culture

John Leguizamo is through with the media overlooking Latinx talent

John Leguizamo has had enough with the lack of Latinx representation in the media. He made his displeasure known in his op-ed for Billboard.com after the VMAs snubbed wordwide hit “Despacito,” despite its record-breaking success.

“‘Despacito’ is the name of a Spanish-language music video by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi with a historic record-breaking 3 billion views on YouTube. The song, not the video, was a late, perfunctory inclusion as the song of the summer at the MTV Video Music Awards,” wrote Leguizamo. “We must ask ourselves, is this a blatant omission? A proactive and decisive stand against the Spanish language? With 3 billion views, this historic song and video triumphs over the likes of, with all due respect, Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, but this is only one example of exclusion.”

The actor went on to say how the habit of exclusion hits more than just music—it hits his profession as well, and in a hard way.

“We Latin people are less than 6 percent of roles in TV, movies and all streaming platforms. Most of those Latin roles are attributed to Latin-only audiences. As if we Latins are the only people who can relate to our skin color or our accents. It’s an unconscious choice to ignore our talents and achievements and trump it up to a ‘limited market,’ but that’s what happens,” he wrote. “…While this is a slap in the face to Latin artists who work so hard to hold a mirror up to humanity as a whole (and not just Latin people), it’s far more detrimental to our youth. A youth that still grapples with identity. A youth that must still learn to fill a historic void or itself—omitted from the history books and omitted from current pop culture.”

Leguizamo put out a call to action to other Latinx in the media and otherwise to speak out louder on the issues of representation and inclusion.

“There are almost 70 million Latinos in America, and why do we remain so absent and invisible when we are the second-largest ethnic group after whites? It’s not because we don’t have top-level talent…Yet we still only account for 5 percent of artists across all platforms. I try to justify these numbers, this inaction in all sorts of ways. For myself…and most importantly, for my kids. But I shall justify them no longer,” he wrote. “…It’s time we stand up. It’s time we educated and enabled the Latin people to better the world through brilliant art. We have a lot to offer the world…and I’ve come to feel sorry for those who have yet to know it.”

You can read his full article at Billboard.com.

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Hasbro tries its hand with ridiculous Bumblebee lawsuit

It doesn’t make sense for Hasbro to think that people would confuse the Transformer Bumblebee with the DC Superhero Girls toy (and long-established DC comic book character) Bumblebee. But here we are with a lawsuit.

According to the Geeks of Color via Comic Book Resources, Hasbro is suing DC over the usage of the name “Bumblebee,” claiming that their Transformers character could be confused on toy shelves with DC’s Bumblebee, a black teenage girl doll.

The lawsuit is the definition of “trying it.” Not only would people never confuse Hasbro’s Bumblebee with DC’s Bumblebee, but it DC’s Bumblebee came first! The character first debuted in 1977, while Hasbro’s Bumblebee debuted in 1983, several years later.

Furthermore, the lawsuit is insulting to girls of color, black girls in particular. The idea of needlessly going after one of the dolls on the shelf that actually does cater to girls of color is insidious, even more so if Hasbro actually wins the lawsuit. The representation on the toy shelves is spotty at best; now a huge company is telling girls—whether they realize it or not—that a doll that speaks to empowerment might not matter and could be at risk for going away. In a small, but powerful way, that can tell a kid that they don’t matter and that their dreams for becoming great in life doesn’t matter. Sure, it’s one doll and one decision by a company, but small things add up, and over time, the collective feeling from life can have a person feeling like they actually don’t matter. If it sounds like the butterfly effect, it’s because it is.

Hopefully Hasbro drops this redonk lawsuit. If not, hopefully the judge will clown the company from here to kingdom come.

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All hail The Chief: A virtual roundtable on Wonder Woman’s Native American inclusion

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has been a revelation to many who love film. Not only did the film open up the box office to finally accepting a female superhero, but it also paved the way for one of DC’s longest-standing, but often misrepresented character, Apache Chief. In the film, the character is treated a lot more seriously and realistically, only going by “The Chief” to mere mortals, but is actually Napi, a Blackfoot demi-god hoping to protect his people and fight against evil.

The Chief got much of is backstory from actor Eugene Brave Rock, who integrated parts of his own background into the character to make an even richer experience for himself as an actor, for the film, and for the viewer, especially those who might not have ever seen a non-stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans. The role was even more special for Native American viewers, who rarely see themselves portrayed in full in the media.

I was able to catch up with three Wonder Woman fans who are also African-American and Native-American. From their points of view, the DCEU—and movies in general—can only get better with the inclusion of more Native American characters like the Chief.

Cherry Davis, pop culture and lifestyle blogger and Afterbuzz TV guest host, said she is 1/16 Blackfoot and that the Chief is a rare character in a landscape lacking in complex Native roles.

“…[It’s] likely the second time I’ve seen a Native/Indigenous character played by someone of that ethnic background. So big hurrah for that casting choice!” she said. “What stood out was that he didn’t speak in the ‘Entertainment Native Dialect’ and that he wasn’t subservient to the white characters.”

He was definitely the icing on an already delicious cake of a film. As soon as he appeared on the screen, I all but screamed Super Friends Reunion!” said Dennis R. Upkins, speculative fiction author and activist as well as part Cherokee. “He definitely had a mystique about and while we know little about this mysterious character, he was established enough that he could take the lead in his own narrative in the DCEU.”

Cherese Capadona, who is part Mississippi Choctaw, said what struck her the most about the Chief was his unapologetic approach to talking about “the Native American relationship with White Americans after colonization.” She said the Chief’s statement that men like Steve Trevor killed his people “was accurate.”

“It didn’t say they couldn’t have a good working relationship or couldn’t be friends, but that’s never been addressed in any television show, anything I’ve ever remembered seeing growing up like The Lone Ranger, which has my least favorite representation of a Native American character ever.”

Photo credit: Warner Bros./DC

Due to her Blackfoot heritage, the Chief hits even closer to home for Davis, who also minored in Native American Studies.

“This is dear to me,” she said. “…[I] am always excited to see diverse characters [and] characterizations. I applaud Patty Jenkins for allowing Eugene Brave Rock to truly make the character his own, imbuing the Chief with a backstory nod to his people. Also, a huge nod to Eugene for taking this opportunity as a platform for Native American Blackfoot mythology.  I’m hoping that people will be excited enough to read more and that DC Comics will have a ‘hmm’ moment. Expand on his mythology, cast him in some of the DC TV series to gather a fanbase and eventually comic book movie/series/cartoon around an entire mythology that people have little awareness of.”

