picked up by Showtime or HBO so that Fiji and Bobo get a lot more sex scenes. No, like a lot of sex scenes so they can try lots of different positions. And, that would also open up the possibility for Joe and Chuy to have a few sex scenes. Because Bobo is hot. Manfred is hot. But Joe Strong makes my mouth water.

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As hot as Bobo and Fiji are as a couple, seeing them together and knowing Bobo’s backstory caused me to remember some uncomfortable parts of my own past. Bobo isn’t going to be able to take Fiji home to meet his family. That isn’t an option. Part of me envies that fact. Meeting someone’s family for the first time is usually fraught with fear for me. Fear of past hurts, fear of further rejection, fear of actual physical violence. When I was a teenager, I called my boyfriend’s house, and his father told him that his nigger was on the phone. I was only 14. No one’s father has ever said that to me since, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking it. And, it is certainly always on my mind each time I meet the friends and family of a new partner.

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You may ask yourself, why would I continue to date white men if I harbor fears like that? And my answer to you would be, because you can’t choose who you are attracted to or who you love. Maybe the real takeaway from Midnight, Texas shouldn’t be that Bobo’s white penis saved a black woman from damnation. Maybe the takeaway is the fact that people come into our lives and regardless of our pasts, regardless of our differences, we can’t help but fall in love. I’m a cynic and the fact that Bobo’s penis saved the day isn’t something I can completely ignore. None of the penises I’ve encountered have ever been magical enough to save me from certain doom. In fact, they probably caused me more trouble than anything else. I think most women would say the same regardless of their dating preferences. But as cynical as I am, I’m also a hopeless romantic who still believes in love. And, I also firmly believe that the color of your lover shouldn’t matter as long as they love and respect you.

Dead Men Do Tell Tales

I’ve been a fan of Charlaine Harris’ characters since I picked up my first Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Until Dark. It wasn’t until I started reading some of her other series, like the Harper Connolly series, the Lily Bard Shakespeare series, and the Midnight Texas series, that I realized she likes to recycle some of her characters. Most of the characters who appear in the Southern Vampire series stay put in that world, but when you branch out into her other books, you realize that the worlds are more connected than at first glance. Charlaine Harris is masterful at not only creating worlds we can see ourselves in, but characters that feel like best friends and potential lovers. No one writes about the pain of loss, the fear of loneliness, and the desire to simply be left alone after a great tragedy as well as she does in the context of mystery and urban fantasy novels. And, when you begin delving into some of the other series, you’ll begin to recognize some of your old friends and acquaintances. For instance, in the Midnight Texas books we encounter Manfred Bernardo, who also appears in the Harper Connelly series, and Bobo Winthrop, who appears in the Lily Bard Shakespeare series, and John Quinn, who appears in the Southern Vampire series.

Shortly before NBC debuted the short-lived TV show, Midnight, Texas, I finished reading the third book in the Midnight series, Night Shift. While I absolutely adored the TV show, it took a lot of liberties with characters and plot lines, and if I hadn’t read the books beforehand, I might have found the show confusing and absurd. But, since I was familiar with the characters and had read all three novels, it was fun to watch the story unfold and see how the characters would interact with each other.

Like I said, NBC took some liberties with characters, especially with their appearances, but in the end, the changes made the show a bit more interesting. It also made some of the characters more attractive and deepened the relevance of their relationships. When I started writing this post, I considered devoting a paragraph to each character and simply writing about the ensemble of characters. Why you might ask? Well, because for the most part, each of them is perfectly fuckable. Then I stopped to think about and realized there are two characters in particular that I had the hots for all summer, and two couples. So, rather than just write one post and shoot my load all at once, I’m going to write four posts about the same show and delve a little deeper into each character/couple.

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: Manfred Bernardo

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For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll be focusing mainly on the TV show based on the Midnight books, but I will point out differences between the show and the novels from time to time, like the fact that I wouldn’t look twice at Manfred if he looked the way Charlaine described him in the novels. Actually, that’s not an entirely fair assessment. I would look twice at Manfred in the novels, because his appearance is striking due to his multiple facial piercings, tattoos, and essentially albino complexion. However, the actor (Francois Arnaud) portraying Manfred in the TV show turns heads for other reasons.

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Manfred is an interesting guy. In the Pilot episode, we learn that he earns his living as a psychic, with a website, wealthy clients, and fancy hotel room meetings. As a psychic, he communicates with the dead and tries to make peace for their loved ones, but Manfred is no charlatan, he can really talk to the dead, which actually makes him a medium. In fact, spirits like to hitch a ride inside Manfred and use his body to communicate with the living. In the opening scene, Manfred’s body gets hijacked by his client’s deceased husband who goes into a jealous rage after her learns his wife is now dating his friend and business partner. Manfred manages to take control of his body and prevents the disgruntled ghost from stabbing his wife with a shard of a mirror he shattered.

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Soon after, Manfred gets a phone call and we get some sketchy details about money he owes to someone who is chasing after him. Agitated by the phone call, the next scene we see is of Manfred traveling through the desert in an old beat up RV and meet the ghost of his grandmother, Xylda, who is bound to the vehicle. Manfred inherited his abilities from Xylda, and comes from a long line of fortune tellers, psychics, and seers. He’s on his way to Midnight, Texas to settle down and most likely, hide out for a while at his grandmother’s recommendation.

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He meets up with his landlord, Bobo Winthrop, who owns Midnight’s pawn shop and moves into his new home. It doesn’t take long for the unsettled spirits of Midnight to introduce themselves to Manfred and seek his help to communicate with the living. The day after he moves into town, the water-soaked, bloated body of Bobo’s missing fiance, Aubrey, is discovered in the creek bed near the picnic area where Midnighter’s are having a BBQ.

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It also doesn’t take long for Manfred to develop an interest in a local young woman, Cree. Cree likes Manfred, too, but she has to sneak around to see him due to the fact that her father is obsessively over protective. Despite her dad’s efforts to cock block Manfred, Cree and Manfred develop a romantic relationship. Even though Cree’s family secrets almost cost her and Manfred their lives, they aren’t the most interesting couple in Midnight.

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The longer Manfred stays in Midnight, the more we learn about his past and the fact that Destiny may have brought him to the strange little town where unusual people make their homes, including a vampire, a witch, an angel, and a weretiger for starters. Manfred’s talents come in handy as more of the darkness buried beneath Midnight comes to the surface.

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Something is waking up under Midnight, whatever it is it is increasing the spiritual activity in town, making Manfred’s house uninhabitable for the medium for cannot keep the ghosts at bay. Not only are the spiritual inhabitants restless, but the dark energy in the town begins to attract other dark forces and the secrets each Midnighter keeps hidden become harder to hide. Fortunately, weirdness is the glue that keeps folks in Midnight together. In fact, Manfred’s weird talents quickly make him a welcome addition to the strange little town. And, his insights help to solve Aubrey’s murder and clear Bobo as a murder suspect.

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Manfred wins the trust of the other residents of Midnight and proves himself to be an invaluable weapon in the fight against evil.