Month: March 2016

Comic Book Stereotypes Examined in New Documentary “Je Suis Superhero”

There are quite a few stereotypes in comic books. Take, for instance, this:

Or this:

Or this craziness:

Or books that are steeped in both appropriation and stereotype:

Even the best of intentions caused this:

Nowadays, we’re getting a wave of superheroes who are not just non-white and/or non-male, but are also complex and richly-developed beyond racial, cultural, and ethnic tropes. Like these guys:

And we’re even getting fascinating stories interweaving cultural elements into existing characters, like this awesome moment with Groot:

One documentary is aiming on discussing stereotypes in the comic book industry and how the industry is working to become more inclusive. Je Suis Superhero, directed by Harleen Singh, features Eileen Kaur Alden, co-creator of the comic book Super Sikh, Vishavjit Singh, also known as Sikh Captain America, and cartoonist Keith Knight.

Singh told NBC News one of the reasons why comic books are the subject of this project. “Comics are an excellent lens on the society,” he said. “The incorporate storylines that reflect the times, but they also propagate stereotypes for their super heroes. It’s the perfect back drop for getting the message across about how generalization is not the best thing.”

Alden also told NBC News how comic book creators are now empowered to create more diverse stories. “It’s not just about slapping a diverse character into an old trope. I think what people are really craving is really diverse stories, something that’s not quite so focus grouped or old and familiar.” Alden said that comics featuring diversity were once considered “outsiders,” and now these properties are part of the mainstream.

Je Suis Superhero has reached 80 percent of its Kickstarter goal; to lend your support, click here.

#YourBigBreak: Is Your Web Series a Fit for Issa Rae Productions?

One of the most common things in the media is the focus on the difficulties finding opportunity. Much of this is on Hollywood’s end, what with its bad, antiquated, stereotype-steeped practices. But a lot of difficulty also comes from not knowing where to look, for from people not giving others a leg up. Here at JUST ADD COLOR, I’ll do my best to highlight opportunities for those who are looking for that big break. This article is highlighting just one of those opportunities.

Issa Rae made a name for herself with her hilarious The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl web series, and now her production company, Issa Rae Productions, is looking for new talent. Check it out:

issa-rae-productions-partnership

Good luck to all who apply!

What “The 100” Didn’t Learn from “Teen Wolf”

SPOILERS BELOW!

Do you watch the CW’s The 100? The show was breaking ground with its same-sex relationship between fan favorites Lexa and Clarke, but something happened recently that left fans up in arms.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what happened. Lexa inexplicably died during the latest season, leaving fans who loved the characters, the relationship, and what the relationship represented, were left grieving yet another lesbian character who has fallen victim to trope.

Maureen Ryan for Variety has summed up the issue succinctly in her opinion piece, “‘The 100 Lexa Mess: What TV, Jason Rothenberg Can Learn”:

“So here’s the nitty-gritty: The character who died, Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), happened to be one of the few well-developed and comple lesbians on TV, and it’s an unfortunae but enduring TV cliche that lesbians rarely, if ever, live happily ever after. In the March 3 episode, ‘The 100,’ which had touted its commitment to quality LGBTQ storytelling, invoked one of TV’s oldest gay cliches by killing her off mere seconds after she consummated her relationship with another woman, Clarke (Eliza Taylor). Many fans, regardless of sexual orientation, were left shaking their heads in disbelief.”

Ryan goes on to write that the death itself didn’t make storytelling sense, even though the actresses involved played the scene well. “But all things considered, the blithe manipulation LGBTQ fans and the show’s willingness to deploy harmful cliches about gay characters remain the things that rankle the most,” she wrote. Quite a few fans feel like they were led on, used to boost ratings with teased relationship, only to have the rug pulled from under them.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s not simply because creating the “tragic LGBTQ character” is a very tired trope. That’s just one of the reasons. The other reason this might sound familiar is because MTV’s Teen Wolf faced a similar firestorm a two years ago.

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You can read Jase Peeples’ op-ed for The Advocate, “The Trouble with Teen Wolf to get the full details, but in a nutshell, Teen Wolf dropped major hints of highly-developed characterizations (and relationships) of gay male characters, such as the popular pairing of “Sterek” (Stiles and Derek), but the show began being labeled as a “queer-baiting” show once Danny and Ethan, characters who were in a relationship, faded to the background and Stiles was put in a relationship Malia, a female werecoyote. Even worse, the male teen of color on the show, Mason, was tokenized and underdeveloped.

Peeples writes:

“While some might dismiss fan outrage over the show’s dwindling LGBT representation, their passionate outcry highlights a growing divide between younger viewers and those who are creating the shows they watch. For a generation that has never known a time when LGBT people were not represented on the small screen in some form, limited visibility and queer subtext are no longer enough to hold their interest.”

The continued teases that a character might be bisexual with no payoff, the same-sex romances that end as quickly as they begin with little development, the disappearance of gay characters without explanation, and the absence of any well-developed LGBT character four seasons into a show that appeared to bank heavily on its queer appeal early on have left vocal fans howling.

He goes on to say that network execs and showrunners need to recognize that the audience they’re trying to court (and, in the case of Teen Wolf, successfully courted) are not the audience of the 1980s or even some of the audience of the 1990s. This new audience lives in the world the audiences of the old had been hoping for, so it’s time to actually give this new audience the type of representation it wants sans trope and stereotype. “For this demographic, LGBT integration isn’t simply a future aspiration-it’s reality,” writes Peeples. “More than ever before, young people are out, allies are vocal and a person who doesn’t interact with a member of the LGBT population on some level is becoming an anomaly.”

It seems like The 100 also needed to learn this lesson, even though it portrayed the air of deft avoidance of trope up until Lexa’s death. Just like with Teen Wolf’s audience, the audience of The 100 saw Lexa and Clarke as a beacon of hope, that TV was finally putting the spotlight on lesbian relationships, something that’s not always focused on when TV decides to showcase LGBTQ characters. Usually, TV just show gay men, and even then, the focus is mostly on gay white men.

As I wrote in my February issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine (in which I did laud The 100 for its seeming progressiveness):

The biggest trend across the reports is that on the whole, gay white men make up half or more than half of the LGBT characters portrayed on television. Meanwhile, lesbian characters specifically usually make up half or less than half of LGBT characters; bisexual characters make up a paltry amount usually in the single-digit or barely double-digit numbers, but still more than transgender characters, who usually comprise about 2% of the LGBT character population.

With so few lesbian characters and relationships between lesbians on-screen, Lexa and Clarke stood for more than just two characters in love. They represented many viewers and their relationships, and to have that representation taken away has got to hurt. No wonder fans are upset.

The biggest lesson The 100 can learn from this is to look at what happened to Teen Wolf. Fans are asking for proper representation from their shows. Fans are asking for their shows to represent them, because they’re living the lives that are routinely left off the screen. Instead of seeing their audience as a niche with a marginalized interest that can be dangled in front of fans like a carrot, they should actively create storylines that honor their audience. The last thing shows need to do is alienate the folks who make them money.

