I recently finished watching all 5 seasons of Daria on Hulu, a popular MTV animated teen sitcom produced in the ‘90s. Daria is one of my favorite tv shows, not only because of Daria’s dry humor, relentless sarcasm and societal culture critiques that I find myself rallying behind; but also because of the character Jodie Landon, one of Daria’s classmates at Lawndale High School.
Jodie immediately sticks out from season one as being one of the only characters, besides Daria and her best friend, that are competent in any way. It really says a lot because every other character in the show is comically portrayed as an idiot and/or an exaggerated caricature of ridiculous people in society.
At first, Jodie is just seen as an overachiever, who excels in classes, is a member of student government and is heavily involved in extracurriculars. Jodie is a funny, smart, “cool” character who has value in the show other than her Blackness and is not weighed down by it. Her Blackness gives her character depth and a perspective that many other characters lack.
Jodie often points out the lack of diversity in her school and how she feels like her and her Black boyfriend are used as racial tokens to make their school look better. Instead of these comments being sporadically placed claims to make it seem like the show values diversity, they’re used to develop Jodie as a substantial character. Jodie’s insights add layers to the show as well as counters for perspectives informed by Daria’s white identity.
In the episode, “Gifted” Jodie discusses how it eats away at her that she always has to be “reasonable, calm and well spoken” because she’s one of the only Black people in the school, meaning she’s instantaneously put in a box that she’s trying to break out of. One quote from the episode is “At home, I’m Jodie – I can say or do whatever feels right. But at school, I’m the Queen of the Negros, the perfect African American teen, the role model for all of the other African-American teens.”
After hearing that, I felt like I’ve never related to a tv character more. As a Black girl who has spent all of her life living in white communities and going to predominantly white schools, I’ve always felt that pressure. The need to be extremely intelligent, friendly, level headed, and amicable so you don’t fit the stereotype you get cast as. The need to minimize your Blackness just so you can be palatable to the white people surrounding you. Jodie Landon’s words were a testament to my experience and to Black girls everywhere who have gone through the same things.
In the episode “I Loathe A Parade,” Jodie and boyfriend are voted Homecoming King and Queen, but she considers stepping down because she knew she was only there to be used as a token. This is until she sees a young Black girl in the audience beaming at her with pride and admiration, convincing her to stay on the homecoming float. The placement of the little girl in no way shows that it’s okay to be tokenized. But instead, the little girl is an example of how others can look up to you when you are one of the few Black people in a white community. And that it’s important to know that you are an inspiration and hold a lot of power in your actions. And that moments like that make it a little more bearable.
Jodie Landon is real and relatable. I know that if I watched this show growing up I would have been inspired by Jodie, who managed to excel under the pressure of being the “perfect African-American teen” while still living a life she enjoyed. That’s why now when I watch the show at the age of 19, I still feel a little bit like that girl in the parade.