In Defense of Bryan Fuller and Hannibal
It is no secret that I’m a huge fan of Bryan Fuller.
For those of you who don’t know who he is, you can check out his IMDB page. Currently, he’s the show runner and writer of the critically acclaimed show Hannibal, for which he’s been catching a lot of flack. He also created one of my favorite shows, Pushing Daisies, as well as Dead Like Me and a smattering of other projects. In other words, he’s a guy who gets around and has done a lot of great work on television.
Recently, he’s been catching a lot of criticism for how he portrays minorities, specifically women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. It all sort of started earlier in season two when he killed off fan favorite Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park). Immediately after her death, there was an outcry on Twitter and a lot of hate directed toward Bryan Fuller for killing off a female character who happened to also be a person of color. It got to the point that Hettienne Park ended up writing a blog post about the issue, insisting that having a dialogue about feminism and racism in television is great, but accusing Bryan of being sexist and racist was not the way to go.
For a while, it seemed to calm everyone who watches the show. That is, until Alana started sleeping with Hannibal. Then fans were upset about ‘queerbaiting’ in Hannibal and Will’s relationship (which this article covers nicely). Finally, the recent disappearance of Freddie Lounds and the fact Margot Verger slept with Will has put fans right back into a tizzy. People are again accusing Bryan of inappropriately representing minorities, of falling into typical old television tropes when it comes to homosexuality and portrayal of lesbians specifically, and of being sexist by killing off more women than men.
I will admit, I get a little irritated when I see people on Twitter practically accusing Bryan Fuller of not understanding the struggles that minorities face. I’ve seen people call him out for being white, for being wealthy, for being straight (which makes me laugh and cry at the same time because that is completely wrong, considering he’s openly gay), and essentially demean him as a person because of his television show. So I’ve been inspired to write this because I want to call out some of the fallacies I’m seeing in this argument and, honestly, I want to continue a respectful dialogue about various issues in television.
The thing that bothers me the most about this situation is the fact that Bryan Fuller is being attacked directly. Unfortunately for him, he’s been so transparent and open with fans since the birth of Hannibal that he has become the sole representative of the behind-the-scenes creative side of the show. Given how much crap he has had to put up with recently, it doesn’t surprise me that most other shows have a single twitter account for all of the writers and when they tweet or interact with fans it is never one single writer getting called out. They have protection, while Bryan has put himself out there for the fans.
It is one of my favorite things about him, because getting tweets from him while watching Hannibal is often the highlight of my week. He shares funny and interesting behind-the-scenes information, offers up little Easter eggs while fans are watching, and then goes through and bids goodnight to a majority of the fans who have been interacting with him. He’s put himself out there as someone who is approachable and, honestly, downright sweet, but his transparency has also painted a target on his back because he’s the only writer the general fan base has access to.
The problem with this is that he ends up getting blamed for every single misrepresentation or terrible thing that happens on the show when he is not, actually, always responsible. I went to Wizard Con in Portland this past January and attended a panel that Bruce Campbell led. He and another actor decided to produce a movie right there with the audience and began to lead us through the process in a very humorous way. Bruce pointed out that first there has to be an idea, and then there has to be financial backing from a production company which means producers get to over see what happens on the show.
Then, with producers lined up to oversee the show you have to pick a writing team. That usually means picking a group of completely unique individuals with different ideas in order to bring them together to write a single show. So now in the mix we’ve got the person with the idea, the production company, the producers themselves, and a hoard of writers who all have their own ideas. Next, you add in a broadcasting company which brings with it its own set of executives and people otherwise invested in the show who get to make decisions. Add it all together and it is amazing that movies or television shows ever get made with so many people weighing in on a single decision.
In other words, Bryan Fuller does what he can and works within the parameters he’s been given to produce a television show that is on the progressive edge. Beverly Katz was supposed to die in the first season, a decision not made solely by Bryan but by the people who are over his head. He fought to keep her on for another season, to draw out her character, to make her more likeable and give her airtime because she was an amazingly strong female that deserved it. Eventually she had to be killed because it fit with the storyline AND because it was what people over Bryan Fuller’s head had determined at the time.
