Month: August 2016

Why “The Magnificent Seven” Upgrade Is Already Iconic

I usually don’t go for Westerns. Well, actually, they have to be one (or more) of three things: they are bending the rules of the Western to a ridiculous degree, involve a rarely-discussed racial angle, or I have to watch them for a film class. (Because I was forced to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Tombstone for a high school film class, they are two of my favorites, the latter of which because it’s a good film and as a kid, the title made me want some Tombstone pizza). Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is certainly falling in line with the type of Westerns I like to watch.

This iteration of The Magnificent Seven already looks like it’s going to be a gem of a movie. The 1960 original was, if we’re going by the cast, was marginally ahead of its time, since the film revolved around a group of gunslingers hired to protect a Mexican town and the cast included the likes of Yul Brynner in the lead role, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos, Rosenda Monteros, Rico Alaniz, Pepe Hern, Natividad Vacio, Mario Navarro, and Danny Bravo (who, as Jonny Quest fanatics would know, became the voice of young Hadji). Notice the key word “marginally,” though; this film still had brownface with Eli Wallach playing the Magnificent Seven’s enemy, Calvera, and Horst Buchholz as Chico (presumably Buchholz’s first big Hollywood role, going by the trailer, showing that Hollywood has always historically preferred white unknowns over brown unknown or even brown experienced actors). 

Fast forward to 2016’s The Magnificent Seven. First, there’s a black director. That’s already a change of pace. Fuqua, known for Training Day, Southpaw, The Equalizer, and Olympus Has Fallen, has already injected new, energetic life into the film, which is now about helping a woman seek vengeance for her husband’s death.

The film’s cast has also been brought up to the 21st century. To be honest, the cast is probably more accurate to how the West actually was, since there were of course, Native Americans, freed or runaway slaves, Chinese railroad laborers, and Mexican villagers. This iteration of The Magnificent Seven includes Denzel Washington as the leader, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, and Jonathan Joss. (Note: Lee himself is Korean, but there’s no indication if his character is Korean or if his character’s background will even be mentioned.)

Here’s more about the film:

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures’ and Columbia Pictures’ The Magnificent Seven. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.

I’m excited to see this film, despite my penchant for putting my hands over my ears during shoot-em-up movies. It’s been rare when Hollywood has embraced a multicultural film directed by a non-white director. This film not only gives Washington more time to shine, but it also puts the spotlight on Lee, Sensmeier (I’ve been waiting on seeing him a big film!and Garcia-Rulfo, who are still up-and-comers in the business and, in the cases of Lee and Sensmeier in particularly, have and will find it difficult to secure tons of work in Hollywood’s still-racist casting system. The fact that Lee, a Korean box-office draw whose been in many Korean and American films over the course of the past few years, is still considered “up-and-coming” by Hollywood standards, is evidence to how little Lee has been given to do in the Hollywood films he’s been in.

Of course, there’s no knowing what the script is like until we see the full movie. I could be doing all of this talking and Sensmeier or Lee’s characters, Red Harvest and Billy Rocks, hardly ever speak and then they get killed off. Pratt’s Josh Farraday could end up having to avenge the death of Washington’s Sam Chisolm or something. I don’t know. But as of right now, The Magnificent Seven is changing the way blockbusters look, and it’s about time Hollywood accepts the new molds of the Leading Man.

The Magnificent Seven will hit theaters Sept. 23.

Rio Olympics: Tongan Flagbearer Pita Taufatofua Wins the Internet

Pita Taufatofua became everyone’s favorite flagbearer Aug. 5. when the taekwondo athlete and the flagbearer for the Tonga delegation marched proudly, showcasing Tongan culture as well as his well-oiled torso and arms.

As said on TODAY, Taufatofua is the first athlete from Tonga to qualify for the taekwondo competition, but not many people cared about this because, after he stepped on the national stage, tons of people had to express their thirst on Twitter.

Do you count yourself among the legions of newly-minted Taufatofua fans? Well, here you go: some photos from Getty Images and TODAY featuring Taufatofua. Enjoy.

GUEST POST: How Far Will Marvel’s Diversity Play Go?

Guest post by Lauren Davis

As Marvel continues to expand its cinematic universe, it’s becoming clear that the studio has an eye on more characters and a somewhat-more inclusive casting philosophy.

In particular, fans who have been calling for a more diverse range of characters have been pleased with the news coming out about 2018’s Black Panther. We reported a few years ago that Chadwick Boseman was taking up the role, and the rising actor had a wonderful debut in this past spring’s Captain America: Civil War. It was also revealed that Ryan Coogler (responsible for Fruitvale Station and Creed) was co-writing and directing the project. And more recently, we learned that Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o will have roles as well. There’s not too much known about their parts at this point, though it’s being speculated that they’ll both be villains. Regardless, Marvel is clearly attempting to correct its past issue of racial diversity (or a lack thereof).

