Escouade 99: the COPycat
By Beatriz Neves
Photo: Club Illico
Quebec’s new adaptation of the hit sit-com Brooklyn 99 is facing backlash for allegedly whitewashing two core cast members.
While some older American sit-coms such as Seinfield and Friends are often criticized for lacking BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour), Brooklyn 99 is known for its diversity. The show has been a success since its release in 2013, with an eighth and final season planned for 2021. The sitcom keeps a funny, playful tone while following the daily routine of a New York police precinct.
The Quebec version, called Escouade 99, was acquired from NBC by producers of Videotron’s Club Illico. Patrick Huard was selected as director due to his previous success in Bon Cop, Bad Cop, a movie also presenting police comedy.
However, the series attracted controversy from the very beginning, starting with the casting choices. If you watched the American version, you’re familiar with the two Latina protagonists in the show: Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). In the Quebec version, the two characters are played by white women: Mylène Mackay and Bianca Gervais, respectively.
Fans of the American version and even the original actresses were not happy about the lack of the Hispanic representation. Melissa Fumero was the first one to speak up. After the first trailer released, she tweeted: “I’m suddenly curious about the Latina population in Quebec.” Afterwards, she revised her critique and said that while the Latina population in Quebec is small, they could have chosen any BIPOC to play the female characters. Critics are unhappy to see what was for many a key appeal of the original series, the show’s diversity, disappear.
Quebec comic artist Talhi Briones produced an open letter to the Escouade 99 producers in comic book format. “Were you told that just the fact that it was women was enough? Because people exist on multiple axes of oppression. We call it intersectionality,” says Briones in her work. Clara Mendell-Tremblay, an Arts and Culture student who did a presentation for class on Briones’ work, criticized the Quebec TV industry as a whole, saying that “the actors are always the same ones, and you can quickly notice that those 'popular' actors are not exceptionally good, but they are exceptionally white.”
Talhi also highlighted that thankfully the new cast kept the ethnicity of the two African-American characters. Although it’s great that whitewashing an African-American character is no longer acceptable, the Latino representation still has a ways to go. Fans have also been questioning if this version will keep Jake’s Jewishness and Rosa’s bisexuality.
The first season is currently streaming at the Vidéotron’s Club Illico service since September 17th of this year. So far, the show is more rerun than adaptation. The first episodes have the same conflicts and plots as the original. In his review, La Presse’s columnist Hugo Dumas says that “the two shows are almost identical, almost copy-pasted, joke by joke. The names of the protagonists have been changed and that's about it.” His critiques amplify complaints regarding the casting choice. If they copy-pasted the entire series, why not keep the two female protagonists' ethnicity?
After the first episode was available, Patrick Huard replied to the critics concerning the casting. He denies that he consciously whitewashed the show, but he recognizes that it went against audience expectations. “We always have challenges, and sometimes our focus isn’t where people expect it to be,” he said in the media premiere of Escouade 99.
This is the show’s first authorized adaptation and included few significant restrictions. “They told us to do what we needed to do to make it work in Quebec,” said Patrick Huard. Perhaps that will stimulate a broader reflection on how Quebec produces and consumes TV.