Month: October 2017

Award-winning short film “Charcoal” attacks colorism head-on

Colorism might be a spectre of a racist past, but it still haunts the African diaspora, especially black women, today. With the popularity of bleaching creams still in existence around the world and systemic prejudices leveled against darker-skinned women daily, Charcoal is a film that aims to get to the root of colorism and extricate it.

The film, made by Haitian-born film director and photographer Francesca Andre, focuses on two women who try their hardest to overcome their own self-hate.

Charcoal captures the parallel stories of two black women and their lifelong journey to overcome internalized colorism, find self-acceptance and ultimately redemption. Despite the vast distances between them, these women both face a barrage of social messages from strangers and loved ones alike: That their darker complexion makes them less worthy of love, acceptance or respect. Yet through this painful erosion of their self-worth, these women rediscover their power and undergo a metamorphosis. They fully embrace the beauty, versatility and dignity of their melanin and begin to disrupt the generational cycle of self-hatred within communities of color.

Charcoal has been featured many times over in the press, including Shadow and Act, Afropunk, Bridgeport Daily Voice, The Brooklyn Reader, ThinkProgress, Caribbean Life and Sheen Magazine, as well as publications from around the world. The film has also won several awards, including the 2017 Reel Sisters Best Narrative Short Award, 2017 Crystal Ship Filmmakers Visionary Award, and the 2017 Women of African Descent Juror’s Choice Certificate.

This won’t be the last time JUST ADD COLOR covers Charcoal, so stay tuned. Until then, check out the film’s trailer and see what you think.

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Exclusive interview: 5 insights from “Marshall” star Mark St. Cyr

If you’ve seen Marshall, the origin story of future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, you’ve seen Mark St. Cyr. The actor plays August, the boyfriend of Thurgood Marshall’s frenemy, poet Langston Hughes.

While August might be happiest acting as a support system for Hughes, St. Cyr is hoping to stand out from the crowd and make a big dent in Hollywood. Marshall is just one of the major plays St. Cyr has under his belt; he’s also starring in the upcoming webseries Giving Me Life: In the Land of Deadass, which St. Cyr described as Friends, if Friends was directed by Issa Rae. The webseries has made its world premiere Oct. 24 at the New York Television Festival and has been featured as a Kickstarter creator-in-residence.

I’m glad I got a chance to speak to St. Cyr and learn more about his character in the film, his experiences on set, and what it’s like to be in the same room with Empire‘s Jussie Smollett and Chadwick Boseman, who has played Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and the Wakandan king T’Challa in the upcoming Marvel juggernaut Black Panther. Check out these five moments from our conversation.

On playing August: I play August and the key thing that August does in the film is he represents the outside world. Marshall is kind of in a small, claustrophobic courtroom world—he’s trying to solve the case at hand [involving] Sterling K. Brown [star of NBC’s This Is Us]. In the middle of the movie, he takes a break from that small courtroom and comes back to his hometown of New York to see what the world going on. [People] in the black world have their own opinions on how it’s going to go. August and Langston Hughes represent what the black elite artistic culture are thinking about Marshall at that moment. August supports the opinions of Langston Hughes as he and Marhsall duel it out at the jazz club.

On working with Jussie Smollett: He’s great. He’s incredibly humble and very warm and open. He shared a lot of wisdom with me, I was able to ask him about things that could help me on my own journey, and he was very gracious and generous and he did a great job.

 

On playing opposite Black Panther‘s Chadwick Boseman: It’s pretty cool [laughs]. It’s a little surreal. He’s a man—you get used to thinking he’s going to jump on top of cars, and then you see him in hair and makeup getting his hair [styled] into Marshall’s. It’s a funny juxtaposition, but it’s cool.

Everybody’s celebrating Chadwick and it feels like when one of us succeeds in a major way, all of us succeed in a major way. The fact that it’s being made at all is a [big win]. There’s just a lot of energy supporting that film and getting that [energy] so far before it’s been released– that’s a victory in and of itself. Having an opportunity to be a part of that energy is really great.

What St. Cyr learned about Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes: Marshall’s all about going inside the system and changing the laws. He’s very direct in his method and Langston Hughes is about creating art that moves people and stirs people from the inside out, writing about it in a way that…moves people’s conscience. It’s kind of a covert mission whereas Marshall is guns blazing. In the movie, Marshall disagrees with the way Langston goes about [challenging racism] and I think that’s still something we deal with now.

What moviegoers can learn from Marshall: People see Marshall as this iconic figure who won everything he ever did and went to the Supreme Court and lived happily ever after. I think a lot of times, people need to see the struggle chapters of some of our heroes, and I think this is the moment to show you [that] he was a man and he was not invincible. He may have become an American hero, but he was [human]. Our heroes are human…but they are capable of doing great things, as we all are. The world is always going to need heroes.♦

This article was edited and condensed. 

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New “Justice League” video poster highlights Cyborg’s heroic transformation

DC wants Marvel to know that it’s not the only comic book powerhouse putting black superheroes on the big screen. Today, DC released an up-close poster of Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher), showing his transformation from human to robotic superhero.

The poster has been shared on Warner Bros. and Justice League‘s social media to millions of followers, and Warner Bros. plans on keeping fans happy with their Justice League Facebook masks.

Fisher looks like he’s having a great time promoting Justice League, and I can’t wait to see him play Cyborg, one of my favorite DC characters, once the film drops Nov. 17, just in time for Thanksgiving family fun.

Follow Justice League on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and its official website.

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“Riverdale”: How to get that Southside Serpents look without joining a gang

After losing interest in Riverdale in the middle of the first season, and after learning about the wild, incest-filled ending, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Riverdale wasn’t the show for me. As a longtime Archie Comics fan, this show was clearly not marketing itself towards me; it was marketing itself towards tweens and teens.

However, the second season promises the introduction of more badasses–more Southside Serpents are coming, including the appearance of late-in-the-game Archie Comics character Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan). Other Serpents include Sweet Pea (Jordan Connor, right) and Fangs Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner, middle).

South SiDeee🐍 The Serpents are coming 😈 @thecwriverdale @archiecomics

A post shared by Vanessa Morgan (@vanessamorgan) on

The more Southside Serpents there are, the more I’m considering at least keeping up with this upcoming season, since they are so cool (lest we forget good ol’ Joaquin). I’ll be especially keen if, as Digital Spy suggests, Toni could break up the Betty-Jughead power couple, otherwise known as “Bughead.” (I hate Bughead, so I’m rooting for Toni to successfully break up the party.)

If you’d like to get your Serpents fashion on, look no further than Hot Topic, which has quite a bit of Southside Serpents gear.

You can cop these shirts for men and women:

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

But the most valuable thing to get, I think, is the Southside Serpents patch, which comes in both a small iron-on size (pictured) or a big back patch size.

Hot Topic

Sew or iron it onto a jacket and you’ve got instant Serpent street cred.