The studio is also taking steps to include more women in prominent roles moving forward. There’s increasing talk about Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) being the subject of a solo film, and other leading roles for women have already come out or been confirmed. Krysten Ritter starred as Jessica Jones in her own Netflix show, and just recently it was confirmed by reliable sources that Brie Larson (who just won an Oscar for her performance in Room) will be playing Captain Marvel. These developments have largely silenced critics of Marvel’s gender equality for now, even if DC more or less prodded them into it by introducing Wonder Woman.

What may be most interesting for those hoping to see a deeper embrace of different genders and ethnicities is the fact that Marvel has also shown a desire to rope in more major characters. In addition to Black Panther, they brought Spider-Man into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, and there are those who believe Wolverine could be next. That may seem unlikely given that 20th Century Fox owns the character, but Hugh Jackman himself has encouraged the idea. There’s also the little fact that Wolverine and Spider-Man both appeared alongside the Avengers in a roulette game featured amongst similar options online. It’s just one game, and ultimately a themed roulette table with superhero icons “helping you win big money,” but games have in the past hinted at cinematic activity. And if nothing else, it’s a sign that Marvel still very much considers Wolverine to be part of its own entertainment empire, and not Fox’s. Meanwhile, there have also been whispers about everyone from Moon Knight to Adam Warlock being injected into the MCU.

Naturally, when you consider the slow but sure movement toward more inclusive casting in conjunction with the idea of adding more comic book characters, the question becomes clear: will Marvel look to add even more non-white and female characters? Or will Black Panther prove to be a lone indulgence and Captain Marvel an aberration?

There’s no shortage of options. Characters like Doctor Voodoo (a sorcerer who really should appear in this summer’s Doctor Strange) and Bishop could command solo films as strong African-American leading parts; and the likes of Falcon (Sam Wilson) or Luke Cage (Mike Colter) could be given larger roles in the MCU. For women, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) could assume her “Rescue” identity, or someone like Tigra or She-Hulk could be introduced. And these are only a few of the possibilities.

For now, it starts with Black Panther and Captain Marvel. We’ll just have to see if films like these signify a new trend or exist to quiet down the criticism.

Lauren Davis is a pop culture and entertainment writer. She contributes in a freelance capacity to numerous sites and blogs, and hopes to become a TV writer one day.

#RepresentYourStory: Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds

Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds is an internet juggernaut. The site was created, as she’s said in many interviews, after finding no representation of black girl nerds on the internet. The site speaks to many, including of course black girls who have nerdy pursuits, but also others who have felt marginalized and ostracized.

I asked Jamie if she would consider participating in #RepresentYourStory, and she happily agreed. I’m pleased to share her story.

In this audio recording, you’ll hear about her childhood and contending with not just nerdy stereotypes, but the classic stereotype a lot of us black nerds have been afflicted with, “acting white.”

Take a listen:

As you can hear in the audio, she was using questions from my #RepresentYourStory questionnaire, which you can fill out here. Please make sure to share this post with the people you know, especially the ones who could use a helping hand and a gentle reminder that they can and should be themselves.

Do you want to participate in #RepresentYourStory? Email me at monique@colorwebmag.com or find me on Twitter and Facebook. You can also fill out the questionnaire linked above, and I’ll create a post based on your answers. Or, if you want to do like Jamie and make an audio recording, feel free to do so, and I’ll post them in an article just like this.

Online Vigil for Victims of the Tsukui Yamayuri En Mass Killing to Take Place Tonight

On July 26, 2016, 19 disabled residents of the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility in Sagamihara, Japan were murdered by 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, a former facility employee. As reported by the Guardian, Uematsu turned himself him in to police and admitted his crime. “I did it,” he said. “It is better that disabled people disappear.”

Tonight at 8 pm ET (which would be 9 am on Aug. 5 in Japan), Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project and disabled filmmaker/activst Dominick Evans will have an online vigil for those killed and the 20 wounded. The vigil and chat will include Dr. Gillan Peckitt who runs disability-related site The Limping Philospher and resides in Nada-Ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

Online-vigil-DVP

The conversation and vigil will give those participating a chance to share grief, express solidarity, and highlight the lack of coverage the attack garnered in the media. “There will be discussions of violence, ableism, murder, and death,” wrote Wong in her blog post about the event. “Please practice self-care.” She also wrote that while everyone is welcome to attend and participate, “this online vigil will be centered on the voices and lives of disabled people, especially disabled people of color who have been so impacted.”

You can learn more about the event at The Disability Visibility Project.

6 Questions You Might Have About Magic: The Gathering’s Kaya, Ghost Assassin Answered

Wednesday, Aug. 3., was a fantastic day; I was finally able to reveal a secret I’d been carrying since late last year. I was consulting with Magic: The Gathering to bring a new Planeswalker character to life! Kaya, Ghost Assassin is now a member of the Planeswalker cast of characters.