She said seeing someone like the Chief on the big screen would be “incredible” to Native audience members who usually don’t see themselves represented. She said an audience member might feel “vindicated and excited to see not only someone who looks like them but is one of them and [is] a character treated with dignity in such a huge film.”

“I’m hoping that this will lead to seeing Chief in other films since as a demigod he’ll live for a long time,” she said.

“I can definitely speak for myself and say that…I felt relieved first of all that he wasn’t just coming in because his name was the Chief,” said Capadona. “You can almost imagine the eyerolling—what’s this character going to be like? But he isn’t what you would expect. Usually when there’s a character called the chief in a movie, there’s a stereotypical headdress, speaking broken English. There are just so many things that are stereotypical and none of that was there. Once I got over the relief portion, I was pretty happy.”

Capadona also hopes the Chief will make more people interested in learning more about the mythology of the nation’s first inhabitants.

“We spend so much time teaching kids Greek mythology and Roman mythology. Since we’ve come out with the Thor movies and The Avengers, there’s been an interest in Norse mythology. [There’s an interest in] Egyptian mythology. There’s never been characters from Native American mythology and every nation has their own creation stories and tales that follow in the realm of mythology,” she said. “I would hope that the chief being a demi-god would spark as much interest in those mythologies and kids don’t get exposed to any of things that are from this land, from this country. Whether you’re Native American or African American, we have our own stories [and] folklore. That was just really exciting for me.”

Upkins said he felt the inclusion of the Chief shows just how inclusive the movie-going experience can be.

“Being part Cherokee, I’m always excited to see this aspect of my culture reflected in the media, particularly in speculative fiction,” he said. “The film’s openness is a reflection of how inclusive Wonder Woman and for that matter the DCEU is. Diana herself is queer/bisexual protagonist which she all but states in the film when she references the fact that men are good for procreating but sexual gratification is best with other women. This is also the film that got to see queer black super heroines get some shine battling the German invaders. This inclusiveness has already paid off in dividends of $700 million worldwide.”

Brave Rock’s portrayal is one of a small number of Indigenous characters or characters played by Indigenous actors to take part in the DCEU. In Suicide Squad, Adam Beach, a member of the Saulteaux First Nations, portrays anti-hero Slipknot, and in Aquaman and Justice League, Jason Momoa, who is of Native Hawaiian, Irish, German, and Native American descent, is portraying Aquaman himself.

Photo credit: Warner Bros./DC

Upkins said that the inclusion of the Chief and the addition of Brave Rock’s characterizations “debunks all excuses” for other films when it comes to a lack of proper representation.

“It shows that you can have Native characters in supporting and leading roles and still have a successful film,” he said. “Any claims to the contrary are dead on arrival.”

You don’t often see Native or people of color during that time period [of Wonder Woman] so it’s sad to say but it’s kind of groundbreaking which is positive but also sad that this type of portrayal is still rare in the 21st century,” he said.

Davis also hopes the film will lead to more casting that accurately portrays the character’s background instead of erasing it.

“…[A]sk [actors] how they can bring their life experience into the role,” she said. “People not only want to see themselves reflected but people both other ethnic/religious background are receptive and interested in seeing new talented faces.”

“I would hope that it would open up another door to not necessarily cast …It’s frustrating, and I know that several people have said this, not just Native Americans…[people] are getting frustrated by roles that are created and they want that character to have a specific look, they have to be Caucasian, this, that or the other,” said Capadona. “The most recent example of someone who is breaking down those barriers is Ava DuVernay’s casting in A Wrinkle in Time. When I was growing up and I read that book, I thought in my mind—because that’s the way everyone portrayed the character to me—that Meg Wallace was a character that should have been white, and here in the film she’s going to be biracial. It’s wonderful the way she’s done that. She’s cast a rainbow of other characters.”

With it being 2017, said Capadona, proper representation and staying away from the “Noble Native” stereotype shouldn’t be an issue. But she hopes accuracy in representation comes “sooner rather than later.”

“I’m just hoping other people will take the hint and do what Patty has done and create more roles and more opportunities for the actors and actresses to enrich these stories they want to tell,” she said.

The roles Capadona, Davis, and Upkins want to see the most involve Native characters living outside of the stereotype.

“I want to see them in the same type of roles that white counterparts have, from playing a bad guy to a hero, to love interest to just being a nuanced human with flaws in all genres,” said Davis.

Upkins said he’d love to see “[q]ueer male leads in speculative fiction.” Capadona said she’d love to have Native characters in all walks of life.

“I would love to see, because I love science-fiction, maybe some science-fiction elements added to a Native American story. I’d love to see a Native American actor or actress play a scientist, somebody who’s beyond the geologist or archeologist—somebody that’s actually doing astrophysics and going into space. We’ve had Native American astronauts; it’d be wonderful to see those kind of characters,” she said. “It’d be wonderful to see a Native American love story on the screen or even interracial, but not something that’s this tragic thing where it’s “My father doesn’t approve of you, I’m going to shame my family because I’m marrying you.” Just something beyond those typical things. Something off the reservation—there are middle class Native Americans in this country. Everybody isn’t on the reservation and dealing with reservation politics and poverty. Something that’s uplifting and showing people as multifaceted.”

“We’re starting to see more facets of Native American culture and I think the role of the chief is starting to turn the gemstone to see those different facets, but we still have a lot of turning to do and I’m really hoping this is the start.”♦

Wonder Woman comes to DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 19. 

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Akai samurai: The Praetorian Guard’s Japanese influence in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve definitely seen the arresting image of the new enforcers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Praetorian Guard.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Praetorian Guards

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writer-director Rian Johnson revealed that the Guard, Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal protectors, is a more amped-up version of the Imperial Guard in The Return of the Jedi. 

While the guards get their name from the real life guards who protected ancient Roman emperors, the look and feel of the Praetorian Guard is clearly more samurai in nature. Star Wars fans are already intimately aware of the cyclical nature of the Star Wars lore–any theme that has come up in the past can (and probably will) come up again. The same can be said of the Japanese influence on Star Wars, which is embedded right in the DNA of the Praetorian Guard.

The Jedi, samurai with lightsabers

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” (Lucasfilm)

Johnson gave Entertainment Weekly the background on the Praetorian Guard, including the guard’s Japanese connection.

