Note: This feature originally ran in February 2020 for Black History Month. Amid the ongoing civil unrest around the country, TV Guide is re-publishing this story and others like it to help foster greater understanding and awareness around issues of racial justice. Black lives matter. Text DEMANDS to 55156 to sign Color of Change's petition to reform policing, and visit blacklivesmatter.carrd.co for more ways to donate, sign petitions, and protest safely.
By the time Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson's supernatural drama wrapped in 2017, she'd died twice, become an anchor to a purgatory world for dead supernatural creatures, been tormented by a psychotic serial killer, survived an addiction to dark magic, saved her Mystic Falls buddies too many times to count, and watched most of her loved ones die right before her eyes. Despite these sacrifices, the fierce Bennett witch who put everyone else's needs above her own never received the same respect she had so freely given to those around her. In truth, Bonnie deserved far better treatment than what she experienced throughout the series.
Bouncing between the role of supportive best friend and magical town savior, Bonnie was never allowed to be fully human in the way that Elena (Nina Dobrev) and Caroline (Candice King) were. Her story often took a back seat to whatever pressing troubles befell her onscreen besties, and as a result, Bonnie didn't quite connect with fans on the same level. Over the course of the show's eight-season run, her presence was defined by what she could do for everyone else rather than who she was as a person. And since so much of her story was tied to her magic, we often forget that Bonnie -- on her own -- was pretty damn dope.
Smart, strong-willed, and sharp-tongued, Bonnie was someone you wanted to hang out with, and not just because of her powers. Whether she was relishing in the "hot guy parade" in Season 1 or joking to Enzo (Michael Malarkey) in Season 6 that he might be able to find another Phoenix Stone at Toys "R" Us, Bonnie was affable and relatable during those small moments when she was allowed to be human. And sure, she could be judgmental, but she had every right to judge her friends, who seemed to lose their common sense when it came to those all-encompassing romances. Whenever Damon (Ian Somerhalder) lashed out because he didn't get his way, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Elena would rush to his defense -- even if that meant being complicit in murder -- while Bonnie called him out on his problematic behavior. For that, she was painted as self-righteous, and her valid points went ignored until he acted up again. Bonnie was the voice of reason whenever her friends were being unreasonable, but rarely was she afforded the opportunity to be anything more than that.
Starting the series as Elena's bubbly best friend coming into her own as a newbie witch, Bonnie quickly evolved into the magical fixer who'd strut into a scene like Olivia Pope to utter a spell in Latin and then disappear into the background again. A friend turned into a vampire and is in need of a daylight ring? Let's ask Bonnie. Klaus (Joseph Morgan) is stirring up trouble in town and we need to a good offense? Let's call in Bonnie. She was a friend and an ally, but because she was only called in to forward the plot by protecting and serving the people around her, she often fell into the trope of the "magical negro," the wise and self-sacrificing black character whose main role is to help white protagonists get out of trouble. Bonnie may have been a core member of the group, but she never operated on the same plane as her Mystic Falls buddies and often found herself isolated. As a black woman, I often felt alienated by this series I loved so much because it had so carelessly handled the only person on the show who looked like me. And I was not alone in that regard.
Bonnie's fiercest, loudest supporters were the black women who were also forced to grapple with both a deep love of the series and constant frustration with how Bonnie had been sidelined. For these fans, there was an unspoken duty to protect the show's only black lead, who'd never received the same amount of appreciation within the fandom as Caroline or Elena. And we had little to work with, both within the show and in pop culture as a whole. When The Vampire Dairies premiered in September 2009, it was the only genre show on The CW to feature a black woman in its main cast. So for that small group of us, who already felt like outsiders within genre fandom because of what little representation there was, Bonnie meant the whole damn world. And this show did her so dirty.
Descended from a powerful line of witches dating all the way back to the town's early beginnings, Bonnie's history was rich and touched every cornerstone of the series. Her ancestor Ayana mentored Esther, the villainous Mikaelson matriarch who would go on to create the first vampires. As Katherine's handmaid, Emily Bennett (Bianca Lawson) created the daylight ring that allowed her to pass off as human while capturing Stefan and Damon's affections. But much of what we know about Bonnie's history and that of her family is told through the context of how it affected the other central characters. Her history was never her own, and neither were her powers.
