Nine out of Nine: The Importance of Brooklyn Nine-Nine

[IMAGE: Digital portrait of Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine on a grey background with pink, purple, and blue stripes, the bisexual flag colors]

Nine out of Nine: The Importance of Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Art and Writing by Charis Huling

"Apparently the community came to our aid. There was a swell of online support"
Cancelled and brought back by online support, Brooklyn Nine-Nine's revival on NBC is something to celebrate.

In a situation that seems unlikely in a show about cops, Brooklyn Nine-Nine actually offers a legitimately realistic representation of minorities. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is incredibly important and sets a precedent for the normalization of diversity on television.

Only 19% of all television shows on broadcast network have a racially and ethnically balanced cast in keeping in proportion to the U.S. population. Only 28.3% of all speaking characters were from underrepresented racial/ ethnic groups, which is below (-9.6%) the proportion in the U.S. population (37.9%). Aside from a dismissal of people of color, television also fails to acknowledge the existence of queer individuals. Just 2% of speaking characters were identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and more than half the LGBT+ characters in all 109 of the films examined came from two movies. Of all LGBT characters, nearly three quarters (72.1%) were male and 27.9% were female, a stark difference in what is deemed acceptable. Women attracted to women are often fetishized by the male gaze--a stereotype that must be addressed. Lack of intersectionality is also a problem representation in the media. There needs to be more than the common trope of the cis white gay male.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine features two Latinx women, Amy Santiago and Rosa Diaz, and two black men, Captain Raymond Holt and Sergeant Terry Jeffords, in its nine-person workplace ensemble. Strong and buff on the exterior, the Sergeant is not afraid of his own fragility, nor is he insecure about his masculinity. He takes pride in his two daughters, loves yogurt, speaks about himself in third person, and adds a complex character dynamic rather than being a stereotype or “token black character.” Terry Crews, the actor that plays Sergeant Jeffords, commented on the show’s inclusivity:

“I’ve turned down a lot of stuff where the message was ‘We’re going to be diverse!’ Give me a break. We’re in Brooklyn. If you don’t make it diverse, it looks funny. We are what Friends should have been.”

[IMAGE: Sergeant Terry Jeffords happily playing with origami birds]

Though he breaks down perceptions of black men, his struggles of living in a black body are clearly addressed and further prove the point that  being color-blind to race is unproductive and simply obscures the problems that still happen today. In season 4 episode 16, Terry is stopped by a cop and frisked in front of his own home while looking for his daughter’s “blankie.” He feels embarrassed and ashamed, and eventually, his daughters start to become inquisitive as to why this happened. Detectives Santiago and Peralta (with great difficulty) explained the truth to his children when they asked if he was stopped because he was black: yes. The world has yet to exist in a post-racial society and should not be treated as such.

[IMAGE: Screencap from Brooklyn Nine-Nine depicting Sergeant Jeffords painfully saying "I got stopped by a cop last night" after being racially profiled]

 Brooklyn Nine-Nine deals with and addresses police brutality, which is especially important given the political climate and lack of accountability attributed to police. On April 4th, 2018 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Saheed Vassell, a black man, was shot 10 times in broad-daylight by three NYPD officers while holding a shower head; this is the continuing reality that plagues the nation. Even in a show about cops, the positions of the characters are never romanticized and the plots never defend the wrongdoings of the officers.

[IMAGES: LEFT: Captain Holt with a rainbow flag on his desk. RIGHT: GIF of Captain Holt in the 70's saying "I'd like to request discretionary funds to start an organization supporting black gay and lesbian police officers."]

Captain Raymond Holt is static and serious with a long history in the NYPD. Not only did he join the force as a black man in the seventies’, but as a gay man as well. Holt is not stereotypically eccentric and has a loving relationship with his husband Kevin who is equally serious and his perfect match. His sexuality was established since the beginning of the show, but merely added to rather than define his character. Producer Andy Samberg describes Holt’s sexuality as being “more of a character trait rather than a vessel for comedy” and the actor that plays Holt, Andre Braugher, agrees, saying that he’s “not playing a gay police captain,” he’s “playing a police captain who happens to be gay.” Sexual identities are not used as the defining essence of these characters. Holt faced a lot of drawback to reach the captain position he fulfills as he grew up in a less accepting time, shunned for his sexuality and skin color. He is a comedic character without trying to be, as he is often closed off to emotions, but he cares deeply about LGBT issues. Though the main crew normalizes Holt’s sexuality and affirms his identity, it is shown that not everyone outside the crew feels this way. Just as this isn’t a post-racial world, Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t make it into a post-bigotry world either.

[IMAGE: Screencap from Brooklyn Nine-Nine depicting Rosa Diaz coming out to her family over dinner: "I'm not straight. I'm bisexual."]

Rosa Diaz’s identity also addresses the intersectionality of social issues as a queer Latina woman. She came out as bisexual in season five of the show, facing the scrutiny and dismissing of her sexuality from her parents. Rosa’s identity is emblematic of the modern issues of being queer, and specifically bisexual, as her parents tell her that it is “just a phase.” Though Holt faces his scrutiny of coming out in the seventies, these issues still persist and discrimination still exists. The existence of bisexuality is affirmed to viewers in a society that still stigmatizes the word “bisexual”. This representation legitimizes both the identity and the word itself. 

[IMAGE: GIF of Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine saying “It’s very embarrassing having feelings.” to Amy Santiago]

 Rosa’s colleagues were all extremely supportive, especially Captain Holt who told her that it was “much harder in his days” and addressed his pride in her coming out. Stephanie Beatriz, the bisexual actress who plays Rosa, acknowledges the importance of her character and her explicitly-stated sexual identity that will persist throughout the show rather than throw the plotline or character away: “Look, we’re not doing this so that we can explore a story and simply throw it away when it is convenient for us. We are going to keep this person around because we love this person already.” Bisexuality is often attributed to promiscuity and confusion, but Rosa is not a villain, untrustworthy, or confused, but rather a complex human being with more emotions than she’d like to show. Each character is a complete individual and never dwindled down to simply their identity or a “lazy stereotype.” While also addressing her role as a Latina woman, Beatriz noted the importance of playing a character where her identity wasn’t the butt of a joke or essence of the character itself, stating that the show is “almost monumental in its normalcy.”

[IMAGE: Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, happily on the phone with the woman she’s dating. A tweet is pasted over the image that says “Rosa actually said the word ‘bi’ on primetime television and she’s dating a woman and that woman calls her ‘babe’ and I’m crying #Brooklyn99”.]

Affirmation of identities is incredibly important, especially in a political climate that is ruthlessly attacks people for their identities in both policy and action. Positive representations of marginalized identities on television give sight to a real and complex world. Though sitcoms are driven by stereotypes and archetypes of people, feeling and making a connection is the future. With sitcoms like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it is possible to work towards even more representation in the future to finally achieve a world where diversity is not exceptional, but the norm.