Kaya is the brainchild of Magic: The Gathering creative writer Kelly Digges, and I’d say that if it’s allowable to call Kelly Kaya’s proverbial father, I’m like Kaya’s proverbial mother. Together, we helped develop Kaya into the character she is today, and like parents, we couldn’t be more proud of her and the reception she received online.

Yesterday, during the release of the character, I was flooded with congratulations and questions. Some of which I’ve compiled in this article that folks can come back and reference.

1. Who am I?

In case you are a new Twitter follower or new to my site because of Kaya, I’m Monique Jones, an entertainment journalist who’s written for several outlets, most notably Entertainment Weekly’s Community blog. I’ve also written for culture/entertainment sites like Black Girl Nerds, Nerds of Color, Racialicious, and The Tempest (then known as Coming of Faith). Technically, my journalism beat is “entertainment,” specifically TV, but my main focus is covering how representation occurs in entertainment. My focus on representation is something that helped me a lot when conferring with Kelly about Kaya.

2. How was I chosen to contribute to Kaya’s characterization?

It’s all thanks to my relationship with Black Girl Nerds as a contributor and to Black Girl Nerds’ creator, Jamie, who helps us writers find opportunities when they arise. This was one of those moments.

3. Who is Kaya?

Kaya is awesome, first of all. She’s a ghost assassin, which is quite cool because people think ghosts can’t die because they’re already dead. I could go on, but I’ll quote Magic: The Gathering’s official bio for Kaya.

A confident, roguish duelist with a mysterious past, Kaya has the ability to become partially incorporeal—allowing her to slip through solid items and physically interact with ghosts and the spirit world.

Kaya is a firm believer that life is for the living. The living should make the most of their lives and pursue what they want while they’ve still got time, and find their own peace before death. If you die with unfinished business, well, that’s probably your fault. And if it’s not…perhaps she could help you…for a price.

In Paliano, she accepted a contract from Marchesa to assassinate the city’s previous sovereign, King Brago. Her actions catapulted Marchesa to power and caused the current chaos in the city—but also opened the way for others to make their claims to their throne and shake up the Paliano’s ancient political order.

4. I’ve already read the introduction story and I love it! Tell me everything there is to know about Kaya!

Sorry, I can’t. You’ll learn more about Kaya at Wizards of the Coast’s discretion.

5. What did you talk about when creating Kaya’s character?

We talked about a lot, much of which is confidential. What I can tell you though is that we discussed Kaya’s origin story, her home plane, her family, and possible future appearances. We also nailed down that swaggy, snarky personality she has. I can also say that we discussed how to make sure Kaya was a fully rounded character, not just a token character. There were lots of aspects of the black experience that went into creating Kaya, one of which—the process of hair styling— was alluded to in Kaya’s introduction story, “Laid to Rest”:

Kaya lit a candle, yawned, and splashed her face with water from a basin. She rolled out the building plans and studied them one last time, humming an old ballad and unwinding the knots she’d put her hair in to sleep.

6. How do you feel about Kaya?

I love Kaya. I knew she had the potential to be a knockout character, and according to the humongous reaction I received the other day, my hunch was right. Kaya is a character in her own right, first of all. But in the macro view, Kaya gives black women and girls who love Magic: The Gathering a character they can identify with and see themselves in. The Magic: The Gathering crew has been working hard to create an inclusive world, and Kaya’s part of that. Despite the current cast of Planeswalkers including humans and alien types of all sorts, including master monk Narset and time-altering sorcerer Teferi, there weren’t any representations of black women. With Kaya being the first, not only is she a very welcome addition to the cast of characters, but she’s history-making. For me to be a part of that is very humbling and I’m honored to have helped bring Kaya to life.

So now I turn it over to you. What do you like about Kaya? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

15 #DarkSkinnedHeroines Who Will Reaffirm Your Worth

At the time Leslie Jones’ Twitter harassment happened, I didn’t know how to write about it. Not because I wasn’t upset by it—I most definitely was. But I was saddened by it to the point where I didn’t want to write about it. But sometimes, not talking about something does just as much damage as intentionally doing the wrong thing. What happened to Leslie Jones didn’t just affect Jones, but it affects every black woman, especially those of a darker hue.

First, let me give a quick rundown of what happened to Jones a few weeks ago. It all started with Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos. He took it upon himself to write a “review” of Ghostbusters with the title “Teenage Boys with Tits.” We’re already on a roll here.

This launched a huge spew of vile, racist, colorism-laden tweets directed directly at Jones. I won’t put them in this article, but you can read their tweets (if you want to) at Fusion.

After facing as much as she could take, Jones left Twitter.

