Month: September 2016

My Journey with AncestryDNA, Part 2: 4 things I’ve learned from my results!

My AncestryDNA results! (Screencap)
My AncestryDNA results! (Screencap)

It’s time. It’s finally time to go over my AncestryDNA results!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my reasons for taking the test in the first place. Now, we are here, over the rainbow, in a point in time where I now what what makes me me! Let’s get into the percentages.

Despite the popular belief of too many people from my childhood, I am indeed BLACK. 80 percent black, to be clear. What I’ve always wanted to know is what part of Africa I’m from, and as it turns out, I’m from several different parts of Africa!

I already gave a hint at some of my heritage on Twitter the Sunday I got my results:

I am 26 percent Cameroon, to be exact. Here are the other African percentages:

Cameroon/Congo: 26%
Mali: 16%
Ivory Coast/Ghana: 16%
Nigeria: 11%
Benin/Togo: 6%

Trace regions:
Senegal: 3%
Africa North: less than 1%
Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers: less than 1%

I have a lot of research to do on my peoples. Now that I know exactly where I’m from, I’m ready to dive head-first into everything I need to know to be more of myself.

Here are some more percentages to take a look at some of which surprised me:

Native American: 2%
Asia Central: less than 1%
Asia East: less than 1%
Ireland: 9%
Scandinavia: 4%
Iberian Peninsula: 2%
Middle East: 1%
(Most percentages listed here are trace regions in my DNA)

After I have this information, I now feel like a more secure person; I’ve always wanted to know what ethnicities made me me, and now I know. Here are four things I’ve learned from this experience.

1. America has a limited view of what blackness entails:

As I’ve said many times before, one of the things that irritated me the most about my childhood were individuals believing that I was more than just black because of how I looked. What people failed to realize is that blackness isn’t just one look; blackness encompasses a myriad of looks.

There’s even more looks than just what’s featured here. In short, instead of some of us limiting what blackness  “should” look like, let’s accept the wide array of blackness as a whole. We say blackness isn’t a monolith, but some of us have got to truly believe that.

I do have to say, though, that it is a very rewarding feeling to know exactly what parts of Africa I’m from. The pain of being African-American is having your ancestry essentially robbed from you through slavery. Whereas others know exactly what part or parts they come from (or at least have a idea of where they come from), many African Americans don’t know anything about our pasts. This journey with AncestryDNA is the start of me knowing exactly where I come from, and that knowledge–the knowledge that was taken from us to dehumanize us–is something we should all have. We as a people aren’t just a group of people without a past; we do have a past, and I think it is important to learn about it (especially if you’ve always been interested in ethnic studies) because through that knowledge, I feel we can better honor our ancestors and, in some ways, ourselves.

2. The Native American ancestor myth is real:

The Native American ancestor is a big deal in black American households. It was a part of my childhood, too; supposedly, my paternal great-great-grandfather (my great grandmother’s father) was supposedly a Native American. I was told it with such conviction and with such clarity from relatives that I was like, “Well, it must be true; why would they make that up?” However, I never really discussed it with anyone except on the rare occasion, since I later came to the fact that this just might not be true, particularly thanks to the wisdom of my mother, who said in so many words, “You’d probably need to check that to see if it’s true.”

Learning about how rampant the Native American ancestor myth was in black households also made me doubt my great-great grandfather’s heritage. Granted, there are black Native Americans, but if you’re a black Native American, you probably have concrete records showing such. My family, like many families, have none, except for what we’ve been told by other relatives who swear we’re related to Pocahontas or some Native American chief (my great-great grandfather wasn’t labeled to me as anything but Cherokee, so the fact that he was just some dude made me think that the story of his heritage could actually have been true).

Now that I know the actual percentage of my Native American ancestry, I could say, technically, that I have 2 percent Native heritage. But what does that even mean? How could I even claim such when it’s already part of my “trace regions” ancestry? The truth of it is is that my Native American ancestry has been greatly reduced over time, to the point where I virtually don’t have any Native ancestry, which is in line with how I’ve always lived anyways. Also truth: my great-great grandfather was probably just black, since it’s mathematically impossible for me to be just 2 percent Native and my great-great grandfather to be 100 percent Cherokee.

3. The effects of the Slave Trade are, thankfully, not as large as I expected, but still in effect:

The amounts of Iberian and Ireland ancestry I have, as well as the amounts of Middle Eastern ancestry I have, could be more than likely attributed to the slave trade and/or migration. I’m surprised that there weren’t larger amounts of what I expected, which was a larger amount of British or Irish heritage. I’m guessing that’s because of one or two things (or both): 1) like with the Native ancestry (probably), my African ancestry has been reinforced over centuries through marriages and couplings in general, dulling down the other strains of DNA I have and 2) perhaps my ancestors’ journey to America is a lot more of a winding road than I expected.

I believed that I’d find a large percentage of European ancestry because my ancestors, like a lot of ancestors, were brought over the Middle Passage. Or so I believe. They still could have taken that route, but perhaps the low amount of European ancestry I have means something less straightforward happened in ancestors’ past. Basically, whereas many black people are shocked to find European ancestry, I’m shocked to find so little, and I’d like to know the story behind these percentages.