“The Emperor’s guards were very formal, and you always got the sense that they could fight, but they didn’t. They looked like they were more ceremonial, and you never really saw them in action,” he said. “The Praetorians, my brief to [costume designer] Michael Kaplan was that those guys have to be more like samurai. They have to be built to move, and you have to believe that they could step forward and engage if they have to. They have to seem dangerous.”

The Praetorian Guard are wearing a simplified, almost-blocky style of samurai armor with a touch of the 1980s digital aesthetic in the curved grate that makes up the Praetorian helmet visor. However, the idea of samurai is nothing new to Star Wars. The Jedi themselves are based on the idea of the samurai, including the unwritten code the Jedi live by, a type of space-bushido (without the ritualistic honor-bound suicide, seppuku, of course–these are “kids’ films” after all). Even Darth Vader’s iconic headgear and outfit are based on ornamental samurai armor.

As Samurai: The Last Warrior author John Man wrote for Salon:

…I looked at the inspiration behind the look of both the Jedi Knights and their opponent Darth Vader. So much of it derived from samurai traditions: the cloaks, the tunics, Vader’s helmet, the lightsaber.

…They are expert in the use of swords, despite their ability to call on the most fearsome and destructive of long-distance weapons…Both forgo armor to fight in loose tunics. That is how the Last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, went into battle against the Japanese Empire in 1877; that is how Toshiro Mifune appears in Kurasawa’s film “The Seven Samurai”; that is how young Skywalker, up and coming Jedi, faces up to Vader, the father hehs lost to the Dark Side of the Force.

[With regard to Darth Vader’s armor]: …[A]fter Japanese unification in 1600, the samurai became redundant, but instead of vanishing they reinvented themselves as vital members of society, adopting ever more extreme armor designs, with overlapping plates, masks with bristling mustaches and helmets with horns, or crab-like extensions (symbols of protection), or rabbits’ ears to suggest longevity. Vader’s headgear is a simplified version of a samurai face-mask and helmet, with neck protection and ear-flaps. Unlike a samurai, though, he does not need a hole in the top of his helmet through which to poke an elaborate top knot.

Side-by-side comparisons really show the connective thread between the samurai, the Jedi, and fallen Jedi like Darth Vader and his Imperial Guard.

Lucasfilm, Felice Beato/Public Domain

Even after we move away from the original Star Wars films, the idea of samurai-esque robes remains throughout the Star Wars universe, including the latest in the Star Wars main storyline, The Force Awakens. 

Star Wars “samurai-in-space” focus comes from George Lucas himself. As Ollie Barder wrote for Forbes:

It’s widely known that George Lucas was a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s work and famously used inspiration from films like The Hidden Fortress for many of the film’s plot and characters as well as whole scenes.

Barder goes on to write that even the word “Jedi” stems from a Japanese connotation.

…[T]he term “jidaigeki is Japanese for “period drama.” Films like The Hidden Fortress and other aspects of Kurosawa’s oeuvre were often period pieces. Featuring the trials and tribulations of samurai and peasants caught in-between petulant warlords.

The word itself also gave birth to the Jedi and it’s no surprise that they too borrowed many elements from the samurai as well.

Lucas borrowing for the real world is nothing new; Lucas has used the name of Tunisian city Tataouine as the basis for the name of the desert planet Tatooine and in the Star Wars prequels, the costume design for Padme/Queen Amidala feature motifs from several world cultures. In Rogue One, the idea of a space Mecca, Middle Eastern stereotypes and all, is apparent in the spiritual planet Jedha. There are even more examples of Lucas borrowing from other Japanese properties. But despite all of the other disparate elements Lucas brings into his world, including 1950s diners (looking at you, Clone Wars), the biggest throughline in Star Wars is that this is a space opera featuring space samurai protecting the innocent against the space ronin, masterless samurai who are only thirsty for power.

A Shinto color for protection used for evil

Torii at Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture (Rdsmith4/Creative Commons)

The Praetorian Guard’s relationship with Japan doesn’t end with just Lucas and Johnson’s affinity for samurai. The bright red color that forms the Praetorian Guard’s formidable look also has ties to Japanese culture. In this case, it’s more than just mere borrowing–it’s borrowing with irony.

There are several meanings for the color red in Japan (as is anywhere else), but there is a particular meaning for red in the traditional Shinto religion: protection. However, unlike with the Praetorian Guard, who’s charged with protecting an evil leader, red is charged with protecting Shinto worshippers from evil and disease.

According to Mark Schumacher, who wrote about the history of red in Shinto, the meaning of red might have come from “demon quelling and disease (e.g., smallpox, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles).”

According to Japanese folk belief, RED is the color for “expelling demons and illness.” The rituals of spirit quelling were regularly undertaken by the Yamato court during the Asuka Period (522-645 AD). Centered on a fire god (a red deity), these purification rites were designed to purify the land by sending evil spirits to the Ne no Kuni [“The Land of Roots,” an underworld]. This association with evil easily segues into other links with child mortality, protection against evil forces (sickness), fertility, the caul (embryonic membrane covering the head at birth), and other child-birth imagery. The red bibs, red robes, red scarfs, and red caps found frequently on certain Japanese deities…lend strong support to his interpretation.”

Schumacher wrote that for a small amount of time, the Japanese god of smallpox, Hōsō Kami, was closely linked to the color red. This association came at some point between smallpox’s initial introduction to Japan in 550 AD and the first recording of smallpox in 720 AD. It was believed that if the skin of a person afflicted with smallpox turned purple, they would die, but if the skin turned red, they would live. Eventually red came to mean protection against ailments.

This early association between demons of disease and the color red was gradually turned upside down–proper worship of the disease deity would bring life, but improper worship or neglect would result in death. In later centuries, the Japanese recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red…The Red-Equals-Sickness symbolism quickly gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, between death and life, between hell and heaven, with red embodying both life-creating and life-sustaining powers. As a result, the color red was dedicated not only to deities of sickness and demon quelling, but also to deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth.

An argument could be made that, if the Star Wars crew were conscious of the fact that red has such a huge meaning in Shinto, maybe they were using red to align the Guard and Snoke even more with the evil and danger they represent. However, with what red has come to mean in Shinto over time, the all-red Praetorian Guard is more of an unintentional ironic statement; just like the red torii gates that signify a protection of the spiritual realm and a cleansing of the worshippers that stand near, the Guards are protectors who signify that entering Snoke’s realm is a rarefied experience. However, unlike those that visit torii, there’s no holiness or goodness to come from the Guard and especially not from Snoke. Instead of healing, there’s only spiritual disease.