Thankfully (or rather, after much criticism), Twitter finally banned Yiannopoulos, who has been a troll on Twitter for a long time. Twitter denizens rejoiced, but there were still some issues to suss out.

1. None of Jones’ other co-stars came to her defense publicly. I make exclusive note of the word publicly because for all we know, her co-stars could have come to her aid over coffee, or could have called her, or could have visited her at home or something. We don’t know what type of relationship she has with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth. However, no one saw or wrote about any of them saying something in defense of Jones; Jones was seemingly left to fend for herself against hoardes of trolls.

Because of the optics of the situation, regardless if they did comfort her in private, it looked like once again white feminism reared its ugly head. (To understand what white feminism is, read some of these posts.) Instead of showing solidarity with Jones as Ghostbusters sister-in-arms, there were no public tweets of support or public outcry from Jones’ other female co-stars. And let’s all remember that Hemsworth barely escaped controversy with his wife’s Native American themed Halloween party, so maybe it was best he didn’t speak at all. But still, it wouldn’t have hurt if he said something in support of Jones.

The lack of help smells of “Strong Black Woman” Syndrome, in which white individuals don’t recognize the vulnerability and emotional life of their black counterparts (to read more about the plight of the Strong Black Woman, read this post and this one). While white women are routinely shielded and protected over the slightest of infractions, black women are constantly left to fend for themselves. We are constantly faced with the “But you’re so strong!” mindset. This codes into “But you have no feelings!”

2. The type of abuse Jones faced had a specific strain of colorism to it. Excuse me for repeating some of the phrases tweeted out, but the epithets of “big lipped coon,” Yiannopoulos gleefully writing, “rejected by another black dude,” and the constant comparisons to gorillas all reek of colorism directed at darker-skinned women.

The obsession some people have with skin color runs deep in the culture of this nation. The lighter you are, it’s thought, the closer you are to whiteness and acceptability. Whiteness also has erroneous connotations of femininity, gentility, vulnerability and worth. The colonialism of the mind not only affects white Americans, but Americans of all stripes. Within the black community, colorism has a huge history, from the Blue Vein Society of the past, to people claiming other ethnicities (whether it’s true or not) to remove themselves further from their blackness.

Dark skin is not just at the bottom of the colorism ladder; because it’s at the bottom, it’s wrongly associated with lack of femininity, brute strength, and once again, lack of emotion and vulnerability. A dark-skinned woman has had to grow up with verbal and nonverbal abuses about their skintone, which can take a toll on self-esteem; just take a look at the “Paper Bag Test” phenomenon, which tests how light-skinned (and supposedly how acceptable) a person is, as well as the famous doll test performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. If you don’t know about the test, the Clarks gave black children white and black baby dolls, then asked the kids which doll they liked the most. The kids ended up liking the white dolls more, while the felt the black dolls—the dolls that looked like them—were worthless. When I was growing up, there were, thankfully, black dolls, and there had been black dolls since the mid-to-late 1960s (particularly after the Civil Rights Movement). But dark-skinned dolls, dolls that look like this:

Barbie-Fashionista

haven’t been around all that long. In fact, these dolls just came out April and June of this year. (I’ve personally seen one other dark-skinned contemporary Barbie doll a few years ago, and this is without counting the South African “World Culture” Barbie doll, which seems to be discontinued on the website.) Darker-skinned girls and women have still had to wait for proper representation in dolls, not to mention in actresses on television and in film.

3. Jones’ non-European features were also the subject of ridicule, and this is based in a European-centric ideology. Black women with more European features, such as thinner noses, lighter skin (again, colorism), and and smaller lips, are often given higher booking over actresses with more pan-African features such as flatter noses, darker skin, and fuller lips. This reflects society at large, which gives precedence to those who have more European features and appearances. This is why Stacey Dash has completely changed herself from this:

Stacey-Dash-Clueless
Movieclips.com/Screengrab

to this:

Stacey-Dash-FOXNews
FOX News/Screengrab

and why Lil’ Kim became unrecognizable.

The Young Turks/Screengrab
The Young Turks/Screengrab

This is also why Viola Davis has been public about combatting colorism and racism in Hollywood. In her interview with The Wrap, she said:

“…[W]hen you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bad 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 in film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me.”

Society and Hollywood should be ashamed, because Milo Yiannopoulos represents a culmination of societal issues left to fester and, indeed, to make money from. Both should more open to darker-skinned women, because the impact on young girls is humongous. Thankfully, there are darker-skinned girls paving the way for others and showing them that they matter, that they are worthy, and that they are loved and can be loved. In honor of Jones facing the onslaught of the worst of Twitter and coming out on top (not only has Yiannopoulos been banned, but Jones is back on Twitter!), and as a way to say thank you to her for standing up for black women, especially dark-skinned black women, here’s a list of 15 dark-skinned characters who have defined today’s TV and film.

