Month: June 2017

Being Latinx in Hollywood: Media creators talk representation

Latinx representation in Hollywood is something that seems to be suspiciously under the radar, even though it’s highly important, as the Latinx identity is one that is diverse and multifaceted. Despite characters like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria in ABC’s Modern Family and the casts of Lifetime’s Devious Maids and TNT’s Queen of the South existing in the media, there’s still more that needs to be done in Hollywood, such as focusing more on darker-skinned tones, racial diversity, and whitewashing. For every Gloria onscreen, there’s only one April Sexton, Yaya DaCosta’s Afro-Brazilian role on NBC’s Chicago Med, or Carla Espinosa, Judy Reyes’ proud Dominican character on NBC’s Scrubs. Even the roles like Vergara’s role—which is a “sexy Latina” stereotype—need work in order to exist outside of the stereotypes that have been wrongly attached to Latinx characters and actors.

Two of the latest instances of Hollywood’s failure at Latinx representation are X-Men Sunspot and Dr. Cecilia Reyes. The Afro-Latinx characters, which will be part of the new X-Men film The New Mutants, will be played by Henry Zaga and Alice Braga. Zaga is Brazilian, but he isn’t black or biracial, which removes much of the context from Sunspot’s character, as his characterization stems from the racial issues he’s had to face as a biracial Afro-Brazilian. Alternatively, Braga is Afro-Latina, but being light-skinned, she’s able to exhibit a privilege that the original, darker-skinned actress up for the role, Rosario Dawson, can’t. Again, it takes an important piece away from a character that is not just Puerto Rican, but defined by her place in the African Diaspora.

Throughout this year, I spoke with several Latinx creators about how they feel about Hollywood’s Latinx representation and what can be done to make it better. This is a longform piece, so I’ll break this up into several sections:

The roles afforded to Latinx actors in Hollywood

Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (Lionsgate)

Latinx actors, like many POC actors, are offered less than their fair share of meaningful roles. When they are offered roles, they’re often racist.

“When Latinx actors do get roles, I feel they’re oftentimes stereotypes,” wrote Desiree Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge sci-fi comic book Catalyst Prime and writer for Women on Comics and The Nerds of Color, in an email interview. “The Spicy Latina, the Buffoon, the Tough Chick Who Dies, the Sexual Exotic Fantasy, the Drug Dealer, the Gangster, and so on.

“…What I find frustrating is when Latinx actors do get roles, it’s a struggle and they are locked into stereotypes,” said Rodriguez. “I’m a huge fan of Diego Luna, but the first role I saw him in he played a Cuban – when he is Mexican – man who was basically the exotic fantasy for the white female lead in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. This isn’t even getting into how Afro-Latinxs, Asian-Latinxs, and other mixed raced Latinxs are barred from roles because they don’t fit Hollywood’s pre-packaged idea of what being Latinx looks like.”

“I think currently, while we are seeing more visibility, the current roles that are offered or available to Latinos are the role of a servant position, like a maid or something that falls in line with the stereotypes people have about Latinos, like maybe a sidekick or a criminal,” said Janel Martinez, founder and editor-in-chief of Ain’t I Latina, a site celebrating Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinx culture.

“For example, in Orange is the New Black, a lot of people were hyped about the fact that there was a great representation of Latinas in the actual show, which is awesome, but when you look on the flipside of that, this is a show about women in jail,” she said. “Also, Devious Maids, [co-produced by Eva Longoria], it’s a full cast of Latinas, two of them identifying as Afro-Latina, and they were maids. I think people are seeing the visibility, people are excited to be able to say if you’re watching the show, you’re seeing our representation…but I think it’s still in a very limited scope. I find that it’s not just a Carrie Bradshaw or just someone who happens to be a Latina but maybe they’re the magazine editor in the movie. Their identity, while it’s important, isn’t in line with stereotypes and then manifested in the character that they essentially embody.”

“Typically, I see lots of immigrant, day laborers and criminal roles going to Latinx actors,” wrote Gerry Maravilla, Head of Crowdfunding at Seed and Spark and writer-director of Cross, in an email interview. “I think this comes from often lack of interaction on behalf of writers and filmmakers with Latinx people in the real world. As such, they rely on what they’ve already seen in films or what they see from the vantage point of their more insulated experience.”

“By ‘insulated,’ I don’t mean that they live secluded or antisocial lives, but rather the lives they lead don’t actually include Latinx people in any meaningful way,” he said. “Instead, they see the Latinx peoples working in roles like day laborers or think about Latinx gang culture because of its coverage in the media.”

I think the most important thing to remember about stereotypes is how detrimental they are to Latinx actors who are trying to be cast in roles that are meaningful [as well as] to creators and consumers as a whole,” said Kimberly Hoyos, filmmaker and creator of The Light Leaks, a website designed to support, educate and empower female and gender non-conforming filmmakers. “As a Latina creator, I’m not going to write a character that I wouldn’t personally maybe want to act as. I wouldn’t create someone who is my ethnicity that doesn’t represent something larger as a whole. As a consumer growing up, that’s what I would see, maids and…anything that was oversexualized or overcriminalized. I think that in part pushed me to be a creator so I would be in charge of what was being produced.

Amy Novondo, singer and actor, said that several people she knows are frustrated with the lack of quality roles.

“[Hollywood] thinks of that over-dramatized telenovela atmosphere and [they think that] Latinos are only capable of that kind of acting their minds,” she said. “I know a couple of Latinos who are really mad about this because we barely get a chance to get into the audition room and when we do, we’re stereotyped right out of the box. It’s like, come on—I want a little more than that.”

Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Why have these stereotypes stayed around, and why have they kept their power? The answers lie in the pervasiveness of media itself, wrote Rodriguez.

“Media has a lot of power. The images we see, coupled with the words we read or we hear imprint on us however subtly,” she wrote. “It’s something of an irony that the Latin Lover trope can be attributed to Rudolph Valentino’s – a white Italian man – performance in 1921’s The Sheik, while stereotypes like The Domestic – where Latinx characters are gardeners, maids, etc – are perpetrated by popular, well known Latinx actors like Jennifer Lopez. And in Lopez’s case, we have an instance where Hollywood shows how deeply entrenched it is with its discomfort and ignorance dealing with the Latinx identity.”

Rodriguez references The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, which exhibit Lopez in two roles that reinforce racial and ethnic hierarchies.

“In The Wedding Planner, Lopez plays an Italian woman who is, for all intents and purposes, highly successful and comfortably well off. In Maid in Manhattan, Lopez plays a Latina woman who works as a maid in an expensive hotel, just scraping by as a single mom, and only finds success after she falls in love with a white man,” she wrote. “This creates a distorted image. As an Italian woman, Lopez’s character is an independent and successful career woman who eventually finds love. As a Latina woman, Lopez’s character is a single mom (enforcing the idea that Latino men are absentee fathers/bad family men), working as a maid until a rich white man “saves” her; then and only then does she find success.”

“This is, perhaps, a cynical viewing of what are two separate, and admittedly tropey romantic comedies. But again, media has power. Consciously or not, there’s a negative message to be had in the fact that Lopez’s Latina identity was erased in favor of an Italian one in The Wedding Planner,” she wrote. “By erasing our Latinx identities in favor of white ones, either by erasing the very existence of our Latinx identities or whitewashing them with white actors, media contributes to misinformation about what being Latinx is. Who we are as a collective culture and people – which is highly diverse and layered. Yet these stereotypes are upheld by this continued enforcement of ignorance and whitewashing.”

“[Stereotyping is] very, very detrimental and limiting because when you think of Latin America, we’re talking about over 20 countries and yes, we’re talking about Spanish [as a language] there are other languages [as well]…so I will say that when it comes down to not just representation, but inclusion in Hollywood, a person has to be invested in learning about the culture because there’s so many different moving parts,” said Martinez. “You can be Latino, Latina, Latinx, but you can be black, you can be Asian, you can be white and Latino. There has to be a great understanding of the culture.”