However, it still is interesting to see the echoes of those ancestries still kicking around in my bloodstream. If I decided to go deeper into my ancestry (which I just might, since I still want to have my own Roots moment), I’m sure I’ll find ancestors I’ll be deeply, deeply disappointed with. I’m sure I’ll find ancestors who have been violently misused by some of my other ancestors. But still, it’s fascinating to see just how far around the world my ancestry goes.

4. Where’d the Asian and Scandinavian heritage come from?

The only question marks I have are where the Asian and Scandinavian heritage stem from. I’m intrigued by this. Again, the percentages of these aren’t enough for me to claim them outright, but I’d really like to know who from Scandinavia and Eastern and Central Asia contributed to the person you see today.

Final thoughts

This journey is just the beginning, however this chapter has come to a close (doing this ancestry work takes money after all, and the next step is going to take even more money than just this DNA test). I’ve been shocked my results, and at the same time I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m proud to know that I come from so many African nations, and I’m fascinated by the other aspects of my ancestry that I have yet to explore. Overall, it is neat to be a person of the world.

(Another startling thing: Ancestry shows you individuals who are the best matches at being your 4th cousins or closer. The service shows you at least through your 8th cousins matches. I haven’t contacted anybody yet mostly because it’s startling to see people you don’t even know listed as your possible family members. I’m still processing that bit of information right now, so if you’re reading this and I’m one of your cousin matches on, feel free to reach out to me, since it’s taking me a while to process a lot of this.)

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Melissa Villaseñor and the Importance of Latinx Intersectionality

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Melissa Villasenor -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)
FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Season:1 — Pictured: Melissa Villasenor — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

We just got finished praising Melissa Villaseñor for breaking the glass ceiling for Latinas on Saturday Night Live, and not nearly a week later, we’re already going onto the next with Villaseñor in our rear-view mirrors because of some tweets she made on her now-private Twitter page.

I had just written about Villaseñor exactly eight days ago as of the time of this post. And before my post could even become old news, Buzzfeed along with other outlets, had broken the news that Villaseñor has had a long history of tweeting insensitive, racist statements. Not even real jokes per se; there was literally no way to find what she wrote amusing in any form.

What am I talking about, you might ask? Here you go:

Villaseñor’s tweets make me reflect on something we should stay cognizant of at all times; that there’s more than just one type of Latinx identity and that Afro-Latinx face a multi-layered form of discrimination and racism, some of which us Americans, black white or otherwise, don’t even know about.

America typically denies the multi-layered experiences of Afro-Latinx people, opting for the idea America usually adopts when thinking of Latinx and/or Hispanic people; a person who is either European-looking or tan-skinned. This denial is clearly an undercurrent in Villaseñor’s tweets, but it’s also an undercurrent in other Latin-American and South American countries as well. In many ways, the discrimination black diasporic people face in these countries are linked to America’s own issues with race-based colonialism.

Take for instance Mexico. Americans typically don’t think of “black people” when they think of Mexico, but they are there. Black Mexicans have never fully been integrated; you don’t see many (or any) black Mexican actors and actresses in the telenovelas that make it to American shores. We also don’t hear of black Mexican singers or painters or leaders. Mexico itself hasn’t come to terms with its own history, in many cases refusing to believe black Mexican citizens about their own heritage. Clemente Jesus Lopez, head of the Oaxaca state office for black Mexicans, told the BBC that he can remember two instances in which the Mexican government didn’t believe black people were a part of Mexico, both instances involving women.

“One was deported to Honduras and the other to Haiti because the police insisted that in Mexico there are no black people. Despite having Mexican ID, they were deported.” Lopez said that Mexican consulates were able to bring the women back, but the Mexican government itself offered no apology or compensation. However, for the first time in 2015, citizens were able to check “black” on the Mexican interim census, so Mexico is showing some subtle movement of the needle, but that’s only the starting point.

Related: #DifferenceMakers: Janel Martinez’s “Ain’t I Latina” Reps for Afro-Latinas Left Out of the Conversation

It’s also worth pointing out that there are also Asian Latinx and Asian South Americans as well. Asian Mexicans make up a small percentage of Mexico’s population, for example. And Brazil has the largest percentage of Japanese citizens outside of Japan itself; many of whom we saw during this past Olympics winning for Brazil. There are also quite a few Asian-Hispanic/Asian Latinx American actors in Hollywood, including Kirk Acevedo, Harry Shum, Jr., Tatyana Ali, Tyson Beckford (both of whom are also Afro-Latinx as well), Enrique Iglesias, Bruno Mars (who is also Ashkenazi Jewish), Kelis (who also has African American heritage), and many more. 

While Latin America and South America have their own work to do, America has some things it needs to suss out for itself, and Villaseñor’s mistakes can be used a learning point for most of us.

The fact that we, as a melting pot nation, don’t generally recognize part of the black diaspora as part of the Latinx identity, is something that speaks directly to our ideas about race, ideas that are reflected squarely in Villaseñor’s now-deleted tweets. We, and I guess Mexico and other countries as well, expect for blackness to be a self-contained, monolithic identity. Blackness doesn’t just equal one thing; blackness can be multilayered. You can be Afro-Latinx, just as much as you can be a black Native American, blasian, and of white and black heritage. So when we (and Villaseñor) label “black” as just being one thing, we’re erasing entire groups of people. The erasure is doubly so when blackness is equated with being ugly and subhuman.