Ryan echoes this sentiment with her breakdown of the lessons showrunners need to learn. Ryan states that when fans feel manipulated they’ll walk away. She also writes that showrunners shouldn’t gloss over legitimate concerns from fans. But the rule that all of these rules rest on is this: “Don’t mislead fans or raise their hopes unrealistically.”

What did you think of Lexa’s death? If you’re a fan of The 100, can they win you back? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

#DifferenceMakers: Madeline Stuart and Rixey Manor’s Bridal Photo Shoot

Some photos from a bridal photo shoot have made the rounds, and they’ve got everyone talking. The photos, taken by Sarah Houston, feature Madeline Stuart, a model with Down syndrome, showcasing several wedding dresses in and around Virginia’s Rixey Manor, a popular wedding spot.

Rixey Manor’s owner, Isadora Martin-Dye, commissioned the shoot and told Huffington Post UK, “A lot of newly engaged women cannot see themselves as a bride because all of the images magazines use are of these tall, thin models. I think that being a bride is a life experience that every woman should be able to see herself doing, and defintely not stressing about the fact that they won’t look ‘perfect’ on their wedding day.” Houston wrote on her blog that she also wanted to showcase a bride’s individual beauty. “I honestly just wanted to show that no bride is cookie cutter, each one is unique and beautiful and Madeline proved that,” she wrote.

Madeline Stuart – Rixey Manor from Nugen Media on Vimeo.

Thankfully, the comments on Houston’s Instagram page and blog have been positive.  But, I’ve read this story on several different websites, and in almost every comments section, the comments almost always devolve into a dichotomy; either people feel the pictures and Stuart are quite beautiful and inspiring, or how they think that people with Down syndrome shouldn’t get married. The thing I took away from it is similar to what the Martin-Dye wanted people to take away from the photos—we should get ourselves accustomed to the idea of different types of brides, including brides with mental disabilities. We shouldn’t believe that people with mental disabilities 1) don’t want to get married or 2) can’t get married.

I did some reading before writing this post, because—in full disclosure—I myself have only ever been in contact with one person with Down Syndrome in my entire life. Even though I went to an elementary school that embraced both children with and without learning and physical disabilities, and even though that environment gave me much more exposure to people with different abilities (more exposure than most schools were doing even in the ’90s), I still never had much exposure to Down Syndrome. So writing this article was a learning experience for me as well.

Let’s take a look at some myths and debunk them.

• MYTH: People with Down Syndrome or other disabilities don’t want to get married.

Why it’s false: Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean that they are instantly rendered helpless. But, in fact, there are many couples with disabilities out there. In a feature outlining Bill Ott (who has Downs’ Syndrome) and Shelley Belgard (who has hydrocephalus), a couple with disabilities, The Washington Post writes how while there are many couples like Ott and Shelley out there, the actual numbers haven’t been calculated. “Experts say it’s difficult to track the number of couples with intellectual impairments because they often enter into committed relationships without getting married,” Style writer Ellen McCarthy wrote for The Washington Post. “In many instances, a legal marriage could interfere with Social Security or health-care benefits.”

Legally in America, people with mental disabilities have the same legal right as anyone else to get married, as well as own homes, drive, and anything else. Slate asked University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy’s Dr. Richard Redding about this, and he said that mentally disabled people don’t need to pass any competency tests. But, state-by-state, things break down a bit different. Slate states more than 30 states either restrict or prohibit marriages between people with mental disabilities. “Such marriage laws are rarely enforced. But when they are, a competency hearing can be triggered by a guardian or family member who suspects manipulation or coercion behind the marriage.” Even though the laws aren’t enforced, the existence of those laws contributes to society’s ignorance about the rights and needs of mentally disabled people.

•Myth: People with Down Syndrome or other disabilities don’t want to get married.

Why it’s false: Many people believe the mentally disabled don’t want to get married because they see those individuals as being forever a child. But that’s not true, either. People with Down Syndrome have productive lives and want the same types of rich social interactions and relationships just like anyone without the disability.

Philip Davidson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, told The Washington Post that the stereotype should be disbanded. “There is a bias in our society that is unfounded—that just because you have Asperger’s syndrome or Down syndrome that you automatically cannot sustain a relationship,” he said. “But that’s just not true. These people are really not all that different than you and me. Their investment in the lives of other people are as significant as yours and mine.”

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, one in every 691 babies in America is born with the condition, making it the most common. “Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome and about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year,” states the site. So with those kinds of stats, it’s actually surprising we haven’t seen any more advertisement featuring people with Down syndrome. What this wedding spread is hoping to do is further incorporate people of all types into the country’s social fabric, and what we should do as consumers (and as members of society) is welcome more media like this since it only helps everyone in the long run. As the president of Global Disability Inclusion, Meg O’Connell, told the Telegraph, “People want to see people like themselves in fashion and advertising and marketing campaigns. People with disabilities by clothes and cars and houses. They want to be represented, like everyone else; disability has been the forgotten diversity segment.”

What do you think of the photos? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Great blogs to check out:

Wife who tied the knot with disabled husband to become Britain’s first married couple with Down’s Syndrome dies aged 45 (Daily Mail)

Mental health, human rights & legislation (WHO)

Mentally Disabled Couple’s Legal Battle Ends with New Home (ABC News)

#DifferenceMakers: The Banned Lane Byrant #ThisBody Ad

Women have enough trouble as it is, but we also face intense scrutiny with beauty and size standards. Even though there’s many different sizes of women and many different standards of beauty, women and girls have to contend with what’s always presented to them as the norm—being tall and thin (but somehow still buxom and curvy). I’ve personally dealt with these issues in my own life, and they are something I’m only just now coming to terms with.

Showing different types of beauty on television and in film would help everyone feel more comfortable in their own skin, but several television stations went against that idea by banning a revolutionary Lane Bryant ad. The ad doesn’t show anything different than your typical Victoria’s Secret commercial—women in bras and panties—but this ad was, for some reason, seen as being too “indecent.” Take a look at the ad yourself:

Did you see anything too indecent for television (especially seeing how we get full-on sex scenes in primetime TV nowadays)? I didn’t. So it left many to wonder what exactly was so controversial about showing full-figured bodies on television, especially when commercials like this get aired, which are presented in an aggressively sexy tone (the only difference being that skinnier models are shown).

Either way, the Lane Bryant commercial was a positive step towards remedying many women’s low self-esteem. By seeing self-assured, self-confident, beautiful women who are also women of size, many will start to feel the seeds of empowerment.

What did you think about the commercial? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Five Fantasy Books by Native Authors to Combat J.K. Rowling’s “History of Magic in North America”

You might have heard about J.K. Rowling’s literary misfire in recent days. The Harry Potter writer is busy creating new stories for her Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, and a new set of stories, telling the history of magical North America, hit Pottermore to eager fans. A promotional trailer was also released, in which some of the details of her North American history are revealed.

