“I’m not the first Black actress to show up on set, stand there, chew gum, and look sassy and mean.”

Caroline Goldstein
Jul 29, 2020 @ 11:15 am
Credit: Bernadette Beck, Instagram

Bernadette Beck is the latest Black actor to speak out about her experiences with racism and tokenism on the set of Riverdale. In an interview with Elle, Beck, who played Peaches N’ Cream in Seasons 3 and 4, said she believed she was cast “to fulfill a diversity quota.” She added that her character wasn’t given a proper backstory, narrative arc, or pretty much any semblance of a personality whatsoever.    

“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,” Beck said.

Beck’s sentiments echo her castmate Vanessa Morgan’s, who recently expressed her frustration about how the media routinely relegates Black characters to “side kick, non-dimensional characters to our white leads.” Morgan, who played Toni Topaz, also noted that the media often portrays Black people as “thugs, dangerous or angry scary people.”

Beck, too, said that her character “was, for no reason, depicted in a very negative, unattractive light.” 

That’s in stark contrast to her white castmates, whose relatively dynamic characters have earned them huge followings. Crucially, too, their fans feel an “emotional connection” with the characters and the actors who play them. By Beck’s character not only not being afforded a discernible personality, but also having an “unlikeable” one, Beck wasn’t even given the chance to garner popular support. And Beck believes it has ripple effects on the rest of their careers. 

“If we are depicted as unlikable or our characters are not developed or we’re looked at as the enemy all the time, that affects our public persona. What kind of opportunities are we losing out on even after Riverdale?” she said.

Her character’s negative depiction deeply affected her personally, as well, as the show’s young fanbase fixated on her as a target for bullying. Elle writes that Beck was “body shamed, received death threats, and experienced severe anxiety attacks.”

Beck felt wholly neglected on set, too, saying she was “completely forgotten in the scene more than once.” 

"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,” she said. “You can’t treat people like they’re invisible and then pat yourself on the back for meeting your diversity quota for the day."

Beck believes her character’s bisexuality was portrayed with an equal lack of depth, nuance, and actual understanding of the bi experience.

Beck, who is herself bisexual, noted that her character’s sexuality was utilized merely as a plot point. In one scene, Toni Topaz solicits her for a threesome, which Peaches N’ Cream wordlessly accepts. Elle also noted that her character’s “down for anything” attitude furthers the damaging pattern of “hypersexualization and fetishization of bi people in real life.”

Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa responded to Vanessa Morgan’s comments in an Instagram post back in June. He promised that “Riverdale will be part of the movement, not outside of it,” and recognized that the heavy lifting will have to take place in the writers’ room. Hopefully, Beck’s candor will push Aguirre-Sacasa, and the rest of the cast and crew, to understand the deep importance of intersectional representation in the show’s storylines—not to mention treating the actors themselves with dignity and respect.