Aniline Red 

From “Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection” at the Phoenix Art Museum 2017 exhibition.

The history of red gets even more complicated when you add westernization into the mix. If you notice, the color of the Praetorian Guard is not just red, but it’s a shocking red. It’s a red that makes you sit up and stand at attention. It’s an unnatural red, to be sure.

This unnatural red looks like it could be aniline red, a synthetic color that owes part of its origins to British scientist William Henry Perkin trying to find a cure for malaria. You can read more about aniline red’s road towards becoming a marketable color at Prints of Japan, but just keep in mind that it was the Europeans who brought this synthetic color to Japan. I would say it’s become one of its more iconic colors, too; as a synthetic, it’s able to keep its vibrancy over hundreds of years, compared to Japanese prints that utilize natural red dyes.

Woodblock print depicting dignitaries of early Meiji Japan. ( National Diet Library Achives, Tokyo)
Part of a Kunichika triptych. (The British Museum)

These two prints are saturated in aniline red; see how pop-arty they make these 19th century pieces?

I don’t know if the folks behind Star Wars recognized they were playing deep into the Japanese color history by making the Praetorian Guard shockingly red. Of course, the Imperial Guard are also red, and the real Praetorian Guard were also associated with red. But with so much Japanese influence making its way into the Praetorian Guard, it’s funny that even this small element of Japanese history snuck its way in.

Final thoughts

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Ikeda Nagaoki in 1864 (Lucasfilm/Topps, Public domain)

So what does all of this mean in the end? It seems like there’s a conversation to be had about where the line stops when it comes to “appropriation” versus “inspiration.” It’s very easy to say that Lucas was inspired by samurai films he saw growing up, much like how Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the blaxploitation and grindhouse films he saw as a kid. While it’s certainly clear that Lucas found a more elegant way to showcase his inspirations by way of a space opera, is there much difference between Lucas’ insistence on direct Japanese ties to his work and Tarantino’s insistence on directly imitating and reworking major themes from blaxploitation? To a certain degree, both Lucas and Tarantino straddle the line between appreciation and flat-out lifting (or, to be nicer about it, “paying homage.”)

If you’re being really nitpicky, you could say that many directors out there steal from their favorite films. No doubt–every director has put in a scene that mimics a scene they’ve loved from their childhood films. But where it gets interesting for Lucas and Tarantino is that there’s a certain amount of damage attributed to how they represent (or don’t represent) the cultures they’re drawing from.

For instance, how can Lucas draw inspiration from Japanese films just to give a set of bumbling aliens stereotypical Asian accents in the Star Wars prequels? How can it be that Lucas has only rarely featured Asian faces in general–much less specifically Japanese faces–on screen? The Force Awakens, the upcoming Last Jedi and Rogue One have featured more Asian characters than the prequels and the originals combined, and all three of those movies have been under the inclusionary focus of J.J. Abrams, not Lucas. This article isn’t about Tarantino, but since I’ve brought him up (and since I’m black) it’s time to start talking about how Tarantino only views blackness through a limited scope, not through how actual black people behave. (Yeah, I know he marched against police brutality, but that’s the least he could do–that’s something we all should be doing, to be honest.)

With all of this said, where does this put the Praetorian Guard? It would seem, regardless of the arguments made for or against “paying homage,” the mysterious samurai and Japan’s relationships with spirituality and color are imports to Western culture that still fascinate us and keep us fascinated with the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Guard are only one more block that cements that fascination.

Make rhymes not war: the hip hop solution to gang violence

Mathys Cresson/Flickr

They showed up when Big Flossy was freestyling. At first, they kept to themselves, scanning the scene as if they were looking for someone. This made June Monsta nervous. He was standing next to me and told me that the two guys wearing oversized white T-shirts and fitted LA Dodgers hats were likely members of the Neighborhood Rollin’ 40s, a large local Crip gang. He watched them closely and said: ‘I hope they ain’t tryin’ to come out here with that gangbanging shit.’ A couple other regulars at Project Blowed – a legendary open-mic workshop – shared Monsta’s concern. They stood around nervously, waiting to see what these guys were all about.

And then, one of them edged his way into the middle of the freestyle session and tapped Big Flossy on the shoulder. Initially surprised, Big Flossy soon recognised his old friend. They dapped and the guy asked: ‘How come you don’t come around the ’hood no more?’ Big Flossy smiled and pointed to the corner, which was overflowing with MCs: ‘I been out here, on my hip hop shit.’

Big Flossy was one of many aspiring rappers I met at Project Blowed, a workshop that began in 1994 in South Central Los Angeles. I spent nearly five years in the scene, getting to know different young black men who had dreams of ‘blowin’ up’ or making it in the music industry. Each week, they performed original songs in the open-mic sessions, or freestyled with each other on the corner directly outside the club. Open Mike, a longtime regular, once compared Project Blowed to a dojo where martial artists train together. He said: ‘This is our dojo, where we come to train.’

Project Blowed was also more than just a lyrical training ground. It was a sanctuary for young men growing up in the shadows of Crips and Bloods gang violence. Big Flossy had grown up affiliated with the Rollin’ 40s. As a young man, he got jumped into the gang and identified as a gang member. But things changed once he got serious about hip hop. Once, while reflecting on his life, he said: ‘I was young and dumb back then. Just on some stupid shit. These days, I try to keep it moving – try to do something positive because this music is everything.’

Project Blowed offered Big Flossy and other young black men a safe space where they could hang out away from the menacing shadow of gangs. Across South Central LA in neighbourhoods such as the 40s, the 60s and the Jungles, police and gang members often ask youth if they are affiliated with a gang. ‘Where you from?’ or ‘What ’hood you bang?’ are questions that young people field every day. Answering these questions is not only a pragmatic issue, it’s also one that shapes their safety. Youth who answer this question incorrectly risk getting arrested, or attacked by rival gang members. At Project Blowed, nobody cared where you were from. All that mattered was if you had bars – that is, if you could rhyme.

Project Blowed was one of many creative interventions hosted at KAOS Network, a community centre. Ben Caldwell, a filmmaker, community activist and local leader, founded KAOS in 1984, running it to enrich the lives of young people who went to public schools that often lacked music and arts programmes. Rappers respected him, and saw him as part of the community. They knew Caldwell met regularly with local vendors and police to ensure that the open mic had broader community support. He was the backbone of a youth intervention strategy that might not have been possible without a leader who commanded respect from so many different interest groups.