If you have characters you’d like to add to the list, share your post and hashtag it #DarkSkinnedHeroines on Twitter and Instagram!

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Disabled People of Color Highlighted in #GetWokeADA26 Survey

The creators of Ramp Your Voice! and the Disability Visibility Project, Vilissa Thompson, LMSW and Alice Wong respectively, have collaborated to create #GetWokeADA26. The survey, created to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, highlighted the voices of disabled people of color to examine how the Americans with Disabilities Act has affected their lives.

“As disabled women of color, we believe the disability community needs to ‘get woke’ on race, racism, and intersectionality,” wrote Thompson. “The work of getting ‘woke’ can be hard, awkward, and uncomfortable, but this is something disabled people of color expect and deserve.”

Many who have participated have said how the Americans with Disabilities Act have helped them finish school, have better work experiences and a better quality of life overall. But other participants cited how the law negatively affects those with “invisible disabilities.”

The survey also highlighted other aspects of being a disabled person of color on the gender and sexual spectrums. Many of the overlapping issues facing disabled people of color are either ignored or not dealt with at the same time. To sum up their opinions, they felt that society wants them to either fit in one group or the other, and usually, the issues they face as people of color or as LGBTQ+ individuals aren’t discussed as much as they should because of an erroneous idea that discussing disability should be done with a naive colorblindness. In many ways, disabled people of color feel like they are being told “All Lives Matter” in their everyday lives.

There are also problems within certain demographics that exacerbate issues facing disabled people of color. One person wrote how their OCD, autism, and depression went undiagnosed because of a cultural attitude in black America to hide or ignore symptoms.

One way the angst over underrepresentation or lack of representation could be solved is if those in the media actually create characters and stories that focused on disabled people, especially disabled people of color, who are represented in the media even less than white disabled people. “Another major issue that the respondents frequently highlighted was the lack of diverse images of disability in the media,” wrote Wong. “One thing disability organizations can and should do is support the creation of media by disabled POC that reflects the full range of diversity in our community.”

“When you don’t see yourself in the media or in images produced by the disability community, you think you don’t count.  White privilege is never knowing what that type of racialized erasure feels like, she wrote. “Disabled POC who speak out about this have been criticized and harassed online.  Online communities and activism via social media such as #DisabilityTooWhite are creating spaces where these voices are heard and valued.”

Wong and Thompson provide these tips to readers who want to know how to better serve disabled people of color.

  • Listen and engage with disabled POC.
  • Don’t expect disabled POC to do the majority of the labor of educating you.
  • Acknowledge white privilege and other forms of privilege throughout your organization’s work/activities.
  • Recognize the pain that disabled POC experience as multiple marginalized people.
  • Do not co-opt, appropriate the civil rights movement or compare it with the disability right movement. Just. Don’t.
  • Build safe spaces for everyone to engage openly and honestly.
  • Do not represent our views without us.
  • Hire disabled POC as staff, consultants, and experts; and treat them as equals, not tokens.
  • Realize diversity means more than a few disabled POC in a room!
  • Examine your policies and practices for implicit bias.
  • Build coalitions with communities of color and other social justice movements that are already doing intersectional work.
  • Support the creation of diverse media by disabled POC.

You can read both parts of the report at Ramp Your Voice! and the Disability Visibility Project. You can also read Thompson and Wong‘s interviews with JUST ADD COLOR, as well as Thompson’s #RepresentYourStory article.

For Lisa Turtle: On Being Black, Beautiful, and Still Not Enough

I’ve suddenly come to a realization. I am Saved by the Bell’s Lisa Turtle.

I’m not her in the sense that I’m fabulously wealthy. The way I’m like Lisa Turtle is that on paper, I have what every guy is supposedly looking for (or so they say): brains, looks (if I may say so myself), talent, and likability. I’m nice, caring, goal-oriented and respectful of my elders. I’m the woman that, supposedly, every guy would like to find to take home to their mother. Even better, I think I’m a pretty good role model, something Lisa also was to many black girls who had never seen a rich black girl portrayed on television and felt represented by this new portrayal of blackness.

The only problem is that the guys haven’t been knocking down my door. Like Lisa Turtle, I am dateless. Perhaps unlike Lisa Turtle, I actually wonder why.

Urban legend has it that Lisa was actually written to be a snobby Jewish (read: white) girl, but Lark Voorhies impressed the Saved by the Bell folks so much they gave the role to her. After learning that tidbit, I have to wonder if the writing department then decided to change other aspects of Lisa’s characterization, such as who she’d wind up with in the dating department. For a show that came on in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it wouldn’t surprise me if they then decided that Lisa wasn’t the right kind of girl to end up with someone like Zack or Slater. As a black girl, she might work best with another outcast, like the terminally nerdy Screech.

