media literacy

“Riverdale” recap: Now, a warning

Pictured (Front L-R): Tiera Skovbye as Polly Cooper, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, (Back L-): Nathalie Boltt as Penelope Blossom, Hayley Law as Valerie, Asha Bromfield as Melody, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, and Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom — (Dean Buscher/The CW)

Riverdale Season 1 | Episode 8 | “The Outsiders” | Aired March 30, 2017


Yes, this is how I feel right now about Riverdale, and all of that got bottled up and compacted into this particular episode. Yes, Polly had her baby shower, she’s moved in with the Blossoms, Archie and Betty found out that Jughead’s dad is a Serpent, Kevin’s Serpent boyfriend Joaquin is having second thoughts about deceiving him, etc., etc. Now, let’s get to what really needs to be discussed: JUST WHERE IS THIS SHOW HEADING?! 

I feel like this show is treating us like how Lisle Von Rhuman treated Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes HerRiverdale is teasing us with a show beyond our wildest imaginations–inclusion, diversity, a fresh take on Archie and the gang, etc.–and it gives us what we think we want. But then, it comes back to us and says, “Now, a warning.” To which we say, like Madeline, “NOW a warning?!” For us, that warning would have been that the show would begin to lose its way and forget what made its characters great and, indeed, avatars for those who didn’t feel included in their everyday lives.

First of all, I feel like, and have always felt like, Riverdale has the potential to be amazing. There’s so much raw stuff inherent in the Archie Comics canon and it’s so frustrating to see how little the show is using what it could use. Instead, it’s pulling from every kind of pop culture reference from the past 30 years to show it’s “smart” and “edgy” and “hip.” And yet, it still comes off as dated and try-hard.

I think Emily Nussbaum hit the nail on the head in her review of the show for The New Yorker, “Archie’s and Veronica’s Misconceived Return to Riverdale,” in which she eviscerates the show for the reasons presented above. To quote her:

“…[S]even episodes in, it’s devolved into dull cosplay bracketed by bogus profundity. Betty and Veronica don kink-wear and roofie Chuck Clayton, a slut-shaming football player. The girls’ tart-tongued gay bestie, Kevin (a character from the new version of the comic strip), seduces a bi-curious Moose. Archie, when not working out shirtless, pursues a songwriting career. “Your songs,” a critical music professor sneers at him. “They’re juvenile. They’re repetitive.” That’s true of ‘Riverdale,’ too, but the show clearly knows it and doesn’t care. Every time a plot feels corny or prurient or preachy, there’s an acknowledgment in the dialogue. It gets exhausting, like hanging out with someone who keeps saying, ‘God, I’m such a nightmare!'”

It’s like the show desperately wants to prove that it’s new and fresh. “This isn’t your mom’s Archie!” is what it wants to say. But it’s consistently showing that it’s a a show that doesn’t realize that teenagers, in general, don’t talk in decades-old references, which makes it seem like this is a show actually for older Archie fans who recognize all of these references from their own childhoods. As Nussbaum said, the show brings up Lolita, Rebel without a Cause, Wild Things, Gossip Girl, Beverly Hills 90210, Pretty in Pink, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill, and plenty of others they off-handedly mention in snarky asides. Like, what do you actually want to be, show! Are you for the young kids or are you for 30-year-olds? Make up your mind!

I have been growing frustrated by the plot becoming a spinning-of-the-wheels type situation. Jason’s killer is no closer to being found, and clues seem to keep simultaneously popping up and disappearing at the same doggone time. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll even be shocked when I find out who the killer is because I’m just so bored with the whole procedural element. Again with the references, with the murder mystery itself, the show is trying to be Twin Peaks, another reference for someone much older than the target audience. But, if the show is trying to pull a Twin Peaks-ian surrealist-fest, then when are we actually going to get into the surrealism? Again, Archie Comics has tons of surrealist moments, and that’s not even counting the amount of side-universes they have. Surrealism could come in the form of simply introducing Sabrina, a teen witch who often wants to use her powers for good, but usually ends up messing things up and has to right everything back to how it was. Sabrina could come into town, learn about the murder mystery and, after becoming friends with Cheryl and learning of her sadness, reverse time so that Jason is still alive. That could also be a good opportunity to introduce Afterlife with Archie at this moment, since Jason would be, in a way, undead. There’s your second season.

Or, the show could become a true deconstruction of the idea of classic Americana, something it was billed as being but hasn’t truly delivered on yet. Instead of having Jughead tell us that’s what the show is every week in his voice overs, we could actually see some depth of character and real explorations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and anything else that could use a thorough prodding. I’d say that if Riverdale wanted to take notes from a show doing that right now, it’d be Atlanta. This show, like Riverdale, uses the backdrop of a well-known city to explore the underpinnings of American society and culture, and it does so in a specific, tailored way. It doesn’t have to prove to the audience that it’s “edgy”–it shows its edginess in each episode by delivering on its synopsis each week.

If any place needed a deconstruction, it would be a fictional town like Riverdale, which has stood as a the center for clean-cut “American” life, which usually means white life. With much of the cast race-bent, this would have been a great opportunity to see just how destructive and soul-wrenching it can be to live in a town in which you’re the minority (which, in turn, provides context for the larger conversation about living in a country which still harbors racism against you). We could see how some folks in the football stands might be surprised to see Reggie as the captain of the team. Or, there could be some townspeople who resent that Mayor McCoy won over the white candidate (something the character actually brings up in an episode). Or, we could get more insight into the life of Moose, who doesn’t yet have the courage to live his life as an out gay young man due to fear, pressure to be “manly” or what have you. We definitely could have used Chuck, Josie, and Trev to explore life for black kids in a majority-white town.

Pictured (L-R): Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, KJ Apa as Archie Andrews, and Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge (Dean Buscher/The CW)

I write about this in my piece for Ebony, “Riverdale’s Woke Report Card: Does the Drama Get Its Black Characters Right?”. I give the show a passing grade, ultimately, but I still write about how the show really needs to do better by its black characters.

