books

“Being Asian in Hollywood” is now a free e-book!

being-asian-in-hollywood

Recently I posted my longform article “Being Asian in Hollywood,” featuring several members of the Hollywood community. I’ve now compiled the article into a free e-book, just for JUST ADD COLOR readers.

The design of this e-book was inspired by the beauty and talent of Anna May Wong, and photography featuring her decorate the pages of this book in homage to her. Wong is someone who wasn’t featured prominently in this article, but it’s due to her sacrifice, and the sacrifices of other Asian actors in old Hollywood, who paved the way for today’s current crop of stars.

Here’s a look at some of the pages that you’ll see inside:

Download Being Asian in Hollywood here or click the cover in the site’s sidebar!

Free e-book “What Disney Doesn’t Understand” demands more inclusiveness from the Mouse House

what-disney-doesnt-understand-cover

We all love Disney, but Disney has got some explaining to do when it comes to major oversights such as:

  • No black animated prince
  • A Eurocentric focus on what constitutes a “princess”
  • No LGBT visibility
  • Hardly any major Pixar characters of color

etc., etc, etc.

My new e-book, What Disney Doesn’t Understand, however, does go into some of these issues.

What Disney Doesn’t Understand features several of my Disney-centric posts and puts them together in an easy-to-read and stylish format (if I do say so myself). The book also includes links to the original posts, which include more interactivity with tweets, Twitter moments, videos, and more. Check out some of the pages:

 

Download What Disney Doesn’t Understand from the right sidebar or click right here! If you like what you’ve read, make sure to share the e-book and this website with your family and friends! In fact, you can share What Disney Doesn’t Understand by clicking the Twitter bird:

Tweet: @COLORwebmag's e-book

I hope you enjoy the e-book!

Oh, how far Latina’s come: Latina Magazine celebrates 20 years of progress in Hollywood with Platinum Anniversary Issue

Latina Magazine celebrates its platinum anniversary with a photomosaic of the legendary Selena Quintanilla.
Latina Magazine celebrates its platinum anniversary with a photomosaic of the legendary Selena Quintanilla.

NEW YORK, Oct. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Latina magazine— the first in its space and the number one destination for the 35 million acculturated, second and third generation American Latinas—celebrates 20 years with a look back at the progress Latinas have made in Hollywood over the past two decades.

The magazine celebrates it’s platinum anniversary with a cover of the most influential Latinas (Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Gloria Estefan, Christina Aguilera, and Sophia Vergara, among others) that combined creates a photomosaic of the legendary Selena Quintanilla (www.latina.com/20years).

“We chose Selena because, unlike other Latino stars who at the time made it big by modifying their names and ‘passing’ as white, Selena turned to her culture first, rediscovering her roots to find her voice,” said Latina Editorial Director Robyn Moreno. “And through her voice, American Latinas found theirs and learned they didn’t need to change to make it big.”

The thought bomb of Christy Haubegger, Latina became a pioneering force for Latinas underserved by the general market and Spanish language media. Latinas were, for the most part, invisible to mainstream culture during most of the 80s and 90s. For the past two decades, Latina has played a central role in helping readers connect to their culture, while also helping shape and launch the careers of some of the biggest Latina stars.

Through the help of Latina’s covers, J.Lo became a queen, Christina Aguilera crossed over, and Selma Hayek gained A-list status and was the first Latina to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

In the words of some of Latina’s most influential celebrity cover interviews on the progress Latinas have made in the past 20 years:

“When Hollywood starts considering me for roles where ethnic background doesn’t matter, that’s an even bigger step in the right direction for me.” – Jennifer Lopez (Summer 1996)

“A lot of my fans are young girls, and they go ‘You’re someone young Latin girls can look up to’ because there really aren’t many.” Christina Aguilera (December 1999)

“I want to empower young women like me to fulfill their dreams. I hope I can inspire somebody to get focused on what they want out of life instead of just taking what’s given to them.” Jessica Alba (March 2008)

Redefining “Archie”: Jughead’s Evolution as a Counterculture Icon

The second in a series of articles for: 2

Back in the late ’00s, I wrote a ton on Jughead, my favorite Archie Comics character. The main reason I identify with him so much is because he’s the “weird” one; to quote one of the many Poirot episodes out there, Jughead’s of the world, but he’s not in the world. In other words, he can see the strings behind everything going on in his environment, yet doesn’t desire to become a part of it, nor can his friends ever truly understand his lack of desire to lose himself in the day-to-day minutae of life. Whereas Archie, Betty, and Veronica are constantly embroiled in pettiness, Jughead is usually the one with the subtle, existential view on things.