I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter books, despite my personal gripes. But one of gripe I had while reading her textbook tie-ins was that America was always put into stereotype. We didn’t get Quidditch; we got some dumb analog to American football because Americans are just more brutish that way (that’s how I interpreted it anyway). Now, we Americans don’t have the simple term “muggle” to describe non-magical people; we have some clunky term like “No-Maj,” which seems to imply that America’s usage of English is clunky and fumbly, unlike the Brits’ musical-sounding words. But she’s not the first European to view America as an overbearing, loud place, and she won’t be the last. And in truth, if she had stopped at just a history of white America, she might have saved herself some grief. But she decided to include Native American history into her fictional tale, and that has proved disastrous, and rightly so.

The major points of contention are:

• JKR lumped all of Native American culture together in one term, a term we should all be careful about using: “Native American community.” Native Appropriations’ Dr. Adrienne Keene writes that that phrase represents “[o]ne of the largest fights in the world of representations,” which is “to recognize Native peoples and communities and cultures” as “diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another.”

•  JKR appropriated the Skin-walker myth. JKR writes in her story that skin-walkers are a myth created around Native American Animagi (animagi being people who can transform into animals, like Professor McGonagall). The myth states that the skin-walkers had “sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation,” but in her world, the Native American Animagi used their powers “to escape persecution or to hut for the tribe.” She goes AWOL when she decides to call the Skin-walker myth itself “derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”

The skin-walker (yee naaldooshii) legend itself, in actuality, is of Navajo origin, and refers to a witch who gains their power to transform by breaking cultural taboo. Medicine men aren’t the same as skin-walker witches, since witches are using their methods to harm, and medicine men are using theirs to heal. I got my info from Wikipedia as well as other sites, which shows that it’s not that difficult to at least try to pay homage to a particular culture’s legends. I admitted the little research I’ve done because I’m not going to act like I’m an expert on Navajo culture; far from it. But Keene’s statement on the myth tells you what you need to know. “…[T]he belief of these things (beings?) has a deep and powerful place in Navajo understandings of the world. It is connected to many other concepts and many other ceremonial understandings and lifeways. It is not just a scary story, or something to tell kids to get them to behave, it’s much deeper than that.” So with that said, why does JKR feel she can call a part of someone else’s belief system “derogatory”?

• JKR doesn’t address the atrocity of white colonialization on Native peoples. In her story, JKR calls Europeans settlers merely “explorers,” as Keene points out, when we know that there was a lot more that went into their “exploring.” It’s currently unclear as to how she will address the full extent of devastation brought on by colonialization, but some clues are probably in how she addresses Africa and India’s magical histories in that same Magical Beasts textbook I mentioned above.

Native American fantasy and sci-fi, written by Native Americans

The story hasn’t gone without getting properly reamed in social media and on numerous websites. But this story is also just one of many stories out there that appropriates and erases Native culture until it can fit into a highly limiting, Eurocentric, often stereotypical view of Native Americans as a whole. JKR’s misstep also begs the question of if this, a story written by a non-Native, is out there, and if there are plenty other books by non-Native authors writing about cultures they might not know anything about, where are the fantasy stories (and sci-fi stories) written by Native American writers? How can we expose ourselves to fantasy that respects Native cultures and exposes non-Native readers to new ideas? Well, check these five examples out:

• Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, edited by Grace L. Dillon

This anthology is a great entryway into the world of Native American fantasy. The anthology, the first of its kind, features fantasy, stream-of-consciousness, sci-fi, and magical realism. Indian Country Today Media Network also states that Dillon, a professor of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, provides literary and cultural context for each piece, “making this book an excellent starting point for scholars and sci-fi fans alike.”

• Intersection of Fantasy and Native America: From H.P. Lovecraft to Leslie Marmon Silko, edited by Amy H. Sturgis and David D. Oberhelman

This book is more a literary study than an actual sci-fi or fantasy novel, but such a text is also useful for those wanting to become more versed in Native American fantasy and speculative fiction. Sturgis, part of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and David D. Oberhelman examine the push and pull between stories by Native authors such as Gerald Vizenor, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich, and non-Native uthors like J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and ironically enough, J.K. Rowling.

• Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles, Gerald Vizenor

Vizenor, part of the Anishinaabe people and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation, envisioned the destruction of America amid, as Wikipedia describes, “white greed for oil,” leading tribe of pilgrims to traverse the country’s dystopia. It could very well be argued that Vizenor’s then fictional world is coming true, seeing how bad climate change has become, much of it fueled by irresponsibility and a desire for oil. Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles was part of the literary movement known as the Native American Renaissance, which took place during the 1990s.

• The Tantalize Series by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Tantalize Series, by Smith, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, writes young adult science fiction that also reflects today’s highly diverse society. The series is set in Austin, TX and focuses on a werewolf protagonist who, along with her uncle, open a vampire-themed restaurant. But when a murder leaves them without a chef, they have to transform their new fill-in into a convincing vampire. This leads to a love triangle, skirmishes with the supernatural, and the reveal of just who is playing whom.

• Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse, by roboticist, Popular Mechanics contributor, and television host Wilson, of Cherokee heritage, advances the idea (and the fear) of robots becoming sentient and, of course, against humanity. In Wilson’s world, a supercomputer turns the world’s technology against its creators, killing most of the world. The only hope left is, as Tribal College Journal’s Ryan Winn describes it, “an off-the-grid Osage stronghold where humans resisting the assault find sanctuary.” The fact that this book (and its sequel, Robogenesis), is written by a robotics engineer makes the story even that more terrifying due to its potential plausibility.

There are more books out there, but the difference between throwing up your hands in defeat and actually finding them is putting in the work. The literary world is still very homogenous, to be nice about it. To be honest about it, the literary world is a colonialized, whitewashed place, with too many literary agents (many who are white) picking authors (many who are white) that reflect their same worldview. Finding proper representation in the literary world takes some work, but it’s out there.

What we as a society should work on is lifting up marginalized voices, such as Native writers. Their stories are just as valuable to the literary framework, and lifting up those voices would alleviate the anxiety that comes when other writers are given unmitigated freedom to write about characters from different cultures and races. When more Native American writers are given the chance to write about their experiences, and when they’re given the correct exposure, then everyone wins.

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But you still want to write your story about Native Americans. What you can learn from JKR’s missteps when it comes to writing about Native cultures (and any culture that’s not your own):

With all of this said, I’m sure there are still many of you writers out there who want to use Native American characters and cultural elements in future stories, but don’t want to fall into the JKR trap. From both my passive and active experiences, I can offer the following advice that might come in handy.

The lessons we can glean from JKR’s mistakes are lessons that we can learn from many books throughout history, including classics like the Tarzan series, movies like Disney’s Peter Pan, and books-turned-movies like The Help.