Yet Bryan still did his best to present a strong, female character who was a person of color and Jewish for as long as humanely possible. She died, but I fail to see how her death somehow erases all of the good work Bryan did in having her on the show in the first place.
Now, we’ve got complaints about Alana and Freddie. There are people who believe that Alana Bloom has been taken out of character and that it was unfair that it appears Freddie is going to die. Obviously Bryan Fuller must hate women if he slots them into these roles.
My response to this? Alana and Freddie didn’t even need to be female in this show. Bryan Fuller purposely gender-bent characters in order to round out what would have otherwise been a very male-centric cast. He went out of his way to include women in the show. Not just women, but strong women. Women who stand up for their beliefs under pressure. Yes, Alana might be sleeping with Hannibal but it is on her terms. She doesn’t know what the audience knows. She hasn’t seen Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. She has absolutely no reason, in character, in the realm of the show Hannibal, to suspect that a handsome, successful, kind man who was her mentor is a cannibalistic serial killer. Maybe it is absurd to us, but that’s the point of this show: to be absurd.
We the audience are supposed to scream, ‘ALANA NO, OPEN UP YOUR EYES!’ at our television screens every week. We’re supposed to feel our hearts break when we realize the hell that Hannibal Lecter, local psychopathic serial killer, puts people through all for his own end game. Alana Bloom is supposed to provoke those kinds of feelings because she is an innocent, tricked into falling for Hannibal’s scheme, not because she is weak or because she is a woman but because she is a normal human being and sometimes we don’t see what might be right in front of our faces. The more we make her actions about gender, the more we detract from the fact that men and women are equal. Obviously the only way she could fall for Hannibal’s schemes is because some writer decided, ‘she is a woman so she’s dumb,’ right? It isn’t as if multiple male characters also fell under his spell or anything. Oh wait.
There is no gender bias here. Hannibal Lecter is just really good at screwing with people, and no one is safe. Bryan Fuller made a character who was often just a passing mention in the books into a dynamic representation of the lengths Hannibal will go to in order to get his way. Alana Bloom was Alan Bloom in the books, a man who Thomas Harris often used to insert little details the main characters needed in order to draw their conclusions. Bryan has taken a throw-away character and made him into a her and made her into someone the audience empathizes with on an extreme level.
Freddie Lounds dies in the books, people. Even if she survives Will Graham going all crazy on her, she will still die. She’s on borrowed time. It doesn’t matter if she has a penis or a vagina, she is a character that dies. Bryan Fuller has already done something amazing by making her a kick-ass character who goes down fighting. Freddy Lounds in the book goes down with a whimper, not a bang, as he begs pathetically for his life as Francis Dolarhyde tortures him before setting him on fire and sending him on his way. Bryan Fuller’s Freddie, however (if she really is dead, which I’m skeptical of at this point) does not go down with anything less than a full fight for her life. He improved her character by gender bending her and making her out to be more than just some scum bag reporter. To insinuate that he is sexist based on the fact Freddie ends up dead is ridiculous, because quite frankly he never had to make her such an interesting character in the first place. He didn’t need to offer up an amazing representation of a strong, independent woman on television (because most people don’t), but he did anyway.
Bryan Fuller goes out of his way to represent people who go otherwise unrepresented on television. He pushes the boundaries of network television week after week and redefines what quality television is. To reduce everything he does to accusations of “oh my god you’re sexist” and “you don’t understand the real oppression people go through” is infuriating and frustrating because this man does more for modern television than anyone else I see on the big networks.
Finally, the big trigger topic: Margot Verger’s scene with Will Graham.
