Racial equity evolving in Classics


Connie Krupa

Racial equity in classics, specifically in television shows and movies, has been vastly underrepresented throughout the years. The United States has a history of oppressing and disadvantaging certain groups. 

Dr. Kirsten Day, a professor in the classics department, noticed some significant connections between past and present through the HBO shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft.” Now, allusions towards race and equity are still made in modern television shows and movies which demonstrates the evolution of our ideology as a society. 

However, the issues of racism, sexism and much more are still present. According to Encycopaedia Britannica, in order to push back against the ideas of racism and inequality, television shows and movies have begun to include more diverse characters and actors with more diverse themes and empowering messages. 

Dr. Kirsten Day gave a talk on Wednesday, Nov. 3, called “Tea Talks: Reclaiming Classics: Classical Allusions and Racial Equity in HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ and ‘Lovecraft.’” In her presentation, Day discussed how classical allusions are still represented in modern culture while also examining how racial equity is shown through the popular television shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft.” 

Pop culture “not only reflects the society that produces it, but also helps to shape it. For instance, as I mentioned at the end of my talk, the problems with white-washed casting in film and television shows that are set in classical antiquity have helped to produce and perpetuate a false view that the ancient Greeks and Romans were “white” in the sense that we understand it, whereas they wouldn’t have seen it that way at all,” Day said.

According to a 2016 article “Classics: Just ancient pop culture?” in Varsity, an award-winning student newspaper in Cambridge, changing how characters are represented in current culture, specifically classics, is extremely important. One reason for this is because it creates equality and equity by uniting different cultures which creates acceptance among everyone through pop culture and social media. By focusing on the inclusion of all groups and minorities, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sex, while also being respectful of all cultures, society can move forward as one instead of as separate groups. 

This idea of equity has been repeatedly ignored in the past, which has caused multiple misconceptions and misrepresentations such as microaggressions or stereotypes towards particular groups or cultures. By showing examples of equity and diversity in the television shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft,” much like Day discussed, issues in society are brought to the surface in order to be fixed. 

While effective representation is important, some classical symbols have been misused and misinterpreted. Many of these symbols trail back to ancient Greece and ancient Rome.

Greek democracy excluded women. This did not go unnoticed, as shown in Euripide’s Medea where the female character is represented as an activist. In this play, the underdog shows the power of women. There is a clear and strong connection between powerful figures in history and classics. 

According to Day’s talk, Martin Luther King Jr. even studied the Greek language. This shows how relevant the classics are to society today and how such powerful leaders viewed Greece and Rome as examples of knowledge and power. 

In the television shows that Day discussed in her talk, there are multiple connections between minority groups and Classic literature. Many minority groups are represented in both the shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft”. The allusions to classic literature in these shows push back against racism and inequality.

 Day also discussed how the producer of the show “Lovecraft” actually swapped the genders from the original text, making some leading male characters female. The purpose of all the representation in the shows is to prove how Classics belongs to everyone, not just to one group or culture. 

By weaving in material from history, including feminism, and representing all different cultures and identities, the television shows from HBO are more classical than the first eye sees. Therefore, bringing forward a new perspective of Greek and Roman culture in order to knock down the barriers of racism and inequality throughout all groups and cultures is essential in modern society.