At an essential level, Project Blowed departed from punitive ways of dealing with the ‘gang problem’. I did my fieldwork during a time when LA was rolling out neighbourhood gang injunctions – restraining orders against suspected gang members. They prohibit suspected gang members from doing things that are already illegal, such as selling drugs and painting gang-related graffiti on buildings. They also criminalise routine activities such as using one’s cellphone in designated ‘hot spots’ of gang activity, and prohibit suspected gang members from congregating with other gang members in public.

Proponents argue that these measures create an environment that’s hostile to gangs and the routine activities needed to sustain them. But these measures are notoriously vague. They create a system that increases the chances for racial profiling.

These issues came to a head recently, as the LA City Council approved a $30 million class-action settlement against the LA Police Department for illegally imposing curfews on suspected gang members. One of the original plaintiffs in this lawsuit, Christian Rodriguez, had been placed on an injunction list without ever having been in a gang.

Project Blowed was a local activist’s solution to gang violence. Instead of ramping up efforts at monitoring, arresting or punishing young people, it made positive and creative possibilities available in their lives before they were at risk to join gangs. Though it came from the community, Project Blowed was also much bigger, setting people’s sights on the world outside, and supporting aspirations and identities beyond the gang world. Perhaps more than anything, it provided an opportunity for young men who might have been sworn enemies in other aspects of their lives to collaborate and make something. That’s an example the world needs.Aeon counter – do not remove

Jooyoung Lee

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

The night when straight white males tried to kill disco

DJ Steve Dahl during Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 12 July 1979. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

‘This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.’
Richard Wortham, White Sox pitcher

It was a muggy summer night in South Side, Chicago in 1979. In and around Comiskey Park, home to the long-struggling White Sox baseball team, the scene was one of total chaos. Thousands of working- and middle-class young men, predominately white, predominately angry, went riot. Seats were ripped out of the stadium, urinals were kicked from the walls, and the opposing baseball teams were shut in the locker rooms for their own protection. Through it all, the rioters shouted a mantra. It wasn’t about inequality, lingering recession woes or the high-paying industrial jobs slowly seeping out of the Midwest. The slogan they chanted over and over, until their voices were raw, was: ‘Disco sucks!’

That summer, disco music was everywhere, saturating pop culture at the expense of almost all other genres of music. With its pulsing ‘four-on-the-floor’ beat, big vocals and affirming lyrics, disco was a shiny, upbeat escape for Americans living through the smoggy, cynical late-1970s. By the end of the decade, it had become as common as good old American apple pie – there were discotheques in most decently sized towns. Midwestern teenagers skated to Stayin’ Alive in roller discos, and many mainstream radio stations changed their programing to all-disco, all the time.

Disco hadn’t always been so mainstream. It evolved in the clubs and bars of communities that were historically marginalised by the straight, white majority. ‘Disco music was black music, basically,’ John-Manuel Andriote, author of Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco/Dance Music (2001), told me. ‘It was mostly recorded by black artists until the mid- to late-1970s, when white artists realised how popular the music had become. Back then, people heard new dance music in the clubs – not on the radio (at first) – so club DJs played a big role in introducing these black and Latino sounds to a bigger public.’

The gay community, its nightlife flourishing after the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969, embraced disco music and its pioneering DJs. ‘The group most responsible for keeping discos alive was the homosexual community,’ the sound engineer Alex Rosner told Newsweek in 1976. ‘The pioneering done in the disco field has been done by gays, with blacks and Puerto Ricans following … The common denominator there is oppression.’

By the mid-1970s, disco was catching on, and creating its own mainstream stars, such as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer. But it was Saturday Night Fever (1977), the movie featuring a glamorous, dancing, ladies’ man played by John Travolta – and its accompanying disco soundtrack by the high-pitched Bee Gees – that made disco a nationwide phenomenon. ‘The Bee Gees put a white face on what was basically black and Latin music, and it exploded in popularity,’ Andriote says.

One of the victims of the disco explosion was Steve Dahl, then a 24-year-old Chicago radio DJ who pioneered the ‘shock-jock’ persona most identified with Howard Stern. In December 1978, he was fired from WDAI, ‘Chicago’s best rock’ station, when it switched to an all-disco format. Dahl soon found a home at the rock station the Loop 97.9, but he carried a grudge.

Built like the proverbial Pillsbury doughboy, Dahl brought with him a legion of young, alienated male listeners he named ‘The Insane Coho Lips’. Dahl and his posse greeted each other on-air with the salutation: ‘Disco sucks!’

‘If anything, the pushback from disco saturation was an act of self-preservation,’ Dahl would later write in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died (2016). ‘No kid, just figuring out who he was and where he was going, would be prepared to have his assimilated rock-and-roll identity stripped from him. If the resistance was furious, it was because they were not prepared to shuck the rock and roll, which had sheltered them in their transition from kid to adult.’

Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air. These targeted antics were not isolated to the radio booth. At promotions, Dahl took to performing in a helmet and military jacket, destroying albums on stage. For this complicated, insecure performer, the adulation he received made him feel that he was building a movement – and advancing his career. ‘[My fans] were passionate about their music and their lifestyles,’ Dahl wrote in Disco Demolition. ‘I tapped into it, both as a response to being canned to make room for the disco format, and to build a community so I could keep my job.’

Dahl’s wife Janet took a more nuanced view of her husband’s motivations. ‘He looked goofy and chubby, his hair was bad, and he was breaking records on his head,’ she remembered. ‘But to be embraced was validating for someone like him.’ His fans, often from struggling, working-class Chicago families, lost in a new culture of women’s liberation, black rights, sexual liberation and Studio 54-inspired androgyny and materialism, felt validated right back. ‘I was a chubby kid,’ Kevin Hickey, a fan, recalled. ‘I remember Steve saying the reason he hated disco so much was because he couldn’t buy a three-piece white suit off the rack. That stuck with me because I couldn’t either.’

On 12 July 1979, Dahl would come face-to-face with the community he had created, on a night that became known as ‘Disco Demolition Night’.

That night, the White Sox were scheduled to play a doubleheader against the equally middling Detroit Tigers. As part of a ‘teen night’ promotion with the Loop radio station, fans were told that if they donated one of their disco records, they would be admitted into Comiskey Park for only 98 cents. Between games, Dahl and his cohorts promised to put the records in a giant dumpster at centre field and blow it up, the physical realisation of the audio stunts that Dahl had been pulling for weeks.