The Serpents are, by far, the coolest part of Riverdale. They’ve got the cool jackets, the coolest of the show’s characters (Jughead, Joaquin, Jughead’s dad), and the coolest storylines. It’d only make sense that they’d have some cool merch. Now if Toni can break up Betty and Jughead, the Serpents will be the ultimate rulers of Riverdale.

How “Black Panther” honors the feminine through Pantone and kente cloth

We’re still hyped from the new Black Panther trailer, aren’t we? I know I am! In case you haven’t seen it yet, here you go:

Instead of writing about the trailer from the perspective everyone else has been using, I’ve been trying to think of another way to address the trailer and some of the themes present. I definitely knew I wanted to address the magical panther walkabout sequence.

Then, I saw this tweet from The Color of Cinema.

I thought it was a perfect way to start off this post, which will show how Black Panther plays into the Pantone Spring 2018 color scheme. I’ve featured Pantone before in my Annihilation post, and I’ve featured color patterns and trends in my 2018 film trends article. Black Panther, like Annihilation, follows the Pantone New York and London spring trends to a T.

But the colors found in Black Panther also reference the color meanings in kente cloth. Black Panther is a film based on pan-African cultures, and T’Challa himself wears kente–the fabric of royalty in the Ashanti Kingdom (between 1701-1957) and the traditional fabric of the Ewe people, both of Ghana.

The different patterns of kente, along with the different colors used, all have specific meanings and are used for particular occasions, so I thought it would be cool to see how the color theories of kente cloth are also interwoven into Black Panther‘s color stories.

The panther walkabout

In part of the trailer, we see T’Challa on some type of sojourn into what has to be the land of the ancestors. There,  in a very specific Lion King callback, he meets the mysterious panthers that mean so much to his people.

Using some of next year’s Pantone colors, we can see that the blues, purples, and lavenders present speak to what’s going to resonate fashion-wise around the time the film’s released.

The colors are described as “soft,” “romantic,” “energy,” “expressive,” and suggestive of “brighter…days ahead” and the “promise of a new day.” That references what these colors represent in kente cloth.

Pink is associated with “the female essence of life” and purple is connected to the “feminine aspects of life.” Purple in particular is also a color that is usually worn by women. Blue represents “peacefulness, harmony and love.” These colors perfectly represent this moment in the trailer, since we see T’Challa awed by what is a very spiritual, peaceful, reverent and nurturing sight.

It’s also important to remember that the panthers in this scene must be aspects of the panther goddess Bast, one of the Ennead (in real Egyptology, nine Egyptian dieties who were worshipped at Heliopolis; in Marvel lore, a group of interdimensional beings who were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians and lived in Heliopolis, forming the basis of Egyptian culture). It’s as if T’Challa is being welcomed into a spiritual, womb-like space. Yes, I said “womb-like,” because what else would meeting the mother goddess of your people be like?

The feminine is a highly important part of Wakandan society and in this film–it’s a groundbreaking move for a Marvel movie (or any movie, to be frank) to actually show how important the feminine is to the world, not to mention life itself.

It’s even more poignant that this focus on feminine power is happening a film directed by a black filmmaker and centered around African characters. This might be fodder for a separate article, but it would do Americans good to see fully understand the power of black women. As a black woman myself, this power isn’t greatly understood or valued by America, and sometimes not even by us black women–we ourselves can forget. It’s nice to see the black woman being celebrated.

Kente cloth picture credit: Wikipedia (1, 2)

The Dora Milaje

The Dora Milaje are the jewels of the Wakandan Empire, and it makes sense–not only do they protect the Black Panther, but they also act as the guardians of Wakanda’s sovereignty and the keepers of Wakandan values. If the Black Panther is the heart of the nation, the Dora Milaje are the blood.

As the blood, it makes sense that they’d be wearing red. But the shades of red and gold present in their wardrobes also reflects what their jobs signify to the country. In kente cloth, red is tied to the spiritual and the political, as well as “bloodshed[,] sacrificial rites and death.” Indeed, the Dora Milaje defend their country with their lives, and will kill to keep it safe. Silver, which is worn by most of the Dora Milaje except for Okoye, can mean “serenity, purity [and] joy.” Silver is also tied to the moon, which, in many cultures, is also associated with the feminine. Gold (which is worn by Okoye) signifies “royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity,” and yellow signifies “preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility, beauty.” These qualities are also present in the Dora Milaje, who are chosen to be ceremonial (or potential) wives for the Black Panther and must uphold queenly qualities, even though they are also the Black Panther’s bodyguards.

T’Challa doesn’t ever call on the Dora Milaje to serve him as a harem; for him, they serve their purpose as bodyguards and trusted companions. I think that’s great, and I’m glad that wasn’t changed for the movie, because it allows the film to strengthen its thesis on the power of black women–in this case, the Dora Milaje are how the film illustrates the maternal strength of black women. While Ramonda is the Queen and mother of T’Challa and Shuri, its the Dora Milaje who are, to me, the mothers of the country. They shield T’Challa with that same type of fierce motherly protection. T’Challa’s surrounded by the maternal constantly, and it’s this force that I feel keeps him the safest, not his powers as Black Panther.

Kente cloth pictures: Wikipedia, Eden Pictures (Flickr Creative Commons)

The colors of the Dora Milaje are also in vogue for Spring 2018, and the descriptions of the colors also invoke the majesty of this elite group of women.

“Bold,” “confident,” “courageous,” “earthy,” and “strength” are all words that can apply to the Dora Milaje just as easily as they have been applied to these four colors.

Ramonda and Shuri

In the trailer, we see Ramonda and Shuri dressed in white. More specifically, Shuri is dressed in all white, while Ramonda is dressed in shades of white and various creams and taupes.

White is associated with happiness; when used in kente cloth, it is associated with “purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions.” With white being a festive color, it makes sense that these two characters are wearing white when reuniting with T’Challa.

Kente cloth picture credit: Wikipedia

Shades of white, taupe and off-white are also big fashion colors for next spring. Pantone has described these colors as “gentle,” “delicate,” “ephemeral,” “comforting,” and “classic.” Fitting words for a color that is steeped in spiritual positivity and the festive mood.

I end this post with a question.

What’s with Nakia’s green wardrobe?

I’ve done some thinking on this. First of all, Nakia’s shades of forest green aren’t in season for next spring, so connecting them to Pantone’s seasonal predictions doesn’t make sense right now. Neither does the traditional meaning of green when used in kente cloth. Green is supposed to be associated with “vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth [and] spiritual renewal,” and that would make sense if, in the comic book lore, Nakia was a spiritually fertile character. However, in the comics, Nakia turns into a villain due to her obsession over becoming T’Challa’s wife (in the comics, he already had a fiancée, American-born Monica Lynne). So that doesn’t make sense either.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that Nakia’s character must have been rewritten for the film. With so much going for the film in the way of strong, well-rounded women, a character who’s defining characteristic is that her life’s choices hinge on whether or not T’Challa loves her wouldn’t fit. My guess is that Nakia has been remade into T’Challa’s actual fiancée, therefore writing out Monica (at least for now). If Nakia has to go bad, I’m assuming she’s given some reason with more substance other than “T’Challa broke up with me.”