• Do your research. If you’re not of a culture, it would behoove you to crack open a book, or get on Google, or do something to arm yourself with knowledge before ever writing anything down. JKR’s lack of success when it comes to writing about Native American beliefs as a whole is that it would appear she did cursory research, but neglected to go deeper into any of the things she was investigating. For instance, Skin-walkers. Instead of co-opting the term and turning it into something of her own creation, she could have incorporated the belief as it is and as it has been for centuries without changing it into a “derogatory” set of “rumours” created by non-magical people. She could have shown some level of sensitivity.

• Once you do your research and get comfortable, you still might have some questions. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone—RESPECTFULLY—to help you out. As an outsider, you will never know everything that comes with being the race you’re writing about, but you can gain some valuable insight from someone who agrees to work with you on your story.

JKR could have asked for a Native American writer or consultant, or several Native American writers, consultants, and historians, to help her edit her story and point out some things she should include more of or forget altogether. This brings up another point: I’d suggest you only ask a person of the culture you’re writing for help after you’ve done the proper legwork necessary in terms of research. Don’t expect a person not of your culture or race to fill in everything for you, since that’s not how reciprocity or actual cultural exchange works. You come with your knowledge, and ask for guidance. Don’t expect that person to be the representation of all of their people. No race or ethnicity is a monolith; Native American culture is certainly not a monolith, since there are many different nations and tribes with their own customs and cultural attitudes. I can’t say this enough: CULTURES AND PEOPLE OF THOSE CULTURES ARE NOT MONOLITHIC. THIS ISN’T STAR TREK.

•Don’t take something of another culture and appropriate it to mean something else. Where JKR lost many is when she decided that the Skin-walker myth was something she could create into her own idea. It’s similar to how white Christianity turned voodoo into the devil’s religion, when it’s not that all. Cultural mythos and belief systems, especially the belief systems and myths of cultures that are routinely forgotten and appropriated in society, should be honored and respected. There’s still a way to incorporate these ideas into modern literature, but to me, the way to do that is to keep the original myth intact.

To this point, I also add: Don’t rewrite a peoples’ entire history on the earth to suit your whims. JKR’s attempts to write a complex history of American magic and provide a nuanced, diverse approach to inclusion, but her efforts became hamfisted, seeing how her knowledge on Native America, and America in general, is limited to stereotype. JKR writes of Native Americans, as a whole, as a magical people, but limiting an entire group to “magic” undercuts any of JKR’s good intentions and just makes her Native American characters “magical ethnic” tropes and flattens any inroads towards learning at least the very basics about the many types of Native American cultures. Again, to use voodoo, Americans (and I’m sure Europeans as well) tend to limit Africa to witchcraft (or huts, child solidiers, or the Savannah). None of these express the cultural, societal, ethnic, and racial complexities of an entire continent.

• If you still feel uncomfortable and believe you could offend people, just don’t write about that culture. There’s a lot more I could say about this, but you can’t write about what you don’t know.

• Despite your best intentions and even after you research and get outside help, you’re still taking a risk in misrepresenting a culture that’s not your own. Taking precautions and utilizing sensitivity can help you mitigate any issues, but you’ve got to remember that you’re still the outsider, and the insiders have every right to dissect what you’ve put out. Be careful.

These are just basic lessons, and I’m sure there are plenty more that can be learned from JKR’s mistake. Overall, if a writing decision feels sketchy, just don’t do it. You’ll save yourself headaches.

Great blogs on the subject:

They Are Not Ghosts: On the Representation of the Indigenous Peoples of North America in Science Fiction & Fantasy (aidenmoher.com)

“Formations of ‘Indian’ Fantasies: European Museums and the Decontextualization of Native American Art and Artifacts”

Non-white Protagonists in Fantasy and Science Fiction (theillustratedpage.wordpress.com)

Native American and Speculative Fiction: An Interview with Amy H. Sturgis (journeytothesea.com)

Native Americans to J.K. Rowling: We’re Not Magical (National Geographic)

Critic’s Notebook: J.K. Rowling’s ‘History of Magic in North America’ Reads Like a High School Textbook

 

 

Four Reasons “Underground” is Must-See Television

Did you watch WGN America’s Underground Wednesday night? I did, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be, and it still surprised me with just how much information and action they managed to pack into an hour. I was so tense throughout the hour, I was tired afterwards.

There are multitude of reasons to be a huge fan of Underground, but I’ll provide you with four great reasons you should watch the show and use it as a platform to deepen your understanding about slavery and the issues that continue to plague America.

1. Underground makes slavery relevant to today’s issues again

Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Photo credit: WGN America
Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Photo credit: WGN America

The one thing that has hurt slavery narratives in the past is that they were always told in a past, passive tense. Slavery is something that ended roughly 200 hundred years ago, but some of the narratives put in the media about slavery would make people think that the effects of slavery aren’t in effect today. Surprise, surprise for those who didn’t know this, but the effects of slavery have always been effect because there’s still two Americas within the same country. There’s still the feeling that one aspect of America doesn’t want to listen, or doesn’t care to listen, to other viewpoints. The after-effects of slavery show themselves in economic inequality, police brutality, white flight in neighborhoods, gentrification in urban areas, pay inequality, the denial of basic human rights both in the justice system and in social aspects (like allowing Flint, MI residents, many of whom are black, to drink lead-filled water from the polluted Flint River while Detroit gets its water from a different source).

What Underground does through various modes of storytelling and the usage of modern music (Kanye!) is bring slavery back to the present. Making the story modern makes the injustice that much more difficult to watch, and you can’t help but think about how this hateful practice of slavery still reverberates today. I think the handling of the characters and the story will make even the most casual and most “colorblind” of viewers wake up and think about what’s going on today and how they may or may not be playing a part in the continuing degradation of a people. In short, it’ll make folks think if they’re part of the solution or part of the problem.

2. Underground puts slaves at the forefront of their own story

L-R: Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Theodus Crane. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R: Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Theodus Crane. Photo credit: WGN America

The most annoying thing about some films about slavery or discrimination in general is that the “good” white people are put at the center of the story. Daniel José Older (who I’ve interviewed on JUST ADD COLOR before!) wrote for Salon that the Oscar-lauded 12 Years a Slave still had a white savior narrative with Brad Pitt’s character Bass saving Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup:

“About three-quarters through the movie Brad Pitt suddenly sohws up and, essentially, saves the day. Never mind that Pitt is also one of the film’s producers…In this otherwise monumental and groundbreaking film, written and directed in the age of stop-and-frisk and ‘stand your ground,’ of Trayvon and Aiyanna and Marissa and Renisha, did we really need yet another white savior narrative? We absolutely did not.”

Older also brings up Lincoln, which featured the idea that Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln alone fought for the rights of slaves, instead of showing the layered and multi-faceted effort it took to get Lincoln to actually consider ending slavery, an effort which involved abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.

“Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ erased Frederick Douglass, reinforcing the tired notion that a singular white man, through the sheer force of his moral conviction, brought slavery to an end. In ‘Lincoln,’ ans in ’12 Years,’ this cliché not only hobbles the film’s cultural relevancy, it is a narrative failure as well.”

