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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.

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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)

 

Exclusive Interview: Dan Parent (“Die Kitty Die!”)

Archie Comics fans are well acquainted with their favorite artists, such as Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz, and if you’ve been astute fan, you might have heard about the pair’s upcoming comic book project, Die, Kitty, Dieand the project’s Kickstarter campaign. The campaign’s original $25,000 goal has not only been met, but has nearly reached double the amount originally set, with many heavyweights in the comic book industry joining in to provide special covers and pin-ups.

I’ve been a fan of Parent’s for years, and after having met him at the 2013 Miami Book Fair International, I became an even bigger fan. I’ve interviewed him before in the past, but I was excited and honored when he reached out to me to tell me about Die Kitty Die!. Check out the interview with Parent below, in which we discuss Die Kitty Die!, the Kickstarter campaign, and what fans can expect from this bewitching new series, as well as an exclusive update on that elusive Kevin Keller relaunch. The Die Kitty Die! Kickstarter campaign ends this Friday, Dec. 18, so if you’d like to contribute (click the link above), you’ve still got time!

How did you and Fernando Ruiz come up with Die Kitty Die!?

Fernando and I came up with idea for Die Kitty Die! on a plane trip to Dallas Comic Con last year. We started sketching and writing , and before you knew it, we had a story!

The Kickstarter has been uber successful. How do you feel about the success?

We are thrilled about the success of the Kickstarter. The most satisfying thing is that our fans have supported us and are looking forward to the project.

This project has a lot of popular comic book artists involved; who are some of the artists involved?

We are really lucky to have some great talent on board. Gisele Lagace is our friend, mega talent, and also a great business person. She has not only helped us set up our Kickstarter, but has contributed art to the series. Next is Jason Bone, another friend who is not only a great inker but a great artist too! Phil Jimenez and Glen Hanson are also 2 well known talents who are going to contribute to the book. And then we have superstar artist Darwyn Cooke, who is doing the cover to the trade. I’m his biggest fan, and have been lucky enough to become his friend over the years. When he agreed to do the cover, we were over the moon!

This project also has strong ties to pin-up art, specifically Dan DeCarlo (which makes sense, since both you and Ruiz are Archie artists). What about pin-up art appeals to you?

We love pin up art, as well as fashion pages . And Dan DeCarlo is a huge inspiration to all of us. So if you see signs of dan DeCarlo in our work, that’s a good thing!

What can fans of yours expect from Die Kitty Die?

Fans can expect Die Kitty Die to be a fun mix of romance, adventure, horror and comedy. It’s an homage to the comic book industry , but we also think it fills in a gap that is missing in comics right now. And that is classic comics told with a modern twist, that focus on two important things: Good story and good art!

On an unrelated note: Kevin Keller’s comic is supposed to be relaunching (at last check). What can fans expect from the relaunch?

There is supposed to be new Kevin Keller book, but that has been delayed. I’m hoping to get the ball rolling in that again in 2016!

Die Kitty Die! artwork by Dan Parent (Facebook)

Exclusive Interview: M.J. Fièvre (“A Sky the Color of Chaos”)

One of my favorite times of year in South Florida is November, when the Miami Book Fair International rolls into town. This year, M.J. Fièvre debuted her new book, A Sky the Color of Chaos, a memoir detailing her tumultuous childhood in Haiti and her journey towards understanding her father.

I was excited to learn more about Fièvre’s book and her writing process, and in this in-depth email interview, you can also learn more about Fièvre’s literary process, what she hopes the book teaches readers, and how she came to better understand her father and herself.

A Sky the Color of Chaos is avaiable from Beating Winward Press and can be bought at outlets like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million.

Comic Book Review: “Zodiac Starforce” is Magical Fun

Syopses

• Zodiac Starforce #1

An elite group of teenage girls with magical powers have sworn to protect our planet against dark creatures . . . as long as they can get out of class!

These high-school girls aren’t just combating math tests. They’re also battling monsters! But when an evil force infects leader Emma, she must work with her team to save herself—and the world—from the evil Diana and her mean-girl minions!

* A brand-new creator-owned series from Kevin Panetta (Bravest Warriors) and Paulina Ganucheau (TMNT: New Animated Adventures, Bravest Warriors).

* For fans of Sailor Moon, Buffy, and Lumberjanes!

Writer: Kevin Panetta

Artist: Paulina Ganucheau

Cover Artist: Marguerite Sauvage

• Zodiac Starforce #2

They saved the world two years ago, but when a new, monstrous threat arises, can they put aside their differences and become a team again? Hopefully they can; otherwise team leader Emma, who’s been infected by an evil magical force, is a goner! Will the Zodiac Starforce reunite and enter the dark realm of Nephos to save their captain, or will a fierce rivalry on the volleyball court tear them apart?

Writer: Kevin Panetta

Artist: Paulina Ganucheau

Cover Artist: Kevin Wada

My thoughts: I’m a huge fan of Sailor Moon and Magical Girl things in general (like OG stuff like Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, which I think is probably one of the best iterations of the Tenchi Muyo characters). So when I heard about Zodiac Starforce, consider my interest piqued. Turns out the two issues didn’t disappoint.

Zodaic Starforce is what I have hoped for in an American version of the Magical Girl genre. Americans have tried Magical Girl things before, like with Steven Universe, but contrary to popular opinion (especially opinions about Steven Universe), I never took to any American version of anything magical girl/magical person except for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and even that was spliced with footage from the actual Japanese production. Zodiac Starforce, though, combines the best elements of Sailor Moon and Steven Universe and puts them together in a way that’s enjoyable for everyone. High school drama? Check. Doll-like girls with bountiful, Princess Jasmine-esque hair? Check. Diversity in race, culture, body size and sexual orientation? Check. Action and humor? Check. All of the above make for an enjoyable series for the modern age.

I’m really fascinated by how the series stars mise en scène, with the girls already in acknowledgement of their powers and having disbanded months (or years?) before. They have to get the team back together when they find out their leader, Emma, has been infected somehow and is on a course for death. Astra, the goddess that gave them their powers, doesn’t give Emma or the team any hope, but the team are adamant about saving their friend and saving the world once again from Cimmeria, the villain the assumed was dead. Or is it Cimmeria? Is it another foe taking Cimmeria’s place?

In any event, I thought it was unique to have the series start in the middle and have us learn about the world the more we read. To that end, though, I hope we learn more about the Starforce’s past, how they were chosen by Astra, who Cimmeria is and how she was defeated the first time.

Overall, Zodiac Starforce is an enjoyable series and I can’t wait to get the next issue.

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Cover art for Zodiac Starforce #1 and #2. Image credits: Dark Horse Comics

Comic Book Review: "Archie #1"

Written by: Mark Waid

Art by : Fiona Staples

Synopsis: Change is coming to Riverdale in this can’t-miss kick-off to Archie’s new ongoing series! Familiar faces return in new and unexpected ways in this must-have #1 issue! As the new school year approaches, you’d think Archie Andrews would be looking forward to classes and fun—but nothing is as it seems in the little town of Riverdale. But is this a one-off or a sign of bigger changes awaiting for America’s favorite teens—and the entire town? Find out in this exciting and remarkable first issue!

Queer Coded: Carmilla

Carmilla is a vampire book that, in my opinion, really isn’t as veiled of a homoerotic piece of fiction like Dracula is. While Dracula is couched in mystery and has a fairly strong tug of (suspiciously aggressive) heterosexual love, Carmilla is  full-on lesbian erotica. But also like Dracula, it’s also a piece that functions as a cautionary tale against same-sex love.