Thankfully, there are people out there doing the hard work of providing a space for Afro-Latinx to feel included, such as Janel Martinez’ Ain’t I Latina?, which focuses on news and entertainment centered around the African diaspora throughout Latin and South America. But each of us can do our part to end this discrimination. First, we can start with addressing our own ideas about what constitutes blackness. Second, we can demand those who are figures in society to think outside of themselves and think of those they’ll impact the most with their words. For some like Villaseñor, if you’re going to become a role model for other Latinx coming up after you, shouldn’t you make sure you’re inclusive and represent all Latinx?

Third, With those of us who are championing diversity or getting more diversity on the screen, we need to ask ourselves if we are inviting all voices to the table, and not just the voices we think represent the whole of a people. When we fight for diversity, we need to make sure all racial and cultural experiences are accounted for. When those of us in power to cast actors in an inclusive way, we need to make sure that our idea of “Latinx character” includes all races and ethnicities, since Latin America is multicultural as well. Those of us who are media creators need to make sure that we think outside of what we’ve been told a Latinx character should look like.

Ultimately, though, while we can all learn lessons from Villaseñor’s transgressions, the biggest lesson should be for Villaseñor herself; now that she’s in the public eye, she’d better what she says as well as what she tweets.

What do you think about Villaseñor? Give your opinions in the comments section below.

Asian Entertainment Television to bring the #RepresentAsian to streaming media

Asian Entertainment Television
Asian Entertainment Television

You, like me, have been following #WhitewashedOUT, #UnderratedAsian, and other hashtags that focus on the lack of Asian/Asian-American representation in Hollywood. The fight for representation rages on, and Asian Entertainment Television plans on doing what it can to help provide a streaming platform for Asian and Asian-American actors and stories.

Related: Recapping #WhitewashedOUT and the excitement for “Crazy, Rich Asians”

Asian Entertainment Television, founded by Sinakhone Keodara, will give viewers a huge library of movies and TV to choose from. To quote the site:

Asian Entertainment Television is a revolutionary streaming media platform. We provide for you the widest range of movies, documentaries, web series, and more by Asian American actors, filmmakers and writers 24/7.  Be part of the revolution.  Join and help us improve the representation of Asian Americans in the media and normalize Asian American presence in Hollywood. #RepresentAsian

As you can see from the hashtag, social activism is at the heart of Asian Entertainment Television. Keodara has stated that he wants to use the platform to uplift and provide Hollywood with “its Asian Superstars.”

Sinakhone Keodara at Founder Meet Funder Event (Provided photo)
Sinakhone Keodara at Founder Meet Funder Event (Provided photo)

According to Keodara, Asian Entertainment Television will act as a pipeline for Asian American filmmakers and actors to tell multifaceted stories the way they want to, not the way Hollywood’s powers that be wants to. Asian Entertainment Television will also act as a “global Asian village square,” where viewers will be able to find stories that reflect all parts of the Asian and Asian-American experiences, including stories featuring Middle Easterners, East Asians, South Asians, Southeast Asian, and Black Asian. Also featured will be stories of being gay and Asian, another aspect of identity that Hollywood fails to routinely represent.

The fact that all parts of the Asian experience will be represented is something that really resonates with me. Too often, Hollywood (and America) paints “Asia” as just “China,” when there is much more to it than that.

Here’s more from Keodara himself.

Related: 3 Ways the Live-Action “Mulan” Film Could Be a Hit, If Disney Listens to the Advice

Make sure to follow Asian Entertainment Television’s website as well as its presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. One of the films bound to be a part of Asian Entertainment Television’s original streaming programming slate, Keodara’s “Where Our Worlds Meet,” features Keodara, Steffinnie Phrommany, and Bryan Espino; take a look at the teaser trailer right here.

Where Our Worlds Meet – Teaser from Sinakhone Keodara on Vimeo.

I’m excited to see where the platform goes. Also make sure to keep up with Keodara, who also helps raise awareness about removing cluster bombs from his home of Laos, which was bombed between 1963 to 1974 in what is called the U.S.’ “secret war”.

What do you think about Asian Entertainment Television? Give your opinions in the comments section below.

“Tyrant”: The Self-Hatred and Whitewashing of Bassam

Bassam from Season Two of "Tyrant." (FX)
Bassam from Season Two of “Tyrant.” (FX)

One of the most interesting things to come out of the three-season run of Tyrant was the handling of the character of Bassam. Bassam has been a character that has been an interesting component of my TV criticism of Tyrant. In fact, calling him “interesting” is an understatement and a euphemism. I’ll quote what I wrote about him for the Entertainment Weekly Community Blog in the very first episode of the very first season:

First, there is a white British actor (Adam Rayner) playing a Middle Eastern character. Did his casting alter the casting of Barry’s mother, Amira (Alice Maud Krige), so there could be some kind of continuity and for the show to possibly avoid accusations of whitewashing? Even so, the fact that there is a non-Middle Eastern actor playing the savior-type role opposite an actual Middle Eastern actor (Ashraf Barhom) playing the devil in a suit [Jamal] is quite troubling.

