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‘Sleepy Hollow’: A new day for race on network TV?

Teresa Wiltz | 9/20/2013, 6:05 a.m.
The cast of Sleepy Hollow features Nicole Beharie, center, in a starring role. Courtesy of Fox

Sleepy Hollow is also greatly grounded by Beharie’s performance. In her competent hands, Abbie is a fully formed person with her own complicated backstory. Together, she and Ichabod form a modern-day salt-and-pepper pairing, good-naturedly debating the merits of the Revolutionary War era versus the ubiquity of Starbucks in 21st century living.

Sleepy Hollow does what I wish more television would do: Like Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, it’s matter of fact in the way it treats race, acknowledging it without belaboring the point. “You’ve been emancipated, I take it,” Ichabod says when he first meets Abbie.

Her response? “OK. I’ll play along. I am a black female lieutenant with the Westchester County Police Department. Do you see this gun? I’m authorized to use it. On you. … Slavery was abolished 150 years ago. It’s a whole new day in America.”

In lesser hands — Meagan Good’s undercover cop in NBC TV’s now defunct Deception comes to mind — this could be a real scenery-chewer of a line. But Beharie keeps it understated, ironic, light: Yeah, I’m African American, she seems to be saying, and the sky is also blue. She keeps it moving, unhampered by the constraints of identity politics. Her Abbie is a no-fuss, no-muss everywoman, attractive, but decidedly unglamorous, a woman who’s got a job to do and does it — well.

Here’s hoping television, currently enjoying a renaissance, will bring us many more similarly emancipated black women characters.

Teresa Wiltz is a former deputy editor at Essence.