The Help isn’t about slavery, but it still put Emma Stone’s character and her book writing journey at the center of the story, when the real story is about how these maids have been surviving amid the unchecked racism and unearned privilege of their white women “employers.”  In all of these stories, the feelings of white America—of wanting to absolve white guilt, of wanting to appease an injured ego still coming to terms with slavery itself—are at the center, when their feelings, while valuable, aren’t the feelings we should be focusing on in these stories. The characterizations should revolve primarily around the characters who are most oppressed, the characters who are facing these uphill battles on a daily basis. The focus on the white experience of learning about oppression is also another thing that keeps some slave movies stuck in a passive tone; the act of an outsider looking into a new world is a passive one, since the outsider can throw away the experience at any point. The act becomes more of a professorial anthropological exercise than one actually immersing themselves to the point of a complete understanding. A call to action doesn’t come from studying a group from afar; it comes from feeling akin to that group, feeling like your well-being depends on their well-being.

Having the oppressed tell their own story is what gives a show like Underground its power. There are two white characters that do become part of the Underground Railroad, but it already looks like they aren’t set up to be “white saviors,” necessarily. They are part of the cogs of the Railroad, but the show isn’t depicting them as being the initial catalysts. In fact, the characters exemplify the difference between viewing slaves and slave rights as an anthropological study and feeling the call to action to actually help them. John Hawkes starts out as an abolitionists of sorts, but he’s still advocating for the law, which was set up to go against black people in the first place. Elizabeth, his wife, is initially against him advocating for slave rights, but once she visits John’s brother, the evil plantation owner Tom Macon, she sees a boy fanning her from the rafters. That boy, combined with her own desire for a family, changes her mind completely about slave rights. She finally sees herself in them and feels that call to action, which spurs her husband on to do the same. But, they are working in conjunction with slaves securing their own freedom; they’re not acting as shepherds herding a flock.

L-R David Kency, Jessica De Gouw, and Marc Blucas. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R David Kency, Jessica De Gouw, and Marc Blucas. Photo credit: WGN America

The slaves themselves, not John and Elizabeth, are the leads of this story. Aldis Hodge’s Noah is the one who is hell bent on getting to freedom, and he’s not planning on going alone; he’s taking a group of slaves with him. Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Rosalee is, of course, going to go with him, but we see her come to terms with her place on the plantation and how clearly not-free she is, even though she works in the Big House. Much of this realization comes when Suzanna Macon, the “lady” of the house, starts talking about selling Rosalee’s little brother James. (Of course, there’s going to be the big realization that Rosalee and James are both Tom and Rosalee’s mother Ernestine’s children.) The slaves decide for themselves how they want the rest of their lives to play out, and they take action to make their dream of freedom come true. This makes Underground stellar television as well as a stellar take (and more truthful take) on the slave story.

(For another slave story with slaves actually at the forefront of their story, check out this Atlantic article on the film Sankofa.)

Click to read the latest issue!

3. Underground highlights the insidious nature of white privilege

(L-R) Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond. Photo credit: WGN America
(L-R) Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond. Photo credit: WGN America

There are many scenes that are terrible to watch, but the scene that probably made me want to throw up the most was the juxtaposition of the little baby’s funeral (the baby who was killed by its mother, who didn’t want it to grow up in slavery) to the birthday of Tom and Suzanna’s daughter Mary. That, coupled with the family sitting down at dinner and being waited on by the house slave staff just made me want to scream to the rafters. But these scenes are also important because it shows how ugly the phenomenon of white privilege is. Or, to put it another way for those who get blindsided by that term, I’ll use a phrase I’ve already used in this post: unearned privilege.

For those who either hate/feel offended by the term “white privilege” or don’t understand what it means, here’s the definition, per the students of The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women class at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. (The page itself is housed by Mount Holyoke College):

White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it the most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold as a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

The definition goes onto give examples, such as interpreting types of dressing, manners of speech, and general behaviors as being “racial neutral” when in fact, as the definition states, “they are white.” It ends with this:

“…White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level.”

The definition also quotes James Baldwin, who stated, “Being white means never having to think about it.”

What is great about Underground is that it makes a point to show not just how extreme white privilege can be in how it excused and upheld slavery, but how it works its way into even the most well-intentioned of people, like Elizabeth and Tom, who still have the option to decide if they want to help slaves or not, and for a while decided not to help slaves for the sake of building a family. White privilege is something that needs to be worked out of the American system. The sooner the better, because all of us are Americans and deserve true equality, not a system based on antiquated, racially-based ideas.

4. Underground is just plain good

L-R: Aldis Hodge and Alano Miller. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R: Aldis Hodge and Alano Miller. Photo credit: WGN America

What else can I say? It’s terrific. It’s got no commercials, for one. Second, John Legend has proven himself to be a fantastic executive producer with this show; I’m still waiting on more news about that Thomas-Alexandre Dumas film. Third, it’s got a great cast: Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Alano Miller, Amirah Vann, Jessica De Gouw, Renwick Scott, Mykleti Williamson, Marc Blucas, Reed Diamond, Adina Porter, Theodus Crane, Johnny Ray Gill and Christopher Meloni, to whom I tweeted this:

Because weren’t we all rooting for Stabler to bop heads and take names? (There’s still time to stop being a wildcard and get on the right side of history, August Pullman! But his character also proves a point about white privilege; August can choose to play both sides—tricking the slave woman trying to escape by pretending to be a freedom fighter—solely for his own benefit.)

What do you love about Underground? Give your opinions below, and make sure to watch Underground Wednesdays at 10/9c on WGN America.

Three Ways “Scalped” Could Be a Game-Changer (If It’s Careful)

Have you heard of the DC/Vertigo comic book Scalped? If you’ve been a fan of the comic book, it’s now been greenlit as an upcoming show on WGN America!

The Hollywood Reporter has described Scalped as such:

“‘Scalped’ is described as a modern-day crime story set in the world of a Native American Indian reservation. It explores power, loyalty, and spirituality in a community led by the ambitious chief Lincoln Red Crow as he reckons with Dashiel Bad Horse, who has returned home after years away from the reservation.”

This show is very big news in the world of television as well as the world of media in general. Scalped could very well be the hottest show of the upcoming season, and it’s ability to be a game-changer can be broken down into three reasons:

Scalped will boast an all-Indian cast

The Hollywood Reporter states that WGN America is aiming at doing something Hollywood hasn’t willingly done at any point in its history. As the site reports, “Insiders say WGN America is eyeing an all Native-American cast.” When was the last time you saw Hollywood do something like that?

This is groundbreaking for two different reasons. First, it increases TV’s lead in the diversity race; film still has tons of mileage to go if it wants to catch up. Second, America hasn’t had an all-Native led show ever. The most we’ve seen Native Americans on television is in some kind of historical setting, as if they’re all dead. Or, if we do see them in a modern sense (such as in Sleepy Hollow) we only get to see them for five minutes in one episode (I’m still hoping for Eddie Spears’ Big Ash to make a return). A show like Scalped could really open some doors for Native actors trying to make it in Hollywood.