Someone on tumblr really phrased the argument better than I ever could, so I’ll start with that:
I’m astounded that Bryan Fuller has been catching so much crap because Margot slept with Will in order to get pregnant. I do understand where it comes from, which is the fact that oftentimes lesbians are portrayed in television as making exceptions for men all the time. One cannot be a lesbian without needing a man, as a lot of television shows will indicate, which is wrong. It is a wrong trope, a wrong representation, and most of the time I would jump right in and call a show out on it if it were written in. However, Bryan Fuller’s take on Margot is NOT THE SAME as what other shows do to lesbians. It is not the same because:
- A. It is based in the books. Margot Verger is very clearly attempting to get her brother’s sperm in Thomas Harris’ novel because she wants an heir in order to get out from under her abusive brother’s thumb. Her brother who rapes her, beats her, and demeans her. Bryan just decided to take out the raping bit and instead put Margot in control of her fate. Which brings me to,
- B. Margot is in control. In Thomas Harris’ book, Margot is not in control. She’s abused, used, and tormented by her brother. She requires Hannibal’s help in order to get what she needs from her brother. She is helpless, and it is heavily insinuated that she is gay because of past abuse. In other words, Thomas Harris has a poorly represented female minority character in his book and Bryan Fuller has attempted to empower her and salvage her.
- C. Margot, in the series, gets a chance to get back at her brother by taking advantage of Will in order to get pregnant so that she can have an heir. Why did she need to have sex with Will to do it? Because I’m pretty sure if she walked into a sperm bank and tried to go through that process, her brother would find out and probably kill her. She took the easy route, the simple route, and took advantage of the fact Will was a willing participant and understood that she had an agenda and that she was not interested in him romantically because she is gay.
What does this all mean? It means Bryan didn’t just create a lesbian character for the hell of it, pair her with a guy, and then insinuate that all lesbians need to have sex with men to get anywhere. He didn’t do that, even though that is what he is now being accused of. What he did do was take a powerless, severely abused woman from a book written in 2000 and make her into someone who is in control. He gave her back her strength and made her into a character that knows what she wants and is going to use the men who have oppressed her to get it. He stepped out of the box and made her into a strong, admirable character who rises above her circumstances and goes to whatever lengths she has to in order to solidify her independence.
Margot Verger is fucking fantastic, people, and far better off than she was in the books.
In the end, I still think Hannibal is one of the most progressive shows out there. Bryan Fuller continues to push the limits of network television. He fights to bring strong, female characters onto the show. He creates atypical situations which reflect how unique individuals are in the real world. He empowers characters that were otherwise portrayed as weak because of their gender or sexuality. Bryan Fuller does more for television than the majority of writers out there and unfortunately he seems to be getting the most flack for it.
My advice? Stop making it all so damn personal. Turning unhappy feelings toward how a character is portrayed into personal attacks against one of the writers on a show isn’t classy, folks. Especially not when that show runner is constantly fighting against the network, the people over his head, and even his own writing team in an attempt to accurately reflect minorities and not fall into the usual stereotypes seen on most television.
Above all else? Keep discussing it. One of the greatest things about this show is the fact it has provoked discussion about women, people of color, and other minorities and their representation on television. I think this is a great discussion to be having because it shows that people are finally expecting more out of shows they watch week after week. People don’t want brainless television, they want something that they can chew on, and I think a lot of the responses to Hannibal show this. I do not, however, think it is appropriate to attack Bryan Fuller and refer to him as sexist, racist, and homophobic because of what he is doing with the show (especially since it isn’t his own unique creation but an adaptation of books he has to try to stick to).
Keep talking about it, but don’t be a jerk. Otherwise we may just lose the privilege to talk and interact with show runners in the future who will look at how we’ve treated Bryan and say ‘nope, no thanks, not going to sign up for that.’
I adore Bryan Fuller and give him major props for dealing with all of the crap being flung at him.
Have thoughts about Hannibal? Want to talk about Bryan Fuller and his portrayal of minorities in the show? Think I’m completely off base? Sound off in the comments! Just keep it classy.