The discussions surrounding representation on Riverdale continue. On June 9, Lili Reinhart went on Instagram Live with her Riverdale castmate Asha Bromfield to talk about diversity in Hollywood. During the chat, Bromfield got real about her experiences on Riverdale, as well as what changes she believes needs to be made in the film and TV industry overall.
On June 2, Reinhart tweeted that she wanted to share her platform of 24 million Instagram followers with members of the Black community to talk about race and inequality. Since then, she has gone live with sports broadcaster Emmanuel Acho, activist Frederick Joseph, anti-racism educator Monique Melton, protester Laura Montilla, art curator and writer Kimberly Drew, and writer and activist Raquel Willis. Her conversation with Bromfield, however, was especially poignant for fans, considering Reinhart and Bromfield worked together on the set of Riverdale. The show has recently faced publicly criticism for inclusivity issues since fellow Riverdale star Vanessa Morgan spoke up about being treated unfairly as both an actor and a character on the series.
Fans were eager to hear what Bromfield — who played Melody, drummer of Josie and the Pussycats — had to say about her experience on the show, specifically as a Black recurring character who didn't get much of a storyline throughout the series.
"We’re constantly faced with this idea of participation versus perpetuation bias," Bromfield told Reinhart during the Instagram Live, talking about her experiences with tokenization in Hollywood. "Growing up, all I wanted to do was act and sing and write; I wanted to use my voice to inspire the world. So you look at the opportunities you’re being given, and you’re really excited — maybe you question it, but you’re still just really excited to be part of it."
Bromfield knows what it's like to play the stereotypical "Black best friend," the character who helps out the white lead and offers a "sassy" remark or two, but doesn't have much character development of her own, if any at all. But now, she said, she turns down those roles.
"As I’ve gotten older, and the more that I’ve worked, the more I’m just like, ‘I’m not doing this sh*t anymore.’ Like, I’m so much more, and Black people are so much more, than support systems," Bromfield explained to Reinhart. "It becomes toxic messaging when we are perpetuating this idea that there’s any less validity to my own life than yours, that my sole purpose in this world is to support someone who looks like you."
Another aspect of the toxic messaging is the concept of the "diversity hire," according to Bromfield. "It's this idea that as Black people, we're taught that ... 'There can't be more than one of you, because your life is exactly like her life, because you are both Black,'" she said. "You start to believe the lies that the media is telling you."
Her story about audition for Riverdale illustrates this point. "I remember when they cast Ashleigh [Murray, who played Josie], and then they wanted me to go in again [to audition]. And I remember saying to my agent — I was so angry — ‘Why do they want me to go in again? They have their Black girl,'" she said. "I genuinely did not believe that they would put two Black girls in the same group."
Bromfield recalled the first day she was on set with her fellow Pussycats, Murray and Hayley Law (who played Val), and realized all three band members were Black: "The tears, the emotion that we felt to see each other, three Black women together in a group — it had never been done before on TV, on like this primetime drama show, or whatever."
But casting Black actors is only one step toward running an inclusive show. "In one breath, being a part of [Riverdale] was the most profound, historic, exciting thing for me as a Black actress, and on the other end, it was devastating," she told Reinhart, referencing the sidelining of her character, and the characters of her fellow Black co-stars: "We stand in the background and we have a lot of attitude, or we don't talk. Or, we're only included when we are uplifting white characters," she said.
In response, Reinhart told Bromfield that Riverdale's creator and showrunner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has spoken about bringing the Pussycats back on the series to "do right by their characters," adding: "He wants Riverdale to be spearheading a movement of a television show that takes what's happening in the world right now, and actually does something about it, so I'm really proud of him for that."
However, Bromfield made it clear the representation problems she faced on Aguirre-Sacasa's set are a reflection of many Black actors' experiences in Hollywood. "It's so much bigger than Riverdale. It's a bigger conversation about how we are humanizing Black people on screen in all capacities," she said, also adding: "I can't speak to the intentions of any show I've ever been on ... but I can speak to how it made me feel."
The full 57-minute conversation can be found on Lili Reinhart's IGTV.