“…I think the work that is needed to really depict a Latino hasn’t been done and I think, specifically, when it comes to the representation, a lot of times they don’t even specify the nationality of the Latino [character]. …[Viewers] don’t even know if this person is Ecuadorian or Puerto Rican or if they’re from Honduras or Nicaragua or wherever because whoever wrote the role[.]”

Martinez also talked about how the different languages, slang words, and other cultural identifiers that make up Latin America aren’t taken seriously as characterization tools.

“When we see the portrayals on our screen, those things are not necessarily taken into account,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a strong grasp on what it means to be Latino, either Latino in America or Latino abroad.”

Jennifer Lopez and Tyler Posey in Maid in Manhattan (Columbia/TriStar)

Hoyos said that stereotypes are at their most insidious when people don’t even recognize them as such.

“I think the most dangerous thing about stereotypes is that to the untrained eye, they’re not seen as anything negative…To the average viewer, if they see one crime movie with Latinx as they gang members or the thugs, they may not even call that movie racist,” she said. “They might be like, ‘Oh, other movies do that.’ It becomes a normalized thing, and I think that’s why need to educate ourselves as a whole. I think a lot of that goes to correcting others when we see problematic media as a whole.”

Maravilla echoes this point by examining the news’ portrayal of Latinx Americans.

“I think these stereotypes originate from a similar place as the kind of roles that go to Latinx actors. They come from an isolated or insulated experience from Latinx people that prevents them from seeing or understanding them as complex, three-dimensional people,” he wrote. “When you look at other films, Latinx people are often criminals, immigrants, blue-collar people, and when they look at news coverage, this is also typically our depiction.”

“As filmmakers try to balance telling an engaging and affective story, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of making a narrative work at a story level, he wrote. “Because their focus or interest isn’t necessarily on accurate cultural representation, they rely on stereotypes to satisfy their story needs, but end up not fully realizing (and in some cases just not caring) about the harm these stereotypes are doing.”

Next: Whitewashing and brownface in Hollywood

“GLOW” Is An Unexpected Commentary on American Racism

When I watched Netflix’s latest success, GLOW, what I expected was to see a faithful-to-the-ugly-’80s dramedy about the makings of real-life ’80s wrestling show GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I expected a focus on strong women, which there was. But what I didn’t expect was a sneak attack of much-needed racial commentary.

One of the show’s overarching themes is how much racial stereotyping and trope plays into the world of entertainment wrestling. Racial and ethnic stereotypes have been an often-overlooked, but integral part of entertainment wrestling’s success, such as The Iron Sheik, Samoa Joe, Sheamus, Latin Lover, SabuMexican America, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and G-Rilla, the original gangsta character George Murdoch (aka WWE’s Brodus Clay and Impact Wrestling’s Tyrus) adopted to start his career. Stereotypes of all forms play a part in wresting’s personas, from the hillbilly character of Bubba Ray Dudley and the gimmicky play on Hornswoggle‘s height as a little person to the cartoonish, flamboyant “macho man” brashness of Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Randy Savage and spoiled brattiness of “The Miracle” Mike Bennett and his wife, “The First Lady of Wrestling” Maria Kanellis Bennett, to the self-explanatory nature of The Honky Tonk Man.

The show explores exactly why stereotypes are seen as means to an end in the world of wrestling–it’s easy to create a character. Unlike how director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) was trying to create an indie subversive treatise on the patriarchy with characters who needed a lot of backstory, there is no need for characters with layers in professional wrestling. The ease of stereotypes, especially the racial ones, allow for the audience to quickly understand who a character is and what their motivations are in one sentence (or in some cases, no sentences at all). Carmen Wade (Britney Young) is part Cherokee, but instead, her character is the Incan gentle giant Machu Picchu, with simultaneously plays on Carmen’s lovable demeanor and the stereotype of the wise, ancient, “medicine woman” type. Reggie Walsh (Marianna Palka) plays on a mish-mash of Viking and Nordic stereotypes as Vicky the Viking, who pillages towns.

Sydelle Noel (R) and Kia Stevens in GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix)

Beirut (Sunita Mani) is, in wrestling terms, a “heel” by playing on the “brown-as-terrorist” stereotype that was reinforced within the season thanks to a newscast of Lebanese terrorists who held a U.S. plane hostage. It doesn’t matter that the character behind Beruit, Arthie Premkumar, isn’t actually Lebanese. Welfare Queen (Kia Stevens) spoke to the image white America had (or still has) of the poor black woman–that she’s actually a lazy slob living in wealth thanks to taking advantage of the government. It doesn’t matter that the character’s real persona, Tammé Dawson, actually worried about if her son, who is getting an Ivy League education, might be made fun of or, worse, that her son could actually come to resent her playing on all the stereotypes they’ve worked to disavow. Fortune Cookie aka Jenny Chey (Ellen Wong) is actually Cambodian, but what’s important is that she wrap up all of America’s dis-ease with the Vietnam War and its growing tension with communist China in one small bamboo hat-wearing package.

The ultimate heel of the show, Zoya the Destroyer aka Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) plays heavily on America’s fear of Soviet Russia. Does it matter that “Zoya” isn’t actually Russian? Nope. All that matters is that she portrays every Russian stereotype to the nth degree. The same goes for Liberty Belle aka Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), who has to play up every nasty stereotype about “The Good U.S. of A.,” which includes believing White Jesus is an American citizen, that apple pie reflects patriotism (even though it’s actually Dutch in origin), and that blonde and white equals pure and “All-American.”

Alison Brie (L) and Betty Gilpin in GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix)

However, stereotyping is quickly shown to be a double-edged sword; while it might be easy to get your characters out, it also opens the fans, particularly those who don’t realize the gag, to use the stereotypes as an excuse to showcase their racism. The best example of this is in the final episode, when Arthie gets spit on and heckled with racial epithets. The fact that she’s playing up the terrorist stereotype could be, if we’re using Sam and producer Bash’s (Chris Lowell) lenses, subverting the stereotype itself and taking the power away from that image by mocking the absurdity of the stereotype. But the audience for wrestling isn’t thinking about writing a thesis on stereotype subversion. What ends up happening is that there are some fans who believe whatever is put in front of them, and if they see a stereotype of a terrorist, they feel justified in hurling racial slurs. What happens to Arthie is exactly what Tammé and Junk Chain aka Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) discuss one-on-one; how will they know if the audience is in on the joke and laughing with them instead of laughing at them?

The first season of GLOW sets up for a second season that seems ripe to dig deeper into the emotional fallout the wrestlers will go through when it comes to playing up stereotypes. We were left with a question mark on whether Cherry would continue with the group, seeing how she aced an audition for a lead part on a TV procedural. The procedural itself seems to still be in line with Cherry’s blaxploitation past, but still, it’s miles better for her than the work she’s putting out as Junk Chain. For her, she’d finally be seen as a legitimate actress, not a B-movie star. Arthie might have a love for TV wrestling, but that love might pale in comparison to the amount of inner turmoil she’s already facing after her first TV match. Ruth is naively oblivious to the fact that she’s not portraying Russians as actual Russians, something made clear when she went with the hotel owner to his family’s gathering. But she’s primed and ready for a huge inner dilemma next season. Tammé hasn’t had to face her son yet, but with GLOW’s growing popularity, she’ll certainly have to.

(From right) Sydelle Noel, Ellen Wong, and Sunita Mani in GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix)

As The Atlantic‘s Dion Beary wrote in the 2014 article, Pro Wrestling is Fake, but Its Race Problem Isn’t, it’s the behind-the-scenes dilemmas that are the real draw for wrestling fans, since what happens in real life is often woven into the on-screen conflicts. And, just like how racial stereotyping and racism itself is a part of GLOW, The WWE was also facing its own issues with racial bias.