Fans flooded the stadium, as ushers struggled to keep up with the number of disco albums being shoved in their faces. One young African-American usher, Vincent Lawrence (who later became a pioneer of house music, disco’s direct descendant), noticed a disturbing trend as he took the albums. ‘A lot of the records were not disco records but BLACK records – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.’

The first game passed relatively uneventfully, the Tigers winning 4-1. Comiskey Park, often half-empty on game days, was filled past capacity. More than 47,000 people packed into a stadium whose capacity was 44,492. So far, the promotion had been a startling success.

But as soon as Dahl, clad in military fatigues, emerged in a convertible Jeep, the night took a sinister turn. Fans began throwing beers at the Jeep. Even Dahl was momentarily stunned. ‘When the door opened and I saw all those people,’ he remembered, ‘it was: “What the fuck? They are throwing beers and cherry bombs at us. And they’re the people who like us!”’

To chants of ‘Disco sucks!’, Dahl stepped out of the Jeep into centre field and led the crowd in a countdown to the demolition of the albums. But too much dynamite caused album fragments to shoot into the sky, and a crater was formed from the explosion’s impact. The crowd roared, as players continued warming up on the field.

‘The place went bonkers … People started jumping out of the stands,’ D J Michaels, a witness, remembered. ‘It was like the rats leaving a ship. A few, then more, then total chaos.’

Dahl and his team were whisked to safety. Bonfires were started. The White Sox player Steve Trout remembered the scene:

I walked out to look at centre field, and I heard something go by me. It was an album from the upper deck and landed next to my right foot. It was stuck in the ground. I said: ‘Holy shit, I could have been killed by the Village People.’

The White Sox player Ed Farmer got in a fist fight in the parking lot. The Chicago Police Department, including mounted policemen, appeared at the scene. A little more than an hour after it was scheduled to begin, the second game was postponed due to unsafe conditions.

By the time the riot had dissipated, 39 people had been arrested, and the field was smouldering and gutted. For many of the participants, it was an exhilarating experience. ‘We didn’t take over the dean’s office but we took over our ballpark,’ Bob Chicoine, a vendor, remembered.

Almost immediately, the local media latched on to the story and ran with it. Joe Shanahan, a bar owner and native Chicagoan, recalled watching reports of the scene:

I could see the South Side kids I grew up with on the television running over their field. Those were the douchebags I ran away from in high school. And they were burning records. I thought: ‘Didn’t you all read Bradbury? Burning books? Burning records? This has the feeling of a really bad cloud. And why is it coming out of Chicago? And why is music of any kind, whether I like it or not, being destroyed for some radio promotion or some baseball promotion? It gave licence for people to not be in the modern world.

The story soon became nationwide news. Disco was again labelled ‘other’ – foreign and not tough enough for real, heartland American males. Dahl and his cohorts strongly denied (and continue to deny) that the ‘Disco Sucks!’ movement had anything to do with racism or homophobia. ‘I’m worn out from defending myself as a racist homophobe for fronting Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park,’ he wrote in his book. ‘This event was just a moment in time. Not racist, not anti-gay … It is important to me to have this viewed in the 1979 lens … That evening was a declaration of independence from the tyranny of sophistication.’

Disco did not worship at the altar of the rock god. It was the Village People versus Pink Floyd. Andriote agrees: ‘My take on what happened [at Comiskey Park] was that it was a boiling-over of testosterone from white straight men who saw disco – and the whole club scene – as threatening to their masculinity.’

By the early 1980s, disco was beyond passé, and so were all the fanciful accoutrements that went with it – glitter balls, dance lessons and belting divas. Some people point to the events at Comiskey Park as ‘the night disco died’, although over-saturation and mediocre products also helped lead to its rapid downfall. Yet, despite the best efforts of men such as Dahl, disco’s influence lives on. The marginalised groups who loved the music – blacks, women, Hispanics, Latinos and gays – have increasingly claimed their rightful place in society. Disco informs the work of many of today’s superstars, from Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga, and popular music from house to EDM. As the Village People sang: ‘You can’t stop the music, nobody can stop the music.’Aeon counter – do not remove

Hadley Meares

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Rogue One smacks of Star Wars‘ obsession with aggressive appropriation

As you might have read from my Rogue One review, I enjoyed it very much. But with the good comes the bad, and I had some gripes with it. One gripe I forgot to mention in my review was the uber-aggressive Arab world coding they were doing in it. It had gotten so aggressive on Jedha that I was literally taken out of the movie at points and was like, “Where’d they film this?!”

I was reminded of my distaste for these films when I saw Twitter user Dina’s thread on the subject. Key takeaways:

So key questions to ask here are 1) Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding, 2) How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge, and 3) How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?

1: Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding?

Star Wars has a history of being slightly aggressive with coding planets with real world analogs. Tatooine is basically the Sahara Desert, but was actually filmed in Tunisia and America’s Death Valley. Yavin 4 is a lush jungle planet, which was represented by Guatemala’s Tikal ruins and the forests the ruins reside in. For every planet, there’s a real world place. But beyond just the filming locations, other parts of the planets crib from real life as well. For instance, George Lucas got the name “Tatooine” from the real Tunisian city Tataouine. Similarly, as Dina points out, The planet Jedha gets its name from Jeddah, a city in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, seeing how this film is made by terrestrial humans who have never been to space, much less to other galaxies and off-world terrains, it’s understandable why the planets (which, if we’re being honest, act more like moons than actual planets with different continents and climates) feel familiar to us. It’s because they, in many ways, are familiar. They’re a collection of earth’s coolest/most awe-inspiring places, launched into a space opera.

However, using a desert for a desert planet is benign. When you start cribbing parts of cultures while layering stereotypical imagery onto planet’s people, then we have a problem.

Let’s get into what makes Jedha troublesome.

Jedha as Mecca: The official description of Jedha is that it’s a holy city for those who are disciples of the Force. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards has described it, quite literally, as Mecca. To quote him (via MTV News):

“If A New Hope is kind of like the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that,” he said. “We felt like, for 1,000 generations, the Jedi were kind of these leaders of the spiritual belief system. It’s got to be like a Mecca or a Jerusalem, but in the Star Wars world.”

