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The Murderbot Diaries Apple TV Show

Updated: May 20

Casting the Unknown as a White Cis Man

By Anonymous

Photograph: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Many of us know the excitement that comes with seeing one’s favourite piece of media adapted in a television show or movie.

Many of us also know the crushing disappointment that comes with said adaptation turning out to be underwhelming or not faithful to the original story (I’m looking at you Percy Jackson movies and Avatar - The Last Airbender adaptations). It’s December 2023 and my time has finally come: the Murderbot Diaries TV show is officially announced. I am elated, I am over the moon, I am looking up the cast and Murderbot is played by… it’s played by Alexander Skarsgård? 

For those of you who don’t know Murderbot, it is, in its own words, "a construct made of cloned human tissue, augments, anxiety, depression, and unfocused rage, a killing machine for whichever humans rented" it (Fugitive Telemetry, 28). That is until it hacks its own governor module and has to contend with having free will, dealing with humans, and, reluctantly, saving them. 

Murderbot is also, as the pronouns I have used so far suggest, what can only be described as genderqueer in human terms. So to see a cis actor, who has been described as the "pinnacle of masculinity" by some, cast in the role was, to say the least, fairly confusing. While Skarsgård has reportedly picked roles that challenge normative masculinity in the past, some critics have pointed out that an actor's desire to explore gender roles does not override the need to cast genderqueer actors in genderqueer roles. Skarsgård may very well be queer and simply chooses not to speak about his identity openly. However, there are many non-binary actors in Hollywood who are missing out on roles because they are open about their gender identities.

 It would have been great to support an actor who is openly genderqueer and who would be able to talk about the character’s gender and their own experience in interviews and press junkets for the show.

Many readers fancast non-binary, Latine actor, Vico Ortiz as Murderbot - an actor who is best known for their role as Jim in Our Flag Means Death.  Murderbot is not only decidedly gender-nonconforming, but also canonically asexual and (probably) aromantic. The fact that Skarsgård is not, as far as we know, queer makes me worry that this aspect of Murderbot’s character will be forgotten too. All too often, characters who have no romantic or sexual involvements in the source material, are made to have them in adaptations.

Master Chief from the Halo TV show being only the latest example in a long list. 

I can’t help but wonder if Skarsgård, who is also an executive producer on the show, was involved in the production first and campaigned to be cast in the lead role, or was cast first and then decided to produce the show too. Actors producing a project and casting themselves, even if they may not be the best people for the job, is definitely not unheard of.

Skarsgård’s supposed cis- and straightness is not my only, or even biggest, qualm with the casting. While the character’s appearance remains mostly unknown to the reader, most other characters in the series are described or implied to be persons of colour. It seems icky to have the main character of the show, who regularly and spectacularly saves the other characters from danger, be one of the only white people in the show. In addition, I can’t help but notice that, though mostly people of colour, the rest of the cast appears to be mainly light-skinned.

Hollywood’s tendency to perpetuate colourism is nothing new, but it’s particularly unsurprising when one looks into the production and creative team for the series. 

The producers of the show are, you guessed it, overwhelmingly white men. Chris and Paul Weitz, also both white men, are set to write and direct the show. The sibling duo is most known for their adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. The book and movie have been criticised for their depiction of an autistic child as mere narrative foil to the central male protagonist. This is especially problematic in the context of the Murderbot Diaries show because Murderbot is coded as autistic in the book series.

I don’t trust the creators of About a Boy to handle Murderbot’s neurodivergence with the care it deserves. On top of that, to circle back to Skarsgård, we don’t know if he is neurodivergent and would play an autistic character well. Many autistic self-advocates have noted that allistic actors have trouble portraying autistic characters with nuance, often forgetting that autistic people regularly mask their neurodivergent behaviour and instead, portray said behaviour as they see it.  

As the cherry on top, Skarsgård is also almost fifty years old and he is supposed to play a character that has self-regenerating, and thus mostly wrinkle-free, skin. To be honest, I could overlook this detail because it basically just boils down to ‘he doesn’t look like what I pictured Murderbot to look like’, if it weren’t for the plethora of other concerns I have. Some people may argue that since Murderbot’s appearance is never discussed, apart from the fact that it’s cloned, has a "standard, generic human" head, and no reproductive organs, any actor or actress could play it (All systems Red, 21).

While this is technically true, ‘standard, generic human’ should not mean defaulting to cis/white/man. 

Apart from the many concerns I have over Skarsgård playing Murderbot, casting a character with an unknown appearance should not result in casting a cis white man anymore. This casting decision and the creators chosen make me, and many other fans of the books, worry for the show. The series means a lot to readers who see themselves in Murderbot’s neurodivergence, gender queerness and asexuality. The creatives behind the show, as well as the casting of the lead role, do not spark hope that this is going to become one of those adaptations that does not result in crushing disappointment. 


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