'I Was Just There to Fulfill a Diversity Quota': Riverdale Neglected Its Black Characters, per Co-Stars

Vanessa Morgan, left, and Bernadette Beck in Riverdale (2017-present)
Vanessa Morgan, left, and Bernadette Beck in Riverdale (2017-present)
Photo: Warner Bros. Television Distribution, The CW

The Hollywood reckoning is happening all over town and this time, we’re visiting Riverdale—the series airing on The CW, that is.

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Bernadette Beck, who portrays Peaches ‘N Cream in the third and fourth season of the popular series based on the beloved comic book series, recently spoke out about how the show further perpetuates negative stereotypes of Black people through her character. These types of stereotypes affect the real people they are meant to represent as well as the actors who portray the characters. Beck, in particular, says she received death threats and was body-shamed, all of which led to the actress experiencing severe anxiety attacks.

“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,” Beck said in an exclusive interview with ELLE. “I was, for no reason, depicted in a very negative, unattractive light. 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. It’s just to fulfill points.”

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Beck’s interview completely supports the statements of co-star Vanessa Morgan (who portrays Toni Topaz) this May via social media, expressing that she was tired of Black characters on the show being “used as sidekick non-dimensional characters to [their] white leads.” We’ve already covered how she spoke out about being paid less than her white counterparts on the show, even though she was a series regular (and the only Black one).

ELLE’s Gabrielle Noel further explains:

Peaches ‘N Cream doesn’t have a developed backstory. In fact, neither does Vanessa Morgan’s character, Toni. But Peaches also doesn’t have a personality. She simply exists in the background of many scenes, chewing bubblegum with her arms crossed and looking defiant. She is often positioned as a service worker, either DJing or collecting tickets at the door to an event. On multiple occasions, producers told Beck that she was supposed to appear “sassy” and that her character is someone who “always speaks her mind”—ironic, considering Peaches has very few lines of dialogue. This attitude is never explained on the show or in marketing or promotion.

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“I was completely forgotten in the scene more than once,” Beck continued, noting that production usually forgot to inform her of her scene placements and blocking until she raised the issue. “The director [would] be walking off set and I’d have to chase them down because I had no idea where to stand, what to do—I just hadn’t been given any instruction. You can’t treat people like they’re invisible and then pat yourself on the back for meeting your diversity quota for the day.”

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Beck also spoke on how, for her role as Peaches N’ Cream, the casting process consisted of intentionally choosing a bisexual actress to portray the character. Though Beck initially thought this meant there would be a careful and thoughtful portrayal of a Black bisexual character, she says it was actually only whittled down to a “down for a threesome” trope. According to Insider, there was initially supposed to be an episode centered around Toni and her backstory, but one of the show’s writers Ted Sullivan confirmed that this episode has been postponed until season five. I guess we’ll see.

Riverdale was renewed for a fifth season and is expected to return in January 2021.

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Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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DISCUSSION

One of the kids at my church does a fair amount of acting. Awhile back he was featured in a pretty popular movie. I was really excited because the kid is MEGA TALENTED. He does everything well. The movie comes out and he’s regulated to the typical black sidekick friend supporting a talentless white lead.