“Out of the Pussycats, Josie is the one who has been given the most screen time; Valerie has only just now started coming up the ranks, but only because of her relationship with Archie. Meanwhile, Melody still hasn’t spoken more than two words during the run of the series and Pop Tate and Mr. Weatherbee may have been racebent, but they also don’t say much either—and in the case of Pop Tate specifically, nothing at all. Pop Tate is a conundrum; even though it’s great to see more representation on screen, it’s also puzzling as to why he has to be characterized as a silent, kindly butler of sorts, even though he’s the owner of the teen hangout, The Chocklit Shoppe. Basically, Riverdale’s Pop Tate reminds me too much of Uncle Ben, and I don’t like it.”

The show proved my point once again by making Valerie merely a sounding board for Archie this episode. She had three lines, and not one of them was about her point of view or her opinion on the matter of Archie’s dad being driven to near bankruptcy. Instead, her lines were there just so Archie could say he was going to go after the Serpents, as well as to give the appearance that they’re in a loving, stable relationship (which we see in the previews for next week that that might not be the case after all). The next time we see Valerie, she and Melody are at Polly’s baby shower, saying nothing.

If the show wants to be actually inclusive, the least it could do is not make its brown and black characters set dressing or talking props. The most it could do is not create a problematic plotpoint of a black boy in handcuffs at the mercy of a white girl who is acting out a revenge fantasy. 

Also for diversity, the show could do well to actually eliminate Bughead and reinstate Jughead as an aromatic, asexual boy, since that’s what he actually is.

Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler wrote “Jughead, Bughead, and the Need for Asexual & Aromantic Heroes in Comics” to point out just how demoralizing Riverdale‘s asexual erasure is (and how it flies in the face of their “inclusion” standpoint).

Wheeler interviewed colorist Sigi Ironmonger  (a grey-asexual nonbinary trans-man); webcomic creator Sarah “Neila” Elkins, (romantic asexual), webcomic creator Jayelle Anderson (demisexual) and literature student LuciAce (aroace) about their opinions on Jughead in the comics and in Riverdale. They mentioned how important it is to have asexual representation in the media, especially for young kids still figuring out who they are. As Elkins said:

“To me it’s important because, growing up, I didn’t know it was a possibility to be asexual. I thought there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t interested in the idea of having sex like other girls my age. Friends called me a ‘prude.’ These were good friends of mine, friends who were also queer, that didn’t know that asexuality is a queer identity. Even among the ‘weird kids’ I was the odd one out.

I think if there was more representation (or any) of asexual and aromantic characters in comics as well as other books aimed at young readers, and other media, that my friends, and myself, would have known I wasn’t broken or weird. I didn’t learn about asexuality as an orientation until I was out of college. I stumbled across it online and thought, “Oh, wow! That’s what I am! This makes so much sense!” I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that, so I write asexual characters in my stuff. I hope to write something in the future, be it a comic or a novel, that’s aimed at younger readers.”

They also discussed how disheartening it was to see Jughead and Betty actually become an item, erasing the canonical asexuality the character had before (and, as far as I’m concerned, has always had). To quote Ironmonger, Elkins, Anderson and LuciAce:

Ironmonger: “Honestly, as soon as I heard about the erasure, I’ve steered clear of the show, so I can’t speak of the storyline at all. I don’t watch a lot of TV as it is and I don’t feel like prioritizing something like that, you know? I don’t really understand a decision like that and I can’t stand shoe-horned relationships of any kind but especially at the expense of LGBTQ+ ones.”

Elkins: “I really had my hopes up about that show before it came out. I was so hopeful I know I dismissed friends who said “you know they’re just gonna screw it up, right?” My friends were right. They announced online that Jughead in Riverdale “wouldn’t be asexual” and that he’d “totally want sex” or something like that. It deflated the big hope balloon I had clung onto that we’d finally have some representation on TV in a show aimed at younger viewers. It was crushing. I can’t even bring myself to look at the commercials for the show. Each time I hear the music for them I mute the TV or change the channel.”

Anderson: “Getting rid of this trait in Jughead for the television show just perpetuates the cycle of normalizing often hypersexual behavior that doesn’t fit everyone’s life. Sometimes young people’s only role model are the characters they see on television, so it is important to show that asexuality is a thing, too.”

LuciAce: “I’m really angry about the way they’re handling things. Having aroace representation on TV would have been huge, and instead, they… made him straight? Because apparently there aren’t enough allo straight characters on TV yet. I’ve never seen a character like myself on TV, and I would have been a die-hard fan of the show if they’d kept Jughead aroace and touch-averse like he is in the comics. As it is, the show just makes me furious and sad.”

The show seems to have an understanding of just how offensive Betty and Jughead as an item are, which seems evident in how they are doubling-down on shoving it down our throats (or so it seems, since the episodes have been filmed months before now). Having Jughead and Betty kiss in almost every scene seems and feels unnatural, just like how it felt unnatural when writers would try to give Jughead an interest in girls in certain comic book issues. Jughead’s characterization just isn’t one in which he’s a guy who is interested in the opposite or same sex like that, and that’s perfectly fine and normal. However, the show’s insistence on making him straight and sexual feels like a very 20th century thing to do. If we’re in an age where Kevin Keller can be proudly out as a gay teen, then we should also be in the age where Jughead can be proudly out an asexual aromantic teen. Teens in general, regardless of sexuality, shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to be in a relationship to be normal.

Pictured (L-R): Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones (Dean Buscher/The CW)

The last grievance I have is about that twist of a plotpoint with Hal Cooper, who apparently forced Alice Cooper to have an abortion. ¿¿Qué??

Why, what when and where did this plotpoint have to come up? Why have we had such little to show for Hal’s characterization until now? I know we had that part where he told Betty that Polly was with the Sisters for whatever dire reason they have, but I wish we had gotten the sense that Hal was a total abusive husband way before now. If that had been built up from the very beginning, that would have been really interesting and it would have given us more reason to try to understand Alice until this very episode. We would already know why she acted like someone driven to desperation–it’s because she’s been brainwashed by her husband’s fruitless demand for perfection from his family.

