Kat Edison is goals. Or at least, she was.
Upon the return of Freeform’s hit series The Bold Type, like many viewers, I was eager to see what came next for magazine social media guru turned budding activist, Kat Edison. Over the course of three and a half seasons, Kat explored what it meant to be biracial, to be bisexual, and gained a grasp on what political activism meant to her.
Kat, played by biracial Australian actress Aisha Dee, was by no means the most revolutionary character on television, but in a sea of whitewashed feminist TV, it was satisfying to finally see a Black woman partake in these conversations. By the end of the midseason finale, it was exhilarating and nerve wracking to watch Kat choose between the safety of her job at the fictional Scarlet magazine or her calling to activism.
However, the Kat we’re meeting this season is unrecognizable. Almost all of the progress made over the past three seasons has been undone within a few short episodes. When confronted with a conservative patron, Ava, at her new job as bartender at an exclusive women’s club, rather than stand proudly in her convictions as Kat has done up until now, she’s “humbled” when this patron gets her fired then gets her the job back. (Yes, you read that right). Kat was supposed to be grateful that even though this woman didn’t agree with her political views, she wasn’t going to ruin her life for it. This was payback for Kat getting Ava’s father removed from his job at Scarlet for allowing his private support for an anti-LGBTQ+ politician to affect his decision to run pro-LGBTQ+ campaigns at work. Not the same thing, but, we’ll go with it for now.
Kat is then convinced that for her new podcast, she should hold a political debate with Ava in order to bring in good ratings for the first episode. Ava matter of factly declines because she doesn’t believe Kat can “fairly engage with conservatives”. (Another incongruence as we’ve watched Kat diplomatically school her white BFF Jane on why her sour attitude towards diversity hiring was problematic. But again, I digress.) This makes Kat, a liberal Black woman, beg a conservative white woman to hold a conversation with her in the name of feminism.
And by the end of their ”open minded” exchange, Kat goes to Ava’s house where Ava quickly throws in Kat’s face that she did her a favor by being on her show. Then proceeds to…make out with her.
Was everything that Kat learned about herself and her politics thrown out the window over the hiatus? It surely seems so.
The Bold Type recognized that Kat’s evolution was one that may make some viewers uncomfortable. A passionate Black queer activist was too bold for The Bold Type to truly invest in. Rather than standing in their decisions on Kat’s character and fighting to preserve her, they decided to hit a U-turn to preserve good favor on the right. They silenced Kat’s growth out of fear of isolating conservative viewership, and at the cost of its only Black, queer female lead.
But this isn’t right. It’s a failure to Kat as a character and a disservice to the show’s Black, queer, and true feminist viewers. The person Kat was becoming was more than this apologetic version of herself that’s being presented to us. Kat is being made out to be the one who needs to further educate herself, when in fact it’s The Bold Type’s writers that may have learning to do. Sacrificing the only Black queer woman for this particular storyline is especially damaging. The Bold Type didn’t place this burden of engaging with dangerous rhetoric on it’s more privileged white female leads, Jane or Sutton. They placed it on a Black queer woman because the labor of pushing social justice forward always falls on the shoulders of the most marginalized communities. And that narrative should have no place in so-called feminist TV.
A show cannot be bold if it isn’t willing to protect progressive feminist characters like Kat. As a matter of fact, it’s cowardly to disrupt the growth of a marginalized character for the sake of saving face with conservatives. Black queer women are not a ticket into appeasing audiences that are violent to them in the first place. Kat was an activist firm in her beliefs, and to turn that into a love story with a person whose politics actively harms others is hurtful. To abandon a love story of two marginalized women to replace it with a privileged conservative white one is hurtful. To place a Black woman in a position where she is “put in her place” for her passion is hurtful. To put a queer person in a homophobic space and paint it as “building tolerance for others” is hurtful. All of these things are a failure to Kat and The Bold Type should know better than that.
We need characters like Kat on television: Black queer female changemakers in the world, who have their stories told without fear or hesitation. They deserve to be preserved and elevated because it’s characters like Kat truly embody what it means to be bold.