Back in 1992, years before Sarah Michelle Gellar starred in the WB series, my aunt Joann introduced me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was wary at first that the film, which starred Kristy Swanson as the titular character, would feature just another stereotypical teen cheerleader. Instead, I saw a fighter, a badass slayer of monsters. I was hooked.
And now, more than 20 years later, the franchise is getting another update. Last week at Comic Con, according to The Hollywood Reporter, 20th Century Fox Television announced that a revival is in development with a black woman in the lead role. Joss Whedon, who created the WB series, is set to executive-produce, with Monica Owusu-Breen as showrunner.
There’s been controversy around this decision, though. Critics argue that rebooting franchises with a black lead deprives people of color of their own original stories. “Hollywood, stop doing lazy gender and race bent reboots and shit,” Vulture writer Angelica Jade tweeted. “It isn’t progress. It’s insulting as if black people can’t lead popular works with their own mythology.”
“Any African American actress who enters this role is forever going to be known as ‘Black Buffy,’ and that’s something I find frustrating,” Princess Weekes wrote on The Mary Sue.
The blowback was loud enough that showrunner Owusu-Breen responded on Twitter. “For some genre writers it’s Star Wars. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my Star Wars,” she wrote. “Before I became a writer, I was a fan. For seven seasons, I watched Buffy Summers grow up, find love, kill that love. I watched her fight, and struggle and slay. There is only one Buffy. One Xander, one Willow, Giles, Cordelia, Oz, Tara, Kendra, Faith, Spike, Angel… They can’t be replaced. Joss Whedon’s brilliant and beautiful series can’t be replicated. I wouldn’t try to.”
She continued, “But here we are, twenty years later… And the world seems a lot scarier. So maybe, it could be time to meet a new Slayer… And that’s all I can say.”
I’m with Owusu-Breen. As a black female fan and as a writer, I see this as an opportunity to tell a fresh and timely story. It’s not something I take lightly: Following the Buffy series was a long ride of ups and downs—and I mean heavy downs—but being a part of the Buffy (specifically, Spuffy) fandom has changed the course of my life. Reading and writing fan fiction about the characters made me a better writer, and I’ve met some of my dearest friends in fandom chat rooms. I’ve even interviewed some of the cast (James Marsters, Clare Kramer, Mercedes McNab, Amber Benson, and Mark Metcalf). Today I run Whedon World on Facebook, and I’m an admin on the largest Buffy group on Facebook (we have over 80,000 members).
Buffy has changed—and made better—so many things for me. So when it comes to this reboot, why would I want to deprive a new generation of experiencing that too? (I also want a Spike movie starring James Marsters, but I’ll save that argument for another day.) There’s a whole new audience out there waiting for content like this. I’d also argue that the current political and social climate will simply not allow for the same plots to be rehashed. In Owusu-Breen’s hands, this could be something that’s updated, elevated, and more relevant for today.
Buffy is a cult hit, sure, but is the fandom so shrew to think that’s all it can ever be? Whedon clearly feels differently, given his involvement as executive producer, and I agree: I’m excited that Buffy Summers is coming back. If you don’t want to show up for her, I get it, but others will—and I’ll be right with them.
Jill Robi is a San Diego–based writer from Chicago, currently working on her next novel. Learn more at houseoffangirl.com.