I guess what I’m getting at ultimately with this point is that for this to be a dramatic show about a murder, there are literally no dramatic stakes coming out of these characters. Yeah, we get it every once and a while, like with Jughead confronting his father and still trying to find some hope in his heart for him, and Cheryl coming to grips with her brother’s death. But the show is quickly losing the plot of both what it wants to say and who these characters are. The reason we have connected with these characters for 50+ years is because of their relatable cores. We all know some hapless goof like Archie, who is a great friend, but is endearingly clumsy (and sometimes emotionally tacky) all other areas of his life. We know someone like Jughead, who is so cool and interesting, yet they’re so enigmatic, you feel you know nothing about them. Veronica is definitely that person that many of us wish we could be–cool, rich, and a boy magnet–while Betty is who we feel we are at the present moment–the girl or boy next door, nice, loyal, but just “regular.” Their strengths and flaws are what make them so much fun, and either you see yourself or you see your best version of yourself in these characters. Right now, I’m not seeing anyone I relate to anymore. I was seeing it at the beginning of Riverdale, but now, as Nussbaum points out, all we’re getting is some great cosplay without the real commitment.

I’ll say that the only person in the main cast who feels like they are with their character in spirit is Cole Sprouse. Not too many of the main cast have read the comic books back to front, but Sprouse has said in many interviews how he studied his source material and, in so many words, came in with a gameplan as to how to approach Jughead from a position that would remain true to the character. However, the show itself is limiting him from actually playing Jughead the way he truly wants to play Jughead, I feel. While the powers that be want Jughead to be a sexual being, Sprouse has been advocating for Jughead to be canonically asexual, as he is in the comics. However, the powers that be aren’t hearing him, and it’s a shame, since not listening to the actor who knows the character is what could actually make this show a whole lot better and definitely a whole lot more interesting.

In short, I hope the show quits trying to prove that “It Goes There” like Degrassi and actually goes there. If this is going to be a teen murder mystery, then by all means, up the murder, up the mystery, and definitely up the characterizations, plots, and respect for the differences in others.

“Power Rangers” shows the superhero genre how representation is done

Photos: Kimberley French/Lionsgate

If you told anyone that the movie that was going to shake up the superhero genre in the best way would be the film adaptation of Power Rangers, they would be shocked and probably, in some strange, elitist, I’m-too-old-for-Power Rangers way, appalled. But Power Rangers has come out of the blue as the film when it comes to portraying a diverse group of people in a way that is both organic and makes sense for today’s world and today’s multicultural and diverse audience.

The two characters that have set Power Rangers apart from other films are Trini (the Yellow Ranger), played by Empire star and pop singer Becky G., and Billy (the Blue Ranger), played by Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘s RJ Cyler. Trini is the first LGBT character in the Power Rangers universe and her story includes her coming to terms with her sexuality and her “girlfriend problems.”

“For Trini, really she’s questioning a lot about who she is. She hasn’t fully figured it out yet,” said director Dean Israelite to The Hollywood Reporter. “I think what’s great bout that scene and what that scene propels for the rest of the movie is, ‘That’s OK.’ The movie is saying, ‘That’s OK,’ and all of the kids have to own who they are and find their tribe.”

Cyler talked to ScreenRant about how he got into character as Billy and what he learned about respectfully playing a person on the autism spectrum.

“I wanted to show a different…viewpoint of people that are seen as bieng on the spectrum…Or people dignosed with autism, ’cause it’s like I feel like us being outsiders looking in and I take that, I cast my own stone when I say that, ’cause there’s a lot that I didn’t know before,” he said.

“I actually sat down and shut my mouth and actually just listened and you know, accepted every bit of information with no judgement,” he said. “I know that it was my job to show, you know, that people that are on the spectrum are just regular people, literally just how we talk, how me and [Becky G] talk, they feel the same way, they have the same emotions, they wanna be loved…they want relationships; they want, you know, connections, and it’s just like I was really excited to be able to play tthat ’cause I know it means so much to so many people, ’cause all of us are affected by it…and it’s something I feel like we needed to have in this movie to be honest.”

If you’re an O.G. Power Rangers fan, then you know that the show has always included a diverse cast, which, in retrospect, might have been kinda daring for the time (despite the fact that the black and Asian cast members were the Black and Yellow Rangers…) I know for sure that, despite for the subject color naming, I was positively affected by Power Rangers, since I saw myself in both Zack Taylor (Walter Jones) and Trini Kwan (Thuy Trang, RIP), who was the only woman of color on the original season, I should add. It seems like we’re seeing another generation of action fans being positively influenced by Power Rangers again, if Twitter is anything to go by.

In short Power Rangers has shown all of these other blockbuster films how it’s done when it comes to representation. There’s no time to worry about box office returns or any other political machinations when it comes to showing people as they exist in the world. I’ll definitely have to check out Power Rangers for myself, because it might just help me with my own increasing knowledge about where I sit on the autism spectrum (since, from research I’ve done and from personal anecdotes I’ve heard about myself, I believe I’m a prime candidate to be diagnosed with ASD). Growing up during a time when your own vision of autism was Rain Man, it’ll be refreshing to see a different portrayal of a condition that affects all of those affected in many different ways.

What do you think about Power Rangers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Fans sound off on their love for “Into the Badlands” couple Sunny and Veil

Daniel Wu as Sunny and Madeleine Mantock as Veil – Into the Badlands, Season 1, Epsiode 2. Patti Perret/AMC

Into the Badlands is coming into its second season March 19, and even though we’re psyched about the level of action and and suspense, we’re also focused on the family aspect of the show, which is worrying about how Sunny’s going to get back to his family, Veil and their newborn baby. Check out the trailer for an insight into what we can expect this season:

One of the elements I’ve loved the most about Into the Badlands is the relationship between Sunny and Veil, especially the backstory behind why Daniel Wu specifically wanted Sunny and Veil (Madeleine Mantock) to be an interracial Asian man/black woman relationship.