I’m on the fence if she will actually turn into a villain at some point, but seeing how Marvel likes to telegraph their bad guys and gals in green (as ComicVine points out), it seems like there’s a strong possibility Nakia could go rogue and turn into her villain alter ego, Malice.

What do you think about Black Panther‘s color narrative? Give your opinions below!

(*All images except for kente cloth images are screencaps from Black Panther trailer. All kente cloth color meanings are from Wikipedia.)

How to dress like Cinderella for your wedding day

If there’s one picture I’ve been obsessed with lately, it’s this press photo from 1997’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters and Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher (aka “Prince Charming,” the only way we’ve ever identified the character in Disney’s 1950s animated version).

I love how candid it looks (especially since some versions of it online clearly show a Fujifilm border). It could very well be a great candid shot—something about its energy seems highly off-the-cuff, and usually it’s the off-the-cuff pictures that turn out looking the best. The picture captures what could have been a random moment after Cinderella and Christopher’s wedding (even though she didn’t actually get married in the iconic blue dress in the film). The energy of it makes it one of my favorite pictures ever, not to mention one of my favorite pictures from the amount of PR photos I’ve seen.

It knocked this one down to number two, and this one is actually showcasing the actual wedding scene:

But like the picture above it, this one captures the feeling we’re told to expect from a wedding–pure happiness. I’m sure little girls of color all around the country imagined a wedding day that looked as magical as the one Cinderella and Christopher had, and certainly I’m sure many (like me) were hoping they’d be able to find a Prince Christopher of their own. I’m not even big into the showiness of weddings, but even I have found myself wondering what a huge Cinderella-esque wedding would be like. Not to mention, the film just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Thus, this post was born.

This post doesn’t have to be all about weddings—this post could be very useful for other big events in your life in which you need an elaborate ballgown (like prom, a Quinceañera, a huge cosplay event, etc.). But, if you’re a person who wants to go all out for your wedding or a fancy reception party, then maybe my suggestions could help you out. I’ve scoured the interwebs to find the perfect Cinderella dress and Prince Charming/Christopher suit, accessories and decorations, and even invitations.

Keep in mind: I’m no wedding planner, but I am an artist, and that counts for something. Please feel free to alter my suggestions for a Cinderella-themed wedding how you see fit. This is your big day, after all—I’m just offering my two cents.

(Note:  This post isn’t intended just for heterosexual couples; whoever’s getting married can use this and have fun.)

Dressing as Cinderella

First of all, if you are a seamstress or know someone with wild tailoring/sewing skills, you could have someone custom-make this dress for you. With some of the options I’m about to show you, it might cost just as much (or maybe a little less) to have someone to make this dress for you. As you can probably already surmise, there’s no completely identical dress like this on the market.

HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some pretty close dresses online. There are three ways you can go about doing this–get a Quinceañera dress or ballgown of some type, try Etsy, or find a white wedding dress of a similar style and pay extra to have the store dye it ice blue.

Option 1: Quinceañera dress

If you are as lithe in figure as Brandy, you might be able to get away with getting a Quinceañera dress to serve as your fanciful wedding dress. Yes, Quinceañera dresses are usually made for 15-year-old girls. But, because it’s for the day they finally reach womanhood, these dresses are made exactly the same as lavish ballgowns, but are much easier to find and purchase. But, like lavish ballgowns, they cost an extremely pretty penny.

The brand of Quinceañera dress that I’ve found several types of dresses can could work for a Cinderella themed wedding is Vizcaya by Morilee, an imprint of designer Madeline Gardner’s Morilee brand of wedding, evening, and party dresses. These dresses are the most opulent Quinceañera dresses I’ve seen during my search, and they are also the most mature looking. If you didn’t tell anyone this line was actually made for 15-year-olds, people would believe these were regular ballgowns, meaning that no one will be looking at you like you’re wearing a teenager’s dress on your wedding day.

This one is by far the closest I’ve seen to Brandy’s actual blue dress:

There are some extra straps, but it’s got everything you could ask for if you’re looking for a dress similar to Brandy’s blue dress. If you’re handy with tailoring, you might even be able to snip those straps away or hide them within the off-the-shoulder straps.

Some other good choices from Morilee:

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4

I didn’t check the sizes for any of the Quinceañera dresses, so I’m only assuming you have to be skinny teenage-size to be able to wear these. There could be plus sizes for these, but you’ll have to check.

Option 2: Actual wedding dresses

In the event there aren’t, I found some real wedding dresses that are good for both smaller and plus size women. You can certainly dye these dresses ice blue (or pay someone to if you’re not into DIY with such an expensive dress), or you could just wear it as-is, which would be just like Cinderella on her wedding day in the film.

These designs are by Oleg Cassini, and they capture everything you want in both Cinderella’s ball gown and wedding dress.

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (some links are for sale prices)

These two are by Morilee, the same designer as the Vizcaya Quinceañera dresses.

Links: 1, 2

With the ready-made items out of the way, let’s talk about Etsy. One shop, ieie bridal, makes gorgeous, made-to-order dresses. All you have to do is offer your measurements. These three in particular are great for Cinderellas-at-heart, especially the first one, which is a copy of the dress found in the recent Cinderella live action movie starring Lily James.

Option 3: Etsy

If you’re down with Etsy, I think it’d be worth inquiring if the middle dress could be made in an ice-blue fabric. I don’t know what the designer/seller’s rules are for specifications like that, but since it’s a custom dress anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Links: 1, 2, 3

Glass slippers

The glass slippers are paramount to a great Cinderella wedding, and while no one can actually wear glass and expect not to end up with cut-up feet, here are some (expensive) shoe choices.

(It should be apparent by now that everything in this post is expensive. If you want a Cinderella wedding, you’ve got to pay the price.)

What I’ve found are two shoes from Jimmy Choo–from the Cinderella collection, no less–and a shoe by Betsey Johnson.

links: 1, 2, 3

The shoe search was by far the easiest part of this post. I only took about 15-20 minutes to find these shoes. You don’t even want to know how long it took to find the right wedding dress options. You especially don’t want to know how long it took to find something suitable and similar enough to work as Prince Christopher/Charming’s clothes.

Makeup

I do like makeup, but I’m not someone you should turn to for makeup advice, since I tend to stick to the same five products/brands that either work or simply get the job done. (Shoutout to Fenty Beauty for getting into my makeup rotation–I finally have my perfect foundation shade!)

So instead, turn to makeup guru PatrickStarrr, who released a video celebrating Cinderella’s 20th anniversary.

Dressing as the Prince

This picture, while gorgeous, is misleading. In this shot, the prince’s jacket looks like a pearlized white. However in the shot below, it’s the same ice blue color as Cinderella’s dress.

I’m going with the latter, since it makes the most sense–I’d think the groom might want to be coordinated with the bride in this instance. However, the choice is yours.