As you can see, I’ve always had a problem with Bassam being played by a white actor. The idea that a show set in the Middle East needed a white face to market to American audiences is ludicrous. It’s the classic Hollywood trope of having a white actor play Detective Chan or Othello; for some reason, studio heads think that the majority of white Americans won’t be able to identify with someone who doesn’t look like them. It doesn’t give the viewing public any credit for their own smarts, and it doesn’t give POC actors any credit for actually having acting talent as well as the ability to connect with audiences, no matter what the audience might look like. If white actors are expected to have the ability to connect with white and non-white audiences, then POC actors should be given that same chance.

Tyrant buttressed the whitewashing with Jamal, who is played by Israeli-Arab actor Ashraf Barhom. How come Barhom, who is of the region, tasked to play the “bad Arab” guy, while Rayner, who is not only white but has no cultural ties to the Middle East, gets to play the “good Arab” brother? To go back to Hollywood tropes, it’s the classic tale of having the white lead play against aggressive, sexually deviant, villainous “natives.” For instance, when Tarzan has to fight tribes of cannibals, or when the white lead has to defeat the Dragon Lady. This trope is even as recent as 2015’s No Escape, in which Owen Wilson and his family have to escape the terrorizing Asian natives in an unspecified Pacific island nation.

Now, none of this is to say that Barhom didn’t play the shiznit out of his role. Indeed, despite Jamal’s villainy, he still imbued the right amount of humanity for Jamal to be seen, at times, as a tragic figure who’s biggest enemy is himself. But that portrayal of Jamal is completely due to Barhom’s tremendous acting talent. Otherwise, Jamal would have been a one-note monster, instead of a complicated one.

Related: Monique’s Tyrant recaps for the Entertainment Weekly Community Blog 

Talking about Jamal, though, is a digression from the topic at hand, which is Bassam’s self-hatred. The reason I state Bassam has self-hatred is due in part due to the fact that he’s played by a white actor. To quote myself in a previous Tyrant article:

To me, Rayner’s Bassam hints at something unsavory that seems to be true to the character; Bassam has a large level of self-hate. Not just for his own actions, but for his culture. Sure, he comes from a line of despots. But he can’t separate the actions of his family from the overall culture of his home and the citizens that make up his home. He strikes me just as what he looks like; a Middle Eastern man who passes for white so he can get the benefits of living in America, and who lives in America so long that he removes himself from his home, his former identity, and his former actions. But, with Rayner’s Bassam taking this tone, there are new questions. Is this the tone the creator(s) wanted for Bassam in the first place? Does this tone make him less sympathetic? Would critics like me even see this side of Bassam if he was cast using an actual Middle Eastern actor (because Middle Eastern people come in all shades)? I don’t know. Such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.

The way Rayner has played Bassam (and the way he has been written) has been utterly fascinating to me and, if it was handled more adeptly at the beginning, could have told a very nuanced tale of a man who finds himself on an unwilling journey to come to terms with his culture and his ethnicity.

Shaun Lau, one of the contributors to my currently-evolving series #RepresentYourStory, wrote about his own battles of overcoming internalized self-hate. His story sounds a lot like what Bassam’s might have been; feeling like you’d rather be accepted by the Westernized (i.e. white) gaze than your own culture, wanting to escape and become something more than what you felt you were. The hard lesson that Lau wrote about was coming to terms with his own thinking patterns, taking the time to actively unlearn what he’d been told by society, and ultimately becoming a better, more well-rounded person because of it.

Related: #RepresentYourStory

It seems like Bassam would have to do some of this introspection himself; he has rejected his culture, his heritage, and even his name, choosing to go by “Barry” in America. He marries into whiteness, has kids who can be accepted into whiteness, and for all anyone knows is a coded-white individual in American society with a medical practice. He was able to cross over just like how he wanted. However, he still carried fear and resentment of his own culture, and this resentment comes out either in outright rejection of Abuddin, violence, or wanting to take Abuddin from its roots and transplanting the centuries-old culture into something Bassam would find palatable while he’s interim President.

Bassam’s self hate manifested itself into a Western-centric dictatorship, promising to lead Abuddin from the ties of the past and into a more, supposedly “structurally-sound” future. But Bassam’s future is basically just installing what he believes to be Western-only ideals, like democracy and free elections. However, as Leila herself told him toward the end of the first season, he can’t truly believe that no one in the Middle East has never heard of democracy before he came back from America. In fact, there are several Middle Eastern countries who engage in democracy, so yes, democracy existed in the Middle East long before Bassam decided to showcase it as a newfangled approach. Bassam’s belief about democracy being only a Western thing is just one of the ways in which Bassam’s idolizing of America could be a character beat worth investigating, but it becomes increasingly problematic since it’s a white actor playing the character. What could be seen as a Middle Eastern character fetishizing America because of his own internal self-acceptance issues becomes American propaganda due to a white actor playing the role. In short, Bassam comes out look more like the “evangelized native” trope (which could also be considered a type of “Uncle Tom” trope) than a conflicted man trying to find acceptance in a new cultural (and even racial) identity.