“But Lisa dated Zack that one time!” Yes, that was that one time, a time so brief I don’t even remember it; I read about it online. Apparently it was only for one episode, and the reason they split up was to save the fragile emotions of Screech.

Instead, Lisa —fashion-forward, stylish, popular, cool, rich Lisa—was fated to always become Screech’s main crush. And even then, it would seem that Screech actually moved on from Lisa to a little-seen character named Violet Anne Bickerstaff, leaving Lisa officially the only character on the show who had never had a long-term relationship.

What was Lisa missing that denied her the opportunity to be a part of an It Couple like Zack and Kelly or Slater and Jessie? How come Lisa couldn’t have a relationship that showcased her femininity, vulnerability, and otherwise humanness? Why was she relegated to just being the rich snob?

I have to assume that race played a role in the writers’ inability to see Lisa as anything beyond just a joke character. I assume that because not only does it play a role in how characters are designed, but it also plays a role in how we choose our own potential partners and how we see ourselves in relation to said partners.

In an earlier article about Sleepy Hollow‘s Abbie Mills, I wrote about the trope called the Strong Black Woman. You can see many characters that fit this trope, even in a character like Lisa. So what is the Strong Black Woman? Allow me to quote myself:

the Strong Black Woman trope that became associated with positivity happened in the late ’60s and early ’70s, with a prime example being Caroline Bird’s 1969 New York Magazine essay on black womanhood. Alternet rightly calls the article “flawed” since, as the site states:

[The essay] deems black women capable and independent (read: strong) by necessity. Black women fight, Bird says, because they have no one to fight for them, unlike white women with proximity to white, patriarchal power. “Whatever the reasons, the fact is that Negro women in America have escaped some of the psyche-crippling education of white girls. They haven’t been carefully taught how not to fight. On the contrary, some of them fight hard and develop a personal style of fighting that suggests that ‘grace under pressure’ which is supposed to be the essence of courage.”

Bird’s piece spins allegedly distinctive black female strength as a powerful weapon, giving African American women an edge over white women and black men–a dubious message. It also paints black women as possessing a durability that is nearly inhuman. For instance, Bird asserts that “The absence of Negro fathers hurts growing boys more than girls, and saved Negro girls from some of the dissatisfactions with their sex that brought many white women to psychoanalysis.” Abandoning black girls does not hurt them, this suggests; instead, it makes them stronger.

This article by Bird means well, but it basically does a good job of reinforcing the original Strong Black Woman stereotype from slavery times; that black women don’t have feelings and are immune to the societal and familial pressures others are. Somehow, they are more powerful than everyone, yet they are still the mule of the world because going by this analysis, the black woman still takes in society’s ills and is still burdened by them. However, the burden, according to Bird’s essay, is the pressure that makes the diamond form. In Bird’s words, the burden is necessary, not something that should be alleviated by society coming to grips with itself and uplifting black women as women and human beings.

Lisa has shades of the Strong Black Woman because, despite having everything a character could ask for and despite the fact that she would be seen as desirable because of it if she were white, Lisa’s instead relegated to being an emotionally invulnerable character.  Despite being neglected by potential suitors, broken up with by Zack to save his friendship with Screech, or denied any other position other than “that black girl,” she’s somehow never broken up about the role society has given her. She doesn’t get hurt. Instead, as Bird suggests, she becomes stronger, more Lisa Turtle-y than she was before. She becomes the invincible rich girl who doesn’t need anyone because she’s going to become a fashion superstar.

I mainlined Saved by the Bell growing up, and I believe much of that subconscious Strong Black Woman programming triggered me. I saw myself as Lisa, as the girl who had everything going for her, but for some reason, couldn’t get the boys to like her. I wasn’t like Kelly or Jessie, who were white, therefore seen as more desirable. I was as smart as Jessie, so I wondered if I, as a Lisa, would ever get a guy like Slater, who was apparently into smart girls who wore mom jeans. However, what if the one thing Jessie had over me was her race? To be fair to Jessie and Slater, their relationship meant a lot to me because I could actually see that interracial dating was possible. Maybe it wouldn’t happen for me, but it was, at the very least, possible. But I still wondered how much more work than Jessie I’d have to do to get a Slater. Once again, white privilege allows you to be seen as more attractive than you might actually be. Case in point: the many black male athletes who tote their white trophy wives around. The most egregious example of this: Tiger Woods liking no one but white, blonde women.

I definitely had no illusions about being a Kelly; I knew I would never be America’s vision of an “All-American Girl”; I’m not white. I immediately saw someone like Zack as the unattainable fruit growing  high on a tree I wasn’t allowed to pick from. Even still, I wondered if Lisa would ever truly get with Zack, since they always seemed to vibrate around each other (apparently, Voorhies and Mark-Paul Gosselaar were dating in real life). But despite their off-screen romance, Lisa and Zack would never date on the show, save for that one time that hardly anyone remembers. Even in that brief dalliance, Lisa’s heart had to take a back seat to Zack’s supposed deep friendship with Screech. Even then, Lisa is thought of as the Strong Black Woman, whose emotional state is never considered because, as a Strong Black Woman, she’s thought of not having any.