If you decide to go with blue, then…you’re up a creek without a paddle if you’re looking for a traditional tuxedo or even an 18th century cosplay jacket, because I’ve scoured the internet looking for an ice blue ornate tuxedo only to come up with nothing. As with Cinderella’s dress, if you want something exact, then find a costume maker who can make this to form. However, if you don’t feel like hiring someone or if you just want some options that could be quicker in the long run, here’s what I’ve got.

Option 1: Sherwani

I had to do some out-of-the-box thinking to come up with some of these options. For instance, the below options are Indian wedding clothes. These sherwani weren’t easy to find–even with sherwani, which come in all the colors of the rainbow, it was still hard to find ice blue–but I think if you wear them unbuttoned with a vest and some black slacks, you’ll come out looking great.

Note that some of these are the Indowestern style of sherwani, meaning they’ve got elements of both traditional Indian and Westernized clothes. Some sherwani are made like ornate tunics, and since these are button down, that makes it easier to imagine them operating like Western-style jackets. These three are from G3 Fashion.

links: 1, 2, 3

I should note that some of these, if not all of these, come with pants. If that’s the case, I’d suggest swapping out the original pants with tuxedo pants or slacks, as I mention above. Not because the pants aren’t cool (they are), but because the prince actually wears black pants with his blue vest-jacket combo. However, it’s your wedding–do what you want to do.

Option 2: Baroque couture

As you’ve seen in the picture near the top of this article, the prince wears gold on his wedding day. If you want to go that route, then there are actually Western-style tuxedos you can wear.

These three are made by Italian designer Ottavio Nuccio for his Baroque collection. And man, are they baroque.

The only prices that are listed on his site are in Euros; I don’t know if there is international shipping. But I think there is a button you can click to inquire about pricing, so maybe more information will be there.

Option 3: Sherwani (part two)

You could also go back to the sharwani for your gold outfit. Utsav Fashion has a lot of great gold options. Again, take care with the pants–swap them out for Western pants or slacks if you so choose.

links:1, 2, 3, 4

There you have it–some creative ways to get your Cinderella wedding right and tight. I’d be excited to know if anyone uses these suggestions for their wedding, Quinceniera, prom, or any other event that requires a huge, frilly ballgown. At any rate, if you’re having a wedding, make sure to outfit your bridesmaids in appropriately ornate dresses. The dresses don’t have to outshine you, but just don’t make them look like your ugly stepsisters.

If you do that, expect the fairy godmother to turn you into a pumpkin.

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Exclusive interview: Five takeaways from my conversation with Kenny Leu

Kenny Leu is an actor you’ve probably seen before in your favorite shows and films, like NCIS, The Player, and Independence Day: Resurgence. He’ll make his biggest mark yet as Sgt. Eddie Chen in the upcoming National Geographic miniseries The Long Road Home, based on ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz’s book about the true story of American forces who are ambushed in Sadr City, an Iraqi neighborhood. But before that, you can get to know him better as the star and an executive producer of the new webseries, Munkey in the City, which follows a young man who is trying to find fame–and himself–in the big city.

In my hour-long conversation with Leu, I got to better understand Leu’s commitment to increasing Asian American visibility in the media, his thoughtfulness on nuanced topics such as colorism, his willingness to learn from others’ cultural and racial experiences, and what he learned on the set of The Long Road Home. Here are five takeaways from our conversation.

•On landing the part of Munkey:

“I’ve been in LA now for almost four years. Before I moved out to LA to pursue acting full time, I was pursuing acting part-time in the San Francisco Bay area. I forget how I got this audition notice,but I was told about  this project…went into audition for it, and ended up getting the part. We started to collaborate after I read the script and…it just reads as a very genuine story.

Our version of the series came out all right; there were a lot of things I felt I could have done better; I was still growing a lot as an actor and he was still growing a lot as a filmmaker. We shot our first draft of it in the San Francisco Bay before I moved down. I had already moved down to LA for a year before I saw his latest draft…By that time, I had taken really great classes, I had really learned a lot. I was like, “Michael, if I get another chance, I want to redo it.” He was like, ‘Dude, let’s do it then!’”

•On Munkey’s importance:

“One of the biggest things that drew me to this project is that I relate a lot to Munkey. He’s an aspiring writer, he moved to the city to become someone. He’s still figuring out who he is and what he wants in life. I feel that’s a very universal theme for a lot of people. What kind of struck me most about this project is that it’s a character who’s Asian American yet has these universal themes. He’s very human—he’s not perfect, he’s not a bad person, he’s just a guy who’s trying to get by. There’s a lack of stories in mainstream media where you have an Asian guy who’s just trying to live. That was the first thing that really drew me to this project; he just felt like this very real person and he just happened to be Asian American.

I relate very much personally to this to because I feel this is something very unique to Asian Americans. I feel like Asian Americans in general don’t ask ourselves what we want until later in life than most other cultures. At least, that’s me personally and a bunch of my friends who went through the school system, were very successful students, and before we woke up to what we wanted in life, we kind of already had this career going for us.

Kenny Leu as Munkey. (Screencap)

Before I was an actor I got a degree in mechanical engineering from Berkeley, and I was working…before I realized acting was something that fulfilled me more deeply than engineering will. It was a matter of taking everything that I’d had, everything I’d worked hard for—terrific salary, great job, terrific opportunities, potentially a family, your parents’ smiling faces, knowing they’ll have grandkids soon, health insurance—it’s all in my hands. I remember the moment I took all of it and threw it away. That’s something I think a lot of Asian American families, especially the ones who immigrated in the ’80s, really had to go through, that there is a choice between what everyone tells you is happiness and what you really want for yourself.

I think Munkey is reflective of that. I’d like to imagine Munkey had a career before he became a writer and that’s why he’s so lost,[thinking] ‘Am I stupid for doing this? Why do I want to become a writer? I’m not making any money from this, my roommate’s hooked on coke, I’m living such a shitty existence and some instinct tells me this is the only path forward.’”

•On Asian representation in Hollywood:

“I think things are definitely changing. Me being a part of the industry down here, I know for a fact that executives are trying. I think their efforts are still pretty clumsy and they’re still just holding onto some old beliefs that just aren’t true anymore. For instance, they still don’t believe an Asian American man can be the lead of a movie. …It’s very discouraging to see that that’s still a belief, because it’s still very much reflected in how people see each other here, I believe. My take on it is that I’m very optimistic, but cautiously [so]. I think there could still be more changes.

I think this is the first time ever where Asian American voices are united and persistent on something…It’s very hard to unify our voices because we come from such different backgrounds. But this is the first time I feel like we’ve worked in unison on something, and it’s made an impact, especially on Twitter, #OscarsSoWhite, [etc]. I’m very excited this is happening.