The main body of the article I’m presenting now is one of those early Jughead articles. It’s focusing on Jughead as Riverdale’s representative of American counterculture, both through his personality and, in particularly, through his clothing and hair styles. Even though all of the characters go through changes over the years, Jughead is the only character who became repurposed by Archie Comics as a window into America’s constantly evolving counterculture. Whereas Archie is “America’s Favorite Teenager,” Jughead is “America’s Favorite Outcast.”


Whether he knew it or not, John L. Goldwater, publisher and editor of Archie Comics, was a genius to have created such an influential character like Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, or, as we know him, Jughead. Actually, I think he was a bit ahead of his time. To many (and probably to Goldwater), Jughead is quirky-someone who follows the beat of their own drummer, in the cliché sense. But Jughead’s off-center personality and nonconformist aesthetic has been reflected in the decades after his first appearance in 1941.

Some background on the creation of Jughead, first. Goldwater was quoted as saying that his high-school friend, named Archie, was part of the inspiration for the character Archie. In turn, Goldwater himself was the inspiration for Jughead. “I felt like Jughead to him,” he said about their days at the New York Teachers’ Training School. “I was a very loyal friend.” It would seem that Goldwater brought a lot more to Jughead’s personality than just his loyalty; Goldwater was an orphan who hitchhiked westward during the Depression, finding work. This rough lifestyle Goldwater led in his earlier years was sure to have supplied Jughead with his loner, self-sufficient, and non-conformist sensibilities and a personality more unique than the other Archie characters.

Jughead in the 1950s-early 70s: Beatnik

Through most of the ‘40s, Jughead was the standard slacker who provided the snappiest comebacks in stories-lines that usually weren’t reserved for characters like Archie and Betty. But in 1947, the Beat Generation-a free-form, alternative lifestyle that rejected the conformist “square” culture and focused on different ways to realizing spirituality-bubbled up from the subculture dregs and this started seeping into mainstream throughout the 1950s. Once the Beat culture caught on, however, and college students started dressing in stereotypical berets and black leggings, the term “beatnik” arose, and this version of the Beat Generation is the one most Americans associate with the 1960s.

With Goldwater’s work with the Comics’ Code, I doubt he would’ve wanted people to view Jughead as a person with Beat sensibilities, but the laid-back, drifter personality he has, coupled with his rejection of his parents’ standards and goals for him (much to his father’s aggravation), Jughead has lends itself to those sensibilities easily. Incidentally, his love of jazz music and jazz drumming also fits eerily well into the Beat aesthetic. (I don’t think this part of his personality was made up during the time when beatniks were the rage, however.) During this time, Jughead’s clothes were either a lot more streamlined than those of other characters (fitting in with the Beat aesthetic), or there’d be something off-kilter that would differentiate him from the dress styles of the other characters:

In the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Jughead’s clothes became a little more psychedelic, again representing the Beat-and now hippie-countercultures of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

(Incidentally, in two different covers, he’s wearing the same psychedelic shirt.)

 

Jughead in the 1980s-1990s: Skate punk

When the Jughead comic book reached 1990, there was a huge schism between the old Jughead and the new, revamped, skate punk Jughead. And boy was it drastic. So drastic, in fact, that the powers-that-be quickly changed Jughead back to his old look. But I believe their thought process to change Jughead to fit more with the times were along two lines-first, the street-skateboarding lifestyle was everywhere during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and if it’s the hottest new thing, why not cash in on it? Secondly, Jughead’s personality was all about being the exception to the rule and the counter to the mundane that Archie represented; it would seem natural that he would take up a skateboard and start skating. I don’t know if he would shave his head, as shown in the examples below, but he definitely might take up skateboarding.

