The CW’s Riverdale may have more than enough scripted drama to go around, but it still seems to lack substantial storylines for its Black characters. Last month, Vanessa Morgan spoke publicly about the poor treatment of her character Toni Topaz even after becoming a series regular. Now, reoccurring guest star Bernadette Beck, who plays Peaches ‘N Cream in seasons three and four, has has echoed some of the sentiments that Morgan previously expressed in June—namely that her own character mostly existed to help the show gain diversity points rather than have an actual story.
In a conversation with Elle’s Gabrielle Noel, Beck spoke candidly of the harmful way her character has been tokenized. “I was made out to be a very unlikable character and therefore, an unlikable person in people’s eyes,” Beck tells the magazine. “I get it, there’s always a protagonist and antagonist, but I never had much of a story plot or enough character development to even be considered an antagonist... And I’m not the first Black actress to show up on set, stand there, chew gum, and look sassy and mean. I feel like I was just there to fulfill a diversity quota.” In Beck’s case, “Black Sassy Female” was more than an implied trope: Per the actress, the producers repeatedly advised her that she “was supposed to appear ‘sassy’ and that her character is someone who ‘always speaks her mind.’” As Noel notes, that latter direction rarely comes into fruition due to Beck’s substantial lack of lines.
The damage caused by the show’s portrayal of Peaches has spilled over into Beck’s real life. The actress says she’s received death threats and been unwillingly positioned as an easy target for the fandom:
“Some people say it’s just a TV show, but I’m thinking about the implications long-term. If we are depicted as unlikable or our characters are not developed or we’re looked at as the enemy all the time, that affects our public persona. What kind of opportunities are we losing out on even after Riverdale? Our white co-stars are getting all this screen time and character development. They’re building up their following, generating more fans, selling out at conventions, and fans have more of an emotional connection with them. But if we don’t necessarily get that, and we’re looked at with disdain, what does that do to us and how does that stain our reputation moving forward?”
Beck also noted that Riverdale’s treatment of Peaches’ bisexuality has also been highly problematic, painting the largely emotionless figure as someone who is “down for anything.” This is evidenced by an instance where Toni essentially solicits Peaches for a threesome and she simply follows along without emphatic consent. Noel points out that the scene lacked real agency and only served as another example of entertainment’s hypersexualization of bi identity.
Beck joins a number of Black TV actresses who have bravely addressed the shortcomings of their employers. Just recently, The Bold Type’s Aisha Dee took to her social media to detail the ways the show has failed to hire enough Black talent behind the cameras, which has affected her character, Kat Edison, in a number of negative ways. Riverdale’s producers and The CW have not yet responded to Beck’s comments.