The throughline of Bassam’s internalized racism was abjectly clear in his actions after Emma’s death, which pushed both him and his wife Molly over the edge into Islamophobia.  Even when he’s lording over his own people in the country’s highest office, Bassam can’t shake the idea that the people—his people—aren’t a monolith. Instead, especially after the death of his daughter at the hands of terrorists, he decides to lump all of Abuddin and neighboring countries under the same “terrorist” label instead of trying to secure his people from terrorist acts due to a love of country and its people. The irony is that he acts just as much like a terrorist as the actual terrorists, and it stems from his own self-hate.

What is fascinating, though, is that Bassam’s discomfort with his culture seemed to abate a little bit after Jamal leaves him in the desert to die. During Season 2, Bassam is forced to come to terms with himself, his rejection of Islam, and the hurt of the people wasting away under Jamal’s regime. He picks up the habit of prayer again, gets back in touch with the common man when he’s a guest at Daliyah’s then-husband’s house, and eventually, becomes the leader of the rebellion. It was during this time that Bassam seemed to be the most at-home within himself. He was fighting for his people’s well-being, he was praying with them, and he was living for them. When Bassam acquires the presidency, though, his old self-hating habits come back, and he’s once again coding himself under whiteness, disassociating himself from the people he grew to love.

Bassam’s dis-ease with himself and his culture is something that should be analyzed and thought about upon any repeat viewings of the series. However, Bassam’s story could have been even more adeptly told if Bassam was played by a Middle Eastern actor from the beginning. A Middle Eastern actor could have brought his own experiences and the experiences of people he knows to the role of Bassam, making Bassam’s plight to self-acceptance even more truthful to real life. This kind of nuance would have spoken volumes, and it would have made Bassam possibly one of the few Middle Eastern characters on TV who is a fully-realized character.

However, having the role whitewashed takes away any truthfulness a viewer could parse from it. Currently, all Bassam ever became was a big “What if?” character. What if he was portrayed in more truthful manner? What if his storyline was fully fleshed-out from the beginning? What could Bassam had been if there was much more consideration given to his characterization and his motives, as well as how his culture affects him?

Possibly the best allegorical character for Bassam is Robert Downey Jr.’s character from 2008’s Tropic Thunder, Kirk Lazarus, which is somehow both an underrated and laser-precise skewering of Hollywood culture. Kirk is a white Australia actor, yet he’s known for “method acting,” including acting as a black man in the fictional Vietnam War-era metafilm in the movie. The most famous line from the film comes from Kirk, saying, “I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!” This is precisely who Bassam is. He’s a white British man playing a Middle Eastern man disguised as a white American man, who then decides to go back home to become a dictator of a people whom he doesn’t know. If Kirk Lazarus is supposed to be absurd on purpose, then Bassam is absurd unintentionally. Bassam is a character who shouldn’t have been given the Kirk Lazarus treatment.

What do you think about Bassam’s self-hate issues? How would you have written Bassam? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Melissa Villaseñor Joins “Saturday Night Live” As First Latina Castmember

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Melissa Villasenor -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)
FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Season:1 — Pictured: Melissa Villasenor — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

Saturday Night Live is finally breaking another glass ceiling; they have finally hired their first Latina cast member. The question is: Why did it take so long?

According to Complex, the NBC staple has added three new castmembers, Alex Moffat, Mikey Day, and Melissa Villaseñor. Villaseñor, the first Latina SNL cast member, is a multi-talent; she’s a stand-up comedian as well as an actor, musician, graphic designer, and voice actor, which credits such as Family Guy and Adventure Time.

Naturally, to be on SNL, you have to be pretty funny. She certainly is: she made it to the finals of Season 6 of America’s Got Talent doing amazing celebrity impressions. Take a look:

Flama has more of her impressions:

NBC News goes into more depth, stating that Villaseñor “has over 10 years of comedy experience [and] has headlined over 100 clubs and colleges around the country.”

So with all of that, the question remains: Why did it take so doggone long?

The clear reason is that Saturday Night Live, and by extension, Lorne Michaels, didn’t think it pertinent enough to find a Latina comedian to join the ranks.

Saturday Night Live has been in the news for being less-than-diverse before, which led to the hiring of black women comedians like Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata and LaKendra Tookes. But the show has also been in the news for disrespecting its Latino and Hispanic audiences. Last year, the show ignored the protests of outraged citizens and allowed for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to host, despite his then-recent comments stating that Latino and Hispanic immigrants were rapists and murderers.

Related: How “Saturday Night Live” Mocked Latino Anger Toward Trump

Turning a blind eye to the needs of part of its demographic is something that the show has had to grapple with, especially since inclusionary casting has become more and more of a necessity. The Guardian‘s Luis Miguel Echegaray gets at some of this new reality:

Despite the fact that this [casting] is less about show boss Lorne Michaels’s rebellious ingenuity and more about an inevitable decision to diversify, the hiring of Villaseñor is cause for celebration for the Hispanic community, because it opens a door which was once presumed locked. It’s difficult to comprehend the value of diversity when you’re not directly affected by it, but the issue is particularly acute in entertainment.

Despite a slight upswing this year, Hispanics are the least represented speaking roles in film and television. Earlier this year, meanwhile, a study by Media, Diversity and Social Change initiative noted that out of more than 11,000 speaking characters in film and TV, a mere 5.8% were Hispanic.