With its pulpy tone, Scalped could be the Empire of its kind, which means huge fame, but also huge consequences

This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good in that Scalped could become must-see, live-tweetable television in the same vein that Empire has dominated social media and pop culture as a whole. Or, as it’s been compared to, it could be the Sopranos of the Twitter age, or even the Breaking Bad of the Twitter age, a show that ensares its audience with gripping drama.

The bad thing about Scalped possibly becoming an Empire specifically is that with that fame comes compromise. Everyone (including myself) loves Empire. But as fun as Empire is, the show is not without its problems, such as colorism. (Before her character was bumped up, Gabourey Sidibe’s secretary character Becky was an afterthought, Ta’Rhonda Jones’s character Porsha is the comic relief to light-skinned Cookie, Bunkie was killed in the first episode, Lucious’s maid is a heavy-set, older black woman, and Malik Yoba’s character Vernon, who had an interesting subplot as a recovering drug addict, was killed later on in the first season by Rhonda.) Other issues include the treatment of women in the show, particularly the character Cookie, who, while a fun character (and a character I love), is filled with the “angry black woman” stereotype. Taraji P. Henson herself talked about how ironic it was that she would win a Golden Globe for playing an ex-convict rather than any of the other characters she’s played.

The Scalped comic book has been praised as a gritty modern noir, but the book has also faced its fair share of criticism, such as glossing over of the diversity of Native issues and Lakota culture as a whole. Wikipedia describes the comic as such:

“The series focuses on the Oglala Lakota inhabitants of the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in modern-day South Dakota as they grapple with organized crime, rampant poverty, drug addiction and alcoholism, local politics and the preservation of their cultural identity.”

While much of this could be handled with a deft and knowledgeable hand (such as by a Native writer or a writer who has done a lot of outside research and has fielded the help of consultants), it’s unclear how much knowledge comic book writer Jason Aaron has about the Lakota or Native Americans in general. Aaron, a non-Native white writer, could be critiqued as having fallen into the same pitfalls many other writers have fallen into when writing modern Native characters. As Indian Country Today Media Network writes:

“The question of whether Scalped was exploitative and harmful was raised from the get-go. …Scalped creators, writer Jason Aaron and artis R.M. Guera, aren’t Natives, and whether the world they depicted ultimately treated Native people fairly in the course of their series is a topic for debate.”

Rob Schmidt of Blue Corn Comics has written his critique of the story, which, in fact, does state, in so many words, that Aaron did rely on stereotypes of reservations:

“It’s clear what Aaron’s inspiration is for this ultra-negative portrayal of life on the rez: the horrible situation at Pine Ridge in the ’70s, when rabble-rousin activists fought a corrupt tribal government. This is the conflict that ended in Wounded Knee and put [activist] Leonard Peltier in prison for life.

Trouble is, that was 30 years ago. Tribal governments are much cleaner now because anyone with a cellphone, copy machine, or website can expose their flaws. Indians do use technology, believe it or not, although you wouldn’t know it from SCALPED. This series reads as if it was set in the 1970s–as if Aaron wanted to do a Quentin Tarantino version of Thunderheart.

…Moreover, casinos aren’t a major source of crime. Every Indian casino gets approved and regulated by multiple levels of government. The most recent gaming scandals involved lobbying in Washington, not crime on the rez.”

Schmidt goes onto say that one of the book series’ tropes is that it portrays is that “[t]he many bad Indians outweigh the few good Indians [,] [t]hus the Indians have gotten what they deserve.”

An argument could even be made about the name of the book itself indulging in stereotype, as well as the most popular cover art of the first volume by British artist/writer Jock (shown above). We’ve already had tons of issues with folks appropriating headdresses, and drawing one in an attempt to grab potential readers’ attention is no different.

Scalped could delve much deeper into Lakota history, culture, and the issues facing the Lakota and all Native Americans in a much more honest light than the comic. 

Scalped is a show that already has elements of being both a godsend to Native actors and the Native community as well as becoming a thorn in the Native community’s side. But there’s time to make Scalped the show that can entertain as well as educate.

The question I have for Scalped revolves around the basis for the book itself. As already stated, the book is, as The Hollywood Reporter states, “partially inspired by the 1975 arrest of Native American activist Leonard Peltier.” The Hollywood Reporter states that Peltier was arrested for killing two FBI agents in a shootout on a reservation, but his supposed guilt has long since been put into question, and many have made petitions to get Peltier’s sentence reexamined, lessened, or removed all together.

This point in history could be a great basis for a show, if taken into account as a watershed moment in Native and American history. Will the show decide to delve deeper into Native American issues and cultural differences and similarities? Will the show actually portray a more realistic portrayal of the Lakota than shown in the comics? Or will the show continue the book’s issue of failing to avoid stereotypes? The fate of Scalped is in the hands of Doug Jung, another non-Native. Will Jung and the show’s team bring on Lakota consultants in an effort to make the show fun and exciting while being respectful of the culture? We’ll see, and for that alone, Scalped is must-watch TV, at least for the first episode.

What do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Three Reasons Why People Have a Problem with Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

This is a story that’s been a big dread of mine to write. Not because the issues are hard for me to understand; far from the contrary. I just didn’t want to watch the trailer for this movie. What movie am I talking about? Nina, the beleaguered movie about Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo.

Nina made tons of folks mad a few years ago, when it was in production, and now it’s making folks mad again now that the film is coming to Digital HD and VOD April 22. First, let’s take a look at the poster and the trailer, and see if you can figure out what might be at fault here.

Ealing Studios/IMDB
Ealing Studios/IMDB

Let’s also take a look at the storyline, which takes a story that has been refuted by Nina Simone’s estate and her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly:

The story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson. (IMDB)

And for a fair comparison, let’s look at the real Nina Simone, both talking and singing:

And here are some actresses discussing their feelings about the film. If you’ll notice, every one of the actresses gives a huge sigh before answering the question, showing how difficult a position it is to take on a film like this that intersects the issues of diversity in film as well as colorism in Hollywood.

Okay, so why are people upset? We can boil it down to three reasons:

1. Hollywood’s colorism

We hear a lot about diversity as a whole, but one of the most open secrets in Hollywood along with a lack of diversity is a focus on colorism. What’s colorism? Let’s use the Racebending. com definition, since it’s the most succinct one I’ve found in a while.

“Colorism is a form of discrimination in which people are accorded differing social and economic treatment based on skin color. Colorism occurs occurs across the world and can occur within an ethnic group or between different ethnic groups. In most entertainment industries—including Hollywood—lighter skin tone is given preferential treatment and [a] darker skin tone is considered less desirable. Oftentimes, heroes are cast with lighter skin and villains are cast with darker skin.”