Also, one of the characteristics of the punk lifestyle (the original punk lifestyle, not just skate punk) is the D.I.Y. ethic-to make, grow, or find everything you need yourself. Even though Jughead would have to satisfy his Pop Tate-made hamburger cravings every now and again, the do-it-yourself idea seems like it would be something Jughead would take part in, at least for a little while. Being honest, even though the beginning of the ’90s saw the most radical change in Jughead ever, the covers were the most creative and innovative I’ve ever seen. I wish they made covers like these again, sans-Jughead weird haircut.


So how does Jughead represent counterculture today? In fact, what is today’s counterculture? I’ll analyze that in my next article. But for now, what do think about Jughead’s role in representing America’s counterculture? Discuss in the comments section!

 

 

Diverse Lit Publisher Rosarium Publishing Creates Indiegogo Campaign

Hollywood has seen the lion’s share of attention when it comes to the fight for diverse stories and characters. But, the world of literature is facing their own diversity movement, and quite a few publishing houses are beginning to provide their own solutions to the lack of diversity in literature. One of those publishing houses is Rosarium Publishing.

Rosarium Publishing is an indie multicultural comic book and novel publisher founded by scifi/fiction writer Bill Campbell. Campbell’s goal with Rosarium Publishing is “to bring true diversity to publishing so that the high-quality books and comics his company produces actually reflect the fascinating, multicultural world we truly live in today.” Genres published by Rosarium Publishing includes crime, satire, children’s, steampunk, science fiction, and comics. “I believe it’s imperative that people are able to tell their own stories,” said Campbell in a statement. “They can build their own tables rather than ask for a place at the table.”

Rosarium Publishing has made a name for themselves in its three years of life, having produced critically-acclaimed titles like Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and BeyondStories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, The SEA Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, and APB: Artists against Police Brutality and several of its titles, such as crime novel Making Wolf and indie comic book DayBlack have garnered literary awards. These and other titles are read in high school and college classrooms throughout the U.S., and mainstream news outlets and literature publications like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, The New York Times and others have reviewed and/or featured Rosarium Publishing and its influence in the publishing world.

Rosarium Publishing has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help them produce a minimum of 10 more titles this year. Called “Rosarium Publishing: The Next Level,” the company wants to raise $40,000 to cover the printing and marketing costs. The reason for this campaign is due to the popularity of Rosarium Publishing’s books. To quote the press release:

Rosarium, whose books are now distributed to stores by IPG, has been so successful that demand has now dictated that a switch to offset printing is now necessary to get more of their work to the masses sooner and that is where their new crowdfunding campaign comes in. With the success of the Rosarium Publishing Indiegogo “The Next Level” campaign, they will be able to print thousands of books and continue their mission to further their quest for diversity in publishing with the high quality of work they are known for.

Want to contribute? You can do so right here! Also, if you want to get your hands on some Rosarium Publishing titles, you can buy them at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Comixology and PeepGame Comix. For more info on Rosarium Publishing and the titles available, visit rosariumpublishing.com. You can also follow Rosarium Publishing on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

CW’s “Riverdale” Takes Archie Comics Out of the 1940s

As you will see in a few days on JUST ADD COLOR, I am a huge Archie Comics aficionado. Back in the mid ’90s, when I was still in middle school, I happened to pick up an Archie Comics digest from the grocery store, and fell in love with these kids’ hijinks and the art style. The more into Archie Comics I became, the more I loved it. The more I loved it, the more I started to dissect and analyze, and the more I hoped the company would grow into something beyond just reliving its glory days of the ’60s.

Since then, Archie Comics has really come into not just the 21st century, but into its own new identity as the comic book for humorous, slice-of-life teenage comedy. In many ways, the company went back to its core tenet of being about teens, for teens by becoming what it was when it first debuted in the 1940s—fresh and relevant. Archie Comics has exploded now with the new Archie and Jughead series, both of which are amazing in terms of writing and illustration, and the upcoming CW teen drama, Riverdale.