Villaseñor’s introduction to the late-night schedule might not answer everything, but SNL’s huge influence on today’s millennial and digital culture is a platform that can help her (consciously or not) inspire other young Latinas who are struggling just to get in the door.

Lorne Michaels does have to be given credit, though, for partnering with NBC Universal Telemundo to find new talent. With NBC Universal Telemundo and his Broadway Video, the online comedy channel Más Mejor was born. As Echegaray writes, Villaseñor was a huge part of the channel, and that playing ground gave her the foot in the door to Saturday Night Live.

Hopefully, Villaseñor’s hiring will mean that Saturday Night Live will hire more people of Latino and Hispanic background. It’s past time for there to be more meaningful representation, and Villaseñor is just the beginning.

What do you think of Villaseñor becoming part of Saturday Night Live? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Emmys 1, Oscars 0: How TV’s Biggest Night Celebrated Diverse Storytelling

Rami Malek after winning his Emmy for "Mr. Robot." (ABC/Image Group LA)
Rami Malek after winning his Emmy for “Mr. Robot.”
(ABC/Image Group LA)

“Please tell me you’re seeing this too,” said Rami Malek as he accepted his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. His work on Mr. Robot is awe-inspiring, but it’s also absolutely necessary. While Malek’s character Elliot succinctly sums up the post-tech malaise and loneliness due to not fitting into society’s herd mentality, Malek also, quietly led a revolution just by being himself. Malek is of Egyptian descent, and as such, he’s become the first actor of color in 18 years to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. 

18 yearsThat means a lot.

That means for as long as a non-white kid, let’s say a Middle Eastern kid, someone like Ahmed Mohamed, aka “Clock Boy,” has been alive, there hasn’t been an actor of Middle Eastern/North African descent who the Emmys have deemed “worthy enough” to win, despite the fact that tons of Middle Eastern and other non-white actors are out there, ready and willing to show off their gifts. A kid like Mohamed hasn’t been able to see himself portrayed positively on television, and this means that others watching TV haven’t been able to see positive representations of Middle Eastern characters either; all they and Mohamed see are their people as terrorists.

When all you’re seen as is a terrorist, then it’s no wonder why someone with a vivid imagination, hopped up on discriminatory and xenophobia from the TV screen, would paint a smart, innocent kid like Mohamed, a kid who could have potentially been a bright light pushing America towards a more industrial-sound, innovative future, gets labeled as a terrorist for bringing his model of a clock to school to show his science teacher.

Related: America Backs Wrongly-Accused Teen Ahmed Mohamed With #IStandwithAhmed

Before you say, “There are clearly more factors into why that kid was mistreated,” let me be the first to say, yes, there are many more factors. The adults in that situation could have been adults and realized that this intelligent kid was hoping those he viewed as mentors would see, acknowledge, and encourage his gifts. The adults in this situation already had their own fears that they put upon this boy. But let’s also acknowledge how our perceptions of the world and each other filter their way through our televisions every day. When you see others as terrorists, thugs, nerdy comic relief, submissive and/or hypersexualized objects, and other dehumanizing stereotypes on TV day in and day out, society as a whole begins to view the real life counterparts as those stereotypes, despite the fact that stereotypes are lies.

Malek’s win should be an uplifting moment for every brown kid looking at the screen, daring to hope that they can be seen as mysterious and heroic, that they can be viewed as a well-rounded, deeply layered individual. The same goes for Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari’s wins for Outstanding for a Comedy Series. Their work on Master of None has, despite criticisms about the cookie-cutter sameness of the woman cast as Ansari’s girlfriend, helped create a platform for Asian American voices to finally tell their stories. With Ansari as the lead and Ansari and Yang’s writing propelling immigrant stories in the much-lauded episode “Parents,” the two were able to smash the Model Minority myth as well as the myth that Asian Americans can’t be mainstream leading men.

While Master of None directly spoke to the immigrant experience, Malek himself spoke to his own experience as the child of immigrants.

Related: The Next Omar Sharif: Why Finding the Next Middle Eastern Hollywood Star is Easier Than We Think

The Emmys also celebrated the stories of layered women, including the performances of Regina King in American Crime, to Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in Veep, to Sarah Paulson in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, to Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black (who literally has to play multiple characters in the same scene), and many more. Jill Soloway, writer/director of Transparent and the star of Jeffrey Tambor were awarded for their work on the groundbreaking show featuring the journey of a family as they loved the main character through her transition. But while the show has been part of overarching criticism about Hollywood refusing to cast trans actors and actresses for roles, Tambor took his opportunity on stage to demand for Hollywood to cast trans actors and actresses, making it clear that he recognizes the privilege that allowed him to play his Emmy-winning role.

Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, and Keith David all won Emmys too; Vance for his leading role in limited series The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Brown for his supporting role in The People vs O.J. Simpson, and Keith David for his narration for documentary Jackie Robinson. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele won for their hilariously creepy work on Key & Peele. RuPaul finally won for the stellar RuPaul’s Drag Race and the stories of those with Down’s syndrome were recognized with a win for reality show Born This Way.