In the story of Star Wars, it makes sense that there should be a holy city. But does it have to be quite literally a city that takes all of the stereotypes of the Arab world and mash them together? Take a look at these pictures, culled from various press junkets and collections of official Star Wars images and screenshots:

Do these images seem familiar? Well, you might have seen some of their other brothers in Raiders of the Lost Ark:

and The Phantom Menace.

There are other tropes like this found throughout film and television. Dina notes Homeland, which is a great example, as well as Season 4 of Sherlock:

And Lawrence of Arabia:

And many more.

Hollywood’s fascination with what I’m calling “the bazaar aesthetic” is something that’s throughout film, and sure, bazaars exist throughout the Middle East and India, as shown below. But even then, there’s varying difference between bazaars; they don’t all look the same.

Hyderabad bazaar
near Charminar, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. (Ryan/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Grand Bazaar in Kapali Carsi, Istanbul, Istanbul (Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr Creative Commons)

But that’s not all to the Middle East. Take for instance Jordan, where some of the Jedha desert scenes were filmed. What Rogue One used were Jordan’s deserts for the outskirts of Jedha. That’s cool. But let’s also look at what else Jordan has to offer in the real world aside from its deserts:

Jordan Trip (Christian Heilmann/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Amman, Jordan (Alicia Bramlett/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Jordan Trip (Christian Heilmann/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Aqaba Street, Jordan
The main street along the sea front in the centre of Aqaba, Jordan. (Rob/Flickr Creative Commons/www.bbmexplorer.com)

Of course, the main Jedha scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in London, but I’m using these images of modern Jordan because the tropes of Jedha reflect on the Middle East as a whole. Hollywood would have you believe that the Middle East is all desert and open-air markets, but surprise! The Middle East is just like the rest of the world; full of paved roads, cars, and buildings.

Seriously aggressive sartorial references to the Middle East: It’s worth pointing out that the headscarves and ceremonial robes found in Jedha reference today’s headscarves, hijabs, niqabs, and burkas worn in various parts of the Middle East. Not that there wouldn’t be an outer space city that might have a cultural tie to head coverings, but it’s especially noteworthy that a place designed to be Space Mecca also has clothing with such overt references to Islam. Did the allegory have to be taken this far in Star Wars, to the point that we forget a little that we’re watching a film about distant planets?

Also, the act of using Islamic sartorial choices goes along with Star Wars‘ other practice of cribbing cultural and ethnic styles and arranging them in a mish-mash to “create” something otherworldly. This practice goes all the way back to Princess Leia’s “cinnamon buns,” the style stemming from Lucas supposedly using Revolutionary-era Mexican women freedom fighters, or soldaderas, as inspiration. However, there’s been contention with that statement, and some now link Leia’s hairstyle to the hairstyles worn by the women of the Hopi tribe. But the appropriation-as-inspiration practice was at its height during the years of the Star Wars prequels, in which Padme/Queen Amidala had styles ranging from Japanese geisha to ancient Mongolian elite, to African updo to actual Hopi hair buns.

Inspiration: Geisha

Inspiration: Mongolian headdress

Inspiration: Geisha

Inspiration: Hopi hairstyle

Inspiration: The hairstyles of the Mangbetu women of the Congo

I get that these styles are “cool,” but they aren’t just cool for cool’s sake; there’s are complete cultures these styles are attached to, and to rob them of their actual context by putting them in a “cultureless” space opera whitewashes these styles to a certain degree.

2: How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge?

The answer is simple: Americans already believe in too many stereotypes as it is. Due to what the media tells us about foreign locales, we believe that cities that aren’t in the Western world are behind the times or haven’t been affected (for better or worse) by westernization and capitalism.

Another example of a modern movie casting a “noble savage” light on a foreign place: Doctor Strange. As I wrote in my review of the film, the film posits Nepal as a place that still hasn’t been touched by the effects of the 21st century.

The film portrayed Nepal as some mystical place without roads or modern transportation. Everyone looked like they were mere seconds away from getting on their knees to pray. Religion might be a huge part of a country, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the country have to look like devotees. The film shows a side of Nepal that looks like this:

Kathmandu, Nepal--Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu, Nepal–Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This picture looks similar to the types of crowds Stephen Strange came upon as he was looking for The Ancient One. But Nepal also looks like this:

Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat "This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley." (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat
“This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley.”
(Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The point is there’s a lot more to Nepal, to just Kathmandu, than the film suggests. Is there time to visit every locale in Nepal? Of course not. But there was enough time to not give Nepal the “noble savage” treatment, which means, according to Wikipedia:

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”.[2] The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, whom some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the “feminine” sentimentality of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.[a] 

Even though the film didn’t have any of the extras speak, it clearly showcased Kathmandu as an idealistically mystical, Othered space, with closeups on holy men and temples. The extras also weren’t wearing Western clothes, something that further separated them from actual depictions of 21st century Nepalese people. Western exports have made their way all around the globe, including Nepal, and as you can see in the above pictures, folks are wearing leather jackets, hoodies, polo shirts, slacks and jeans. Even the woman with the shawl on in the first picture is wearing Westernized sandals, a long-sleeved red shirt and some green pants, and one of the men buying her wares, the guy with the leather jacket, has an iPod. If you took a shot of the extras in the Kathmandu sequence and put it in black and white, it could act as a shot from a film about Nepal in the 1800s, not the 21st century. This is not to say that portraying Nepalese people wearing traditional clothing is anachronistic; what I am saying is that painting a picture of the Nepalese as a people who haven’t been affected by world commerce and capitalism is a false picture.

The “noble savage” idea wasn’t explicit, but it was very subtly implied in order to make Kathmandu seem like a perfect place for The Ancient One and to act as further contrast to Stephen’s New York sensibilities and, indeed, his whiteness.

When movies decide to portray places in a stereotypical fashion, it’s too easy for the stereotype to be accepted as the truth. It’s even more dangerous to use stereotypes in science fiction; when a place can look like anything and be anything, why rely on stereotypes? But when stereotypes get used in science fiction or fantasy, they’re usually couched in the excuse of “Well, it’s not real anyway! It can look however the creator wants it to look.” But when we’re limiting what’s possible in the imagination, we’re also dulling our senses to what actually exists in reality.

3: How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?

The quickest answer is for Hollywood to start using a bit more imagination when coming up with a look for a futuristic place. Too often, science fiction relies on stereotypes or cultures-as-backdrop to do much of the heavy lifting in a scene. For instance, Blade Runner, in which an aggressive Japanese undercurrent can be seen in futuristic San Francisco.

