Blk Girl Soldier – A Julie River Review of “Rosa”
Sorry for falling behind, guys. A few weeks ago I found out that an old friend of mine died suddenly at 32 and I’ve been pretty depressed ever since then. So I missed a few reviews. I’m going to try to play catch up this week, so bear with me. Here we go!
“Rosa was a freedom fighter
And she taught us how to fight” – Jamila Woods
Hi, my name is Julie, and I’m a white girl. (Hi Julie!) As a white girl, I’d like to admit that my appreciation and understanding of a black hero like Rosa parks is going to inevitably limited. There are parts of the black experience I will never fully be able to grasp as a white girl. But I’m going to try my best to give my opinion of the episode, so here goes nothing.
After a present day episode and a distant future episode, it was time for a historical. A Facebook friend of mine pointed out that the 12th Doctor never met a major historical figure during his tenure, at least not on screen, which is true and a shame. 9 met Charles Dickens, 10 met Shakespeare, 10 and 11 met Queen Elizabeth I, and of course 11 met Vincent Van Gogh. So I’m glad that, for her third outing, the 13th Doctor gets to meet a historical figure. I worried about the ability of the show to handle the gravitas of a figure as important as Rosa Parks, especially when incorporating science-fiction elements. The last thing we needed was aliens trying to abduct Rosa Parks. Perhaps a pure historical (episodes where the only science-fiction element is the TARDIS time traveling, and the plot simply involves the Doctor getting caught up in a historical event) would have been the most sensitive way to handle this particular figure, I thought, but we haven’t had one of those since the black and white era. I worried about the fact that Chibnall, a white man, jumped on to co-write the episode, and the fact that we have a white Doctor at the moment. But of course the show currently has two characters of color and this episode did have a black co-writer, so it stood a good chance of handling it correctly. Thankfully, they got it exactly right.
The episode is dead on accurate. When I went to read Rosa Parks’s Wikipedia page, I was shocked at how many things this episode got exactly right. Just some of the completely accurate elements of this episode:
- The first scene where she got on the bus, 12 years before the infamous bus incident, where the same exact bus driver who would try to make her give up her seat in 12 years forced her to go out the front door and exit through the back, then closed the door and drove off without her, forcing her to walk, actually happened exactly like that. I never heard that story in school.
- She asks the Doctor and her companions if they had heard of Emmett Till. She had Emmett Till on her mind a lot that week because, at a civil rights movement meeting earlier the same week, civil rights leader T.R.M. Howard gave a speech about Till. She later cited Emmett Till as the main reason she didn’t stand up.
- Parks was not just some random woman who got swept up in the civil rights movement by mistake. She was the secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP, where she did know Martin Luther King. She was known for being soft spoken, but always ready to work for the cause.
- Even the dialogue in the bus scene is almost exactly as Rosa Parks recalled it. She would later say she was not too tired to stand up, at least not physically, just tired as in she was fed up, which Yaz pointed out in the episode. In the episode, she shows that she’s not too tired by saying she could always walk. She often walked instead of taking the bus because of her problem with segregation and because of the incident 12 years earlier.
- I never knew that the signs on the bus were removable, as shown in the episode, but they were. They needed to be able to move the signs around if they needed to designate extra seats for whites.
Something that didn’t come up in the episode, but which is my favorite little tidbit about Rosa Parks, is that Rosa was not the first person to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, she was just the first one the NAACP thought would make for a good case that they might be able to take to trial and win since she had no previous criminal record, was an upstanding citizen, and was an older looking (she was much younger than she looked at the time) married woman.
Vinette Robinson slipped so perfectly into the role of Rosa Parks that I didn’t even recognize her as Sargent Donovan from Sherlock. And to the other people who didn’t recognize her, yes that was Sargent Donovan from Sherlock. And to those who can’t remember who Sargent Donovan was, let me refresh your memory with this line: “I’m not implying anything. I’m sure Sally [Donovan] came round for a nice little chat, and just happened to stay over. And I assume she scrubbed your floors, going by the state of her knees.”
Much like in “Vincent and the Doctor,” the villain in this episode is mostly just a vehicle that gives us a reason to visit this historical figure. After all the diabolical and brilliant villains that the Doctor has faced in her lifetimes, I don’t think anybody thought she was finally going to be taken down by this neutered dime-store Luke Perry dressed as an extra from Guys and Dolls. And that’s okay, because it gave us an excuse to dive into themes of race in a way that Doctor Who has literally never done before.
Seriously, I challenge you to go back and find an episode that dealt with race and racism as directly as in this episode. Sure, racism is dealt with metaphorically, with different alien species showing xenophobia towards each other, or racism within their own species, and the Martha Jones era had a few passing mentions of racism, but no episode has actually talked about segregation, white supremacy, and racial profiling in such literal terms. And it’s absolutely right in calling out all the evils it does.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I like to give weird little titles to my reviews, even though it isn’t customary to title reviews. I decided, during Capaldi’s era, to name every review after a punk song, in honor of the 12th Doctor’s love of guitar and Capaldi’s past as a punk rocker. It was fun because I could put together a playlist to represent the season. This season I decided to stick with music, but in honor of the 13th Doctor, each review is named after a song sung by a woman. So for this one, I decided to go with someone I actually know, my former Providence Poetry Slam teammate Jamila Woods off her 2016 album Heavn. I highly recommend checking it out. Jamila is an amazing woman.
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with my review of “Arachnids in the UK.”