As he told Slate:

“…[I]t felt especially important to show an Asian male as having a sensual side. We all know the story of Romeo Must Die, how Jet Li is the movie’s hero, and the whole time you see this connection developing between him and Aaliyah, who played the female lead. And in the last scene, Li was supposed to kiss her, but when they showed the movie to test audiences, people said they found that disgusting. In the version they released, you just see them give each other a hug. So I don’t want to say this is groundbreaking, because we need to make this a success yet, but it’s cool that we were able to right that wrong too. It’s been 15 years since Romeo Must Die, and 40 years since Kung Fu. That’s just ridiculous. But it’s Hollywood, so I’ll take it.”

This point comes up a bit on this site, but Wu’s insistence on redoing Romeo Must Die in his own way is important, since the only other times (at least in my memory) that we’ve seen an interracial AM/BW relationship on TV was during Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 1997, with Brandy as the titular character and Paolo Montalban as the prince:

And 2009’s Flash Forward with John Cho as Demetri Noh (who I believe saw his own death??) and Gabrielle Union as his fiancee Zoey Andata:

And until the recent boom in shows featuring Asian American men like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the most recent example of an Asian man as the love interest on a show was, once again, Cho in Selfie. 

In short, Into the Badlands is super important to the discussion of representation for interracial relationships, particularly interracial relationships between two non-white individuals and, of course, relationships between Asian men and African American women.

There’s a whole host of other things that makes Sunny and Veil great, so to list them all, I asked the good folks on Twitter why they love Sunny and Veil’s relationship.

Why do you love Sunny and Veil? Give your reasons in the comments section!

Disney/Pixar’s “Coco” trailer is here, and some are already comparing it to “The Book of Life”?


Disney/Pixar’s Coco is a film many of us have been waiting on for a while, and the trailer is finally out! Check it out for yourself.

Now that you’ve seen the trailer, let’s get into some discussion. First, this film is making Disney/Pixar history as being the first film the joint companies have made about Mexican culture. But while the trailer looks magical, as all Disney trailers tend to do, some potential audience members are calling foul on some aspects, particularly the fact that the film is yet another piece of media centralizing Mexican culture around Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos is probably one of the most gentrified, appropriated holidays in recent memory, with too many Americans wrongly assuming the holiday is “Mexican Halloween.” There are way too many folks appropriating the sugar skull look just for aesthetic reasons.

There’s another reason some folks are already irritated with Coco; there are some shots that look very similar to  Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s The Book of Life. For instance, there’s a skull woman in the trailer, kinda similar to La Muerte and Manolo’s dead twin relatives Ardelita and Scardelita Sanchez:

Disney/Pixar (screengrab)
Twentieth Century Fox Animation (screengrab)

And the city of the dead looks really similar.

Disney/Pixar (screengrab)
Twentieth Century Fox Animation (screengrab)

Of course, the stories are different, aside from the Dia de los Muertos aspect. But still, the similarities have been noticed by many who have watched the Coco trailer and have seen The Book of Life. However, there are plenty of fans who are psyched for the film, including Jorge R. Gutiérrez himself, who tweeted that he’s “looking forward to seeing the film!”

What do you think about Coco? Are you going to see it when it premieres November 22? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Representation count: What “Rough Night” and “Girls Trip” mean for you

Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures

The upcoming film Rough Night is being marketed as the next feel-good comedy for raunchy feminist women looking for a film that portrays women as “women.” Starring Scarlett Johansson (who is currently taking an L for Ghost in the Shell), Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, Demi Moore, Colton Haynes, Jillian Bell, Ty Burrell, Dean Winters, Ilana Glazer, and Karan Soni, the film follows a group of best friends who meet in Miami Beach to celebrate one of their own’s wedding, only to somehow kill a male stripper. The film will be in theaters June 16.

Here’s the red band trailer for you see the film for yourself:

Are you on the fence about seeing this movie? If you need help getting your mind together, here are some things we can glean from the trailer and Twitter chatter that might help.

The racial representation is low: Kravitz and Soni are the only people of color in the main cast (I guess, if you want to be technical about, you can include Ty Burrell since he did find out he has black ancestry…but he’s as black as I am East Asian. We’ll still welcome him in the Racial Draft, though.) It’s a shame that, as much as Kravitz has talked openly about racism in the casting office, she’s still relegated to being “the black friend” in a movie. There’s no telling what Soni’s character “Raviv” does. But one can assume he’s not a major character.

Not mentioned in this rundown is Enrique Murciano. He could very well be a part of the main cast, but as of this post, his character hasn’t been named on IMDB, which points in the direction of him being a minor character. However, we’ll have to see once the film is released to theaters.

The fat jokes are many, just in the trailer: So, the trailer spoils for us that Jillian Bell’s character Alice is the one who kills the stripper by basically jumping on his lap, but actually landing on his neck, with the brute force propelling the poor guy on his back, where his head hits the hard tile floor, causing a fatal brain (and possibly neck) injury. Quite gruesome. But what’s also gruesome is that the death is played as the punchline to the age-old joke of the plus-size woman being somehow grotesque, foolish, and less-than the other skinnier women she’s surrounded by. It’s no mistake that the one getting married is Johansson, not Bell.

You can tell who’s the lead woman in charge, can’t you? Everyone else has some minor or major “difference” with them.

Minor gay representation in the cast, no word on their characters’ sexualities: We do have out actors Haynes and McKinnon as a part of this film, but their characters are probably straight, if we go by Hollywood history.

The fact that the film’s jokey premise rests on a male stripper being brutally killed while doing his job: The real victim of this story aren’t the women at the bachelorette party; it’s the dude who was doing his job that night. I know the film is trying to pull a Weekend at Bernie’s thing, but I don’t think storylines like that are going to fly nowadays, especially since the guy at the center of this story is an innocent guy just trying to make a living. At least Bernie was in with the mob! He knew the risks! (Not that his being a criminal precludes he should die, but you get what I’m saying.)

Look, strippers have lives too, and his life should be given some sort of acknowledgement instead of just using him as a prop to advance the story.

Twitter isn’t really feeling this film for that reason:

Refinery 29 has more on why folks are upset.

“First thing’s first: Strippers are people, and sex workers unfortunately have to tirelessly remind people of this over and over. ‘Sex workers are very marginalized groups of people who don’t have the same workplace safety and rights as other workers—and we get murdered a lot,’” says Arabelle Raphael, a porn performer and sex worker in Los Angeles. ‘Our lives are seen as disposable.’ A long-term mortality study on sex workers found that active sex workers have a mortality rate of 459 per 100,000 people—to put that in perspective, the general public mortality rate is around 1.9 per every 100,000 people.”

