The Wachowskis Go Diverse on Cast for Their Netflix Series

By  · Published on January 9th, 2014

A day may come when the Wachowskis finally tire of their sci-fi bread and butter; when they abandon the giganto-huge science fiction epic spanning multiple timelines/nations/realities; when they finally make a film not bursting at the seams with CGI and occasionally questionable makeup choices. But it is not this day.

No, today’s the day where the Wachowskis’ newest creative output, the Netflix series Sense8, reveals the siblings’ latest effort to take a seemingly unrelated group of ordinary folks, and relate them via a magical doohickey. According to TVLine, the group consists of the following: “a closeted Mexican telenovela hunk, an Icelandic party girl, a German safe-cracker, a Korean businesswoman, an African bus driver and a transgender American blogger.” All will experience some kind of violent premonition, and will then be visited by Jonas, a “magic African-American,” as well as the villainous Mr. Whispers.

And all will be filmed in their native countries, as Netflix is ponying up the cash to shoot each episode- each following a single character- in all the real places those characters hail from. The list includes the UK, Seoul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Berlin, Mexico City, San Francisco and Chicago. No Iceland, however, so the “Icelandic party girl” will just have to make do in some faux-Iceland located in Chicago or perhaps Mumbai. The series will start filming in June, so casting announcements will surely come in the next couple of months.

We’ve got a large-scale science fiction story spanning multiple somethings (in this case, countries) with a hint of predestination- that seems about par for the course as far as the Wachowskis are concerned. Even outside of their own filmography, though, it’s not really new stuff. The TV series Touch saw people all over the globe connect to each other through math. Crash saw people all over Los Angeles connect to each other through racism. Now, Sense8 will see a globe-spanning group connect to each other through a magical black dude.

Which does sound an awful lot like the “Magical Negro” stereotype… at first. A vaguely mystical African American guy swooping in to give our heroes the guidance they need to persevere; that seems to fit the “Magical Negro”definition to a T. But of the various visionaries, only one has the potential to be a white guy- the “German safecracker”- and that character might turn out to be a woman anyway (“safecracker” isn’t exactly a gender specific term). And considering that your average magic black dude is there to guide the white male hero to victory, Sense8 might not conform to the standards it kinda sounds like it’s conforming to in the first place.

The rest of the characters all sound reasonably diverse, which is something the TV landscape could use a little bit more of now that this whole SNL debacle seems to be at an end. And most important of all (at least as far as diversity goes) is the “transgender American blogger,” as that particular minority is in dead last as far as media representation goes. Yes, there’s the occasional Orange is the New Black, which has an actual transgender actress (Laverne Cox) portraying a transgender character, but aside from that drop in the bucket (and whatever you can find on the Logo network), the pickings are mighty slim. It might take a transsexual director in Lana Wachowski to create a transsexual role here and there, but hey- at least it’s a step in the right direction.

If Sense8 can open up a few roles for transgender actors, then it might not be such a big deal that the series sounds exactly like Cloud Atlas with a few minor tweaks (and a LOST villain thrown in for good measure). Now there’s just one more detail to iron out- the name “Mr. Whispers,” which sounds far too much like “Mr. Whiskers” for my taste. If he’s not either a cat or a cartoon rabbit, I’m going to be severely disappointed.