Beary detailed how the WWE’s black wrestlers were constantly getting beaten in the ring, from “jobbers”–wrestlers whose main job is to be beaten–and veteran wrestlers alike, like Big E and “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry. All of this highlights the fact that in its then-62 years, the federation had yet to crown a black wrestler the winner of the WWE Championship, the highest honor in the federation.

The article focuses on a 2003 WWE match to make its point. WWE’s RAW World Champion was Triple H, and the underdog looking to take him on was Booker T, a black wrestler.

“‘Somebody like you doesn’t get to be a world champion,’ Triple H told Booker T during a promo, a segment meant to build excitement for a match. Triple H made mention of Booker’s ‘Nappy hair,’ and claimed Booker was in the WWE to make people laugh, to be an entertainer rather than a competitor, to ‘do a little dance’ for him.

The crowd ate it up, and loud ‘ASSHOLE’ chants rained down on Triple H. The next week, Booker T gave an impassioned talk about his past, about how he’s overcome every obstacle that has been put in his way in life, and how he was going to beat the odds again at Wrestlemania 19 to become the world champion. It was, in one sense, brilliant storytelling. Hollywood is chock-full of plots that involve scrappy minorities overcoming racism to accomplish their dreams. With Triple H as the franchise, and the franchise’s job being to eventually lose to the underdog, fans were thoroughly in the corner of Booker T. The storybook ending just made so much sense.

And then Triple H won. 1-2-3. There was no cheating, no controversial finish, non ambiguity about it.
There’s real-life drama and then there’s fictional drama. WWE’s response to allegations of racism, misogyny, homophobia ad ableism have always been the same: It’s fictional. But that excuse wears thin when the fictional racism lines up perfectly with the real-life racism.”

According to Wikipedia, there still hasn’t been a black wrestler crowned as the ultimate champion. However, wrestlers of other minority backgrounds have been crowned throughout the championship’s run in the late ’90s and ’00s, including The Rock, Eddie Guerrero, Yokozuna, Alberto Del Rio, Rey Mysterio, and Batista. Still, the fact remains that in matches such as the one between Triple H and Booker T, racially-laced storylines play a huge part in professional wrestling, much to its detriment.

The cast of GLOW

What’s happening in GLOW not only shines a light on the issues plaguing professional wrestling, but also the acting industry as a whole. The same problem affecting Ruth and the other GLOW women are the same ones affecting actors today–all of the great, meaty roles are given to white men, while everyone else has to make lemonade out of lemon roles, with your success hinging on how much (or how willingly) you lean into your assigned stereotype. But as GLOW shows, even if you happily go into creating the best stereotypical character ever, your reward might be in the form of diminishing returns.

The success of GLOW’s second season will hang on just how much time is devoted to delving into the problems caused by the cast opening up Pandora’s Box of stereotyping. With so much material to mine, from the world of professional wrestling to the real life actresses’ own stories of offensive casting and other Hollywood horrors, it’d be to GLOW‘s detriment if it doesn’t hold Hollywood down in a headlock in Season 2.

What the New Study on Ancient Egypt Says About Media Representation

Science and the fight for representation in the media has intertwined in a brand new study coming from Germany. The study focuses specifically on ancient Egypt. What the scientists have to say about their findings could give Hollywood food for thought, if they decide to dissect the scientists’ results.

What the DNA discovery actually is

As CNN reports, researchers from Germany’s University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena have finally been able to do what scientists invested in studying Egypt have been trying to do for years–learn more about the genetic history of ancient Egyptians, a people who have been fought over by the Western World. That fight has played out in our modern media, with white actors playing the parts of historical ancient Egyptian characters, most notably the sheer number of actresses who have played Cleopatra.

The scientists used 151 mummies from Abusir el-Meleq, Middle Egypt. “The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period,” states the study, which was published in Nature Communications. The scientists found that ancient Egyptians from that area were more closely related to “Neolithic Anatolian and European populations.” Modern Egyptians, however, have more of a a genetic relationship with sub-Saharan Africans.

The reason behind the genetic surprise isn’t much of a surprise when you take into account the historical context the ancient folks of Abusir el-Meleq lived in. According to the study, Abusir el-Meleq was inhabited from around 3250BCE to about 700CE and was an attractive burial site because of its active cult to the god of the dead, Osiris. The site was part of a wider region during the third century BCE, a region that included the northern part of the Harakleopolites province and the Fayum and Memphite provinces, the latter two of which Abusir el-Meleq had close relations with. The Fayum province saw a huge influx in its population, more than likely from Greek immigration. During the Roman Period, many Roman veterans, described by the study as being people who weren’t “initially at least…Egyptian but people from disparate cultural backgrounds,” settled in the Fayum province after their time with the Roman army was done. After settling, they became a part of the local society and intermarried among the locals. Immigrants also influenced culture in Abusir el-Meleq, where coffins featuring Greek, Latin, and Hebrew names and Greek art remain.

However, the rate of intermarriage in the Fayum and surrounding areas was localized because of the high population of Greek and Roman immigrants. Intermarraige also seemed to serve political and social gains, since Roman citizenship was at stake and while Egyptians were granted citizenship under Roman rule, no doubt one could gain more rights of a Roman citizen if they married up, as it were.

“Our genetic time transect suggests genetic continuity between the Pre-Ptolemaic, Ptolemaic and Roman populations of Abusir el-Meleq, indicating that foreign rule impacted the town’s population only to a very limited degree at a genetic level. It is possible that the genetic impact of Greek and Roman immigration was more pronounced in the north-western Delta and the Fayum, where most Greek and Roman settlement concentrated, or among the higher classes of Egyptian society,” states the study. “Under Ptolemaic and Roman rule, ethnic descent was crucial to belonging to an elite group and afforded a privileged position in society. Especially in the Roman Period there may have been significant legal and social incentives to marry within one’s ethnic group, as individuals with Roman citizenship had to marry other Roman citizens to pass on their citizenship. Such policies are likely to have affected the intermarriage of Romans and non-Romans to a degree.”

The amount of sub-Saharan ancestry in modern Egyptians possibly comes from greater trade between the two regions. That trade also includes transporting slaves.

“Possible causal factors include increased mobility down the Nile and increased long-distance commerce between sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt,” states the study. “Trans-Saharan slave trade may have been particularly important as it moved between 6 and 7 million sub-Saharan slaves to Northern Africa over a span of some 1,250 years, reaching its high point in the nineteenth century.”

Despite the genetic breakthrough of tracing the genetic lineage of Abusir el-Meleq, the scientists stress that this one study probably (and more than likely isn’t) indicative of the lineage of the entirety of ancient Egypt.

“It is possible that populations in the south of Egypt were more closely related to those of Nubia and had a higher sub-Saharan genetic component, in which case the argument for an influx of sub-Saharan ancestries after the Roman Period might only be partially valid and have to be nuanced,” the study states. “Throughout Pharonic history that was intense interaction between Egypt and Nubia, ranging from trade to conquest and colonialism, and there is compelling evidence for ethnic complexity within households with Egyptian men marrying Nubian women and vice versa.”

In closing, the scientists stress that more studies need to be made of the ancient peoples of southern Egypt and Sudan in order to give a much more complete (or near-complete) picture of the vastness of the Egyptian genetic story.

Portrait of a woman from the Fayum province with a ringlet hairstyle, an orange chiton with black bands and rod-shaped earrings. Royal Museum of Scotland. (Public Domain)

How this affects the always-raging argument about how to portray ancient Egyptians in film and television? Does that mean Gods of Egypt is actually accurate??