In short, this film just might become another L Johansson will have to live with. She certainly is getting red on her film ledger, indeed.

As if to act as a counter, Girls Trip will be hitting theaters July 21. The film, starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Kofi Siriboe and Larenz Tate, features a group of girlfriends who go on a road trip to the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans. Along the way, they rediscover their friendship while getting into all kinds of romantic and wild misadventures. Also: no male strippers get killed.

Here’s the red band trailer for Girls Trip:

So what’s in this film for you?

An all-black main cast: We don’t have to worry about diversity counts in this cast. Us black people are covered. And, if you’re an ally looking to support a black cast, you can’t find a better one. Not only do you have OGs like Queen Latifah, Pinkett Smith, Hall, and Tate in the cast, but you also have relatively new faces like Haddish (who has been around for a while, but is still in the up-and-coming set) and Siriboe, who has made waves on the OWN hit show, Queen Sugar. Also, as the trailer shows, Morris Chestnut is also in the mix. There’s plenty for everyone!

No word on LGBT representation: We’ll have to see when the movie comes out.

The film is co-written by Kenya Barris: We love his writing on black-ish, and his funny writing is all over this film. Which means:

The trailer is laugh-out-loud funny: If just the trailer can make me laugh, then I’m sold. I didn’t laugh once in Rough Night’s trailer, and that’s not just because I was already side-eyeing the film. If there were some actually funny moments, I would have laughed; if something’s funny, I can’t not laugh. But I didn’t So, here we are.

It actually feels like a good time: This feels like a movie you want to go with your good girlfriends to see and make a night of it. This is definitely one of those films you go watch, go to dinner afterwards, then possibly go back to one of your friends’ house and drink wine and gossip (I write as if I drink wine…I’m just going off of what the Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder commercials tell me). In any event, it looks like great fun for the adult set, whether you take your friends, your significant other, or your adult siblings.

This looks they’re genuinely having a good time, right? I want to be a part of this friend group. (More than likely, I’d be Jada Pinkett Smith’s character.)

What do you think about Rough Night? Give your opinions below!

“Riverdale” react: Veronica and Jughead get dramatic

This photo is kinda misleading, since the rest of the Pussycats don’t really factor into this episode. Good composition though. (Katie Yu/The CW)

Riverdale, Episode 7 | “In a Lonely Place” | Aired March 9, 2017

I’ll give Episode 7, “In a Lonely Place,” this: there were some real moments of touching sentimentality. Some genuine moments of feeling and disappointment were palpable among Veronica and Jughead, and finally, some parents were held up to some consequences, even if it was only for a little while.

First, though, before we get into the sentimentality, let’s talk about the elephant in the room once again: Jughead and Betty’s relationship. The more I see it flaunted in my face, the more uncomfortable and upset I get. Jughead has never been a character that desired romantic relationships. Even when Archie Comics tried to put him in his own triangle (in a misguided effort to keep people from thinking the rumors of the character being gay were true) it didn’t work out; the fans wanted Jughead to remain Jughead and not become some Lothario like Archie. Was Jughead and Betty as an item floated by several Archie Comics writers/artists? Yes. If you go back to the ‘40s, you’ll find Archie covers with Betty flirting with Jughead (with Jughead not falling for it) and throughout the years, you’ll find Jughead show a little warmth towards Betty, not just because he pitied her for always pining for Archie (who was always chasing Veronica instead of her), but because she was his friend and he knew she deserved someone nice and caring in her life. He was the only person to recognize Betty’s worth even when Betty herself didn’t recognize it. (He certainly knew she deserved better than someone like Archie, and he’s Archie’s best friend!) In one comic, Jughead even went as far as to say that if he did like girls like that, he’d definitely consider Betty over anyone else.

But, keep in mind, he said “IF” he liked girls like that. Despite all of the behind-the-scenes shipping the Archie writers and artists had when they took over their own strips or stories, Jughead has remained girlless. Instead, he’s always been a good, close friend to Betty, an enemy to Veronica, and scared of Ethel (who loved him despite the horrible treatment he’d put her through to escape her). Being above the fray of relationships has been Jughead’s distinct hallmark as a character. That was definitely understood when Chip Zdarsky made Jughead canonically asexual. It fits Jughead’s personality and characterization to a T.

But to make Jughead not asexual, or at the very least averse to being in relationships regardless of his sexuality, shows  distinct misunderstanding of Jughead’s character. There’s a lack of understanding of what makes Jughead great. The fact that Riverdale is written in part by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who is a self-professed Archie mega-fan, should mean that Aguirre-Sacasa understands what makes the characters tick. He should know what makes the characters who they are. Making Jughead part of the muck of relationships shows a lack of understand about who the character is and where the character is now in terms of our current discourse about sexuality, representation, and diversity. Making Jughead just like everyone else makes him a completely different guy who just so happens to be wearing the classic whoopee cap. (Well, it’s a knit version of the classic whoopee cap, but same difference.)

Also, in the dream sequence scene, in which everyone is done up in classic Archie drag, Jughead dreamed of Betty wearing a wedding band. Again, we’re taking Jughead further and further away from what makes him him. STOP IT, SHOW.

Okay, back to the touching moments of the show.

Overall, this seemed like a half-filler, half-substantive episode, but what stood out to me were Veronica and Jughead’s problems with their parents. First, Veronica’s mom Hermione wrongly forged her name to the contract allowing Fred to get the construction job at the old drive-in. Why a mother would do something like that, I’ll never know. Why it needed to be done with this particular thing, especially since Hermione already has Mayor McCoy in her back pocket, is kinda weird to me. Couldn’t the both of them just collude to forge an entirely new document or something? I don’t know. But Veronica has every reason to be angry with Hermione, and while I’m not sure how clubbing works with getting back at your mom, Veronica’s monologue about how Hermione took the last thing that belonged to her—her name—was a deep moment for this character in particular.


