ABC show raises controversy among viewers

It’s nice to see viewers discussing shows they love, because part of loving a work of art is being able to discuss question its values. ABC’s Black Box has viewers questioning the sincerity of the creator’s portrayal of bipolar disorder in the main character, Dr. Catherine Black.

In the pilot, Dr. Black’s manic episode raised questions among critics who don’t buy the show’s portrayal.  NAMI’s interview with creator Amy Holden Jones reveals her responses to the criticism. Jones explains  that her inspiration for the character came from her father who experienced his first manic episode in his 40’s while Jones was 9. The stigma forced her family to never openly discuss his illness.

The reporter asked Jones how she handles any perceptions that the show is “glamorizing” going off medication. Jones responds,

Dr. Black’s reaction wasn’t exaggerated, but that doesn’t happen to everybody. . . With Black Box, we try to show experiences from the inside—not just the outside. For example, Catherine tells her therapist she thought she was flying, but in reality she was standing on a balcony and almost fell to her death. She experienced a form of ecstasy, but the reality is her delusion nearly killed her. To me this shows why she is tempted to go off the meds, but also how dangerous and destructive it is.

Jones poses the questions, “How can you see the journey as glamorized by the show when she ends up screaming in an ambulance, having alienated and shocked her fiancé , finishing finally on the beach contemplating suicide?” 

Jones explains that networks and the public want to see a challenge in a character, and lots of lead characters are addicts. We see a lot of alcoholics and addicts in television. For instance, Sherlock Holmes is an addict, but that’s only one part of who he is. Similarly with Catherine, she’s an otherwise complete human being who happens to suffer form bipolar disorder. 

It’s understandable that viewers who regularly take their medications are upset about Catherine skipping her doses.  This is what they see as “glamorizing” going off medication. However, this portrayal is based on Jones’ experience living with a bipolar dad. Her dad went through stages of skipping medication, so it’s only expected that what we see in Black Box based on what Jones witnessed throughout her childhood.

On top of that, Jones never had a conversation with her father about his condition before he died.  So, let’s try to see this from her perspective. The lesson we can take away here is that everyone’s experience with illness, whether mental or physical, is different. While her portrayal of mental illness seems inaccurate to viewers, it’s still based on her unique experience as a witness to a loved one with bipolar disorder.



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