It’s probably impossible to find any other city in the world featured in television and movies more than New York City.
With five boroughs, 8.5 million people, and so much diversity, it really shouldn’t be a surprise.
More often than not, if it’s not Manhattan featured somewhere on screen, it’s the Bronx. And every once in a while, it’s Riverdale itself — whether it’s posing as a Soviet area playground for FX’s “The Americans,” or actually being mentioned like the inclusion of Windsor South in the 2013 film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
At the same time, however, Riverdale gets an unfair shake from the people in Hollywood. A recent example came from the popular Netflix drama “Orange is the New Black.”
While the fictional women’s prison featured in the series is set in the upstate town of Litchfield, many of the inmates hail from the city, in particular the Bronx.
“Orange” is a critically acclaimed series with 17 Emmy nominations and four wins, and it shares some very important messages reflecting upon our society today. Yet one episode in the current season released just a couple weeks ago takes Riverdale to task.
In a flashback scene, one of the inmates —Janae Watson, played by Vicky Jeudy — takes a class trip with her South Bronx school to a fictional private school in Riverdale that would put Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series to shame. There she gets a tour from an oblivious student showing all the amenities the school provides, which her South Bronx school had never heard of.
They end the tour in the school’s auditorium, where a group of white students are performing “Dreamgirls,” the famous Broadway musical that’s typically staged with an African-American cast.
We certainly understand the message this episode was trying to convey — students in poor schools are at a huge disadvantage to those who have money for everything, and it’s an important message to share.
But the implication that Riverdale lacks diversity, is blind to racial strife and income inequality, and simply doesn’t care is a tough pill to swallow.
Especially since it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, Riverdale’s demographics don’t match the rest of the Bronx — at all. But this is a community that cares, something that has been reflected many times in the pages of this very newspaper.
In the early 1960s when being racist was considered a badge of honor, The Riverdale Press featured stories of African-American families being denied housing on the front page, shaming the landlords who would dare do so.
In 1963, a young African-American Riverdalian named Donald S. Harris faced the death penalty in Georgia simply for trying to help register people to vote.
Press founder David A. Stein featured Harris prominently on the front page for weeks while the community raised the equivalent of $80,000 today, until he was finally freed just after Halloween.
Riverdale’s push for equality didn’t end there. In fact, it continues to this day with efforts like the college advisement program at Riverdale Neighborhood House, and even just beyond Riverdale proper with the summer youth camps hosted by retiring M.S./P.S. 95 teacher Michael Halpern.
There’s certainly far more we can do, and as a community, we’re working on it. But poking fun of Riverdale in the process is not only unwarranted — it’s simply a false caricature of what Riverdale truly stands for.