How Fox’s ‘The Passage’ Deconstructs The Disposable Black Girl / White Savior Tropes

April 01 2019

When Amy (Saniyya Sidney) is introduced in the pilot episode of Fox’s new show The Passage, her backstory seems stereotypical. She’s a recently orphaned 10-year-old Black girl, whose dope fiend mama just died; a classic cliché. Her world gets even more complicated when the federal government tries to kidnap her and perform experiments on her to create a vaccine that might “save the world”—at her expense.

She’s chosen because she is a child that the government has deemed as disposable. The girl from nowhere. The one who will not be missed.

While this is a TV show, the truth of how disposable Black girls are is devastating. The world barely blinks at the missing Black girls in Atlanta, Oakland and Chicago. Though many of the stolen Chibok girls of Nigeria are still being held captive by Boko Haram, to the Western public consciousness, they are a thing of the past. These girls right here in America also deserve Amber Alerts and wellness checks but instead are often treated as a suspect rather than a victim.

In 2018, a 16-year-old Black girl from Virginia named Jholie Moussa went missing for two weeks. The authorities labeled her a runaway. To combat that narrative, fliers with her face on them were disseminated that read: “My name is Jholie Moussa. I did not run away.” Jholie was later found dead in a local park. Her parents say that her abduction was handled carelessly by city officials. Missing Black girls just don’t get the Natalee Holloway or Jon Benet Ramsey-level of concern.

The Passage reveals this lack of moral consciousness for our Black girls that’s held by the government and society at large, as well as the correlation between their disposability and invisibility. No one is looking for Amy. There’s no family to miss her, no national uproar. Just another Black girl gone missing in broad daylight. But this fantasy epic repositions the Black girl from victim to savior. Amy quickly becomes a person who matters, who people fight and die trying to protect.

As the government wants to use her DNA as the only cure for mankind in a world soon to be overcome by vampires, many people risk their lives to defend her agency and personhood. She is bright, resourceful and a warrior in the making. She’s also still allowed to just be a kid who loves to read—particularly, the last book her mother gave her, A Wrinkle in Time, which is a nod to another young girl destined to save humanity.

“The Agent” (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is the one who kidnapped Amy and quickly becomes her primary defender. At first, however, he is a pawn like everyone else, an ex-military hired gun who just does what he’s told. He knows the government is doing something shady with the people on death row whom he lures into entering the government’s top secret program in order to avoid the death penalty. The Agent’s moral consciousness is not affected, however, until he is asked to kidnap a child.

Up until this point, the government experiment to rid the world of a deadly disease has backfired. They are sure a child’s DNA can help create the cure they need. But The Agent is moved by Amy’s brilliance and innocence and soon questions the government’s motives for kidnapping her. While this narrative could’ve easily gone the way of the white savior trope, Amy is the narrator of her own story. It’s her voiceover, her thoughts that drive the action of the story from the first seconds of the pilot until the last seconds of the season finale.

Amy is clear with The Agent that she knows he is kidnapping her and she doesn’t trust him. He is a thief of a life, one who must be watched closely. The Agent actively seeks to gain her trust by showing her genuine care and concern, apologizing for kidnapping her, trying to get her out of the mess he put her in and helping her deal with the loss of her mother.

In an incredibly moving scene, The Agent helps Amy say goodbye to her mother, and forces Amy—and the audience—to acknowledge her mother as more than the addiction that stole her mother’s life. Through tears, Amy recalls all of the wonderful things that her mother did for her and honors her mother’s humanity and deep love. The message is clear: Black women who die of addiction are not stereotypes or statistics; these are people whose lives have value and deserve honor.

There are even more scenes where it becomes clear that The Agent isn’t just using Amy as a prop in his own personal redemption story, as typical White Savior narratives go; his love and concern for her is parental and self-sacrificing, not oppressive. He realizes that there are more monsters in the world than just the ones that suck blood. There are monsters that dispose of whole communities, and protecting Amy is an attempt to oppose the whole system. But on a personal level, whether he’s checking under her bed for monsters or braiding her hair before bedtime, The Agent is no savior, he’s just a dad.

In case The Agent had any false notions about being her savior, Amy’s fellow government lab victim Anthony Carter (McKinley Belcher III) quickly disabuses The Agent of that notion. “You’re not the savior,” Anthony tells The Agent. “She is.”  

In a flashforward to the post-apocalyptic future, Amy stands like a warrior in a Fulani braided lace front wig, her time as savior in full effect. While there are many unanswered questions by the season finale cliffhanger, for now, it’s enough to rejoice that there is a future that imagines Black girls at the center of it: A future where Black girls are central to the success of our humanity; where their well-being is a matter of international concern; where we come to their aid; where we prioritize their lives.

Season one of The Passage is streaming now on Hulu and Fox.

READ MORE:

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