Overall, the Emmys shamed the Oscars. Even though there’s still more work to be done when it comes to portraying a much wider array of stories on both the big and little screen, it’s clear TV has a better handle on the battle than the movie industry does. In a year when we experienced the zenith of #OscarsSoWhite, the Emmys has given the Oscars a masterclass on how to respect and award stories different than than the “white male lead” vehicle. The actors and actresses awarded Sunday night have given voice to so many of the voiceless, and the Emmys has not only bolstered their platforms; it’s bolstered those who believed no one would listen to them. Now that there’s a clearer path towards recognition, perhaps we’ll see less terrorists on TV, hapless nerdy stereotypes, one-dimensional women, LGBT stereotypes, and offensive stereotypes of people with disabilities. We’re nearing the day when everyone will be given their just due to tell their stories the way they see fit. Hopefully, we’re nearing an age where we can see everyone’s humanity first.

When he won his Emmy, Malek said to the audience, “Please tell me you’re seeing this too.” We’re definitely seeing it, this change happening in television, and hopefully it sticks around.

Three #UnderratedAsian Male Models You’ll Daydream Over

Daniel Liu (VFiles/YouTube screengrab)
Daniel Liu (VFiles/YouTube screengrab)

#UnderratedAsian, created by NerdyAsians, is one hashtag and Twitter account worth following. Not only will you learn about some of America’s little known MVPs in the arts, diplomacy, entertainment, politics, advocacy, sports, etc., but you’ll also see some of the entries by other Twitter accounts like the one for media advocacy site Kulture. Kulture’s Twitter account is a huge supporter of #UnderratedAsian, and while Kulture is utilizing the popular hashtag to educate, you can also get some eye candy from it as well, such as the three male models featured in this post.

Without saying it explicitly, #UnderratedAsian is also smashing another stereotype: that Asian men aren’t sexy. Indeed, Asian men are sexy. You read it right here if you haven’t read it anywhere else. This point is being emphasized because Long Duk Dong is still what too many folks think is the true representation of Asian men.

Amy Sun for Everyday Feminism wrote about the stereotypes facing Asian men in her article, “4 Lies We Need to Stop Telling About Asian-American Men”:

“Media has traditionally painted Asian-American men as sidekicks who serve as comic relief (see: Ken Jeong in any of his roles, such as The Hangover), are extremely nervous or silent around girls (see: The Big Bang Theory’s Raj Koothrappali, an Indian astrophysicist who is unable to speak to women for six seasons), are short and deeply accented (see: Han in 2 Broke Girls), and sidekick samurai warriors (yes, apparently, you can be Asian and still be a sidekick in a movie about samurai; I’m talking to you, The Last Samurai).

Let’s get over these awful stereotypes! Let’s start by oogling at these dudes.

Hao Yun Xiang


A photo posted by 郝允祥 HAO (@haoyunxiang) on

morning~🐝🐝 #dolcegabbana #dgmen

A photo posted by 郝允祥 HAO (@haoyunxiang) on

chivalrous expert?😁😁

A photo posted by 郝允祥 HAO (@haoyunxiang) on

Sung Jin Park

Bloody red. #myjersey #football #MCU #맨유

A photo posted by SUNG JIN ☪ (@teriyakipapi) on

간만에 스파링하고 5년 더 늙음 두통은 써비쓰

A photo posted by SUNG JIN ☪ (@teriyakipapi) on

어색하네요 ㅠㅠ

A photo posted by SUNG JIN ☪ (@teriyakipapi) on

Bawssing up.

A photo posted by SUNG JIN ☪ (@teriyakipapi) on

Daniel Liu


A photo posted by Daniel Liu (@dannythecowboy) on

Pausing for a moment to allow Blue Steel to meet Blue Suede. @poloralphlauren @fordmodels #MeetMeAtPolo

A photo posted by Daniel Liu (@dannythecowboy) on

You want more fine Asian dudes? Check out this Buzzfeed list from 2014. Use that as your jumping off point. You’re welcome.

Who’s your favorite #UnderratedAsian actor, model, or activist? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

#YourBigBreak: Netflix’s “The Get Down” Is Casting for Season 2

Netflix (Twitter)
Netflix (Twitter)

The Get Down, Netflix’s hit show set in the 1970s Bronx amid the collision of hip hop and disco, has taken the viewing public by storm. Now that the show is set for a second season, they have issued a casting call for speaking lead character roles!

Project Casting wrote about the casting call Sunday, stating that The Get Down‘s producers are now accepting video auditions.

Here’s what they’re looking for:






The casting directors are also looking for extras as well. The casting directors are auditioning speaking roles via video audition. Visit ProjectCasting for more information and the links to send in your video auditions.

3 Ways the Live-Action “Mulan” Film Could Be a Hit, If Disney Listens to the Advice

Disney (Twitter)
Disney (Twitter)

Disney is continuing its live-action bent by making the rumor of a live-action version of Mulan movie true. The studio officially announced that the film, based on the studio’s animated 1998 hit, is in the works. Cue the anxiety, and rightfully so; Asian characters are the least showcased group in movies and in television. The penchant for Hollywood to not only showcase Asian characters, combined with their penchant to whitewash and cast white actors as leads in movies with mostly Asian casts, such as Matt Damon’s The Great Wall, has many people already upset at the prospect of Disney ruining a live-action Mulan film.