Reading the original CNN article on this post, I knew there would be people, scholars who believe in the “Egypt-is-Anglo-Saxon” model in particular, who would take this study to mean that they are right and everyone who believes in a much more POC model of Egypt are wrong. While the study shows that there are European ties to ancient Egypt, some of these ties are what we’ve already learned from the history books–indeed, the Romans and the Greeks did come to Egypt due to its geological location as well as for political reasons (i.e. the Ptolemaic Dynasty–a Greek ruling family with origins in Macedonia–and the Roman Period), and Cleopatra herself, as the last Ptolemaic ruler, is of Egyptian and Greek-Macedonian background.

What is semi-new is the direct connection to Anatolia, otherwise known as Asia Minor or the Near East. Today, much of Anatolia is known as Turkey. While it’s always made sense that ancient Egyptians would share genetic connections to the Middle East simply because of Egypt’s geological location to many of the countries in the Middle East, the direct connection to Turkey has never been known.

In regard to this new knowledge, what does that mean for Hollywood when it comes to casting actors for films about ancient Egypt? Regarding this information about the citizens of Abusir el-Meleq, it would still be incorrect for a director to lazily cast characters since, going by old and new genetic information, ancient Egyptians were never “white” in the Western sense. For example, Gods of Egypt, which included actors hailing from Denmark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Australia (Brenton Thwaites), Scotland (Gerard Butler), and France (Elodie Yung, who is of French and Cambodian descent), is still historically incorrect and, just on a base level, visually upsetting. Even Chadwick Boseman, who is part of the African Diaspora, more than likely doesn’t share any strong genetic ties to Egypt. Most of the actors who would at least, visually, present a better vision of ancient Egypt were actors or crew who either had bit parts or went uncredited–Josh Farah, Wassim Hawat, Julian Maroun, Ishak Issa, and Rhavin Banda, to be specific. Of course, having these guys might not make the film any more or less accurate either, since this casting would be based solely on skin color and not on historical accuracy.

Hollywood actors who would have been perfectly suited for these roles would have been actors who are of Egyptian or Turkish background, such as Numan Acar (Homeland, of German and Turkish heritage), Deniz Akdeniz (I, Frankenstein, Once Upon a Time), Osman Soykut, also known as Ozman Sirgood (The Hot Chick, Alias, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, of Eastern European and Turkish heritage), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Night at the Museum series, of Egyptian heritage), Amr Waked (Lucy, Egyptian heritage), Khaled Nabawy (Kingdom of Heaven, Egyptian heritage), Sammy Sheik (American Sniper, Egyptian heritage), Ahmed Ahmed (Iron Man, Egyptian heritage), Kal Naga (Tyrant, Egyptian heritage) and plenty of other undiscovered Turkish and Egyptian actors in America looking to make their mark in Hollywood, as well as established Turkish and Egyptian actors who are looking to break into the American market. Ditto this list for a more accurate portrayal of biblical characters in Exodus: Gods and Kings.

However, that’s also not to say that the European ancestry of some ancient Egyptians shouldn’t be expressed in films. This needs to be done with care, since too often, the casting practice for Hollywood is, as we’ve seen with Gods of Egypt, to whitewash with abandon. Some of the actors I mentioned are biracial, which goes right into the picture that the study itself painted about the ancient Egyptians of Abusir el-Meleq. Overall, casting history should be done with care, not with Hollywood stereotyping and tropes.

Portrait of a man with sword belt from the Fayum province with British Museum. (Public Domain)

The Takeaways

If there’s been any production that made an effort to be at least visually appealing in regards to showcasing ancient Egypt is Spike’s TUT, which starred Avan Jogia and a mostly brown and black cast in an attempt to show how ancient Egypt and neighboring regimes in Sudan actually interacted with each other. Sure, it’s not historically accurate, but as far as Hollywood standards go, this was a knock out of the park. If Hollywood went in this direction more often, there might be less gripes from audience members.

In short, the new study doesn’t go against what folks who are vying for better represented Egyptian-themed movies have been preaching. If anything, it clarifies things even more. It showcases that there is not only a need to show ancient Egyptians as they actually looked, but there is also a need to remember that ancient Egyptians, just like us, existed in a multiracial, multicultural world, that included intermarriage and biracial/multiethnic offspring. It would be great if the people behind the films we loved showed an interest and curiosity in creating a film that not only had a great story, but also paid respect to the people whose stories they are telling.

Portrait of a man from the Fayum province, Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public Domain)

New short film “Underneath the Grey” features love without boundaries

 

A couple of weeks ago, I posted quite a bit online about interracial relationships featuring black women and Asian men.  Even with the popularity of the Twitter conversation, I was still surprised when I was sent an opportunity to watch a new short film featuring a black-Asian couple!

Underneath the Grey, directed by Patrick Chen and starring Michael Rosete and Tia DeShazor, is a short film that has received tons of love from film festivals including the San Francisco Black Film Festival, the Denton Black Film Fest and the Urban Mediamaker Film Fest. Underneath the Grey has also been accepted to Asians on Film and the Queens World Film Fest.

Rosete and DeShazor in Underneath the Grey

I was able to watch the short film and I can tell you that once it’s out to the public, you’ll love it. As the two leads, Rosete and DeShazor have amazing chemistry and you instantly root for their characters’ relationship to work. While Rosete himself isn’t blind, he does play his character Ethan as a well-rounded character, not a one-dimensional caricature whose characterization is exclusively about his blindness. DeShazor’s Jessica exhibits the inner battle that plagues many who are trying to make it in the arts –is a person’s “worth” about their inner selves or their bank account? At one point in the film, Jessica feels Ethan won’t want her around because she’s gotten laid off from her job. But Ethan makes it clear to her that it doesn’t matter how much money she has–it was her soul that he fell in love with, not material possessions.  Overall, at the heart of the film is love, heart, and the message that time waits for no one, so make sure to share your life with people you hold dear. (A spoiler you’ll be happy to know: Ethan and Jessica do spend their lives together, as evidenced by their talk about getting their first grey hairs.)

So how’d this short film come about? I emailed Chen to learn more about the genesis of the film. He wrote that the inspiration came to him while he was learning more about film color grading and “wanted to create a black and white picture with a blind person as the main protagonist,” exploring how a person with blindness adapted their senses and imagination to a world catered towards those with sight.

“The opportunity presented itself with my involvement with Asian American Film Lab’s annual competition,” wrote Chen. “It challenges filmmakers to produce a five-minute film with a designated theme spanning three days.”

The resulting film changed from the original black and white idea, but the focus on a man who has lost his sight and his adaptation to his new life remained a core feature and, even better, a romance between him and an aspiring Broadway star was added, giving the film a driving storytelling force.

“I gathered up my research and team with the confidence of producing this unique perspective of a blind (Asian) man falling with a (Black) woman,” wrote Chen. “I wanted to have a diverse cast and a story that doesn’t focus on the separation of race, religion or gender; and in this scenario, being handicapped. I wanted the world to see that we are not just one color but also a beautiful blend of lives.”

Underneath The Grey is the discovery of inner beauty through self-acceptance. The challenge was not only producing quality work in 72 hours but to also have characters that felt lifelike and inseparable,” he wrote. “With the support from EnMaze Pictures and the opportunity given by the Asian Americans Film Lab, the production was given form. The 5-minute version was given praises by an audience of different ethnic groups. With this encouragement, I expanded the film to 15 mins with a small backstory and additional scenes of the characters’ relationship. I feel this story is now completed to further serve the audience’s fulfillment of these two wonderful characters.”

Thanks to Chen, I was able to ask Rosete and DeShazor some questions about their characters. I also asked Chen some questions via email about his directorial process.

What was it like to be a part of this short film?

