Raising Dion’s Lesbian Representation is Anything but Super

Raising Dion, Netflix

Raising Dion, which aired on Netflix in October 2019, tells the dramatic tale of a boy named Dion (Ja’Siah Young) who spontaneously begins exhibiting psionic abilities – a.k.a. superpowers. As his powers develop and expand to include telekinesis, teleportation and energetic healing (among other things), Dion becomes the target of numerous villains who wish to exploit his powers.

Dion’s understandably stressed single mother Nicole (Alisha Wainwright) calls on her community to help her protect the budding superhero. Among Dion’s protectors is Nicole’s sister Kat Neese (Jazmyn Simon), a successful surgeon who takes her career very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the only softness we see from her character is in the “surprise! she’s a lesbian!” moment of Episode 7. Here’s how it happens: Kat slips into an empty hospital room for a “nap,” and her girlfriend Danielle (Erica Tazel) soon joins her for a cuddle session. The two only get to snuggle for a few moments before Nicole calls Kat, asking her to pick Dion up from school.

Turns out Dion is sick because he attempted to supernaturally heal his godfather Pat (Jason Ritter) but couldn’t handle the task. Dion then falls terribly ill, so Kat transfers him to the emergency room. While under her watchful eye, Dion accidentally levitates. Now Kat knows about his powers – and the danger he’s in. So she decides to breach medical protocol and erase Dion’s medical history. She’s hoping that this will prevent nefarious government entities from tracking him.

But instead, Danielle catches Kat in the act. When Danielle demands to know why Kat would compromise her career like this, Kat chooses to remain tight-lipped – after all, who would believe a doctor claiming that she was erasing her nephew’s medical records because government black vans were stalking him?

During this confrontation, Danielle reveals that the couple chose to keep their relationship a secret so that nobody could accuse Danielle of “giving” Kat her job. She had wanted Kat to get the proper credit for her hard work as a surgeon. But now that Kat has breached professional ethics, Danielle can no longer cover for her. Danielle reports her to the board, resulting in the termination of her job and relationship, all in one fell swoop.

However, following this debacle, Kat seems more upset about the loss of her job than of her girlfriend. In fact, we hear nothing from or about Danielle in the season’s remaining episodes – nor did earlier episodes suggest that Kat was even partnered, let alone a lesbian. Meanwhile, Nicole – the show’s presumably heterosexual lead – enjoyed not one, not two, but three romances throughout the season. Granted, Nicole is a main character. But did Kat and Danielle’s lesbian affair have to be so underdeveloped in comparison? Their entire relationship lasted a few short minutes of screen-time in a single episode… before vanishing into thin air. Now that’s what I call a superpower!

Sarcasm aside: as a woman of color, I deeply appreciated the show’s masterful handling of race and racism. That said, as a woman of color who is also bisexual, I found the black lesbian storyline incredibly disappointing. There was so much potential to spark conversations about Kat’s and Danielle’s secret lesbian tryst in relation to their blackness. Instead, it was treated as a separate thing – and barely a thing, at that. The short-lived nature of the affair also feels scandalous, contributing more to the drama of the storyline rather than to the plot’s development.

In all fairness, the situation did serve to highlight Kat’s strength and deep devotion to her family. She risked her successful career to protect her nephew and sister, after all. It is true that lesbian and bisexual women – particularly those with other cards stacked against them, like being non-white – often have to choose between “making it” in the world or standing by their loved ones. So yes, in that sense, the “representation” was on-point. But to quote Christopher Chiu-Tabet’s review: “Sure, it really demonstrates how heroic she is, sacrificing all that for her nephew’s sake, but it’s still disappointing to see another ‘queer’ character on TV being rendered miserable like that.” (Scare quotes mine, because Kat is a black lesbian, and that’s important.)

Production of the second season was postponed due to the pandemic. Rumor has it the season will air next spring or summer. Whenever it airs, hopefully the lesbian storyline will be revisited – with the same nuanced, conscious attention that the show generously gave to its racial themes.