The other moment of the night was Jughead dealing with his dad F.P. F.P. is going through it and has been since Fred fired him. But F.P. was already doing some shady dealings anyway—maybe with the Serpents, perhaps?—but now F.P. is a drunken mess and his wife left with Jellybean, leaving Jughead behind to fend for himself. We find out in this episode that ever since the drive-in closed, Jughead’s been living in a school supply closet.

Finally, Archie got out of his own issues long enough to find out that Jughead’s not at home, and ultimately, he and Fred give Jughead a place to stay so he won’t have to stay with his dad. But until we get to that point (which involves Jughead getting pulled into the sheriff’s office for having the sheriff’s murder board), Jughead actually does go back home long enough to talk F.P. into working for Fred again. Archie does what he needs to do to get his dad to give F.P. another chance, and for the most part, things are as smooth as they can be between two Fred and F.P., two former best friends.

When we get to the part of the episode where Jughead gets pulled out of the sheriff’s office thanks to Fred covering for him by saying Jughead was working for him (which means Fred’s now technically a criminal too, since he’ll have to forge timecards for Jughead), we finally get to some ACTING. Not to say folks haven’t been acting before, but if we’re going to be a melodrama, let’s actually get to the DRAMA, not the shenanigans and antics. Jughead wants to trust his dad, who has broken his promises to get his act together over and over again, but F.P. looks so sorrowful and pitiful that Jughead, who is clearly angry with his father, still decides to give him another chance. I thought that was a great moment for a character who naturally leans towards the more soulful mindset anyway.


I know I’ve skipped all around Polly and the baby and the Blossoms and the Coopers–frankly, I’m caring less and less about this baby and Polly. If Polly ends up being the killer, then I’ll end up being intrigued in her life once again. #Sorryaboutit.

(And yes, I’m planning on recapping/reacting to this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As a superfan, it’s a show I should have recapped/reacted to long before now.)

Other things of note: We had our first sighting of Ginger Lopez!


Will we see more of her? I hope so.

Also, we’ve seen some more of Reggie!


I can’t wait for his storyline to open up. Since the show has the Season 2 greenlight, they’d better give us more Reggie (and possibly Josie/Reggie).

Lastly, I really did like the dream sequence. I know it’d be a sexist storyline, but if the show was literally a hyper-realistic version of the old-school comic book, I’d watch the heck out that. The dream sequence art direction was really nice. Check it out:

What did you think of that episode? Are you sick and tired of Betty and Jughead? And why are fans calling Lili Reinhart “Daddy”? (I legitimately want to know that question.) Leave your comments and answers in the comments section below!

What’s in the cards for Riverdale’s Reggie, Josie and The Pussycats?

(From left) Ross Butler, Ashleigh Murray as Josie. (Ross Butler Twitter, CW)

If there are a couple of characters I’m super intrigued about (aside from my fav Jughead), it’s Reggie, Josie and her band The Pussycats. I feel there’s a lot of potential with these characters; the only question is if that potential will be mined to its fullest extent.

You might be asking, in the words of 1970s-era Violet Beauregarde, “What’s so fab about it?” What’s so great about Reggie and the Pussycats? A lot of stuff is great about them! Let’s look at the characters separately.


Reggie and the crew (including Chuck Clayton) are chillaxing while being douches. Except for Veronica. (Screencap/Ross Butler Twitter)

Reggie, played by Ross Butler, is one of the game-changing characters on the show, or, potentially game-changing characters on the show if Reggie ever gets fleshed out.

What makes him so game-changing is that he’s been cast as an actor with Asian heritage. In one of the few times in television, there’s been an active instance of going against the Asian male stereotype.

Butler talked a lot about his groundbreaking role in Riverdale and several other roles on his resume that have defied stereotypes in an interview with Refinery 29. Some key points of the interview:

There’s a lack of Asian representation on TV, which is slowly changing. As an Asian-American actor, have you faced any particular challenges?

“This is something that has been a core [part] of me as an actor, ever since I [became one]. We’re a very underrepresented population in Hollywood, but we are the majority population of the world. It’s a weird dichotomy that we have here. It’s starting to get better and we are starting to see more Asians in roles, but we’re not seeing a lot of Asians playing roles [that are] not specifically written for Asians. So when I first started out, I was being sent on auditions for “the geek,” “the techie.” Let’s be honest guys, I don’t look like a techie [laughs].

“I told my agents, ‘Don’t send me out for [roles written for Asian actors].’ For a while, I didn’t get any auditions, or I’d get very few… But then I started to pick up momentum and started booking roles that weren’t [necessarily written for] Asian actors. For K.C. Undercover, my role wasn’t written for an Asian actor, and I was the only Asian in the audition room. That’s a trend I see today, when I go out for non-Asian roles: I’ll be one of the only Asian people in the room, if not the only one.”

Now you play a football player!
“When I was a kid, there wasn’t an Asian-American Ryan Gosling, or an Asian-American Robert Downey Jr. that you would look up to… Now, [on Riverdale] I play kind of a jerky football player, and on Thirteen Reasons Why I play a nice basketball player who does a bad thing, and on Teen Wolf I played a lacrosse player. Asians can be athletic, we don’t have to fit into this image that [the media] has for [us]. Booking these roles that aren’t necessarily [for Asian actors] is something I’m proud of and, hopefully, will keep doing.”

Can you tease a little bit about your character in Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why?
“I play Zach Dempsey, who is a basketball player, one of the jocks… He’s a guy’s guy, he fits in with all the guys, he’s one of the bros. What I’ll say about him is that he isn’t what you expect him to be. He is a jock, but he has a depth to him that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a jock that hangs out in the popular group. He isn’t as smart as the other kids, but he has a sensitive side to him. How that ties in… you guys will have to see.”

In short, Reggie is very much needed on TV. However, when will Reggie be fleshed out from just being what he is now, which is a cardboard cutout of a jock? Coming back to this later.

Josie and The Pussycats

Ashleigh Murray as Josie in the pilot episode of “Riverdale.” (Katie Yu/The CW)

Again, Josie and the Pussycats represent a conscious effort to diversify the world of Riverdale. In the show, Josie and the Pussycats are a group made up of three black girls instead of the original version, which only features Valerie as the only person of color in the group.