Lisa and Zack’s unrealized potential as a couple also taught me something else: that racial divisions were still alive and well when it came to on-screen relationships. Seeing Lisa never getting a Zack or a Slater-type character made me worry about my own well-being in the dating department. Lisa was my avatar into the world of Saved by the Bell; if she, who had the money, style, glamour, popularity and rich-kid access to any and everything, couldn’t get the guy of her dreams regardless of his race, then what hope did I, a glasses-wearing kid who felt self-conscious about her weight have? I might have been as smart as Jessie and heck, I was just as lovable as Kelly, but if my black sister-in-arms wasn’t seen as desirable, what did the world think about me?

The first time I distinctly remember seeing a black girl with a white boy was on Boy Meets World, when Shawn dated Angela. Even though Angela annoyed me at times, I viewed their relationship as something that reaffirmed what I’d been taught about loving all people (back in the ’90s, the buzzword we were all taught in elementary school was “colorblindness”). It made me think that I was finally seeing what had been preached to me —about love knowing no color –actually being put into practice. The actress who played Angela, Trina McGee Davis, wrote about her Boy Meets World experiences to the Los Angeles Times in 1999. She wrote that most of the responses she received, particularly from the younger audience members, were positive, with many young viewers asking her when Angela and Shawn would reconcile.

“My character, Angela, has intimately kissed Shawn (Rider Strong) a number of times, and the show’s creators have never made an issue of our race,” she wrote. “…The black kids are not asking, ‘Why are you with that white boy?’ When I attended the NAACP Image Awards, a black girl lamented to me that Shawn and Angela are a perfect couple and should be back together. The next day, a white girl in a mall begged to know if Shawn and Angela are still in love…They are the new face of tolerance. These kids are not looking at race; they’re absorbing the love story.”

Shawn and Angela’s relationship was revolutionary not just in the interracial dating department; it also positioned Shawn as just a guy, not the unattainable white guy that all non-white girls would have to work hard to get. If there’s one thing that was taught early in ’90s television, it was that The Beautiful People were white, despite some of the Beautiful People also being black, like Lisa Turtle. Lisa could use her popularity to become a satellite of the group of chosen ones, but the true chosen ones were the white ones, the ones who would immediately be crowned Prom King and Prom Queen.

Kelly and Zack exuded that classic white teenager trope of being good-looking, desirable, congenial, popular, and amenable to everyone while still having an invisible, bulletproof shield of white privilege surrounding them. In fact, it was white, able-bodied privilege that made them seem desirable. Because of that intangible privilege, they had a leg up on the nerds of all races and the minority kids like Lisa and Slater. Kelly—the head cheerleader and volleyball, swim, and softball captain, and Zack—lovable class clown—were the highest recipients of of this intangible privilege, allowing them to rule the school without having to work hard for respect; it was just given to them. As Lisa Turtle, I’d have to work twice as hard just to be seen as competent.

Developing this mindset at a very young age has left me paranoid in the love department. Sometimes I do wonder if race plays any part in why I’m not with anyone. I distinctly remember a high school classmate of mine saying, as if it was the most normal and self-empowering thing to say, that she wouldn’t marry a black man because she wanted her kids to look like her. I didn’t say anything, even though I was furious, and the guy I did like—who was basically Zack Morris—did his best to try to get her to shut up for my sake. But I wondered since she could say that out in the open, for my ears to hear, if a guy, particularly the guy I liked, felt the same about black women. I wondered if too many guys felt that way about black women. In fact, I limited myself from my chance to tell the guy I liked that I actually liked him for fear of being rejected—either because of my inflated idea of my own nerdiness, my weight (which wasn’t bad in hindsight; I was a size 10), my emotional sensitivity or —the big reason—because I was black. I saw myself as Lisa Turtle, and Lisa never got with Zack Morris.

Sometimes people don’t realize how sneakily racial discrimination can worm its way into a child’s mind. They don’t get how truly menacing white privilege can be. When you see images of yourself constantly alone, you begin to think that that’s what you should expect. Nowadays, it’s even worse; not only are young girls afflicted by the white privilege happily flaunted by the Taylor Swifts and Gigi Hadids of the world, the It Girls who have magazines falling on themselves to cover every moment of their lives, but they are seeing how people treat actresses like Leslie Jones, who was actually removed herself from Twitter for a short time to escape trolls sending her demeaning comments solely because of her dark skin.

