2016 has been a year of social issue shake-ups, where women want equal pay and opportunity in the workforce, where #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter resonate from Hollywood to the presidential election and where social media inspires discussion and change. With such an undercurrent brewing, it really was the perfect time for Days of Our Lives to bring a legacy character back into the fold.
On Tuesday it was announced by Deadline.com that Vanessa Williams would be joining the DOOL cast as Dr. Valerie Grant, a cardiologist who returns to Salem to visit her old friend and former lover, Abe Carver (James Reynolds). This announcement was met with applause from longtime soap fans because this role was groundbreaking when the character was introduced in the 1970s.
Originally played by Tina Andrews, Valerie was involved in daytime television’s first interracial couple. That storyline proved to be so controversial at the time that the writers backed off the intended marriage plot.
Instead they had her fiancé, David Banning, engage in an affair with another character. An excerpt from a 1977 Los Angeles Times article explained that racism and negative fan mail came into play with the script.
"They're breaking us up because the storyline is unpopular," said actor Richard Guthrie (David) to the LA Times. "The studio has been getting a lot of hate mail from people threatening to stop watching the show."
While the network repeatedly said the couple’s breakup was planned from the beginning, the interracial storyline was problematic from the get-go. Andrews' and Guthrie’s characters initially weren’t allowed to touch or kiss.
“The problem is that Valerie is black. Well, so is Tina Andrews, black all the time, on screen and off,” said Andrews in the same LA Times interview. “When you say David can’t kiss Valerie because she’s black, you’re saying Richard can’t kiss Tina for the same reason. That’s an insult to everyone concerned.”
This rewritten storyline not only cost Andrews her job in 1977, but it also cost her TV parents, Ketty Lester and Lawrence Cook, their jobs as well.
It’s hard to imagine an interracial relationship being an issue on TV in 2016, but remember, we are still fighting injustices when it comes to sexual identity, race and gender in real life and in the entertainment industry. By bringing back this character, DOOL has a huge opportunity to showcase a smart, beautiful black woman with a strong storyline.
Williams' first appearance on the NBC soap will be on Oct. 25. According to show spoilers, Valerie will be rekindling her romance with Abe Carver, but let’s hope we see more dimensions to a character whose full potential hasn’t been seen yet by DOOL viewers.
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