The decision to make Josie and the Pussycats all black wasn’t just to give the cast more diversity for diversity’s sake; racial privilege (or lack thereof) is addressed in the third episode of Riverdale, when Josie schools Archie on how her and her Pussycats have to “claw their way” to the top of the charts while Archie could waltz into any recording studio and get catered to (being forced to work twice as hard and “claw” their own path to the top is why they’ve called themselves “Pussycats,” after all).

Actress Ashleigh Murray has complete faith in the show’s creative team when it comes to Josie’s storyline as she told

“I’m a huge admirer of them,” Murray said of the current creative team on the comics. “I read their interviews about the launch of the comic and it really put me at ease. Everything that they believe and see Josie to be is exactly what I’ve been saying about her myself. It gives me peace of mind that how I view her and how I believe her to be and the role model that I think she is and can continue to be for a lot of young people is represented right on the money.”

And she sees a lot of herself in Josie, as she told

I have a lot of similarities to Josie, which is why I enjoy playing her. She’s who I wish I was in high school. I was perseverant and headstrong, but I didn’t think I was quite as brave as Josie is. I have this image of her in my mind, and it’s adjectives about who she is rather than who she sounds like. It’s about who she wants to be and how she wants people to see her.

Also, even though she told that a “duet” is in the future for Archie and Josie, she’s not keen on Josie becoming romantically interested in Archie. Instead, she’s got another person in mind.

[On if she’d want the writers to hook Josie and Archie up] Oh my god, no! [Laughs] I would be so shocked. People ask me if it’s going to be Archie and Josie together, and I go, “Ewww.” But just watch, by the fifth episode of Season 2, Archie’s going to be flirting with Josie, she’s going to be about it, and I’m going to be like, “What the hell is going on?”

Could she be talking about Reggie? Murray’s tweet seems to suggest that she’d like for her character and Butler’s character to hook up.

If so, that would be killer. It’d be yet another great moment for diversity; we rarely see black women/Asian men pairings on television, and if Josie and Reggie get together, then it’ll be something fantastic to see.



Now for my worries. All of which can be condensed to one sentence:

Will Reggie and Josie and her girls be fleshed out???

Look, I know we’re just in the beginning stages of this season, but I’d like to know if these characters are going to become actual characters instead of background. For instance, will Josie and the Pussycats become less of a Greek Chorus-type situation and become more integrated characters? In the Yahoo interview above, Murray revealed that Josie won’t be involved in the mystery surrounding Jason, but she’s still got to be involved in some of the other storylines, right? And by “involved,” I mean in a much more well-rounded way than just in relation to her music. And as I said in my Chuck Clayton article, there are more black girls in Riverdale, right?

Also, I’m well aware that Butler s currently filming another show, Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why, so he probably didn’t have a lot of time to be on set, much less become fully integrated as a character until filming Thirteen Reasons Why is over. However, if he was promised to have a bigger role towards the end of Season 1 and/or Season 2 (if we get a second season, that is), then will he finally become part of the mystery? I’m just anxious to see more of Reggie since Reggie actually is part of the main cast.

What do you think about Reggie and Josie and the Pussycats? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses Blerd Chat with Monique and Ramp Your Voice’s Vilissa Thompson


A couple of weeks ago, PBS aired The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, and while there were great moments in the miniseries, there were some not so great moments, chief of which being Benedict Cumberbatch’s Richard III.

I recently held a Google Hangout chat with Ramp Your Voice! founder Vilissa Thompson about the miniseries. As you’ll read below, we discuss the problematic portrayal of Richard, including how his outward appearance (due to a kpyhosis) became linked to villainy, and how King Henry’s (Tom Sturridge) exhibition of Highly Sensitive traits go unrecognized or looked down upon by other characters. We also talk about how Sophie Okonedo stole the show.

Vilissa Thompson (VT):  Richard III is truly something else. I finished the rewatch of Part 3 today, and I wrote down some of the ableist things he said about himself, & what others said/referred to him as.

Monique Jones (MJ): Where do you want to start? I suppose we could start with his big speech at the end of Part 2. His first monologue was the beginning of the end for me.

VT: It was. To hear him call himself cursed, and describe the occurrences of his birth was troubling for me.

MJ: I found it fascinating in a macabre way how the same ableist sentiments he said about himself—about how no one loved him because of his appearance is why he’s evil, for instance—are the same tropes repeated today. I don’t know why I thought things would have been different back in the day, but I was shocked at how 21st century Richard’s speech still sounded, esp. when you compare it to movies like Split and Don’t Breathe.

VT: The ableism didn’t surprise me, but the fact that he became the evil he was seen as was like a self-fulfilling prophesy. And his fascination to acquire the crown was his means of obtaining “heaven,” which meant that people had to respect him, and he goes beyond the disdain reputation he has and internalized. The ableism of viewing oneself and disabled body as curses/inconveniences are real. That kind of internalization is so common in our community, and even harder to unlearn. It makes you wonder how many times Richard heard about the circumstances of his birth, and how that transformed him into the “monster” he was, in both body and brutality of violence.

MJ: Yeah. I did feel sympathy for him because his internal dialogue seemed like something that was internalized from what he’s heard from everyone else. He was actually a sad, broken soul who just decided to become what he felt everyone else viewed him as. His ambition is understandable—he wants the respect he’s never gotten from people, including his family–but I just wish there was 1) a character who actually wanted to get to know him 2) if Shakespeare had delved more into Richard’s character with more sympathy. What I hated was that there was no serious investigation into Richard as a person. He was just a plot device.

VT:  I agree with you. I think the myths/superstitions surrounding the disabled prevented that closeness to occur. I think having a genuine and meaningful human relationship, even if platonic, would’ve changed things tremendously for him. He was. He was the misshapen being who was blood and power thirsty. There was no depth to his character besides what he desired.

MJ: I don’t know how you feel about Tyler Perry, but to me, Shakespeare is the Tyler Perry of the 1600s. He’s almost always comically broad with his characterizations. Benedict Cumberbatch’s broad acting didn’t help matters.

