Seven-and-a-half years after Fringe‘s end, Jasika Nicole has shared that as “a black woman with a name that white people seem to find incredibly difficult to pronounce,” she found the running joke about Astrid’s name to be “pretty tasteless.”
As fans of the acclaimed Fox sci-fi series know, John Noble’s Dr. Walter Bishop had great trouble getting right the name of FBI agent/lab assistant Astrid Farnsworth, addressing her as “Astro,” “Asterisk” “Asgard” and the like. But while Walter’s slip-ups were accounted for by the storyline and obviously had no malice behind them, Nicole says the shtick hit a bit close to home for her.
“As a black woman with a name that white people seem to find incredibly difficult to pronounce, sometimes knowingly using the wrong name for me, I always thought it was a pretty tasteless joke,” Nicole recently shared on Twitter, “and hated that it lasted the whole 5 seasons of the show.”
When a Fringe fan apologized for not seeing it that way but as a term of endearment from curmudgeonly Walter, Nicole explained, “Most white people don’t do things to intentionally hurt the feelings of POC. And that’s the point. No one ever thought to ask how it made me feel cause it was written through the lens of whiteness. Just cause someone doesn’t SEE the harm doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
Having been tagged into the conversation, Noble himself chimed in to say, “I can see that now,” adding: “I apologize for anything I may have done to appear disrespectful.” Nicole, though, quickly made clear that her former co-star had nothing for which to apologize.
“It’s OK,” she tweeted back, “you didn’t write it, John ♥️♥️♥️!”
UPDATE: When asked if she ever shared her opinion with producers at the time, Nicole said, “I didn’t, because I didn’t have a good relationship with the showrunners at all and it was my first show — like many young women of color in TV, I was too nervous to say anything for fear of retaliation or getting fired. It wasn’t a safe space for me.”
To be clear, “the initial spirit of the joke was not lost on me,” Nicole added on Sunday. “I understood it as an indicator of Walter’s mental health, and I even laughed a couple times cause the names WERE funny. I assumed the joke would die out after the first few episodes, as Walter’s hold on reality became less tenuous and he felt more rooted to the present and the people in his life.”
That, however, proved not to be the case, and the joke ran for almost the entire series. “At some point the joke turned away from him being incapable of remembering Astrid’s name to him being fully aware of who she is and just teasing her for fun,” Nicole noted. “THAT part became bullying and racist.”