Bonnie's role was inconsistent throughout the series, but one common trend struck: Whenever she became too powerful, her abilities were inevitably stripped away. By Season 2, she picked up impressive offensive moves like pyrokinesis and the ability to cause debilitating aneurysms. Bonnie had even grown strong enough to stand up to Klaus, the baddest vampire of all time. But she could never hold on to those powers for long. If the ancestors felt she was abusing them, they were gone. Whenever The Vampire Diaries needed the bad guy to have the upper hand -- poof! Bonnie's powers were frequently taken away and given back like the show was a parent disciplining a troublesome child. It was as though she couldn't take up too much space on this series already packed with a bevy of other supernatural creatures, lest she be put in her place.
And when she wasn't losing her powers, she was losing loved ones. The sheer volume of heartbreaking deaths Bonnie experienced over the years, which include the deaths of her grandmother, her father, her mother (who was turned into a vampire), and every boyfriend she's ever had, should have rendered her a lifeless shell. But in a town that always tried to diminish her spirit, Bonnie was resilient. Much has been made of Elena's endless family tragedies, which she grappled with as a vampire when she turned off her humanity switch in Season 4. As the town's protector, however, Bonnie wasn't given much time to deal with her own personal tragedies, which often came at the hands of the supernatural friends she'd saved time and time again. Her grief and trauma didn't serve the greater purpose of the story, so she was forced to quickly move forward, sacrificing a piece of herself each time. But Bonnie was a fighter. She never gave up on herself or her friends even when she had every right to.
The best example of this came in Season 6, when Bonnie reached her lowest point while stuck all by herself in a prison world. Her last bit of magic was used to send Damon home, and other attempts to make it back had ultimately failed. Depressed and alone, Bonnie decided that rather than waste away, she'd end her life instead. So she took one last shot of Damon's best bourbon, locked herself in the garage with his sleek blue convertible running, filmed a final message to her friends, and let the noxious fumes kick in. It was a rare moment when we got to see Bonnie weak and at her most human, wallowing in self-pity while at her wits' end. And she could have let it all end right there, but she didn't. Drawing from that unshakable inner strength, that metaphorical black girl magic that had carried her through every tragedy, Bonnie pulled herself up and made it out of that garage alive. That speaks to the heart of who Bonnie was, a sheer force of nature who refused to stay down no matter how many times she stumbled or faltered.
It wasn't until Elena was forced into a mystical coma at the end of Season 6 that Bonnie was finally able to be more present in the story and grow as a character. Perhaps it was the show reckoning with its earlier seasons, which had taken her for granted, or just filling a void left by one of its core cast members. But as Elena's story started to wind down, Bonnie's began to really thrive. In the show's final seasons, she formed a beautiful friendship with Damon, which was refreshing given their long history of mutual disregard for one another. She learned to laugh and make jokes again, and she even found someone who finally put her first.
Bonnie's grand love story with Enzo in Season 7 came as a surprise -- it was introduced in a cryptic flashforward that saw them kiss with no context provided -- but we warmed up it eventually. Among fans, their relationship was soon held in the same regard as the show's other's major ships, Delena and Klaroline. Whereas Bonnie's romance with Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) always seemed awkward and forced (he also cheated on her with his ghost ex-girlfriend), this one just felt right. It was epic and tragic. And it was the first time the show treated Bonnie as if she was as desirable as Caroline, whose infectious personality charmed every major male character, including Matt (Zach Roerig), Tyler (Michael Trevino), Alaric (Matthew Davis) and Klaus.
However, Bonnie could never have something of her own for long, and she was soon robbed of her happily ever after with Enzo by an unhinged Stefan, who tore out Enzo's heart. When it came to Bonnie's happiness, the show always took one step forward and two steps back.
The Vampire Dairies will always be remembered for those insane plotlines and epic romances, and deservedly so. But we can't forget that those unforgettable moments were built on Bonnie's sacrifices. She is the show's Miss Congeniality, the unsung hero who never received the credit she was due. Her great achievements, like saving Mystic Falls from being eviscerated by hellfire in the series finale or just persevering through unspeakable tragedy, often get lost in the shuffle of everything that happened on this crazy, fun show. But regardless of how she was treated, I'll always remember Bonnie for what she was: fierce, loyal, gorgeous, charming, sweet, funny, and one hell of a woman.
Here's to you, Bonnie Bennett. You deserved the whole damn world.
This story originally ran in March of 2019.
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