As the definition states, Hollywood is rife with colorism, particularly when it comes to African American and Latina roles. Colorism affects not only limits the types of roles certain women are given, but it also makes young women who watch film and television feel like their skin tone makes them ugly and a pariah of society.

It’s not lost on quite a few that Saldana, through no fault of her own, fits neatly into Hollywood’s Eurocentric-laden idea of “black beauty.”

Evidence of this can be seen in Saldana’s acting career itself; more often than not, Saldana has played exoticized love interests, whether she’s in her own skin or not (such as her roles in Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy). Even in a film role like the title role of Columbiana, her character is sexualized to an unnecessary degree.

Damon Young from The Root examines Hollywood’s usage of Saldana’s beauty in his article, “Why People Are Upset That Zoe Saldana Is Playing Nina Simone, Explained”:

“…Saldana has had a very successful run as the primary love interest in blockbuster movies. Much of this success is undoubtedly due to her acting chops, professionalism and versatility. But also, it can’t be denied that Saldana possesses certain physical features that allow her to exist within Hollywood’s general standard of beauty. In fact, she doesn’t just exist within the standard. She might be the standard. And she’s such an attractive choice for these types of roles because she fills two boxes: the diversity box and an unrealistically attractive woman….Nina Simone, however, did not exist within this standard. She possessed features more commonly associated with black women. In fact, much of her work was centered on this. It’s a vital part of her story.”

Of course, Saldana isn’t the one to blame for Hollywood using her beauty as a way to keep colorism in check. Hollywood has to gather itself to deal with the fact that it does discriminate against darker-hued women, and that its practices affect people’s self-esteem. Some examples of colorism’s negative effects:

• “…When you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking. That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire. And in the history of television and even film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me.” —Viola Davis with The Wrap

• “To be very honest, I had to leave Hollywood because as a young child, it didn’t seem to flourish [in] my mind very well. Coming here from the islands, I didn’t even know that I was dark skinned there wasn’t a color issue in my head. I always thought I was beautiful. It wasn’t until I got in Hollywood that I started understanding there were dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks and there were roles for this character and roles for that character based on a color. I left Hollywood, and in the process of leaving it, it helped me develop myself into a woman.” –The Color Purple‘s Desreta Jackson with The Grio

• “When I was like 5 years old I used to pray to have light skin because I would always hear how pretty that little light skin girl was, or I would hear I was pretty ‘to be dark skinned.’ It wasn’t until I was 13 that I really learned to appreciate my skin color and know that I was beautiful.” -Keke Palmer at the Hollywood Confidential Panel

• The original casting call for Straight Outta Compton was laced with colorism, calling for “fine girls” who are “light-skinned”, while darker-skinned girls were “poor, not in good shape.” The “hottest of the hottest” girls had to have their real hair (the other girls could wear weave; the hair discrimination is yet another level that needs to be discussed at a later time), and could be “black, white, asian, hispanic, mid eastern, or mixed race too.” The unspoken thought was that only truly beautiful girls have their own hair and can be of any race, but, even with the mention of black women in the “hottest of the hottest” section, it’s still implied that to be especially beautiful as a black person, you have to be light-skinned.

So what does this have to do with Saldana playing Nina Simone? Primarily because Saldana had to be darkened up to play Simone while there were many other actresses, actresses with darker skin tones and a more Afrocentric beauty, to play Simone. In short, the film’s cast didn’t need to put Saldana in horrible prosthetics and makeup to get her to that point of mimicking Saldana’s Afrocentric beauty; they could have simply cast someone who actually looked closer to Simone from the beginning. Since we don’t have the clear reasoning as to why Saldana was cast, most have assumed that Hollywood’s preference for casting lighter skin tones had something to do with it. Having Saldana play a woman who was all about promoting the beauty of darker skin and wider features runs counter to Simone’s work. To sum it up, here’s what Simone Kelly said in 2012 to the New York Times about Saldana getting cast as Simone:

“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”

2. Fear that Saldana and the Nina crew didn’t understand Nina Simone’s basis for her art

As stated above, Simone’s work was all about blackness, in particular exalting dark-skinned, Afrocentric beauty. None of this means that Saldana is somehow not “black enough”. But, what people are saying is that Saldana’s casting blocks other women of color who are better suited to the role, and the colorism at the root of that blockage is what Simone was fighting against with her art.

What has made people even more on edge about Saldana playing Simone is that some feel Saldana doesn’t understand (or want to understand) the issues of race in America. Saldana has been taken to task for her comments about how “there is no such thing as people of color.” Technically, what Saldana was attempting to say is that people should be judged on their own merits, not by the racial constructs set up by society, but her point came across to some as her wanting to be “colorblind.” Saldana’s comments are referenced in this Essence article, “Why Zoe Saldana As Nina Simone Doesn’t Work,” by Josie Pickens:

“My argument against Whites making a film about badass, radical black omen like Nina Simone–and an actress who sometimes identifies as Afro-Latina (but most times claims not to see or understand color) portraying her–is that quite frankly, we cannot afford the luxury of letting another one of our heroes be recast as some gentler, more digestible version of themselves. …The casting of Nina was intentional, as the casting was intentional in the film Gods of Egypt and countless other films attempting to tell Black stories through anti-Black lenses.”

The “Whites” Pickens could have been referring to are the team behind Nina, which is predominately white. Jezebel posted pictures of the crew, and while they didn’t put commentary with the photos, its implied that the crew didn’t know what pitfalls they were falling into because of a probable lack of awareness of black issues, or even the many different types of black beauty.

Singer India Arie said it best in her interview with Business Insider when addressing how Simone looks in the film:

“It made me sad. The way she looked in the movie was ugly. Whether or not Nina Simone was beautiful in your eyes, I thought she was beautiful. But in this movie, she just looked weird. Her skin looked weird, and her nose looked weird. It made me wonder, was that how the filmmakers see how her? Did they not think she was beautiful? Were they like, ‘Yeah, we got it! That’s how she looked.'”

(However, it’s worth noting that the director of the film, Cynthia Mort, has sued the film’s production company, saying that she doesn’t like the film that was ultimately created—a film that was going to focus on Simone’s artistry and activism. Her suit claims, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that the production company acted to “frustrate Mort’s involvement in the film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement.” Such frustrations include edits to the film and a lack of communication of those edits to Mort.)

3. It just looks bad

I don’t think I need to explain this one with a long paragraph. The makeup, the accent, the story, and everything else about it just looks off, to say the absolute least about it. Just take a look at the poster and trailer again and compare it to actual video of Simone to see what I’m writing about.

Okay, the film’s bad. But how much flack does Zoe Saldana deserve?

There’s been some issue as to how much of the blame is on Saldana and how much of it is on the Hollywood filmmaking process itself. There’s two schools of thought; that the actress should know when and when not to take a role and that Hollywood has to remove itself from its Eurocentric way of thinking about race, color, and racial/ethnic representation as a whole. The debate is compounded with the fact that Saldana is Afro-Latina, and as a member of the African diaspora, many feel like she should be given the chance to play a black legend.