My hope is that we get an Asian American movie star whose name transcends his ethnicity. I feel like if you’re African American, you’ve got Denzel Washington and Will Smith, who I believe are such stars that their ethnicities aren’t as important as their names. I feel like we as Asian Americans don’t have that. That’s the crux of how I feel like a lot of Asian Americans get treated out here. It’s very easy to feel like you’re invisible, to feel like you don’t matter. Personally, I’ve received this a lot—a person treats me based on my race rather than on who I am. We’re fighting for the constant visibility that I think is specific, but not unique to, growing up Asian American in the United States. It’s not the overt hostility that African Americans face; it’s the complete opposite. It’s complete apathy.”

•On colorism in Hollywood, as seen in Crazy Rich Asians

“On the one hand, I think this Crazy Rich Asians is terrific. I hope this is going to be our generation’s Joy Luck Club and people will see that it’s interesting to watch Asian Americans on the big screen…and people will become more confident in investing in films like that in the future. Me personally, I  tried reading the book, and I read a lot, but for some reason I just couldn’t finish this one. There was nothing interesting about it to me; a lot of it was just talking about clothes and a culture I couldn’t relate to at all. Maybe I was expecting it to be more of an Asian-American story…it’s not; it’s very specifically Asian, and it’s also very specifically the ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-rich Asian. That’s very hard to relate to. I think going back to the crux of what Asian-Americans need to tackle in order to become accepted in the mainstream is this idea that we’re human too and we deal with universal issues like what Munkey’s going through and not like kung fu movies and math problems.

On top of that, something that bummed me out was when they cast Henry Golding in the lead. The reason why is because…something that I’ve noticed a lot is that our faces are kind of getting erased. Almost all of the parts go to Eurasian people. It sucks because we’re being horribly misrepresented, like our features aren’t good enough to be on the big screen. ‘He looks too Asian to ever be all right. It’s just a very Eurocentric way of looking at what beauty means and what it means to be handsome and that kind of stuff…I’m very cautious of our faces getting erased for an ideal that I believe is not true.

I know that this is something that has stemmed back [with black America] for hundreds of years; I’m reading a Malcolm X book, his autobiography, and he talks about that even back in the 1930s. Being lighter-skinned was a thing that made you more accepted by white society. It’s very analogous to what all the other minorities will be going through [in Hollywood]; the whiter you look, the more accepted you are, but only on screen. It’s such a nuanced, yet perverse thing to have happen to us, which subconsciously tells all of us that if you’re ethnic, you’re less than, you’re beautiful, and you don’t deserve [someone relating to you].”

• On playing Lt. Eddie Chen in The Long Road Home

“Our whole platoon is incredibly diverse, reflective of true life. It’s just something you would never see Hollywood casting if it wasn’t based on a true story. Our lieutenant commander is Hispanic, and we’ve brought in a whole number of ethnicities. I’m the only Asian man in it, but you’ve never seen that in a military show. All kinds of people are being represented in this platoon[.]

The vets all came out to give us their blessing. This is the first week that I showed up, and the vets were already there, saying, “Thank you for telling our story, thank you for not making us heroes.” [The miniseries] is about these really awful, difficult decisions they had to make in order to live. It was such an incredible experience on that level.

Kenny Leu as Sgt. Eddie Chen in “The Long Road Home.” (National Geographic)

On my first day of shooting, I was really nervous because we were shooting this big scene, and there were 400 extras in the scene. We’re all soldiers saying goodbye to their families; obviously, it’s very emotional. I’m walking through my scene with the director, making sure I’m hitting all my marks and that I know where the cameras are. In the middle of all of that, there are all of these extras that come up to me. Imagine the most Texan guys you could think of—they had the long mustaches with sunglasses and the big boots and big belt buckles and big bellies—they surrounded me and came up to me, and I was wearing my uniform at the time and they were reading my [character’s] name and my insignia. There was like a moment of silence. I was like, “Oh f***, what’s going on?” They were like, “You’re Sgt. Chen…we served with Eddie 13 years ago.” He was like a big brother to them and he was the guy everyone looked up to. He was the most honest, genuine person they’d ever known. I’m standing there on this field suddenly realizing how meaningful this story is to all these people. I was like, “Oh my God.” …That was something that rattled me to my core. You realize how important it is to tell stories like this, where people are represented properly. It makes you realize what a responsibility storytelling is.”♦

Watch Munkey in the City on its website , Vimeo page and YouTube page, and follow the series on FacebookTwitter,and Instagram. The Long Road Home premieres on National Geographic November 7 at 9/8c. 

This article has been edited and condensed.

New webseries “Munkey in the City” puts fresh spin on making it in the big city

Official synopsis (courtesy website):

Munkey in The City is a whimsically poignant dramedy series about a delusional young novelist in search of a dream–of fame, of fortune, and the pursuit of happiness. But he also brings the one thing standing in his way: himself. His name is MUNKEY, and he’s learning that The City is one big jungle he needs to survive.

Munkey dreams of writing the great American novel. The problem is, it’s already been written. He’s also looking for love in all the right places, but he’s just the wrong person. And just what is that thing that’s following him?

Determined yet confused, hopeful yet awkward, he comes to The City, one of the most vast and wildest places on Earth, in order to “make it.” On his journey, he struggles to connect with the people around him, escaping instead through alcohol, drugs, and his own writing. Through much trial-and-error, and with the help of an eclectic band of friends, Munkey must come to realize his own purpose in life, before The City swallows him whole. Though he soon realizes that the singular Evet is the key to unlocking his full potential and future.

Can our hero make it out alive with his sanity intact? Possibly not. But he’s going to try anyway.

Kenny Leu as Munkey. (Screencap)

Review:

Munkey in the City, the debut webseries from Michael T. Nguyen, is one that deftly weaves surprising turns of mystery and surrealism into a coming-of-age meets fish-out-of-water story about a young man who wants to find himself. The only problem is that he keeps getting in his own way.

The hero of the story, Munkey (Kenny Leu, who will be seen next in National Geographic’s miniseries The Long Road Home) is a man who is scared to use his own voice to make his mark in the writing world. Instead of coming up with his own story to sell to a publisher, he keeps rehashing the plots of famous ideas, plots he knows have found an audience. His creative struggles mirror his personal ones, as he’s a man who has no bearing on his place in the world or who he’s meant to be. These struggles are made known in overt ways, from his alcoholism, has failure with the ladies, and his severe lack of style (except for the glasses–I actually like the glasses, unlike other characters in this show). But there are also unspoken ways we see him struggle, from being adopted into a white family, his fear of adapting to a big, bustling city, and his fear of facing himself.

That’s where the Munkey King comes in.

The Munkey King (spelled that way on purpose) acts as Munkey’s aggressive conscience. The aggression is because Munkey is intent on not listening to it. Each time  the Munkey King tries to show Munkey things he has to face, all Munkey can muster is a blank stare, unwilling to tap into the root of that hidden anger.