Rosete: Patrick, Shannon, Tia, Joe, everyone involved was so professional, so easy to get along with, and open to each other’s opinions. It felt like a bunch of friends getting together to tell a story, a truly collaborative effort. There was a lot of support for each other, and a vibe that we were all there because this is what we love to do.

DeShazor: Being a part of this film was very exciting.  We definitely had some fun times on set. I don’t know if Patrick told you that  there was an original version that was shot in 24 hours.  That was a crazy, but everyone was completely committed to telling a beautiful story.  Patrick and his team are incredible to work with, so I enjoyed every moment of the process.

Rosete and DeShazor in Underneath the Grey

How did you get into character? Particularly, how did y’all develop the chemistry between your two characters (because it seemed like there was a genuine connection/friendship between y’all off-screen).

Rosete: Tia is such an open, loving and kind person; she was able to let those qualities shine through on this project, which made it very easy to connect with her. We spent a little bit of time before shooting and in between takes getting to know one another like you would in any job; I would find qualities in her that I could connect with. We both knew with this story that if there was no chemistry, it wouldn’t work, so I think we were both mindful of that throughout the process.

DeShazor: Regarding chemistry with Michael, he is a very generous actor.  We were able to meet beforehand and we used our time off camera to get to know each other, and we have a lot in common.  We also both know what it is like to experience love, be vulnerable and open to it.  We are both married now (to other people), and I think having the understanding of what true commitment feels like informed our performances. Also,  Patrick created a very safe environment where we were able to feel comfortable in more intimate moments.

What kind of preparation/research did you do to portray Ethan’s blindness?

Rosete:  I had a very limited amount of time to prepare, so I called various centers for the blind to ask questions, read articles about what it is to be blind or visually impaired, watched clips of various blind people sharing their experiences online, watched movies that portrayed blind characters, and observed people on the street. Patrick also provided a walking cane, which I would spend hours on using at home and in the street to practice.

Rosete and Joe Chan in Underneath the Grey

This short film is about how love can transcend all the barriers people think can limit love, such as race, disability, career choices (i.e. when Jessica felt like Ethan wouldn’t want her staying at his place because she’d been let go from the bar). Why do you think this message is something we as an audience need to always be reminded of?

Rosete: I don’t think we set out to make a statement about the power of love so much as telling a story of this particular man and woman’s journey together. But anytime we as audience members can be reminded about love, and the power of it—in all of its forms—I’m all for it. Everyone, intentionally or not, has put up barriers out of fear of the unknown or what is not fully understood. I think it’s important not to “look past” whatever we think these “barriers” are, but to acknowledge them, be open as to why we even see them as “barriers,” learn about them, and eventually free ourselves from seeing them as “barriers” at all.

DeShazor: This story is so relevant today because we always need to be reminded that love transcends abilities, careers and ethnicity.  We hear that a lot, but there are still so many barriers that make it difficult to really live out.  We receive so many messages, whether we are aware of them or not, about love, status and stability that make us fearful to take chances.  And it is our nature to choose the safest route, protecting ourselves from the heartbreak of falling in love, from the failure that could come from following our callings or from the isolation and ridicule that could come from choosing to be with someone who is different.  We will always need to see people from different backgrounds taking these risks.

What do you think of the positive response to the film?

Rosete: I am thrilled by the positive response; we set out to tell a story that we thought would be interesting, and did the project out of love for what we do, so to see people react positively to what we made is a great feeling.

DeShazor: Having made this film so long ago, I can honestly say that it is the gift that keeps on giving, and I am so thrilled when people connect with the story!♦

An extended version of Underneath the Grey will be released to the public Fall 2017. You can learn more about Underneath the Grey and Chen on Twitter and Facebook

¡Órale! “The Book of Life” is getting a sequel!

20th Century Fox

When I saw The Book of Life in theaters a couple of years ago, I had hoped it would get enough traction and fanbase to garner a sequel. The characters and animation were charming, as was the story, so I’m glad to know that we’re getting a new Book of Life film!

The news came during this year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival. According to Remezcla via Variety, The Book of Life creator and director Jorge Gutiérrez will return to helm the sequel. I presume the same voice actors, including Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Kate del Castillo, and Ron Perlman, will be back as well (no confirmation yet).
Gutiérrez had teased a sequel last year, and has since retweeted that old tweet, which features a very different, angrier-looking Xibalba and a different, Aztec-inspired goddess. Also, Manolo, Maria and Joaquín are all dead, fighting against something or someone. In short, it seems like a much darker–yet just as fun–chapter in the Book of Life saga. Will the sequel follow the narrative the early concept art shows us? I hope so–I really want to know what the story is that inspired this art, especially that goddess.

But I hope that La Muerte is still a part of the mix; her character design is still one of the most inspired designs I’ve seen in a while, especially now that we’re in the age of homogenous Pixar or Pixar-influenced art. Let’s be real–mainstream 3D films are all starting to look exactly the same. The Book of Life jazzed things up a whole lot, not just where diversity and representation are concerned (because 3D animated films are still white-centric). The playfulness and imaginative quality that The Book of Life art has is something that has been lacking in 3D animated films, and it’s definitely something Pixar has increasingly lost since it lost its arthouse sensibilities after becoming a full-blown part of Disney.

I digress, but I’ll also use this as a segue to discuss The Book of Life‘s “competition,” as it were–Pixar’s Coco. I’ve already written about how some aren’t feeling Coco and it’s similar The Book of Life look. But Gutiérrez doesn’t view them as competition and, in fact, welcomes more films that are taking on this topic. And, in Pixar’s defense, it looks like Pixar isn’t taking the typically Disney easy way out when it comes to telling this story, i.e. creating a sanitized, whitewashed version of Mexican culture. Aside from screenwriter and Pixar animator Adrian Molina co-directing the film with Lee Unkrich, Pixar has hired some of its biggest critics as a think-tank to keep the film culturally sound. (However, the think-tank idea only seems to be after Disney’s 2013 trademark debacle when they tried to secure the phrase “Día de los Muertos,” which resulted in a PR nightmare. An artist who came out against them, Lalo Alcaraz, was asked by Pixar to be a part of the think-tank, and I hope they heed what he and the rest of the experts have to say. You can read more about this at Vanity Fair.)

To get back on topic, I’m really excited to see what The Book of Life has in store for us the second go-round. What do you think about this news? Give your opinions below!

Takeaways from the gaggiest “RuPaul’s Drag Race” episode this season

Just when you thought this season of RuPaul’s Drag race was going to continue to be boring, the show came back in the rarest of rare form with its reunion episode.

Thank the Drag Race Gods that the reunion and the finale have been separated, so the queens can properly get into all of the shenanigans we viewers weren’t privy to. There was so much drama, reading, and downright nastiness going on–I haven’t felt this verklempt about a reunion since…Season 2?

Let’s get into some quick takeaways from this reunion episode:

• Valentina is the new Queen of Snakes: To paraphrase someone from Twitter, Valentina has now succeeded Alaska in earning the crown and title of The Queen of Snakes. Valentina really showed her true colors right at the end of the episode when she snapped and told Farrah–who had said Valentina wasn’t a true friend to her–to “just shut up.” Her snap came on the heels of Aja and others disagreeing with her being crowned Miss Congeniality and with her lack of reining in her fans on social media.

