Variety released the official statement from ABC Family that Latino actors Alberto Rosende, and Emeraude Toubia have been cast to play Simon and Isabelle in the upcoming rebooted series Shadowhunters, based off the bestselling Cassandra Clare novels The Mortal Instruments. The series was originally pushed as a potential movie franchise, no doubt hoping to follow the success of The Hunger Games, or even Divergent. Unfortunately The Mortal Instruments bombed at the box office, barely making a return on its 60 million dollar production budget.
Even so, that didn’t stop Constantin Film and Ed Decter from pitching a rebooted series based on the popular book series to ABC Family. The series has been ordered for a total of thirteen episodes and has already cast Dominic Sherwood as Jace, the lead male character, along with Rosende and Toubia.
This is where the drama comes in. In the original book series, Isabelle is default white – meaning she’s not ever specifically described as anything other than having dark hair, dark eyes, and being exceedingly beautiful. In the movie Isabelle is played by white actress Jemima West (United Passions). Simon is described with glasses, and dark hair; nothing overly specific but still interpreted as default white. In the Mortal Instruments movie Simon is played by white actor Robert Sheehan (Misfits).
When it was officially announced that ABC Family had cast two latino actors as the popular characters – who share an prominent romance in the series dubbed “Sizzy” by fans – Isabelle and Simon, some reactions were less than ideal. Fans rapidly took to Tumblr and Twitter to protest the casting.
— destiny (@PurdyComa) May 1, 2015
@cassieclare But isn't her accent isn't going to interfere right? By the looks J absolutely love her, she fits in how I described her.!! Xox
— Priiz Horan (@priizhoran99) May 1, 2015
— MhysaOfMockingjays (@thefandomcave) May 1, 2015
— Sonya Renea (@Sonya_Renea) May 1, 2015
— Er. (@httpsnbhd) May 1, 2015
It does not. Like there are no brown-skinned Jews? Guess half my family doesn't exist. @Barbara4852 @ravendarkholem
— Cassandra Clare (@cassieclare) May 1, 2015
Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments and its various spin-offs, tweeted and discussed the racism within the fandom of her own series. She openly stated both on her Twitter and Tumblr how happy she was with Rosende and Toubia’s casting.
“I would love to see diversity in the cast,” Clare stated on her official Tumblr when asked how she felt about the racist outcry against Rosende and Toubia’s casting.
“There are a lot of white people on our movie and television screens, and in our books. You can find white people everywhere. They are overrepresented, not underrepresented.”
Whatever one’s opinions are on Clare’s writing, or her Harry Potter fandom days, she makes a good point here. White people are seen everywhere. In this case, fans already have a movie starring two white actors portraying both Simon and Isabelle. The majority of the movie’s cast was white, with only one actor of color playing a major role, Godfrey Gao as Magnus – a decision similarly met with fan ire, dispite the fact that Magnus is very clearly defined as Asian in the books series. A similar racist uproar happened when Amandla Sternburg was cast as Rue in The Hunger Games, right down to the racist tweets flooding Twitter.
What these fans don’t comprehend is that media is very, very, very white. Take, for example, the newest Avengers movie Age of Ultron, or for closer to home, the original Mortal Instruments cast.
When white is the default option for you, when you see yourself reflected in the media so much that it becomes the norm, when the addition of more white actors at the cost of actors of color for roles they were meant to play doesn’t bother you, but the addition of actors of color replacing white character does, then you have privilege. People of color don’t have that privilege. We have to settle for scraps of positive representation where characters like Sam Wilson – who is played wonderfully by the luminous Anthony Mackie – are secondary to Steve Rogers. Because even though Sam Wilson is a great character, and a great example of positive representation, he’s not the hero of the story. He’s not the title character, he’s not the name in lights.
Which is why shows like Fresh off the Boat, Black-Ish, Empire, How to Get Away With Murder, Jane the Virgin, and even Teen Wolf are important to many people of color. They’re stories about us, where we get to be heroes, not supporting roles, but heroes in our own right. Shadowhunters can be included in that list of positive televised representation. Something ABC Family is actually pretty good at with their various shows (particularly The Fosters).
While Isabelle and Simon aren’t the female and male leads of the Mortal Instruments series, they are within the main cast. They don’t exist simply to support the leads of Clary and Jace, they exist outside that direct bubble to have storylines of their own. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.
As a Latina, I’ve written before on the importance of positive representation within the Latinx community and what it means for me. This casting means I get to see two Latinx actors be heroes in a supernatural-based show. I get to see characters I read about and enjoyed be portrayed by people who look like me, who share my culture, who represent me and my family in a positive way.
Representation matters. Point, blank, period.