Riverdale continues Archie Comics’ obsession with relevance by rejiggering the concepts of the “America’s Favorite Teenager” and what life in the picturesque Riverdale is really about. To quote Archie Comics:

The live-action series offers a bold, subversive take on Archie, Betty, Veronica, and their friends, exploring small-town life and the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome facade. The show will focus on the eternal love triangle of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, and rich socialite Veronica Lodge, and will include the entire cast of characters from the comic books–including Archie’s rival, Reggie Mantle, and his slacker best friend, Jughead Jones.

Popular gay character Kevin Keller will also play a pivotal role. In addition to the core cast, “Riverdale” will introduce other characters from Archie Comics’ expansive library, including Josie and the Pussycats.

Let’s take a look at our group of Riverdalians (with character descriptions quoted from Archie Comics’ Riverdale posts):

Archie Andrews (played by K.J. Apa)

In an exclusive announcement, Deadline described Apa’s Archie as “an intense, conflicted teen, a boyish high school sophomore who got pumped up over the summer working construction and is now juggling the interest of several girls, as well as trying to balance his passion for writing and performing music–against the wishes of his father and his football coach.”

Josie McCoy (played by Ashleigh Murray)

Murray’s Josie is described as “a gorgeous, snooty and ambitious girl who is the lead singer for popular band Josie and the Pussycats. She has zero interest in recording any songs written by fellow teen Archie.”

Jughead Jones (played by Cole Sprouse)

Sprouse’s Jughead is described as “a heartthrob with a philosophical bent and former best friend of Archie Andrews.”

Veronica (played by Camilla Mendes)

In the exclusive announcement, Deadline described Mendes’s Vernoica as a silver-tongued high school sophomore who returns to Riverdale from New York, eager to reinvent herself after a scandal involving her father.

Betty (played by Lili Reinhart)

In an exclusive announcement, Deadline described Reinhart’s Betty as “sweet, studious, eager-to-please and wholesome, with a huge crush on her longtime best friend, Archie.”

Cheryl Blossom (played by Madelaine Petsch)

In the exclusive announcement, Deadline described Petsch’s Cheryl as rich, entitled, and never accountable. A manipulative mean girl who kills with kindness, she recently lost her twin brother in a mysterious accident.

Reggie Mantle (played by Ross Butler)

No official Archie Comics/Deadline character description, but we know already from the comics that Reggie is Archie’s rival in all things, including the dating department.

Dilton (played by Daniel Yang)

Again,  no official description for Dilton, but in the comics, he’s the nerdy, brilliant friend to the core Riverdale gang. He also dated Cheryl Blossom at one point in time, so don’t sleep on Dilton’s hidden mack game.

Moose Mason (played by Cody Kearsley)

Once again, no official description, but Moose is Midge Klump’s long-time boyfriend. Moose is also on the school’s wrestling team, and is often depicted as being, to use one of Wendy Williams’ favorite phrases, “less than smart.” It was only relatively recently that Moose’s depiction was scaled back and taken a bit more sensitively; he was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explains why the character often has trouble with schoolwork. Maybe his dyslexia will become a feature of his characterization in Riverdale.

Tina Patel (Olivia Ryan Stern)

No official description, but Tina is from the later wave of old-style Archie comics. Tina was introduced as the younger sister of Raj Patel, the town’s resident aspiring filmmaker. Unlike Raj, Tina was following in her parents’ footsteps of becoming a doctor, making Raj the black sheep of the family. If memory serves, she also was bumped up a grade, so she’s actually in the same grade as Raj despite being younger than him.

The adults cast so far include:

Yes, ’90s friends; that’s Mr. 90210 himself! With him as a part of the cast, this already feels like the baton of stellar teen dramas has been handed down to the next generation. Riverdale has the Luke Perry Seal of Approval.

What can we expect?: Already, we can see some ways in which Riverdale is distancing itself from the Archie stories of old while bringing the Archie Comics company further into the now. We have a multiracial, multicultural cast, with several characters cast as non-white actors, including Apa, who is Samoan-Kiwi.

But a Rainbow Coalition cast isn’t the only reason this show has my radar. As I wrote above, the show is setting up a subversive take on the Riverdale we’ve come to know and love, and if Season Zero is to be believed, the Riverdale pilot is something that must be seen to be believed. There’s murder, sleeping with a teacher, intrigue, and all sorts of soapy turns. Also, Jughead’s the narrator, which seems like a cool, Jughead-ish thing to do (he is, after all, divorced from all the drama of his friends and acts as the observer of their lives).

