"The show was not a safe space for me, literally from my first day on set," says the actress.
While this isn't the first time Jasika Nicole has lamented a long-running and racist joke she had to endure through five seasons on "Fringe," she believes the Black Lives Matter movement is amplifying her story.
She took the opportunity to expand on her experiences with the popular Fox series that ran from 2008 to 2013, which went far beyond just being the butt of an insensitive and problematic recurring joke about her character's name, Astrid.
The topic came up again last month via Twitter when a fan commented how much she enjoyed Astrid's relationship with Walter, portrayed by John Noble. The two became inseparable and did have an adorable chemistry, but the fan also enjoyed that Walter could never get Astrid's name right.
Nicole explained to the fan her thoughts on that joke, which she admits she didn't even fully realize at first while it was happening around her.
"As a black woman with a name that white people seem to find incredibly difficult to pronounce, sometimes knowingly using the wrong name for me, I always thought it was a pretty tasteless joke and hated that it lasted the whole 5 seasons of the show," she replied.
She let the fan down gently, who apologized and said she'd never considered this aspect of the joke, by telling her that "most white people don’t do things to intentionally hurt the feelings of POC."
But that's also kind of the point and the problem. No one checked with Nicole about this particular recurring joke. It's a problem on many shows featuring casts more diverse than their writers rooms or staff members behind the cameras.
After her initial Twitter exchange began to pick up some traction, Nicole offered a far lengthier Twitter thread about her experiences on the show's set, and the problems went much deeper than a "tasteless joke" that doesn't appear to have been written with the intent to harm.
Other claims she made, though, certainly do appear that way. Issues she detailed included the rest of her cast getting rides to work, which she says is customary for series regulars, while she had to ride the subway for an hour and a half and then walk ten minute to the studio.
All the while she was told she was wrong and no one was getting rides, even though she says she could see them getting out of the van each morning. She said it took until that producer was fired for her to start getting rides.
At another point, she said the name "joke" existed on the set, too, with multiple directors "who refused to get my name right." She shared that co-star Joshua Jackson actually wrote her name on a name tag he then put on his shirt.
She said it's because he knew "the director would pay attention to HIM, might show me some respect that way." Alas, she says it didn't work, though she appreciated his effort.
As for Noble, the actor also apologized for his role in mangling her character's name across all those episodes, but Nicole had nothing but love for him, assuring him that she's not upset with him in the slightest. "It’s ok- you didn’t write it, John!" she told him.
She also agreed that as a part of the story, it made sense for Walter to mess up Astrid's name -- at first. He didn't seem to struggle with other character's names, and as the years passed and his faculties grew sharper, she thought the joke would just go away.
"At some point the joke turned away from him being incapable of remembering astrids name to him being fully aware of who she is and just teasing her for fun," she wrote. "THAT part became bullying and racist."
I was very clear in my tweet that I never blamed John noble for the joke- he was merely delivering the lines that were written for him. It actually took me a while to even recognize how upset the joke made me. Spending a lifetime of trying to fit in and laugh WITH the white...
not be getting rides to work (customary for series regulars) even though all 6 of my other cast members were getting picked up. Producer told me I was wrong, they weren’t getting rides, even though I would watch cast exit the transpo van each morning. Thought I was losing my...
producer got fired and I started getting rides to work like everyone else, but it just set the stage for being treated differently than everyone else. We had directors (plural) who refused to get my name right. One insisted on referring to me as “you”, “that one” and pointing..
the director would pay attention to HIM, might show me some respect that way. josh was trying to use his power/clout for good. Still didn’t work tho. 5 seasons. No, I never said anything about the joke back then cause I didn’t feel valued enough to think anyone would care.
less tenuous and he felt more rooted to the present and the ppl in his life. At some point the joke turned away from him being incapable of remembering astrids name to him being fully aware of who she is and just teasing her for fun. THAT part became bullying and racist.
When challenged on why she didn't speak up then, Nicole replied, "I didn’t have a good relationship with the showrunners at all and it was my first show -- like many young women of color in TV, I was too nervous to say anything for fear of retaliation or getting fired. It wasn’t a safe space for me."
While she countered a few other similar claims, and struggled to reason with those who either refused to see how the joke could be racist or felt it wasn't her call to say so, she was more appreciative of the fact her story has also proven able to inform and open civil discourse.
Best thing has been reading ppl’s comments who were unaware the name joke might be racist, who then apologized for missing it and thanked me for sharing my experience so they could learn from it. We don’t want to start drama. We just want to be heard. Thanks for listening ♥️
Just like that first fan who brought it up, many didn't consider how the mangling of a person's name for the sake of humor can be racist or offensive. But America history is littered with people of color having to whitewash their names, or being made fun of for a "funny" name, just because it doesn't fit white normative naming conventions.
This has been especially problematic for Black women, who've endured years of racist jokes and stereotypes about their names. But really it extends across POC and is a subtle but effective form of oppression, minimizing a name, a culture, an identity one joke at a time.