Understandably, PREACHER’s Tulip O’Hare likely isn’t the first character that comes to mind when one thinks of notable black characters in popular culture. After all, the Tulip that many fans are familiar with from the late Steve Dillon’s original rendition is a leggy blonde with an extensive knowledge of firearms. But as of the May 2016 premiere of AMC’s adaptation of the beloved comic series, Ruth Negga has stepped into the role and has gone above and beyond to transform the character in the best of ways.
Garth Ennis’s PREACHER is the story of Jesse Custer, a man that finds himself imbued with angelic and demonic power to bend others to his will at the height of his disillusionment with both his faith and his profession. After a literally explosive melding with the entity responsible for this powerful gift, Jesse sets off in search of God in order to get answers and absolution that only the almighty himself can provide. Along for the ride are a foul-mouthed, debauched Irish Vampire and Custer’s on again, off again girlfriend Tulip O’Hare.
In the course of the comics, a great time was spent delving into the psyches and motivations of Jesse and his vampire friend, but Tulip was generally left to well-trod stereotypes. She was tough because she was raised by a man and her motivations were ultimately to be with Jesse, period. When Tulip was given an arc all her own, instead of richer development, she was drugged into complacency and raped. Don’t get me wrong, Tulip was also a bad-ass, who was quick to swear, seduce, and shotgun her way out of a tough situation, but it was nothing I hadn’t seen before.
Enter AMC’s long awaited adaptation and the brilliant choice to cast Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga.
Rather than rushing headlong into the story after a spectacularly botched hit, this Tulip burst onto screens whilst very purposefully dispatching two nameless goons; proceeding to instruct a couple of farm dwelling children on the necessity of being self-sufficient in life and love; the finer points of homemade bazooka construction and giving us a glimpse into the duality that Negga would bring to the role. As the season progressed, this version of the character was revealed to be equal parts smirking, unstoppable force and thinking, feeling human being. In most instances, she is fire and ferocity, likely battle scarred and more than sufficiently hardened by the difficult hands she was dealt. However, every now and again, this tougher exterior is peeled back to reveal a softer, sometimes almost childlike individual who very much remembers and feels every transgression committed both by and against her. She is capable of kidnapping, robbery, and worse, but the likes of Jesse Custer – object of her affection and seemingly unending frustration – is still able to cut her to the core with both his obstinate refusal to return to their old life, as well as his intimate knowledge of who she is when guns are holstered and the bravado is no longer required. It’s a kind of depth and vulnerability that is rare for a character that, in her origin, was often relegated to little more than the girlfriend role and one that is rarely put into the hands of women of color, particularly in this genre.
Obviously the most glaring change is the shift in ethnicity, but the alteration speaks to so much more than creating a more culturally representative cast. If one truly examines the original Tulip, it becomes quite plain that there was not and never has been a requirement for her to be white, and the decision to cast Ruth Negga goes a long way toward showing that individuals of color are not only capable of taking on and interpreting formerly white roles, but that we can thrive in them and elevate them to heights beyond their original iconography. What’s more, we can transform them and make them almost entirely our own.
AMC’s Tulip is black, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.