As much as Riverdale promises, there’s still some more that it could have done. At one point, Jughead was supposed to be played by a deaf actor. TV Line (as reported by The Mary Sue) had the official casting calls, which asked for a “hearing-impaired” actor. As far as I know, Sprouse isn’t hearing-impaired, so I wonder why the change in Jughead’s character was made. If it was made—maybe the narration we hear are Jughead’s thoughts, and perhaps Sprouse signs on screen. But still, it could have been a great opportunity for a hearing-impaired actor to get his moment. I’m not poo-pooing Sprouse’s acting ability before we’ve even seen him in the role; I wish him goodwill. I’m just sayin’, from an observer’s perspective, some could find an issue with a non-deaf person playing a deaf role, especially since there are deaf actors and actresses out there (such as Freeform’s Switched at Birth stars Marlee Matlin (also an Oscar winner), Katie Leclerc, and Sean Berdy, late night host Stephen Colbert, There Will Be Blood‘s Russell Harvard, and many others in stage theater).

Other observations: Jughead is canonically asexual in the new Jughead books. In the show, Jughead is described as a heartthrob, and that’s actually in keeping with his character, since Jughead gained a kinda heartthrob status through later runs of the old Archie books. Part of Jughead becoming attractive to girls was because he never wanted a relationship anyways, and some girl characters took at as a challenge (like Ethel, who hasn’t been cast as of yet). But parts of the fandom had also decided that Jughead was gay, which may or may not have led to issues featuring Jughead in an ill-fated love triangle of his own. Stories of Jughead in one-off relationships would then become peppered throughout the old Archie canon for whatever reason there was at the time, but Jughead had already been linked to someone in the old ’40s comics—Betty. Back then, it seemed like there was less of a love triangle between Betty, Archie, and Veronica, and more of Betty trying to disrupt Veronica and Archie’s relationship and, being desperate for any male attention, would try to seduce Jughead, who just went along with it because of his friendship with Betty.

However, with all of that said, will Jughead actively engage in relationships on Riverdale because he is a heartthrob? Or is he a heartthrob because he’s unattainable? Will Jughead become the second out asexual character on television (the first being Voodoo from USA’s Sirens)? Or, if Jughead’s asexuality doesn’t extend to the show’s canon (which it might not, since the show’s not adhering to old or new Archie stories, anyways), then will Jughead’s sexuality once again become the hot button issue of the day? One of the enduring parts of Jughead’s character is that, because he’s removes himself from the heteronormative discussion, everyone can see some element of themselves in him. You can believe he’s straight, gay, asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and any other type of sexuality, and you’d be justified in your theory. Jughead is one of those characters in entertainment who become a sexuality litmus test, and it’s fascinating to see just how everyone interprets him differently and why.

Last, Riverdale is breaking new ground by casting two actors from the AAPI spectrum as part of “the beautiful people.” Like I’ve written several times before, Asian men rarely get the heartthrob treatment, and to have Archie and Reggie played by Apa and Butler is awesome. Of course, we’ve got some caveats to discuss. Apa can easily code as “white,” which will surely help him land more leading roles than someone like Butler, who might still have to work against racist casting calls. But both Apa and Butler might face less discrimination than Yang, who is playing a character that now has a very complicated situation. Dilton is white in the comics, so having someone else represent Dilton plays into the movement to have more inclusion on screen. But, Dilton is also a nerd, so what does it mean that an Asian guy was cast as the nerd? Again, like with Sprouse, I’m not ragging on Yang getting a job, but I am an entertainment/cultural critic. I wonder what Yang will do to take the character out of the easy stereotype and into a nuanced, layered performance.

With all of that said, I’m excited to see what Riverdale holds for us. What do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Ashley M. Jones’ “Magic City Gospel” Tells History of Alabama with Haunting Poetry

I have some great news to report (and some nepotism to perform)! My sister, Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award winner Ashley M. Jones, has a great book coming out called Magic City Gospel! The book is a product of three years at FIU’s creative writing program, creating a body of work representative of her life and her experiences. I was there at every step of this book, watching her create each poem and providing feedback (some of my suggestions may have found their way into her poems).