Look, I’ll be upfront and honest and say that if there’s one character trope I love on Drag Race, it’s a good, glamorous villain. And by “glamorous,” I mean a villain who owns the fact that she’s a villain and runs with it. Phi Phi O’Hara was like that in her season (before she tried to change her stripes in All Stars 2, only to fail), Raja and The Heathers were like that in their season, Raven was like that in her season, and now Valentina has truly revealed herself to be the classic Disney villainess her Princess Realness look foreshadowed her as. Think back to that look–it was a sweet ice skatery look but had the sidekick fairy that said, “hate everyone.” Looks like that’s how Valentina is in real life, and I lowkey love it.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always had a soft spot for Veronica over Betty, but I just love a character who knows she’s terrible and is still determined to live her life and her truth, however wrong that truth may be. And isn’t that characteristic kinda at the root of why we love some of the people we love, like Naomi Campbell and Mariah Carey? They’re divas who are, in actuality, prickly, but they live the “I don’t give a f***” life we all wish we could live deep down. Valentina gave me a lot of that in this reunion. The comment about how she feels she represents something akin to Selena for her fans gave me a lot of that Mariah Carey vibe that only a diva would have.

Valentina is no Selena, let’s make no mistake about that, but I have seen from her fanbase, particularly the young, ravenous fans, that they do see her as the Selena-esque star Valentina believes herself to be. Jiggly Caliente even brought it up in one of Hey Queen‘s recent Drag Race finale videos that when she was hosting a viewing party for the episode featuring Valentina’s departure, there were Valentina stans at the bar crying as if, to paraphrase her, they were seeing Selena’s death all over again. So her core fanbase helps prop up Valentina’s vision for herself, which is to be one of the great divas of her time.

I guess my personal feelings on Valentina are this: I knew she was a cunning, smart and savvy queen. I knew she was all about perfection in her public persona. I get it and I’m quite okay with it. As Twitter user @MarioSanchezx said, Valentina is totally Eve Harrington from All About Eve–someone who puts on an “I’m just a little girl” act to get where she needs to go in life, and is ready to slyly cut anyone out of her way to get to her goal.

Two final things on Valentina/Villaintina–yes, she should tell her fans to cut out all their bullshit. Excuse my language, but if I complain about Beyonce never collecting her fans when they get on folks’ social media and dog them out, then I have to do the same for Valentina. If you have a fanbase and you know they’re acting out of bounds, then you, as their leader, need to get on your social media platform and tell them to cool it. Now, of course, that won’t stop everybody, but it will make enough of them cower enough, I feel, to make them stop doing as much stuff as they were doing before. When these types of fans think they’re dragging folks in someone’s honor, they’ll go to any length to defend their queen. But this also speaks to today’s fandom culture as a whole–Y’ALL NEED TO STOP HAVING FAVES. Like, have the people you like, but this “fave” nonsense? As if a person can be a perfect vessel for an idea or a concept? Y’all need to stop that. And by “y’all,” I mean “the people that believe their favorite celeb can do no wrong.” Beyonce can do just as much wrong as doggone Keyshia Cole, and Valentina can do just as much wrong as anyone else on this show. At least go into the “fave” world knowing that your fave probably is going to be a “Problematic Fave,” because at the end of the day, ain’t nan one of us perfect and we’ve all said something or done something that we are not proud of. *End of soapbox rant.*

Second, while Valentina has clearly showed her colors, I do respect that she went into this playing the game. She went into this telling herself she was going to make it to the top–she didn’t go into this to make friends, she went into this to become a star and become a star she did. Maybe if she had said this upfront, like Bianca did, none of this surprise would have happened. More than likely, Valentina will learn how to do this and incorporate it into her brand so she can seem more…realistic and less of a soap opera character functioning in real life. But I am completely at peace with the fact that she didn’t try to keep up friendships with anyone on the show. Valentina has said before in an ABC News video that she keeps drag queen as colleagues and not as best friends, so…there you go. And also, it’s not a requirement to keep up certain friendships throughout our lives, right? How close were Farrah and Valentina, anyways? I believe Farrah’s emotions, but how close were they in actual life?

• Nina Bonina Brown needs to find peace: This is not me reading Nina or shading Nina or whatever. I’m actually being quite sincere, since I’m coming from a very personal place. I know Nina’s struggle well and I know exactly how her depression and darkness has been able to feed itself. She said herself in the confessionals that she still lives at home with her parents, she’s working hard to achieve her dream and to have that dream be her full-time career, while her family would rather her work so she can support herself. Basically, it’s that her family has felt like she was chasing a dream that they felt should just be a hobby and no a full-time profession.

Plus, Nina felt like she was being constantly excluded from the drag scene, and she probably felt like that inhibited her ability to make drag a profitable career. I understand exactly what it feels like to be working towards what seems like an impossible goal while trying to find a way to support yourself and meet the societal expectations of “adulting.” I also know what it feels like to see how the hivemind works–even in spaces where you feel you should belong, there’s always the idea that you still have to follow the crowd and what they believe in order to fit in and get somewhere. Just like how it works like that in the drag scene, it works like that on social media. Anywhere, really–the high school herd mentality is something that never really leaves.

In short, I get Nina’s pain, way more than I’m going to reveal in this article. I know that when the soil is primed and fertilized with this kind of pain, only the weeds of self-doubt, paranoia, and disillusionment can grow, and those weeds are hard to kill. You can literally tell yourself, “I need to stop thinking this way,” and you’ll still go back to thinking like that seconds later. These are hard habits to kill because they are partially hard-wired into the brain because the brain itself gets used to thinking in a certain way. But that’s not to say that you can’t defeat those demons. Nina has to take it upon herself to stop letting paranoia, self-doubt, and defensiveness run her life. As someone who is working on some of those same things, I know it’s a lot easier said than done. But you are the master of your mind. Whether that means going to therapy, mediating, getting a prescription, or doing yoga, you have to find mastery over your mental habits and inner demons, because it won’t happen just because it wish it would. It takes actual hard work. Will Nina put in that work? I think so. Or, rather, I hope so, because she is so talented and amazing. She deserves to have the life she wants.

• I’m rooting for Trinity to win: I know everyone’s expecting either Shae or Sasha to win, but I’m rooting for Trinity because she, like Valentina, has been playing the game to win, but Trinity has been upfront about it. She’s also been one of the most real queens this season–she hasn’t put on a persona or a facade; she’s been the direct, yet caring queen and she’s remained as such throughout the season. Also, she’s from Birmingham, so it’d be nice to have Birmingham make it to the top of the drag world for a little while (even if she’s repping Orlando).

That’s about it–what did y’all think of the Drag Race finale? Give your opinions below!

Monique Reviews Media Everywhere! How to Keep Up with My Media Criticism

You may or may not have noticed a slight change-up in how I use my Twitter accounts, particularly @moniqueblognet (FOLLOW ME there and at @COLORwebmag if you haven’t already!). There’s a reason for that–I’m writing media reviews EVERYWHERE!

For every time I’m writing something on this website, I’m usually writing two to three (or more) times that for other sites as well. In short, if I haven’t talked about something here, I’ve probably talked about it elsewhere. (Hey, I didn’t get that film critic shoutout from Pajiba for nothing–I work more than you know.)

So if you’ve been wondering where to find all of my recent work, here’s the definitive (yet constantly growing) list.

MAGIC: THE GATHERING

In case you didn’t know, I’m the consultant Magic employed for the development of Kaya: Ghost Assassin! Read more about that collaboration here and in some of the articles linked below.

GATHERING MAGIC

Amonkhet Art Review by Mike Linneman (featuring my contribution on colorism in art)

EBONY

Will #OscarsSoBlack Happen This Year? Here Are Our Predictions

Where is the Black ‘La La Land?’

‘Riverdale’s’ Woke Report Card: Does the Drama Get Its Black Characters Right?

‘Still Star-Crossed’ Reminds Us That Black Women Were More Than Servants

What Marvel Could Learn from ‘Bingo Love’

 

TOR

http://www.tor.com/search-page/?s=monique+jones (Includes Luke Cage recaps, articles on Star WarsSamurai JackMagic: The Gathering, Harry Potter. More articles coming soon.)