To that end, nearly 90,000 people have already signed a petition asking for proper casting when making this film. Social media reacted to the news of the film and the petition like this:

The petition and the sheer amount of signers will hopefully get Disney’s attention. To go along with that, here’s some free advice to Disney when creating this film.

1. Actually cast Chinese and Chinese-American actors. Specifically Chinese and Chinese-American actors.

This seems like it would be common knowledge, seeing how the film’s story is one from Chinese legend. But you never know about Hollywood; they cast Scarlett Johannsson as The Major in Ghost in the Shell after all.

It’s also heavily important that Disney specifically hire Chinese and/or Chinese-American actors. Hiring Asian actors who aren’t Chinese reinforces the idea that the pan-Asian experience is an interchangeable one, when it’s not. Korean culture isn’t the same as Japanese culture, which isn’t the same as Chinese culture. Also, interchanging one Asian actor with another is quite offensive: many Japanese were offended when 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha cast its main leads with Chinese actresses—Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Li Gong, Tsai Chin. There’s also quite a number of other non-Japanese Asian actors in a film depicting a Japanese story.

Folks on Twitter have given tons of free casting advice to Disney:

It would behoove Disney to actually look at the suggestions and cast accordingly.

2. Hire Chinese consultants (and actually listen to them)

From my cursory research, it is unclear if Disney actually used consultants adept in ancient China, particularly the Tang Dynasty (one of the dynasties it’s believed the Legend of Hua Mulan comes from, as it’s not exactly clear which dynasty the story originated). But if going by this portion of the film’s Wikipedia page says anything:

In its earliest stages, the story was originally conceived as a Tootsie-like romantic comedy film where Mulan, who was a misfit tomboy that loves her father, is betrothed to Shang whom she has not met. On her betrothal day, her father Fa Zhou carves her destiny on a stone tablet in the family temple, which she shatters in anger, and runs away to forge her own destiny…In November 1993, Chris Sanders, who had just finished storyboard work on The Lion King, was hopeful to work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame until Schumacher appointed him to work on Mulan instead…Acting as Head of Story, Sanders grew frustrated with the romantic comedy aspect of the story, and urged producer Pam Coats to be more faithful to the original legend by having Mulan leave home because of the love for her father…This convinced the filmmakers to decide to change Mulan’s character in order to make her more appealing and selfless.

It’s that they either didn’t have consultants or decided against learning from their counsel.

Also showing Disney’s lack of trusting consultants is how dangerously close the “matchmaker” makeup looks to Japanese geisha makeup, as well as the fact that Disney had also hired consultants for their 1995 hit, Pocahontas. However, they didn’t actively use the consultants to make a more historically-accurate film. To quote The Los Angeles Times back in 1995:

“This is a nice film–if it didn’t carry the name ‘Pocahontas,'” says Shirely Little Dove Custalow McGowan, a key consultant on the movie who teaches Native American education at schools, including the University of Virginia. “Disney promised me historical accuracy, but there will be a lot to correct when I go into the classrooms.”

Sonny Skyhawk, founder of the Pasadena-based Ameriacn Indians in Film, is peeved that the film’s producer ignored his offer of help. “With few exceptions, the movie industry hasn’t got it right,” he explains. “And Hollywood has a long track record of not letting us see the product until it’s too late to make a difference.”

If Disney wants a live-action Mulan film to become a success, they should heed the word of Chinese consultants who will be able to steer them in the right direction. Just because Disney is the most powerful studio in the country, if not the world, doesn’t mean it knows everything.

Related: Recapping #WhitewashedOUT and the excitement for “Crazy, Rich Asians”

3. Take the Disney-isms out of this film

This sounds pretty pointed, but all of the quirks that Disney puts in its films need to be gone from Mulan. Disney consistently works from the viewpoint of middle-aged, straight white men “old boys club.” This point of view is something that ailed PocahontasThe Princess and the Frog, and in some ways, Mulan itself, even though they thankfully had the ability to see that Tootsie was not the right way to go with Mulan. To combat this, Disney needs to wake up and see the world outside of its mouse-eared tower. Disney needs to get in the trenches with this film, and make not a Disneyfied version of China, but a family-friendly tale that still adheres to its traditional Chinese roots. Basically, Disney just needs to do its best to make a faithful representation of a centuries-old story that also highlights a well-rounded representation of an often-stereotyped and underrepresented group. It isn’t a lot to ask, in all honesty. The commitment to do this, though, is what’s often the toughest thing for studios to adhere to.

BONUS: Address Shang’s sexuality

We gotta talk about this. When did Shang fall in love with Mulan? She wasn’t ever out of drag for long in the movie, so by just timing alone, it would seem that Shang fell in love with Mulan as Ping. Am I right or am I wrong? Can we ask B.D. Wong, Shang’s voice actor, this question? In my headcanon, Shang is either gay or bisexual. That’s the only way the love story can make sense to me.

Related: Queer Coding: Shang (Disney’s Mulan)

What do you think about the live-action Mulan film? Give your opinions in the comments section below! Also, if you like what I’ve had to say about the importance of consulting, sign up for notification of my upcoming character consulting service, Monique Jones Consulting!