Magic-City-Gospel-Ashley-M-Jones

However, I’m not lauding this book just because she’s my sister. Jones’ Magic City Gospel is a collection of haunting poems detailing the sorrows and the highs of living in Alabama, a place soaked in the blood of black slaves and Native Americans, a place that is as known for the KKK and Jim Crow as it is fried chicken and good potato salad. In short, Magic City Gospel focuses on the strange complexity that makes Alabama, and more specifically Birmingham, a simultaneously fantastic and horrifying place to live. Here’s the official blurb and more about Ashley:

Magic City Gospel is a love song to Birmingham, the Magic City of the South. In traditional forms and free verse poems, 2015 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award-winner Ashley M. Jones takes readers on a historical, geographical, cultural, and personal journey through her life and the life of her home state. From De Soto’s “discovery” of Alabama to George Wallace’s infamous stance in the schoolhouse door, to the murders of black men like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner in modern America, Magic City Gospel weaves its story through time, weaving Jones’ personal history with the troubled, triumphant, and complicated history of Birmingham, and of Alabama at large. In Magic City Gospel’s pages, you’ll find that “gold is laced in Alabama’s teeth,” but you will also see the dark underbelly of a state and a city with a storied past, and a woman whose history is inextricably linked to that past.

ashley-m-jonesAshley M. Jones received an MFA from Florida International University. She was a finalist in Hub City Press’ New Southern Voices Contest, Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Contest, and the National Poetry Series. Her work has been published by the Academy of American Poets, pluck!, PMSPoemMemoirStory, Prelude, Kinfolks Quarterly, and other journals. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2015 B-Metro Magazine Fusion Award. She is an editor of [PANK] Magazine, and she teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

“But I wanna read some of her poetry before I trust your word, for it, Monique!” Well, lucky you; Ashley’s got tons of her work at her website, most—if not all—of it will be published in Magic City Gospel. Here’s just a sampling:

Danez Smith and Jericho Brown, two big names in today’s poetry, have already given Magic City Gospel their seal of approval:

Ashley Jones lays Alabama bare, wide, beautiful, terrifying and familiar in Magic City Gospel, this wonderful collection thick with where form, history, and even the wind are all rendered blackly and masterfully. Jones’ poems are alive with ghost and kin, God and Black girls, and all are sung, SANG really, under her capable hand. The red dirt is smeared all over this book, where we get to see Sammie Davis Jr. sing for Mike Brown & the Virgin Mary painted Black and Southern. Let Jones show you her land and her people, let me drive you across roads and time and show you what Alabama is about. —Danez Smith, author of [insert] boy

Ashley M. Jones’ Magic City Gospel is exact and exacting. Her intention is to name—and she does so in a way that renders into beauty all that is harsh about the American South. This is a poetry book that knows how to be a history book, a religious text, a book of redemption. —Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament

Ashley’s book will be out Jan. 3, 2017, but you can pre-order it right now! Click here to pre-order and secure your copy. You can also connect with Ashley through her website and Twitter.

Want More From JUST ADD COLOR? Read COLORBLOCK Magazine!

JUST ADD COLOR is in the process of growing in 2016, and one of the ways we’re doing that is by creating COLORBLOCK Magazine, a monthly magazine that features more of the content JUST ADD COLOR has already—analyzing how race and culture are perceived in entertainment, and how those messages affect how we see ourselves.

The latest issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine is a recap of the Oscars, which was a mixed bag, to be honest. From the racist jokes to addressing stereotypes in film, to #OscarsSoWhite and more, this issue of COLORBLOCK hits some of the biggest moments from before, during, and after the Oscars.

colorblock-March 2016-ad

Here’s a bit from one of the magazine’s articles, “Lesson Providers and Tragic Figures: How The Revenant Reflects Hollywood’s Objectification of Characters of Color”:

Would you believe that Oscar film The Revenant has something in common with No Escape? Even though the film has been praised for its technical prowess and stellar acting, the Leonardo DiCaprio starrer has been called out on the story still following an old Hollywood trope: having a story involving non-white characters revolve around white leads.

