Last week, the NBC primetime show The Mysteries of Laura did something I’ve been waiting for in media. The episode centered around solving the mystery of a biracial character, and this character’s ethnicity had absolutely nothing to do with the plot.
Each week, the lead character Laura Diamond (Debra Messing) catches the killer responsible for a recent murder. The premise of the show is largely nothing new, but it has a simple charm that makes for good Hulu entertainment while sipping morning coffee.
In this episode, titled “The Mystery of the Locked Box,” a billionaire tech genius named Zac Romero is found dead in his upscale apartment. Christopher Reed Brown, the young man who plays Zac, is of course not really part of the episode and has no lines, since he’s, well, dead. But the show does have Debra and her colleagues speak with Zac’s mother and father. The fact that Zac is biracial isn’t even known to the viewers until the entrance of his mother Rosalie, played by Linda Powell. Sure, we’d pretty well gathered that Zac wasn’t lily white, since his last name is Romero and his dead body has a slight olive tone. But Rosalie’s darker skin signals to viewers that this dead body belongs to a mixed race man.
While mixed race characters on TV have existed for quite awhile, what set this situation apart was the fact that Zac’s ethnicity had nothing to do with the plot, and that the film crew still felt it valid to let him exist, and to purposefully cast a black mother and a white father. Such planning is quite rare in the TV industry, especially if there is no takeaway in terms of story arc. Laura Diamond considers Zac and Rosalie completely representational of any other mother and son. She makes no reference to race, and she seems completely unfazed by this interracial family unit.
This episode also did interesting things to thwart stereotypical representations of minority characters. Zac gets to incorporate a space that is often not granted to black characters: He gets to be not a basketball player, or a musician, but a tech genius. If The Mysteries of Laura had followed standard representations, Zac would have been played by an Asian or Indian character, if they had used a minority at all. Normally if a black man plays a tech genius, it’s only because he has some ominous dark side, but Zac planned to give away a new invention instead of making an kind of capital on his product. Additionally, it’s Zac’s white father who plays the deadbeat. A selfish, lazy character who has recently reached out to Zac, only in an effort to acquire his wealth through their shared bloodline.
The media has a long way to go in its representation of mixed race characters, but this episode shows me that one of my biggest wishes may come true. While it may seem unfeasible, my dream is to see a novel about a biracial character that has absolutely nothing to do with race. Instead, this character would get to exist just like any other, and he or she would get to tell a story from a place of full agency, where race doesn’t have to be the fabric that holds the plot together. Perhaps I’ll write my own book someday and fulfill my own wish. In the meantime, I’m glad to see these seemingly small but significant strides.