Does 'The Walking Dead' Really Have A Problem With Black Men?

We did the (zombified) math.

It was around the time that T-Dog (IronE Singleton) was killed and "replaced" by Oscar (Vincent Ward) -- who, in turn, was soon killed and "replaced" by Tyreese (Chad Coleman) -- that viewers began to notice that "The Walking Dead" might be subscribing to a "one black man at a time" rule. However, the introduction of Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) and eventually Noah (Tyler James Williams) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) alongside Tyreese put those complaints to rest... until Bob, Tyreese, and Noah were killed one by one in a bloody season five, leaving only Father Gabriel left to represent one of the largest racial populations in the southern United States.

Then of course there's "Fear the Walking Dead," which killed off two recurring black characters in its first two episodes, once again opening up both series to scrutiny regarding what Vanity Fair calls "'The Walking Dead''s Race Problem."

"We've killed a lot more white characters than African-American characters," producer Gale Anne Hurd told E! Online earlier this year. "And not only that, I think it's important to point out that we did cast two African-American actors in roles that were not African-American. In the comic books, Bob was white. And the character of Noah was not an African-American. We just cast the best actor."

Now of course Hurd should be expected to jump to the defense of her shows, but also, it's more than fair for "The Walking Dead" viewers to pipe up when they witness what they feel is a blatant problem. But is it a real problem, or just a symptom of a different issue -- like, say, the fact that characters like Tyreese and Bob have not been elevated to fan-favorite mania status like Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Carol (Melissa McBride)? MTV News did the math. (Math that we fully realize will be "off" since this is A, a television series, and B, a television series that takes place in a very violent universe. But regardless, some of these numbers are jarring.)

First off, when we looked at the number of human characters killed onscreen as of Season 6 -- if we had included the death of every single zombie on the series, we'd have gone crazier than Season 3 Morgan, and it's inarguable that those numerous zombie kills don't tend to hold a lot of dramatic weight -- we found that the total percentage of black main, recurring, and guest character deaths almost exactly mirrors the percentage of black people living today in the United States (13.2). Of approximately 127 deaths, 16 were black, which is about 13 percent of the total number slain.

... Which is fine and all, except for the fact that "The Walking Dead" took place in the Atlanta metro area for 4.5 years, and that city's black population is at 54 percent as of the 2010 census. So if the show was mirroring reality (which, as we all know, it's really not), not only would more black characters be around, but more of them would die as a result. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 43 percent of fatalities per year in Georgia are black, so when you put that next to the 13 from "The Walking Dead," it just goes to show that more black characters should theoretically be around in general.

TWD_infograph_3-01 (1)

As of now, when we added up the main, recurring, and guest "Walking Dead" actors through the beginning of Season 6, we found that 14.4 percent of them are black. This is low even for the largely white, suburban haven of Alexandra, where 22.54 percent of the citizens are black, and it's obviously even more jarring when compared to the 54 percent population of Atlanta.


(Now, obviously, we realize that the characters in "Walking Dead" have a ridiculously higher chance of biting it -- or getting bit -- than the average Georgian does IRL. For context, know that on average, roughly 878 black people die per year in Georgia, out of a sample size of 100,000. That means that out of 100,000 living Georgians, approximately .087 percent who are black will die. That's absurdly low compared to "Walking Dead," where 16 black characters died out of the couple hundred we've seen onscreen.)


So let's move on, then, to the actual substance of these deaths. Since its inception, "The Walking Dead" has killed two black characters billed as "main" (Bob and Tyreese), and two black characters billed as "recurring" (Noah and T-Dog) in addition to nine non-black main characters (Dale, Shane, Lori, Andrea, Merle, The Governor, Beth, Hershel, and Gareth -- for multiple reasons, we are not including Glenn in this list as of press time) and 29 non-black recurring characters. So of the 42 deaths that actually meant something (or at least garnered significant screen time) amidst all of this chaos, roughly 9.5 percent of them were black.


(ASIDE: The only black female character who has died onscreen to this day is season one's peaceful suicide Jacqui, which only gives more weight to the theory that the show has a problem with black men, though of course it could also be argued, again, that this is another symptom of not enough black people appearing on the show.)

Finally (on "The Walking Dead" end, anyway) let's move on to what this all means for the current racial makeup of this series, in regards to its main cast. In the upcoming season six, two of the series' nine leads are black (Gurira and Sonequa Martin-Green), though zero happen to be male. Two of its nine recurring stars (Gilliam and Lennie James) are black men, and two of its 16 currently-listed guest cast are black men as well. So of 34 stars, 6 or 18 percent are black -- which makes more sense in a place like Alexandria, since Virginia's black population as of 2014 is listed at 19.7 percent.

Now, for "Fear the Walking Dead," it almost seems unfair to count it out this early, after such a relatively bloodless season -- but we did it anyway, because the math was pretty easy. In six episodes, seven human beings with speaking roles have been killed onscreen, and three of them were black men. (That's roughly 43 percent, ICYMI.) The rough percentage of black population in Los Angeles is currently at 9.8, which is why it makes total sense to both A, question the show's early killing of black men, but also B, laud its efforts in making half of its cast Latino, since that population makes up 47.5% of the City of Angels.

Despite all of the facts and figures, however, at the end of the day what fans seem to be complaining about is the revolving door of black male characters on both shows. Why none of these characters have lasted seems (to MTV News, at least) to be more of a symptom of the fact that characters like Bob, Tyreese, and T-Dog never reached the maniac fan-favorite status of some of their Grimes Gang counterparts -- though of course, the argument could be made that they might have, had they been given different material and more time to resonate with fans on the show.

Either way, let's all just rejoice in the fact that this guy is still with us:



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