There is no denying that the CW's Riverdale has really shaken up the traditional Archie comics of the '40s by adding a dark murder mystery to the plot. But, the CW also changed some key characters by bringing in a much more varied cast of actors. The Archie comics of old were predominately white, but Riverdale is not. In this adaptation, the Pussycats' lead singer, Josie McCoy, is black and played by rising star Ashleigh Murray. But, Josie isn't a token WoC character by any means. In fact, Murray says that something that she really loves is that Josie isn't a stereotyped "angry black girl." "[Often when there's] a woman of color — whether she’s black or Latin or Asian — it’s like there’s this idea that, any time a woman asserts herself, she’s viewed as being bossy or sassy or an angry black woman and it’s like, no," Murray tells Bustle. "I just have emotions, you know? I’m just feeling things; it’s a human reaction, and that’s what it is."
One moment, in particular, that Murray and Riverdale skillfully avoided that stereotype was in Episode 3, when Archie told the Pussycats that he wanted to write songs for them.
Josie: "So you feel qualified to write songs for the Pussycats?"
Josie: "For divas of color?"
Archie: "No... Maybe?"
Josie calmly shut that idea down in a way that wasn't over-the-top, but just clear and straightforward. She educated Archie in a way that was thoughtful while simultaneously showing that she wasn't about to cave to his whims.
"This isn’t L.A. or New York. This is Riverdale. And people’s minds are opening up, but do you have any idea how much hate mail my mom got when she was elected mayor? Do you know why we’re called the Pussycats? Because we have to claw our way into the same rooms that you can just waltz into. So if you think that you can just write my experience..."
Archie quickly realized he would learn much more by keeping his mouth shut and listening to Josie and her band, and Josie conveyed that in a really articulate way — not unlike the actor behind the words, who eloquently summed up why that scene stood out.
"I really loved it because it allowed [the show] to take this platform, because me embodying Josie with the skin that I am in is very different from what people are used to seeing on the page," she says. "There are certain things that need to be addressed... this is just what it is. It’s like, 'I get it, you [Archie] woke up with abs and all the girls think you’re cute and you think you can just walk in here and ask for anything, but the reality is that you can’t and this is why — because I have to work twice as hard as you do. And that doesn’t mean that I deserve it more than you, but that also doesn’t mean that I deserve it any less.' That was my whole mindset when we were shooting that scene."
Knowing that the show and her character were going to get into issues like race, Murray says that she knew that a negative reaction to her role sadly could have been a very real possibility. "My aunt kind of brought it up when I was actually going to test for the network. She’s like, 'How will you deal with it if you get the role? People may not be that excited that you’re a black girl playing Josie.' And I was like, 'We’ll come to that road when we get to there, if we get there.'"
But, ultimately, the fan response has been pretty positive. "A lot of people are very excited about [Josie]," Murray says. "You know, I’m sensitive to comic books and the way that they look in the book, but it’s been a long time... and there are so many diverse people who read the comics, like myself, and identify with them based on their characteristics — but it does help to actually see someone who looks like you or who might deal with the same type of problems that you deal with that others wouldn’t if they looked a different way."
At the end of the day, Murray is just excited that she gets to embody a role that she grew up reading about — and to address some real issues while she does it. "I don’t love [the show] for diversity’s sake. I love it because we’re imitating life in the way that we see it every day," she says. Life could use a lot more badass Josies, that's for sure.