I finally caught up with Monday's episode of House last night (sorry, advertisers, I watch shows for free online) and the story line involved a patient who had jumped onto the subway tracks to save a seizing woman from an oncoming train. That act of heroism didn't have anything to do with his illness, but it allowed Hugh Laurie's character his regular moments of misanthropy.
But if you recognize that story, it's because it's based on a true one: In 2007, a 50-year-old man named Wesley Autrey was waiting for the subway when a 20-year-old named Cameron Hollopeter, had a seizure and fell onto the tracks with a train approaching. Autrey jumped on top of him, squeezing him to safety between the tracks.
There is one key difference between the real tale and the fictionalized one, though. Autrey is black, and the character on House, played by Matthew Lilliard of Scream fame, is white.
You might think that's not a big deal. There are other parts of the story the show embellished: In it, Lilliard's character plays bass in a band, is largely absent from his family and, for a brief moment, hopes his act of heroism is evidence that he can do better by them. (The real-life Autrey was a construction worker.) But what's the point of making him white? It's not enough, it seems, that racism circumscribes the roles actors of color can play, but we also often whiten roles that are based on characters or real-life people of color. The reverse, of course, is not true. For what it's worth, one of the doctors, played by Omar Epps, is black, and had a brief conversation during the episode in which he said he wasn't picked to be on a promotional billboard for the hospital because of racism. I would say the producers were actually making an interesting meta-point about the show's own decisions, but that would be giving them too much credit.
-- Monica Potts
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