As promised yesterday, the good news from Season 2 of Heroes: Monica Dawson.
Monica is a black teenager (Micah’s cousin) living with her family in New Orleans. I don’t recall that the show specifies the exact ways that Hurricane Katrina affected this family, but among them is that Monica has become the primary breadwinner. She’s put her college dreams on hold and is working full time at a burger joint. Even prior to realizing her heroic ability, she’s a great character–strong, hopeful, and loving toward her family members.
Her power is that she can learn to do pretty much anything just by watching someone (even on television) do it, and it manifests when she stops a robbery at her workplace using very Buffy-style martial arts skills. First of all, this is a great power, with so much potential. Second, it’s nice that she learns about it by showing agency and actual, you know, heroism rather than by becoming a victim of her own abilities/lack of control the way so many of the other women have. And third, I am so glad to finally see one of the female heroes react to their new power with some sense of excitement–though she’s a little intimidated by the idea, she almost immediately turns on a Bruce Lee movie and starts imitating the moves in front of the television.
So she’s an awesome character, but what I personally like most about her storyline is the way actual everyday examples of sexism and racism are not ignored in terms of the way others treat her, and the realities of what she struggles against are not glossed over. People in her life are shown trying to hold her back and convince her that she’s just another poor black girl, so she would be better off accepting her station and forgetting all those silly dreams she has. These “silly dreams” consist of such mundane goals as a college education or a managerial position at the fast-food restaurant. After taking the manager’s test, her boss tells her that although she did very well, she won’t be getting the manager’s training based on his assumption that she wouldn’t be able to leave her family (refusing to accept that she’s the primary income and so her family would have to go with her). Her best friend tried to tell her not to bother taking the test in the first place, and then, when Monica stops the robbery, asks “How did you do that? And more importantly, why did you do that?” The message she sends there is clear: it doesn’t really matter if you’re obviously capable. You shouldn’t bother trying to change anything–everything is hopeless. It strikes me as extremely realistic that Monica would have to constantly fight these low expectations, projected assumptions about her role in her family, and attitudes that fighting to make change–in other words, being a hero–is just not worth it.
In a show about heroism appearing in the real world, isn’t she exactly the model we need to see? It gives me hope that the writers get that, but at the same time, that makes me wonder just how they can fail so miserably with the other female characters.