Actress Alexis Rhee portrays the geisha depicted in Blade Runner. (Warner Bros.)

Of course, it can be explained away that San Francisco has a high Japanese population, so perhaps San Francisco would embrace more of Japan the more futuristic it gets. However, there’s hardly an Asian person in Blade Runner–Alexis Rhee, who is the billboard geisha, and James Hong as Hannibal Chew, round out the film’s Asian population. So the whole effect comes off as a cynical costume for a huge audience payoff.

Currently, we have Ghost in the Shell coming in where the original Blade Runner left off, using Japan itself as a costume for a film lacking in Japanese characters.

It literally uses the same billboard idea from Blade Runner. (Paramount Pictures)

Hollywood has got to stop relying on tired tropes like these. It only helps keep America in the dark about its neighbors, and it keeps movies themselves from having an even greater impact than they could have.

Star Wars images: Lucasfilm/Disney

Universal Fan Con: A Safe Space For ALL of Us

Jamie Broadnax

(originally posted at Black Girl Nerds)

The Black Geeks and Black Girl Nerds have partnered to host Universal Fan Con (UFC), with the mission of taking on the lack of representation in the geek community. The convention is set to take place in Baltimore, MD on April 27, 2018, at the Baltimore Convention Center and focusing on gaming, anime, TV shows, and Movies.  “We are excited to present the very first large scale multi-fandom convention dedicated to inclusion,”  announced the official Twitter of Universal Fan Con.

The core team bringing the con together consists of The Black Geeks, a multimedia company that serves as a source for “edgy and probing original commentary” on sci-fi, fantasy, and other entertainment coverage, and Black Girl Nerds, an online community promoting nerdiness among Black women & people of color. After many years of attending conventions, Robert Butler – CEO of The Black Geeks, and Black Girl Nerds creator, Jamie Broadnax, noticed a lack of diversity in the world of Cons.

“UFC hopes to fill the void of Diversity and give fans the chance to see the geek community through a diverse set of eyes,” said Butler.  UFC aims to be a 24-hour convention; meaning that all day and night there will be a panel or event running. “We felt that the only way to ensure that as many groups as possible were represented, we have to keep it going, ” said Butler.

The UFC team is currently spending hours developing and planning innovative ideas to implement at the upcoming fan conference. One idea being explored includes using geofencing technologies that could lead to shorter waits in line and a seamless check-in process. “The team and I are always looking for ways to incorporate technology into UFC. We want to employ new technology that will make long lines a thing of the past,” said Butler.

Butler, also a disabled Marine vet, hopes to incorporate more tools for geeks with disabilities. UFC expects attendees from every walk of life to leave feeling represented. “It’s incredibly important to the Black Geeks and Black Girl Nerds that everyone, and I mean everyone, feels as though they have a place at this Con,” said Butler.

“We’re redefining what diversity is, and hope you will join us in 2018,” Broadnax expressed.

With over 900 Twitter followers, the buzz around UFC has already begun to explode on Twitter. Many users have shown their support for the convention via the social media site. “This is going to be amazing. I can feel it in my bones,” said one UFC Twitter follower.

In less than 24 hours of the initial Kickstarter launch, UFC raised $2,500 from 55 backers. “Honestly, we did not expect to gain popularity so fast,” said Broadnax. The UFC team hopes to raise $25,000 to assist with some of the costs associated with making UFC the best experience ever for the fans. The UFC Kickstarter offers a variety of levels so that any backer can earn benefits for supporting the convention.

To help support UFC’s Kickstarter visit http://kck.st/2hM163Y.  And for more information about UFC, follow @UniversalFanCon on Twitter.

About The Black Geeks

The Black Geeks are a community of people who share a love for geek culture, be it tech, movies, video games, or comics. Our members engage in lively debates and substantive discourse rooted in the fan experience. The Black Geeks provide a space for independent content and in-depth discussion that highlights the good, while simultaneously providing constructive critiques and potential solutions for the bad. For us, nothing is off limits. That means debating the finer points of the MCU one minute and engaging in presidential politics the next.

Our mission is to push boundaries, redefine stereotypes, and move diversity to the frontlines. The Black Geeks are a representation of Geek culture rarely heard from or seen in pop-culture. Our opinions and views are important, and we’re challenging the status quo to engage us and make our voices part of the larger discussion. Geek is a dish best served with many ingredients.

At The Black Geeks we celebrate the unique experiences of people of color, but please don’t let the name fool you, our content is for everyone! So if you’re a geek, and you love everything from comics and movies, to politics and science, we have a place for you at our table, and if you’re feeling both geeky and expressive, we would love to hear from you. There’s always a place for someone like you on our team.

Feel free to write a review, add a comment, create a blog post, share something you like, or just enjoy reading the thoughts of our members and contributors. Whatever you choose, just remember to have fun, share your love of the genre with those who love it too, and let your geek flag fly proudly!

About Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds is a place for women of color with various eccentricities to express themselves freely and embrace who they are.  This is not a site exclusively for Black women.  It’s for ALL women who are just as nerdy as we are and the men who love and appreciate us.  I named this site Black Girl Nerds because the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is somewhat of an anomaly.  It’s against the order of things in the “Black Girl” world.  We represent a wide array of diverse women who embrace all cultures and refuse to conform to the status quo.

This community does not have an exclusionary purpose.  The term “Black Girl Nerd” is not intended to be derogatory nor is it racially biased.  It is a term of endearment to all women like me who have been attached to a stigma that is not an accurate representation of my personality or my idiosyncratic behaviors.

This is a website for every nerdy girl that can finally come out of the closet and tell the world that they are PROUD to be who they are—no matter what anyone says, does, or thinks.  This is a place where you can truly be yourself and not be judged by others.  This site welcomes girls of all races, but it was called Black Girl Nerds because it is a term that is so unique and extraordinary, that even Google couldn’t find a crawl for the phrase and its imprint in the world of cyberspace.  The mission is to put an end to that and know that many Black Girl Nerds exist on this planet.

This community encourages other bloggers, web creators, and the like to create niche sites such as this one to spread to the world that being a nerd is a lovely thing.  In fact, being a nerd is a gift and should be highly revered.  It is not often that you will find an unsuccessful nerd.  Therefore be nice to your fellow nerds—you never know, you may be working for them one day.

For more information go to http://universalfancon.com or follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/UniversalFanCon or @UniversalFanCon on Twitter and Instagram.