Gyasi Ross wrote for The Huffington Post that the DiCaprio’s lead time in the movie could have been ceded to some of Native actors in the film. Comparing DiCaprio to Marlon Brando, who allowed Sacheen Littlefeather to speak to Native American sentiments at the Oscars, Ross wrote, “it would have been cool if [DiCaprio] surrendered that space for Native people to have some agency.”

Ross goes onto say that while The Revenant successfully strove for historical accuracy, it doubles down on the “white savior” trope that plagues many Hollywood films.

You can read the latest issue by clicking the link in the sidebar as well as clicking right here. You can also read past issues in the archive. If you love what you’ve read, make sure you leave me a comment, either on Twitter @moniqueblognet and @COLORwebmag, Facebook, or at ISSUU and share with your friends! These people did:

I’d love for you to read, share, and support!

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

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

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

The major points of contention are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles, Gerald Vizenor

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

• The Tantalize Series by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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

• Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great blogs on the subject:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Surprise Meta Moment of 2015: Black Hermione Becomes Real

For quite some time, fans of Harry Potter who are also fans of character diversity have championed a revisionist take on the popular J.K. Rowling characters. Technically speaking, hardly any of the characters are ever coded as being specifically “white,” despite many of the main characters being cast as white characters. Racial coding has a history of being played fast-and-loose in the Harry Potter fandom, with Blaise Zabini and Lavender Brown being drawn as both black and white characters until the film gave us the official versions of the characters (with Blaise as black and Lavender as white).  One of the few characters actually described by color in the books is Dean Thomas, who was described from J.K. Rowling’s own notes as a black boy. (It’s also worth noting that Rowling’s notes also had Thomas playing a much bigger role in the first book, acting as much a main character as Ron, Hermione, and Harry. It’s a shame he got scaled back so much.)

If you check out Tumblr, you’ll see tons of versions of a non-white Harry, non-white Hermione and others. Non-white Hermione pictures have become the most popular, because the initial description of Hermione in the books—as a girl with bushy hair—resonates not just with descriptions of white girls, but with black girls, Asian girls, Middle Eastern girls, Native American girls, bi-racial multiracial girls, and other ethnicities not listed. Basically, any girl with bushy hair could be Hermione, so why, some fans ask, is it simply assumed that Hermione is white? Enter Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Rowling’s latest project. The new story is a two-part stage play that acts as the official sequel to the Harry Potter saga. The play has been making waves just because the unusual nature of it—when was the last time there was a stage production that acted as a sequel to a book and film series?—but now, it’s making history for casting a black actress as Hermione.

black-hermione-finished

Noma Dumezweni will play an adult Hermione, many years after her teenage stint as a Wizarding World hero. Naturally, some fans took umbridge (get it? Harry Potter fans will get the pun) to Dumezweni’s casting because the casting went against the “continuity” of the franchise. But all fan reaction stopped once Rowling herself took to Twitter to tweet her emphatic approval.

Hermione herself, Emma Watson, recently tweeted her support of Dumezweni taking up the Granger mantle.

Matthew Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom in the films, also tweeted about how his character’s literary description doesn’t mesh with the film version, either.

Want to read more about Into the Badlands and Mr. Robot? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

As Vanity Fair states, the Harry Potter series is a big allegory for racism and racial politics, what with some wizarding families discriminating against others due to blood purity. “Rowling’s books were always clearly aware of the magic world’s version of racism, and even eugenics, where wizards of ‘pure’ blood were seen by some to be superior, and ‘mudbloods’ like Hermione had to fight against prejudice,” the site wrote. “So making Hermione a woman of color isn’t just O.K. based on the book’s description; it makes even more sense given what her character goes through.”

Still, there will be people irritated by a non-white Hermione. But ThinkProgress dug up this tweet from Al Jazeera America’s The Stream host (and esteemed lawyer and playwright) Wajahat Ali, which sums up everything that’s being forgotten by the fans who are mad at a non-white portrayal of the popular witch:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open in London this July, with previews in May. Click here for more information and ticket prices.

Further reading:

Can we stop now? Emma Watson ‘can’t wait to see’ black Hermione (USA Today)

What A”Racebent” Hermione Granger Really Represents (Buzzfeed)