Girls growing up today not only worry about how their race affects how people view them, but how their bodies are being judged as well; everyone wants a Kim Kardashian-esque big butt, and you can read how I feel about that. The pressure on girls is immense, and the pressure they place on themselves is even bigger. Thankfully, there are more examples of black women in relationships of all kinds than there were when I was growing up. But there need to be more. There needs to be enough examples of black women being treasured to stamp out the persistent question many black girls have growing up: “Am I enough?”

So what can I say to the other Lisa Turtles out there? I actually wish I could give you the step-by-step of “Here’s what I did to get over my self-imposed stigmatization.” The truth is that I still struggle with my dating paranoia. I still imagine what it’s like to be a Lisa Turtle that actually gets the guy. But perhaps, I can say this: You are not what society deems you to be. Dating sites can make all of the studies they want to “prove” how black women and Asian men are deemed the least desirable to prospective dates, but do your best to let none of that affect you. No matter what anyone or any site says, you are a beautiful, vibrant, complex, vulnerable, emotional, and loving black woman. You have everything you need to have. Keep being you, because you are everything the man or woman of your dreams is looking for. America—and for that matter, the Western World at large—might not realize it, but you, Lisa Turtle, have earned your right to be here.

Filmmaker Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn Wants Navid Negahban as Rumi

Filmmaker Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is tired of white Hollywood casting white actors as non-white characters. In particular, she doesn’t want Leonardo DiCaprio playing 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi in the biopic that’s currently in development. She has another suggestion for the role: actor Navid Negahban.

JUST ADD COLOR has been clearly against Rumi being played by someone other than a Middle Eastern actor. The site has covered the Rumi film controversy (in which the film’s screenwriter stated he wanted someone like Leonardo DiCaprio to play the historic figure) with our roundtable featuring Twitter user Mihrimah Irena, poetry writer, freelance editor and blogger Rana Tahir, film and media critic, filmmaker, speaker and consultant Imran Siddiquee, music festival organizer and co-founder of global arts and culture collaborative network #CultureFix Nora Rahimian, and writer and Citrine Magazine founder/editor Evadney Petgrave. Now, Littlejohn has also given her point of view in a post for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Littlejohn is the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed, a senior editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and co-screenwriter of independent film Lovers in Their Right Mind, a film about the burgeoning relationship between an Iranian immigrant and an African-American woman. She has also been interviewed on JUST ADD COLOR. Her piece for Los Angeles Review of Books’ site, called “Dear Hollywood (White) People: Let Rumi Be Brown,” argues for the film to cast Middle Eastern actors in the film, especially in the title role.

“The #RumiWasntWhite uproar is yet another post-#OscarsSoWhite call-to-action for Hollywood studios, producers, casting directors, writers, et al.,” she wrote. “Misappropriating the identity of an iconic character lke Rumi does not challenge sterotypes, it reinforces them. It is not even good “color blind” casting. It is once again denying audiences an accurate representation of culture and history.”

Littlejohn throws Negahban’s hat into the ring for possibly playing Rumi. “Negahban, whom GQ recently described as ‘very dashing, with an old-fashioned matinee-idol air to him […] the closest thing we have to the late Omar Sharif’ —and who counts former Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama among his fans —has been featured in two Oscar-nominated projects in the past two years: Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper in 2015 and the 2016 dramatic short, Day One,” wrote Littlejohn. “If there was anyone who could take on the role of Rumi, it is Navid Negahban: he’s Persian, he’s Muslim, and he can grow his own Rumi-esque beard in a matter of days.”

Negahban is also in Littlejohn’s Lovers in Their Right Mind, and she wrote about the hypocrisy of Hollywood possibly casting a white actor as a Middle Eastern character, but still consider a Middle Eastern actor as a risky business choice. “For more than three years, my screenwriting partner and I have been developing an independent feature film that predominately features African-American and Persian characters,” she wrote. “Despite having actor Navid Negahban — best known for his role as Abu Nazir, the enigmatic al-Qaeda leader he played for two seasons on Showtime’s Emmy-winning original series Homeland —attached as a producer and star of the project, ours is still considered a risky property.”

Negahban isn’t the only suggestion Littlejohn has for playing Rumi, though. She also offers the names of Shaun Toub (Homeland), David Diann (Homeland and Baba Joon with Negahban), Ali Saam (Argo), Amir Khalighi (Drones, Almost Broadway, Rumination—which is actually based on the works of Rumi), Bobby Naderi (Argo), Nicholas Guilak (Saving Jessica Lynch), and Dominic Rains (The Fixer). In short, the point is that Hollywood has a ton of talent they could be pulling from, but they deny the talent the chance. Instead, Hollywood still relies on white supremacist ideology.

Hopefully Hollywood had heard the anger from the populace who understand that representation is important. Representation shapes how we see and relate to each other and ourselves. Hopefully, Hollywood does what’s right and actually does cast a Middle Eastern actor to play this venerable figure.

Read Littlejohn’s article in its entirety at the Los Angeles Review of Books.