Before The CW was known as comic book superhero central, the network — when it was still The WB — had the reputation for the place to be for melodramatic teen soaps. Remember shows like One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven, and Gilmore Girls? In 2001, the debut of Smallville led to the network’s embrace of comic book-based properties that paved the way for more genre-focused shows like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, The 100, and the current slate of DC Comics heroes. Next fall, The CW is merging the best of both worlds with Riverdale. By adapting the classic comic book Archie, the network will return to its teen soapy roots, this time with a twist. Even better? They’re doing so with one of the most diverse casts on network TV.
While the teen dramas that defined The WB — and later, The CW — in the late ’90s and early ’00s were predominantly, blindingly white, Riverdale will take its core comic book characters and subversively bring them into the 21st century. Super producer Greg Berlanti — who will be shepherding this new take on Archie with the comics’ own Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa — has been known to cast actors of color in roles that are canonically white characters, and Riverdale is no different.
Leading the way is the show’s titular hero, Archie Andrews himself. Though Archie has always been depicted with red hair and freckles in the comics, Riverdale has cast mixed race Samoan actor KJ Apa in the lead role.
Already a teen heartthrob in his native New Zealand, Riverdale will be Apa’s first major role Stateside. And lest fans be worried, Apa has already assured them he will be dying his hair for the role. Still, when the adaptation was announced I don’t think anyone was anticipating we’d be getting an Archie with Pacific Islander heritage (whether or not that will be a plot point on the series remains to be seen; though, it’s unlikely since Luke Perry is playing Archie’s dad).
Archie isn’t the only iconic ginger getting racebent Riverdale — or on The CW, for that matter. The same day Apa was cast as Archie, they also announced newcomer Ashleigh Murray would be playing Josie McCoy (of Josie and the Pussycats fame).
It should also be noted that casting an African American actress to play Josie was always part of the plan, as evidenced by the character’s depiction in early promotional art for the series (that’s Josie on the far left in this post’s header image).
Josie isn’t the only character producers were looking to diversity when casting. This is how an early character description for Veronica that went out to casting directors described her:
Producers are aiming to ideally cast a Latina as this “silver-tongued” stunner, who has just returned to Riverdale from New York following a scandal which resulted in her father going to prison. Extremely intelligent, self-confident and immediately popular, Veronica is eager to reinvent herself — from Mean Girl to caring friend.
In February, actress Camila Mendes was announced as the live action Veronica and the final piece of the show’s main cast that also included Lili Reinhart as Betty and Cole Sprouse as Jughead — two characters who will remain white for the series.
Also joining the cast of Riverdale are Casey Cott as Archie’s first openly gay character Kevin Keller and Asian American actors Ross Butler and Daniel Yang as Reggie Mantle and Dilton Doiley, respectively. To quote Angry Asian Man Phil Yu:
Reggie and Dilton have been around in the comic books since the 1940s, and as far as I know, both characters have been traditionally depicted as white. So there’s some out-of-the-box casting happening here.
It can be done, Hollywood!
Updating decades-old comic book characters for the 21st century isn’t that hard (I’m looking at you Netflix/Marvel). I don’t see anyone crying about “canon” when it comes to Riverdale (and trust me, Archie is a way more beloved comic than Iron Fist ever was). Now, hopefully, they’ll announce who’s playing Chuck Clayton sooner than later.