COMIC BOOK RESOURCES

http://www.cbr.com/author/mjon/  (Includes articles about movie, merchandise, and comic book news–this is a constantly updating link.)

BLACK GIRL NERDS

https://blackgirlnerds.com/?s=Monique+Jones (Includes Sleepy Hollow recaps and articles, articles about various topics affecting black female blerdom and representation, including Into the Badlands, MulanRiverdale, blerd self-acceptance, Murder on the Orient Express, etc. This list will continually grow.)

MEDIAVERSITY REVIEWS

13 Reasons Why

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

(This list will continually grow.)

SLASHFILM

http://www.slashfilm.com/author/monique-jones/ (Includes my feature on black women representation in Wonder Woman, plus more coming down the pike)

NERDS OF COLOR

https://thenerdsofcolor.org/author/moniquej1988/ (Includes articles on Ghost in the ShellThe Walking Dead, Power Rangers, Riverdale, Moonlight, Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars, DC, Marvel, etc. This list will continually grow.)

 

“Black Panther” Trailer and Poster Debut and Twitter Gets (Rightfully) Hyped

The time has come! The Black Panther poster and trailer has dropped!

Friday was basically Black Panther Day when Marvel decided to post the first teaser poster for the film while teasing the first trailer, which eventually dropped that night during Game 4 of the NBA Finals. When the trailer finally debuted, it didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what the fans thought about it, courtesy of Twitter and Black Girl Nerds’ Twitter Moments:

Overall, I’m so ready to see this in the theaters. Finally, a Marvel film that 1) joins the Captain America films in the “Marvel movies that don’t feel like Marvel movies” category and 2) actually speaks to me as an audience member.

To be honest, I think I’m actually still numb from excitement. In short, this is going to be a watershed moment for Marvel movies. If you’ve read my Mediaversity review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you’ll learn more about my grudge against Marvel’s overall approach to their film franchise. In short, it’s a ton of dudebro “white men only” type of stuff the majority of the time, with black characters (and characters of other minorities) as background flavor or loyal no. 2 characters (I love the Russo Brothers and their approach to Captain America, but how they wrote Sam Wilson in Captain America 3: Civil War was quite tragic and full of “Yes Suh!” annoyance).

But Marvel finally did right by a black character and, indeed, a black film franchise (because you know Black Panther has got to have some sequels).  Not only is this a film filled with black characters–a wide array of black characters with different motivations, looks, and personalities, mind you–but it’s a film written and directed by black man (Ryan Coogler) and featuring the talents of a black behind-the-scenes team, including women like Hannah Beachler and Ruth Elaine Carter, as Twitter has been quick to point out:

I love me some Cap (and I double love Chris Evans), but Chadwick Boseman has immediately moved to the top as my favorite Marvel star. Chris Evans is definitely a second-favorite, though, and besides, even he’s going to be first in line at the movie theater:

I’m gonna be first in line as well.

What do you think of the first Black Panther trailer? Give your opinions below!

Mediaversity Reviews: “Wonder Woman”

Original review at Mediaversity Reviews

Title: Wonder Woman (2017)
Director: Patty Jenkins 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Allan Heinberg 👨🏼🇺🇸🌈  and story by Allan Heinberg 👨🏼🇺🇸🌈, Zack Snyder 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Jason Fuchs 👨🏼🇺🇸

Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸

Quality: 4/5
Standard fare for a comic book origin story: thrilling action (with standout fight choreography), earnest idealism, and subtle humor. On the flipside, slightly uneven pacing and simplistic characters and storylines.

I’m giving this an extra half point due to the social impact of this being the first female superhero franchise—directed by a female filmmaker, to boot. Patty Jenkins shouldered a massive responsibility and met it head-on with this highly enjoyable popcorn flick, which ticks the box of female empowerment despite struggling to break into truly progressive territory.

Gender: 4.5/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
This was a tricky category to grade. I would love to give Wonder Woman a 5/5 in Gender for its unquestionable importance as a feminist work that impacts women and children around the globe. And if I were just grading the first third of the film, I would have done so, considering the all-female cast portrayed as warriors, politicians, and caregivers alike, covering a broad swathe of different types of women and relationships. However, the second and third acts of Wonder Woman shrink to a majority-male ensemble, save for Diana (Gal Gadot) as the leading hero and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) as a welcome female villain.

Unfortunately, there were two glaring issues—likely carried over from its 1940s source material—that I simply could not overlook:

  • A Forced Romance – Chris Pine is wonderful in his role as Steve Trevor. But the closed-door love scene between him and Diana is wholly unnecessary, as is his awkward interjection of “I love you” before he dashes off. I hate that Diana only finds her true powers due to some sort of implied, romantic awakening; why couldn’t she have found her powers thinking about Antiope, who had trained and mentored Diana for her entire life? Or why couldn’t she have been inspired by Steve as a platonic embodiment of the goodness of human beings? This film would have been so much stronger if the tension between Diana and Steve was kept at mutual respect, rather than romantic interest.
  • The “Born Sexy Yesterday” Trope – I would highly recommend a viewing of Pop Culture Detective Agency’s explainer video, which covers the history of this common pitfall and how antithetical it is to female empowerment.Beth Elderkin sums it up:“‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ is the crafting of female characters who have the minds of children but the bodies of mature women…the idea that a sexy yet virginal woman needs a man to explain the basic fundamentals of being a person, making her dependent on him. It doesn’t matter how unremarkable he is, she’ll always find him fascinating, because she’s never known anyone else.”I was disappointed to see Wonder Woman unfold in these exact blueprints. Diana may be a warrior goddess, but she has never seen a man before Steve Trevor. Who she, of course, falls in love with and (as the film suggests) sleeps with. It’s frustrating to watch the actress be forced to play dumb; if Diana knows what hydrogen is and can speak hundreds of languages, why does she need Steve Trevor to explain the word “marriage” and what it means to “sleep with a woman”?

Lastly, mimicking the unfair tightrope all women have to balance, Diana is even more the paragon of perfection than male superheroes have to be. She’s physically incomparable but with the mind of a child so as not to threaten the egos of fanboys. She’s otherworldly in beauty and scantily-clad, yet manages to embody honor and virtue—contrasting attributes that real-life women are unfairly expected to exhibit simultaneously.

It would be much more empowering, in fact, to have seen Diana as flawed. If Batman gets to be an obsessive human with no real superpowers, Spiderman gets to be a twerpy nerd but still get the girl, and the Hulk gets to have debilitating anger issues and transform into an unsightly monster as his superpower, why does Wonder Woman have to be utterly perfect, with her only Achilles’ heel the eroticized, forced bondage at the hands of a man?

That being said, I still appreciate the undeniable role Wonder Woman is playing right now, advancing opportunities for women to direct big-budget blockbusters and to feature as leading characters. The visible gender role reversal—Steve Trevor as the gorgeous, flawless, and self-sacrificing love interest—is truly refreshing. I just want to get to a point where seeing a female superhero headline a franchise is de rigeur, as opposed to a rarity that occurs once every 76 years.

Race: 3.5/5
White-centric, though it could be argued that Diana, as a Greek goddess played by Israeli Gal Gadot, is less America-centric than it could have been. We see an effort at ethnic diversity within the mercenary group assembled by Steve Trevor—he hires a stereotypical Scot, drunk on whisky and clad in a kilt, along with slightly more nuanced appearances by the francophone, Moroccan Sameer and native American explosives expert known only as “Chief”. Sameer and Chief represent communities significantly underserved by Hollywood and whose parts feel fairly authentic, especially considering this positive reaction written by Vincent Schilling for Indian Country Media Network. Yet the film as a whole remains visibly white, with rank-and-file characters hailing from the Themyscira, Great Britain, America, or Germany.