As the actresses in the video stated above, Saldana is a fine actress. The critiques about the film aren’t directly about her as her own person, but how Hollywood has kept its colorism ceiling in check when it comes to which black actresses can play which character. But it’s hard to critique the film without some believing that Saldana’s blackness, and the blackness of all light-skinned black people, are in question.

Blackness should never be in question. What is in question is the lack of responsibility involved when it came to making a film that properly represented Simone, her art, and her message, which revolved primarily around colorism and racism. Seeing Saldana in what is effectively blackface (or as Arie called it, “black(er) face”), goes slap in the face of Simone’s message. Even without the colorism angle, there should have been a responsibility to not make a film that would dull down Simone’s legacy to just a story based on the rumor of a romance between her and her manager, a rumor that’s been repeatedly refuted by Simone’s own people.

Again, it can all be boiled down to two points. First, Simone Kelly’s assessment to Time of Saldana and her part in the film:

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so ficiously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture. It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

And second, Arie’s comments to Business Insider:

Zoe has said that playing Nina Simone is her truth. Does she deserve any of this blame?

I don’t know her and I don’t think she did anything wrong. If I were in her shoes and I admired Nina Simone the way that I hear she does, I would have said yes, too, and I don’t even think I can act. If they asked me to sing Nina Simone, I got that. But I never pursued it because I felt it was not my place. And I don’t know if it was her place to do that.

I think they cast Zoe Saldana because they wanted a big name, but that makes me ask, ‘Is the name Nina Simone not big enough to get people to come to the movie?'”

What do you think of the Saldana-Simone movie controversy? Give your opinions in the comments section!

 

Oscars Fallout: Many Sound Off on Program’s Stereotypical Asian Jokes

Yesterday, tons of people gave their two cents on Chris Rock’s Oscars monologue. The monologue itself has been met with a range of emotions, from delight to disgust (you can read my opinion here). But it’s the jokes outside of the monologue that made people justifiably upset, especially since the jokes were a part of a night dedicated towards ending the diversity glass ceiling in Hollywood. Towards the end of the night, two tasteless jokes reared their ugly heads, and both made fun of Asians.

First, Sacha Baron Cohen, as his poser character Ali G., crudely compared the Minions to Asian men by using the phrase “little yellow people” and invoking sexual stereotyping.

Apparently, Baron Cohen was supposed to do his bit with Olivia Wilde straight, but he had his wife, actress Isla Fisher, sneak in his Ali G. costume. “The Oscars sat me down beforehand and said they didn’t want me to do anything out of order, they wanted me to actually just present it as myself,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain (as reported by the Guardian). “But luckily my wife put on the Ali G beard in the disabled toilets and I managed to get away with it.” In order to put the whole costume on while in the bathroom, they pretended Baron Cohen had food poisoning. According to what Baron Cohen said, Rock gave him “the thumbs up” to go ahead with the stunt after meeting with Rock to quickly pitch him his idea.

Second, when Rock opened the part of the show usually dedicated to introducing the accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, he introduced three Asian kids. While the kids were cute, the joke wasn’t.

“As they clutched briefcases, they visually illustrated the stereotype that Asians are diligent workers who excel at math,” wrote the New York TimesMelena Ryzik. “‘If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,’ Mr. Rock added, a punch line interpreted as a reference to child labor in Asia.”

These jokes were tone-deaf, seeing how the entire tone of the night was one berating Hollywood for its tone-deafness when it comes to black actors and actresses. At worst, the jokes showed how there are implicit biases even in intra-racial and intra-ethnic relations that need to be deleted. As pointed out in yesterday’s “5 of the Top Moments from the Oscars” post, it would have been great if Rock had discussed how all minorities are marginalized in Hollywood, since that is actually what #OscarsSoWhite is about. To quote #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign from her exclusive interview with JUST ADD COLOR:

I think it’s unnecessarily limiting and I think it’s unfortunate that they can’t get out of that box for themselves because I’m not in that box…It’s not clear to me why people think that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black and they can’t see past who I am and understand that I’m multifaceted, or if it’s just easier for them to think in binary terms. But that’s not what #OscarsSoWhite is about at all. Race is just one portion of it; it’s all marginalized communities, and within race, it’s not just black people; it’s definitely about Asian people. It ‘s definitely about Latinos and Latinas and Hispanics. It’s about everyone who should be represented on the screen.

As Rebecca Sun for The Hollywood Reporter points out, the Oscars welcomed Asian stars Byung-hun Lee, Priyanka Chopra, Dev Patel and other POC stars as presenters for many reasons (which can make up its own post), one of them being that they are also a part of the large demographic the Academy (and by extension, Hollywood itself) should represent more, a demo that obviously isn’t limited only to black people. While black actors and actresses don’t get cast as much as they should, Asian, Latino and Native actors and actresses get cast at an even smaller rate:

What’s equally as sad is that Rock had proven himself to be the right guy to take on Hollywood for its transgressions, both in his career and, by several accounts, earlier that night in his monologue.

“For most of the Oscars, Chris Rock proved himself once again to be a dynamic truth-teller abut systemic racism, managing not only to make pointed comedy out of #OscarsSoWhite but to keep it front and center long after his biting opening monologue. Then, about two-thirds through, he took a break to make an Asian joke,” wrote Lowen Liu for Slate. Jeff Yang wrote for Quartz about how he flipped in between the #JusticeforFlint event and coverage of the Oscars, ready to be entertained by Rock’s wit. “[W]hile I had decided to refrain from watching, the prospect of bringing the pain to a theater full of Hollywood’s most cream-colored creme de la creme was awfully tempting. And so, I cheated: I kept a tab open during his monologue and monitored the reactions of my friends to his blistering assault on the Academy Awards’ embarrassing whiteness,” he wrote. “…But my amusement was shortlived.”

Many actors, actresses, and even NBA star Jeremy Lin tweeted their disapproval and disappointment in the jokes.

So far, there’s been no word from Rock or his camp re: his Asian jokes.

This controversy has ignited conversation about the role minority activists should play. As Al Jazeera asks, “Should minorities advocate for one another?”

As stated in the Oscars article Monday, if I was tasked with hosting the Oscars, I would have made sure to advocate for all minorities and oppressed people, because we’re all in this fight together. I wouldn’t have specifically only discussed the black acting pool, because the #OscarsSoWhite issue affects more than just the black acting pool. However, that’s how I’d do it. The question of if minorities should advocate for one another should be a resounding yes. The unspoken question, though, seems to be if Chris Rock should have been (at least on Oscar night) that particular minority activist who does advocate for others. As to what Rock feels about his own performance and how he should proceed in the future can be answered by Rock himself, but the disappointment the jabs at Asian stereotypes caused is something that will linger for a while and, hopefully (like all disappointment should) lead to increased action to make sure all people properly represented by the media (including jokes).

What did you think about the off-putting jokes? Give your opinions in the comments section!