Kenny Leu as Munkey, Henry Lee as the Munkey King. (Munkey in the City/Facebook)

The inclusion of the Munkey King is just one surprise this webseries has to offer. Even though it’s only six episodes, with each episode only lasting about five minutes, Munkey in the City manages to address certain tropes associated with Asian American male characters and turn them on their heads. Munkey never gets the girl in the end. But his lack of game isn’t based on Asian stereotyping; it’s because Munkey is so messed-up, he’s not mentally ready for any girlfriend (what’s sad is that he doesn’t even realize it). Ditto for Munkey’s dorkiness; he’s a dork because he’s been sheltered and because he’s insecure, not to mention that he’s also emotionally and mentally lost. Basically, his traits are there because of the life he’s lived and the choices he’s made, and seeing a well-rounded character who also happens to be Asian is refreshing.

If you’re wondering if revealing the Munkey King and Munkey’s lack of romance are spoilers, don’t worry; both points are well established before you ever get to the final episode. What I won’t reveal is the series’ biggest secret, and it has to do with this lady, Evet (Monica Barbaro).

Monica Barbaro as Evet. (Screencap)

Keep an eye on her.

I will say that even with a mysterious character like Evet, character moments become barbs aimed straight at old tropes. Are you sick of the “lesbian-turns-straight” trope? One scene featuring Evet will show you that Munkey in the City is tired of it, too–in fact, it uses the moment as a way to take a stab at its leading man, further showing the place of desperation Munkey is at in his life.

I found Munkey in the City to be fun and surprising. Munkey, like the fabled Monkey King in Journey to the West, is hoping to find his own nirvana at the end of a sojourn. I’m excited to know just how Munkey plans to tackle his demons as he goes along his quest to find himself.

Watch Munkey in the City on its website , Vimeo page and YouTube page, and follow the series on Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram

Hollywood’s obsession with toxic masculinity, as seen in “Blade Runner 2049”

SPOILERS for Blade Runner: 2049 and a possible TRIGGER WARNING for mentions of rape and sexual assault.

Hollywood is still reeling from the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s abhorrent conduct. Even though Weinstein is being dismissed from various film boards, including the Academy, it begs the question: What about the other men in Hollywood who uphold toxic masculinity and rape culture?

Hollywood has been a hotbed for all versions of toxic masculinity, from predators to the benign “as a father of daughters” type–however that type is just as insidious. Like Martin Luther King’s abhorrence for the “white moderate” who does nothing in order to not make waves, the male moderate does and says nothing when women around him cry for help. It usually takes someone close to him (a daughter, for instance) for him to see that society treats women as second class citizens.

Toxic masculinity is not just apparent in Hollywood (and various other industries); it’s also apparent in the stories Hollywood tells. The latest blockbuster in theaters, Blade Runner 2049, is rampant with toxicity. Yet, it also wants to have its progressive cake and eat it too. But placing two women in roles of power doesn’t make it okay for every other woman in the film to be treated like a walking Barbie doll. Here’s  how Blade Runner 2049 fails its women and illustrates the double standard in Hollywood.

Women as props

(L-R) Sylvia Hoeks as Luv and Jared Leto as Niander Wallace in Alcon Entertainment’s action thriller “BLADE RUNNER 2049. ( Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan) © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC

The effort Blade Runner 2049 goes to make sure women are seen as objects is astounding, especially contrasted against how much effort the film went into making sure we recognized Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) as a “strong female character.” (To be honest, most of the likability of Joshi comes from Wright’s force as an actress, her ability to make rather static, paint-by-numbers-“I’m a hardass police boss” lines have some actual weight.)

As in the original Blade Runner, which focused its attention on Deckard and used rape as the titular “romantic” shift in the relationship between Deckard and the film’s replicant love interest Rachel, Blade Runner 2049 uses women as a backdrop for male angst and women’s pain as a tool to show male dominance.

Using women as a blank slate is best shown in the existence of Joi (Ana de Armas), a female companion anyone can buy, made by the Wallace Corporation, the company that replaced the Tyrell Corporation in replicant-making superiority. Joi is a virtual girlfriend, and while we don’t see all of Joi’s capabilities, it’s insinuated that she can take on any personality that best fits her “boyfriend.” In Joi’s introductory scene, we see that she takes the form of a 1950s housewife–the cliche of male superiority and female objectifcation–and in her daily life, she usually dresses in clothes reminiscent of the mod 1960s and 1970s. I believe, since K has a love for the 1950s and 1960s–what with him listening to swingers’ music in his apartment–K probably programmed Joi to dress this way; Joi’s actual “default mode” of dressing is in comfortable, yet cute athleisure wear. It’s quite ironic that Joi, a woman who is stripped of personal choice, is programmed to dress in the clothes of the women’s liberation.

If there’s Joi, where are the male companions for sale? It would have been more interesting to show how subjugation has become a big theme of Blade Runner‘s future, with both women and men virtual dolls available for customers. Something similar is ignored in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.  As I wrote in my review for Mediaversity Reviews:

Heterosexuality is large and in charge in Marvel’s cinematic universe, even in outer space. You’d think if it’s plausible for Peter to be in a relationship with Gamora, an alien, there should be some mention of same-sex attraction or asexuality. There was one explicit chance for different sexual preferences to be subtly brought up—a scene on a pleasure planet where sex robots available for touring ne’er-do-wells. There could have easily been male Johns paying for the services of male sex robots. Or there could have been women utilizing either male robots or female robots. But the film only shows us men with female sex robots. In fact, the reason we’re shown this planet is to reintroduce us to Peter’s questionable father figure Yondu, who is buttoning his pants after finishing a night with a female sex robot.

With the future usually thought of as a time when fears about sexual orientation have subsided, you’d think that for ever huge Joi advert, there’d be one for, let’s say, ‘Yul’ (since this world is all about mixing Russian themes in with its Japanese futurism). If I saw a naked Yul billboard, I might not be so annoyed by seeing one featuring a naked Joi.  Male fragility blocks Blade Runner 2049 from engaging in any type of equitable conversation about male and female objectification–how dare a man be shown in a fetishistic way! Male fragility blocks most films, including “harmless fun” like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, from showing men a less powerful, submissive position.

The catch with the replicants and AI made by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)–the reason his company has become the new standard in replicant-making technology–is that his replicants obey all rules. This would be an interesting thing to explore if this quality was actually explored in all replicants, male and female.

Yes, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is supposed to be a Wallace replicant, and up until the point we meet him in the film, he has been following all rules to a T. But, as the male lead, he’s afforded the ability to go against his programming; we only see mental complexity in the men in this movie, replicant and human. Meanwhile, female robots don’t get that type of treatment. Joi, we’re led to believe, is supposed to be undergoing some type of mental progression. But it seems more like she’s fulfilling her programming by choosing to love K more intensely over the course of the film, to the point where she asks him to transport her to a portable device. When K initially refuses, scared that it might cause him to lose her forever, she does exert some power by saying if he didn’t do it, she could do it herself. But this one moment of personal power isn’t enough to overcome her other moments of mindlessness. Also, the two times she does use her own power is only in service of K, not for her own mental exploration.