Similar to the Gender category, I sincerely appreciate the effort to diversify—especially in looking across international borders for talent. Casting an actress who hails from the Middle East (Israel) is significant, while various cast members are non-American: Huston, who plays German villain Ludendorff, is Italian while Dr. Maru is played by a Spaniard.

But the bottom line is, despite their countries of origins, the aforementioned actors play white characters. So I can’t bestow much more than an above-average score in this category.

LGBTQ: N/A
We don’t grade films for omitting LGBTQ representation due the short running time of most movies, as well as the small demographic size of LGBTQ at roughly 4% of the American population.* That being said, thoughts on missed opportunities for Wonder Woman:

Wonder Woman has been an queer icon for decades, with the original comics containing lesbian subtext and the writer of the latest reboot going so far as to confirm Diana as canonically gay.

Yet in Wonder Woman, her romance with Steve Trevor is as heteronormative as its gets. Christopher Hooten puts it succinctly in The Independent:

“Her long-standing bisexuality will not be referenced. Instead, she will very boringly fall in love with the very boring Chris Pine.”

What a lost opportunity! How much stronger would Wonder Woman have been without this mind-numbingly routine romance? Now, don’t get me wrong—I don’t condone queerbaiting (the practice of filmmakers and TV showrunners coyly hinting at queer subtext in their stories without ever delivering actual LGBTQ characters). But considering this is just the first film in what we hope will be a full franchise, the writers could have left some breathing room, simultaneously paying homage to Wonder Woman’s longstanding role in queer and lesbian culture.

Mediaversity Grade: B 4.00/5
This is an exciting moment for women all over the world, make no mistake. But the outdated, male-created source material hinders Wonder Woman from reaching full-out beast mode, at least by 2017 standards of intersectionality and feminism. It isn’t enough for me just to see a “bad-ass” woman anymore—I want to see complex ones, as flawed and relatable as male superheroes are allowed to be.

Still, this is a huge step forward and I’m thrilled about how its worldwide success could open wallets for female directors.

So, for today, I genuinely enjoyed Wonder Woman and am thankful for the strides its making. But tomorrow, I’ll want to see more from this franchise—more complex women, more ethnic diversity, and a proper homage to its LGBTQ roots.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/158066/special-report-adults-identify-lgbt.aspx.

Review: “Still Star-Crossed” is fun, needs to find its mojo to be even better

Lashana Lynch as Rosaline. (ABC/Manu Trillo)

Synopsis (IMDB): A period drama that picks up where the famous story of Romeo and Juliet leaves off, charting the treachery, palace intrigue, and ill-fated romances of the Montagues and Capulets in the wake of the young lovers’ tragic fate. Based on the book by Melinda Taub.

My thoughts: Okay, so first things first, I like the bare bones this show has to offer. There’s a good story here and, seeing how apparently well-loved the YA novel it’s based on is, it has all of the elements there for the adapting. Basically, it should be a slam-dunk. “Should” being the operative word.

I’m going to start with the positives. I’ve talked about how people of color should be in more historical fiction, from books to TV to movies. The big draw Still Star-Crossed has for me is that its a show filled with people of color in Shakespeare’s classic story, Romeo and Juliet. Lashana Lynch stars as our heroine Rosaline Capulet, who lives with her sister Livia (Ebonee Noel) in the home of their uncle Lord Silvestro Capulet (Anthony Head) and hateful aunt Lady Guiliana Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson). In an effort to end the violence that only increased after the elopement and deaths of Romeo (Lucien Laviscount) and Juliet (Clara Rugaard), Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman) proclaims that Rosaline should marry her blood enemy, Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs), the son of Lord Damiano Montague (the scene-chewing Grant Bowler, who seems to know and embrace the type of campy show he’s in).

Sterling Sulieman (ABC/Manu Trillo)

Lynch, Noel, Laviscount, Sulieman, and Medalion Rahimi as Prince Escalus’ sister Princess Isabella cement the series as one that will frequently showcase various POC in roles they rarely get in Hollywood. On that level alone, Still Star-Crossed is important. We as an audience need to see more men and women of other ethnicities in roles like this to help erase the “history is white” narrative we’ve learned throughout our lives. History is not only full of white folks; it’s full of all kinds of people, making their marks in the world.

If I had to compare Still Star-Crossed to anything other than the costume BBC drama it’s analogous for, it’d be the 1997 Cinderella adaptation. I, like many black girls, loved it because a black girl finally got to be the princess for once. But I also liked it because there were so many different people playing roles they wouldn’t ordinarily get. Anyone could literally be anything, from the royal family to a random townsperson. That was cool.

Of course, one of the biggest complaints people had about that adaptation is “How are these people related to each other?” Again, this could be seen as a positive–I’m sure Cinderella spoke to many adopted kids or kids in blended families in which there were racial differences. The same goes for Still Star-Crossed; there are families in which race isn’t defining factor, and that means a lot in the conversation about how media can better portray families with a mix of racial backgrounds.

However, even though I am putting my weight behind this show, I am hoping that it gets its act together, speaking bluntly. Like I said, there are a lot of fun historical fiction tropes that would be right at home on a “traditional” historical fiction show like the critically-lauded (but actually spottily-written) Downton Abbey. However, just like how I came down on Downton Abbey for its infuriatingly precious treatment of Lady Mary and it’s stagnant dialogue (i.e. how many times did characters in love say, “Shut up and kiss me”? AARRGGHH!!!), I have to throw the book at Still Star-Crossed for is choppy script and even choppier transitions.

Medalion Rahimi (ABC/Manu Trillo)

I feel like as a pilot, Still Star-Crossed suffers from severe Pilot-itis. What I mean is that it wants to impress so badly that it falters on basic pacing and even basic characterization. Escalus and Rosaline love each other, because….why? What kind of characterization does Isabella have? What’s her motivation? How did Livia escape the melee at the funeral? These things are important to the story, but they’re glossed over.

I don’t know where the book drops us in the story since I haven’t read (I didn’t even know about it until this show came out). But from where I’m sitting, it seem that it would have made a lot more sense to just start Still Star-Crossed at the moment Romeo and Juliet die. For the most part, we already know the story of Romeo and Juliet, or at least, we know the important parts–two kids die of dueling families because their love is forbidden. Since we know they’re dead at the end of the Shakespearean story, why not just start at the moment of the funeral? Then we’d have more time to spend with Escalus and Isabella, understand more of their motivations and Escalus’ background with Rosaline, have quick flashbacks to the roles Benvolio and Rosaline played in Romeo and Juliet’s elopement, etc. etc. Also, maybe the will-they-won’t-they romance-ish thing the show’s trying to set up with Rosaline and Benvolio could have more grounding? IDK, but those are my thoughts.

At the very least, it’d be great if the show decided AGAINST those weird transitions. The zooming into the town square during the ball, the zoom towards the palace, the awkward high angles over the city, etc.–I get that the show is trying to give us scope, but it would seem Still Star-Crossed is trying to do BBC-style presentation with a small ABC budget (not to small, mind you, since this was shot in Spain). However, just because there’s a small budget doesn’t mean that BBC-style presentation can’t happen. Even though shows like Father Brown and Call the Midwife are considered “prestige shows” by American standards, it’s not like they have lavish The Hollow Crown budgets. Yet, they still give viewers a sense of escape and production value. Still Star-Crossed has enough production value inherent in its story, filming locations, and costuming/set design without trying too hard. Adding what seem like CGI transitions make the show look more like a TV movie rather than a high production value TV show.

Lucien Laviscount (ABC/Manu Trillo)

Hopefully, the show will even out these problems and tell a much smoother story as the show goes on. Still Star-Crossed is a show that definitely deserves to be told in this way, and it definitely deserves its shot to get the story right. With Shonda Rhimes’ clout at ABC, hopefully this means ABC will give Still Star-Crossed the time it needs to shake off its rough edges.