Jason Rothenberg, the executive producer and showrunner of “The 100,” has posted an open letter to fans of the show, acknowledging the controversy that erupted when a key character, a lesbian named Lexa, was killed off in a March 3 episode.
“Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently,” Rothenberg wrote. “Despite my reasons, I still write and produce television for the real world where negative and hurtful tropes exist. And I am very sorry for not recognizing this as fully as I should have.”
In recent weeks, the issue has widened out beyond “The 100,” as TV writers and fans have critiqued the violent deaths of lesbians on “The Walking Dead” and other shows as well, complaining about the “bury your gays” trope. Those who objected to Lexa’s death and the treatment of LGBT characters in general have begun coordinated campaigns pressing for better treatment, vowed to stop watching “The 100” and have made “LGBT fans deserve better” trend on Twitter, among other efforts.
Aside from one interview, Rothenberg made few public statements as the controversy grew. But in his open letter today, he noted that he has become more cognizant of the context in which the show operates and how the Lexa storyline in particular affected fans.
“The 100 is a post-apocalyptic tragedy set 130 years in the future. It’s a constant life and death struggle,” he wrote. “In our show, all relationships start with one question: ‘Can you help me survive today?’ It doesn’t matter what color you are, what gender identity you are, or whether you’re gay, bi or straight. The things that divide us as global citizens today don’t matter in this show. And that’s the beauty of science fiction. We can make a point without preaching. We can say that race, sexuality, gender and disability should not divide us. We can elevate our thinking and take you on a helluva ride at the same time.
“But I’ve been powerfully reminded that the audience takes that ride in the real world — where LGBTQ teens face repeated discrimination, often suffer from depression and commit suicide at a rate far higher than their straight peers. Where people still face discrimination because of the color of their skin. Where, in too many places, women are not given the same opportunities as men, especially LGBTQ women who face even tougher odds. And where television characters are still not fully representative of the diverse lives of our audience. Not even close.”
Alycia Debnam-Carey, who plays Lexa, is a series regular on “Fear the Walking Dead,” and in a March 3 interview with Variety, Rothenberg said the actress’s other commitment “was definitely in my thinking when we broke that story” of her death.
Debnam-Carey spoke out about the situation at a recent PaleyFest panel on “Fear the Walking Dead.” “I obviously had other obligations in my work life, and I hope that people know that this wasn’t a social attack on anyone or any social movement,” the actress told Variety.
As a number of critics and fans pointed out, it was widely expected that Lexa would be written out of the show in some way or other, via death, exile or some other form of absence. But many took issue with the manner of her death, which came just after the consummation of her long-simmering affair with Clarke (Eliza Taylor). Lexa catching a stray bullet fired by an angry male shortly after moment of bliss with her lover, as many pointed out, meant that her exit recalled the long-standing TV trope of lesbian and bisexual women meeting death or mayhem and rarely getting to live productive and happy lives.
To see Lexa die — after Rothenberg, via his Twitter account, had promoted her appearance in the season finale months ago — was a stunning development for many fans. For many LBGT fans and their allies, the events of the episode amounted to a betrayal by a show that had held itself out as a force for positive LGBT representation.
In his post today, Rothenberg acknowledged the missteps and mistakes that led to the controversy. “Their relationship held greater importance than even I realized. And that very important representation was taken away by one stray bullet,” he noted.
“The thinking behind having the ultimate tragedy follow the ultimate joy was to heighten the drama and underscore the universal fragility of life,” he wrote of Lexa’s death. “But the end result became something else entirely — the perpetuation of the disturbing ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope. Our aggressive promotion of the episode, and of this relationship, only fueled a feeling of betrayal.”