Ana de Armas as Joi. (Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan) Copyright: © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC

The other replicant in this film, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), also follows the rules without being given the opportunity to challenge her role. She clearly has feelings–she sheds tears several times in this movie, indicating how she’s internally at odds with Wallace’s orders and her own place in the world. Yet, we see her dutifully follow Wallace’s directives, even after seeing Wallace gut a newly-born female replicant just to show how docile his replicants are. Why doesn’t she ever challenge Wallace? If she knows the importance of the story’s mystery figure–the child borne of a replicant–and that having that figure in the clutches of Wallace means no one any good, why doesn’t she ever team up with K? What makes her loyal to Wallace when all she seems to know is abuse?

If K can get emotional growth, why can’t Luv?  She’s earned it as much as K has.

Also, Rachel is revitalized in this film, only to have her be shot mere seconds later. Her entire point in this story is to be used as an object in Wallace’s plan to turn Deckard to his side. But when Deckard doesn’t fall for it (Rachel had green eyes, not brown, he says), the fake Rachel is shot by Luv. Once again, Rachel’s pain is used only to further Deckard’s storyline. It would have been nice to know what this Rachel thought of everything happening; was she aware of how she was being used? Did she retain any of the original Rachel’s memories? What part could she have played in the burgeoning uprising? And could she have at least lived long enough to meet her daughter? Deckard gets to.

Blade Runner 2049 overcomplicates its own story by how grotesquely it uses the female form to titilate, shock, and arouse awe. Take a look at how old Las Vegas is depicted in the film:

(Screencaps)

There’s more nakedness shown in the actual film; the remnants of huge naked women dot the wasteland, helping the film achieve its R rating. Why does Las Vegas have to be proliferated with humongous naked women statues? What purpose does this serve?

As Li Lai wrote in her review for Mediaversity Reviews, the film is a “trainwreck for gender equality”:

To watch this film is to suffer through a parade of hypersexualized female bodies that are purchased as digital toys, deployed as prostitutes, or gutted through the uterus to demonstrate man’s control over the world he created. The gratuitous violence against women is never challenged by the filmmakers; on the contrary, the camera seems to delight in rendering shock value as if it will make the film harder, or edgier. Devon Maloney pens a great piece on the misogyny of Blade Runner 2049 for Wired:

“Three men manage to take up 95 percent of the emotional frame on screen, leaving little room for the women around them to have their own narratives. There’s manic pixie dream girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), whom K (Ryan Gosling) has literally purchased. K’s boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), berates him at work and then invites herself over, drinks his alcohol, and comes on to him. Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), the sex worker with a heart of gold, repeatedly comes to K’s aid (in every way you can imagine). Wallace (Jared Leto)’s servant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) has the most tangible personality, yet she’s obsessed with pleasing Wallace. Even Rachael makes a cameo as a plot device for Deckard, embodying the final archetype—the martyred Madonna—of this Ultimate Sexist Megazord. Not one of these female characters voice an ambition or desire that does not pertain to their male counterparts.

Additionally, the character of Joi, K’s digital girlfriend, employs the damaging trope of ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ as described by Beth Elderkin:

“’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.”

The film’s obsession female sexuality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If anything can be learned from the Harvey Weinstein scandal and other scandals that have hit Hollywood in recent weeks, it’s that women in Hollywood–on screen and off–are only given a box to express themselves inside of, while men get the entire playground. Too many men in Hollywood seem to think that women only exist to be sexual objects. Either you’re supposed to be like Joi and do whatever you can to please men in charge, or you’re meant to be a relic like the statues, forgotten or blacklisted as “hard to work with” because you decided to stand up for your voice. And even then, your body is used against you; just like how the statues showcase the barren wasteland of Las Vegas, an actress’ body can either be used as sexual currency or the reason why she doesn’t book any roles.

The conceits that women are sponges for abuse, “born sexy yesterday,” or sirens who need to be punished are myths that has been ingrained into Hollywood’s storytelling. Many of the men who tell the majority of these stories are also men who don’t know how to treat women fairly is highly troubling. This is a general statement–I’m not casting singular doubt on the folks behind Blade Runner 2049, but this film is full of that standard male-dominated thinking that believes itself to be progressive, when it’s actually regressive.

To take the heat off of Blade Runner 2049, let’s look at another filmmaker, Joss Whedon. For whatever reason (Buffy, I guess),  Whedon has been lauded as a feminist writer. Even before his own scandal surfaced, Whedon’s version of feminism has never included women of color, so immediately, it was suspect. But now, it’s apparent that Whedon’s feminism wasn’t for anyone other than to serve his own agenda. Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, said Whedon only utilized his clout as a “feminist” to get closer to actresses he wanted to cheat with. According to Cole’s op-ed in The Wrap, Whedon’s own description of the women he was surrounded by flies in the face of his supposed politics.

“Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, ‘When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.’ But he did touch it. He said he understood, ‘I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,’ but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, ‘would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.’”

He’s blaming the women he decided to pursue for his own martial transgressions instead of taking responsibility for his actions. And yet, he’s the one chosen to write the upcoming Batgirl film, even after his draft of Wonder Woman, which is completely written from the male point of view and only highlights Diana when he wants to showcase her as a sexual object or a thing for his Steve Trevor to act against.

Can someone claim to be a feminist and still see the female only in virgin/whore dynamics? Yes. Similarly, can a film like Blade Runner 2049, which tries to show women in progressive roles, still reinforce staid, tired tropes? Yes. Can Hollywood claim to be forward thinking while female actors (and male actors) get harassed and even assaulted by toxic men just for daring to do their job? Yes.

Women as interchangeable

Mackenzie Davis as Mariette. (Screencap)

Out of the entire film, the grossest part for me was seeing Joi pay for the services of replicant prostitute Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) in order to have sex with K. The scene was supposed to be one that inspired pathos for Joi’s condition as a hologram–she can’t actually touch K–but seeing it play out was like watching an idea that seemed good in someone’s head become horrifying when enacted in real life.

The scene doubled down on the Blade Runner franchise’s lackadaisical treatment of women, this time proving that it does believe that women are not only props, but are interchangeable ones. Was K having sex with Joi or with Mariette? Does it even matter? It seems like it doesn’t, since towards the end of the movie, K caresses Mariette’s face with the same loving tenderness he tried to caress Joi with–and Joi had just “died” in the prior scene.

Again, to go back to Hollywood, the theme of interchangeability is rampant within the industry. Women are usually written as tropes in films–either as supportive girlfriends or wives, quirky “manic pixie dream girls,” “strong female characters” (which just means the woman curses and fights, but still fulfills the patriarchal demands of a sexual object), or they’re “smart,” meaning they’re usually dressed “unattractively” but still act as a type of sexual release (think of how Velma from Scooby Doo has become one of most pornographically-presented Hanna Barbera characters) or they’re dressed unattractively (and behave like a stereotypical dork) as if to say smartness in women equals ugliness.

It’s only been in recent times that films featuring women living outside of the patriarchy have been presented in ways other than the 1940s “women’s prison” films. Yet, there’s still so much further to go. Blade Runner 2049 is case in point. With as futuristic as the film’s supposed to be, everything about the film references Hollywood’s past and current treatment of women as both actresses and characters. Joi’s defining characteristic is that she’s sexy. Joshi’s main characteristic is being “tough.” Luv’s main characteristic is “loyalty.” However, K  is allowed to be sexy, tough, loyal (to a point), and smart, discerning, confused, self-aware, brooding, cool, sad, disillusioned, etc. He gets a range of emotions, while the women either only serve one purpose or are used interchangeably to serve one man, as is the case with Mariette and Joi serving K and Luv and Rachel serving Wallace.

Ana de Armas as Joi and Ryan Gosling as K. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Alcon Entertainment)

The fact that nearly every female character dies in the film is also evidence of the film’s belief that regardless of these women’s various stations in life or their motivations, they are all interchangeable and disposable. This movie reeks of the “fridged woman” stereotype, which means that women are killed in stories solely to advance a male-driven plot. Comic book writer Gail Simone has compiled a huge list of female comic book characters that have been killed or brutalized solely for the male lead to be spurred into action.

However, Blade Runner 2049 fails at even allowing he male leads to be spurred into action because of female death. The deaths of these women are treated with nihilism, as if their deaths are to show how brutal this futuristic world can be. Maybe that point would be better made if we saw more male characters be faced with certain death throughout the film; most of the male characters we meet at the beginning of the film are still alive at the very end, while most of the female characters are dead. Even though K gives up the ghost in the film’s final seconds, he still survived all the way to the ending credits, which is more than we can say for more deserving female characters.

The only male character that dies in this film is Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). His death links him to these women; he’s the only male character in the film to show any deference to the female-made miracle he’s witnessed–Rachel giving birth to her daughter. The only man in the movie who shows any ounce of respect towards a woman gets killed because of it.

Women who are erased from their own narratives

(L-R) Ryan Gosling as K and Ana de Armas as Joi. (Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan) © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT

A female character that does survive, however, is Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), but that’s only because she has to be kept in a sterile environment due to a condition (maybe a condition related to her birth). Ana is also the prodigal  daughter everyone’s been looking for. However, as far as the film’s storytelling goes, is she only considered useful by the story because Deckard’s her dad, not the power she has as the first of her kind?

This might seem like nitpicking, especially since Ana inverts the audience’s trained expectation for the leading man to be the golden child. Having K realize he’s not the chosen one is actually quite satisfying–he’s built a huge mythology in his head by this point in the movie, so when he learns the truth from replicant leader Freysa (Hiam Abbass), one of the few women of power in this film, it’s fascinating to see his ego deflate before our eyes. When he realizes his only purpose is to be the usher for a female savior, he becomes disillusioned once again.

However, when K has this great realization should be when the film actually starts. The real story isn’t K’s journey from replicant-to-human-to-replicant; the real story is Ana’s. Why is it that we follow K throughout his search–which has K go around 360 degrees back to his emotional starting point–and watch him die, when the real story is happening off screen? This film should have been about Ana, not K.

Having the film follow K instead of the real focus is toxic masculinity at work. It’s subtle, but the film’s basically saying that K’s story is more important not because of any revelations he might have, but because he’s a man. That’s the only reason I can see as to why we don’t follow Ana, who has the balance of the entire world in her hands. The real mystery isn’t if K is a human; it’s how did a human (or suspected replicant) and a known replicant have  a naturally-conceived replicant child? What’s the science behind this? And what would Ana do with this power once she’s made aware of her unique position? She might be alive, but why is she fridged out of her own story?

There’s a parallel here. Just like how we’re told K is more important than Ana, we’re often told men’s stories and emotions are more important than women’s. Women are often portrayed as being naive and not knowing what they want, while the man somehow magically does. This is indicative in the rape scene between Rachel and Deckard, which is played more like a love scene than the brutal act it actually is.

As Eric Haywood wrote for Roger Ebert (linked above):

Here’s the scene in a nutshell: Rachael’s with Deckard in his apartment. They’re sitting together at his piano when he tries to kiss her. She pulls back, then jumps up and races for the door (the shaky handheld camerawork emphasizing her urgency and determination to leave). She opens the door, but Deckard jumps in front of her—looking quite angry, mind you—and slams it shut with his fist, then grabs her with both hands and physically slams her against the window.

That’s our hero in action.

Then, as if all that weren’t creepy enough, he orders her to say, “Kiss me.” She doesn’t want to, so he orders her again. This time she says it. He kisses her (because, hey, she just told him to, right?), she kisses him back, and they continue as we fade to black.

To be fair, there’s an argument to be made that the scene is probably attempting a certain level of emotional complexity here. Rachael is a replicant of an advanced design. She’s had the memories of her creator’s niece implanted in her mind, leading her to believe that she’s actually human. Anyway, the idea seems to be that she and Deckard are both overcome with passion, but she’s resisting because (having been dismissively told by Deckard that she’s actually an android) she can’t trust her emotions. But the basic thrust (sorry) of the scene remains the same: Deckard wants sex, he wants it right now, and she does not. So he literally holds her hostage until she agrees to give it up.

Basically, Deckard, like so many men before him, believes he knows what Rachel wants, even though she clearly states the opposite. Her feelings don’t matter, since its Deckard’s feelings that are given precedence in the story.

If Rachel did proclaim that she was raped by Deckard, would anyone believe her? And would anyone disbelieve her because she’s a replicant, or would it be because she’s a woman?

In real life, women are often disbelieved, regardless of the positions they hold in life. They are made out to be liars. It shouldn’t be a surprise that so many women have never  come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment, since people would only be concerned with how they somehow “asked for it.” What did they wear? What were their actions? Did they, like Rachel, say what the man wanted to hear (never mind if it was said out of coersion)? However, what’s hardly ever asked is what did the hero of the story–what did the man—do. Like too many men that populate Hollywood (and the White House), Deckard’s actions are never explored or punished. He remains our hero. Even his storyline with Rachel is remade into a noir-esque love affair in Blade Runner 2049. The truth gets turned into something more palatable. Rachel is erased.

In conclusion

What would be cool is, if the Blade Runner 2049 sequel ever gets made, that Ana becomes the lead of the story. We should have been  following her all along. What I fear is that Deckard will become the lead again, and the film will be all about exploring if he is actually a replicant. This would be a huge disservice to the story, since everything hinges on Ana.

As far as films go, Blade Runer 2049 is only but one of the many films out there that do a disservice to its female characters. The film, like  many before it, is also victim to the illness of toxic masculinity in the Hollywood industry. It’s not the fault of the films who suffer from this toxicity; it’s the fault of the filmmakers. Sadly, too many screenwriters, directors, and producers don’t even realize that they have a problem. Too many enjoy living high off the hog, misusing their privilege. However, until those in charge do have a wake-up call (or are replaced), women like Ana, Joi, Luv, Mariette, Joshi,and Rachel will stay in their boxes while men continue to take up all of the playground. ♦