VT: I can see that comparison. The depiction does nothing to expand understanding of how complicated people are, or dispel stereotypes about people who are underrepresented on the stage (or big or small screen, in Perry’s art).
And the cripping up of the role by allowing Benedict to play Richard definitely doesn’t help at all.

MJ: Yeah. That reminds me: I really didn’t like how in an early part in Part 3 portrayed Richard as body horror. Like, how the camera was revolving around his naked torso in near darkness. Didn’t like that at all.

VT: That was a gross display of his body. That scene was solely to shock at his form; to pair with how you feel about his schemes for power. That scene was hard to look at – it made the disabled body look grotesque, when it’s not.
There is nothing sensational or horrifying about the disabled body.

MJ: Right. I was really turned off by the whole thing; I wish the director hadn’t gone that route. But the whole thing made me feel more sympathy for Richard; that’s the gaze the world has probably had on him his whole life.

VT: It does make you sympathize with him. I did feel for him; you can tell he hated himself and how that kind of hate manifested to hating people who had what he wanted – power, respect, love, a family – things that seemed unattainable to him.

MJ: Yep. What was the nail in the coffin for me was when everyone started calling him “The Dog.” It was much more about his appearance than his actual evil deeds as to why they were calling him that, and at that point, I was just like, “OKAY, SHOW, I GET IT.”

VT: They also called him a bunchbacked toad, a beast – all of these names stripped him of his mere humanness. The dehumanization of Richard with the name-calling was more disturbing than his actual plots.
All of the names we didn’t need to see how they saw him as a “thing” and not as a person.

MJ: Yep. What’s so aggravating is that everyone in the entire story are awful people (save for the kids), but he’s the only one put on a sub-human level. If he didn’t have his condition, he’d be accepted just like everyone else, despite the fact that he’s a killer. Case in point is how Margaret becomes allies with the new queen and the Queen Mother, even though Margaret killed the Queen Mother’s son and husband. But the past gripes go out the window just to get rid of “The Dog.”

VT: I agree. Focusing on Richard’s disability allowed them to separate their evil actions & doings from his – he’s evil because his body is deformed, & I’m better than him… though I’m not. The hypocrisy of all the characters was stark.
Honestly, that mentality about thinking you’re better than a disabled person, regardless of whether they’re a good person or not, is real. The “I may be this, but at least I’m not crippled/disfigured” thinking is common.
I think that Shakespeare perfectly illustrated ableism before the term existed.

MJ: Yep. I know we talked a little bit about Cumberbatch’s acting, but what did you think of his performance overall? I was a little let down, honestly. He’s much better in “Sherlock.”

VT: I wasn’t impressed at all. I think he was as evil in the role as he needed to be, but the cripping up factor made it more offensive and underwhelming for me. The fact that there is no true substance for Richard, & all you feel is pity/sympathy for him instead, makes the character very bad for disability representation. I’m not against disabled characters being evil or vicious, but I am against characters not having depth and relying solely on stereotypes/misconceptions about what having a disability is.

MJ: Yeah. The whole “putting on a disability as a costume” was bad, and Cumberbatch’s acting as a whole was Snidely Whiplash. I had expected him to at least add another layer of depth to the character, which is what a lot of actors do when they get 1D characters. But no, not him. He was just evil. The glimmers of another aspect to Richard weren’t explored nearly enough. And again, the “Creature Feature” aspect of the direction was gross.

VT: It was profoundly gross. To see that driven home by almost every character was hard to watch. Shakespeare’s embodied exactly why non-disabled writers/playwrights shouldn’t write disabled actors – their inability to add depth, humanness, and realism are deep. These depictions end up doing more harm to better seeing disabled people as equal and not curses or sub-human.

MJ: Indeed. The fact that this is supposed to be one of Shakespeare’s “greatest plays” makes me even more suspect of Shakespeare’s supposed mastery of the art of writing than I was before. I already side-eyed Shakespeare just because we are always taught literature from a Eurocentric point of view, but now I’m even more secure in my belief that Shakespeare isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. I do like Othello and Hamlet, but that’s about it.

VT: I feel the same. I think if we were to analyze his plays, we’d see a lot of problematic depictions, themes, and lack of masterful writing. Those are the two plays I like as well.

MJ: Is there anything we haven’t covered? I guess I do want to touch on King Henry a little bit; Henry’s arc was a lot more subtle than Richard’s, but it seemed like Henry was Richard’s foil in many ways–in temperament, but also in disability or perceived disability. Henry’s delicate mental state was often showcased as a detriment to his ability to rule, which could be some kind of commentary on mental disability or just a difference in thinking. Like, I read Henry as being Highly Sensitive (like me), which some people might perceive as a type of disability. I don’t think so, but a study is trying to place it on the autism spectrum [a 2011 theory on introversion also links it to the autism spectrum]. In any case, a big deal was made about the fact that he took things to heart more deeply than other people.

VT: Henry’s mental state and the criticism of how sensitive he was stood out to me too. I think his sensitivity made him more human than the rest of the characters – he held up a moral mirror of sorts to the evils they wanted to enact and justify. I think depicting him as weak because of his sensitive nature allowed for ableism to exist regarding his capabilities to lead. I think his attachment to religion compounded the ableism with his sensitive nature. Henry wasn’t perfect, but he did have a heart, moreso than the others.

MJ: Right. And also, women like Joan of Arc, who are in the same mental ballpark as Henry (Joan’s a little extreme, though) were seen as villains because of ableism and just because they were women.

VT: Exactly. Joan represented resistance to male power, & her religiosity was used against her to declare her mental state unstable. Sexism in Shakespeare’s plays are prevalent, and the status of women and those who are considered too strong or weak are well seen.

MJ: Yep. In a way, France comes out looking good because they actually allowed themselves to be led by Joan. But I wonder if that’s also some sly propagandized statement about what England thought about France—as weak-willed, frilly people.

VT: I think that’s an accurate guess. France, like women, got in their way of things, & needed to know their place.

MJ: To go back to Henry a bit, it’s unfortunate that Henry’s mindset is viewed as a detriment, esp. since that Henry’s way of thinking is still ridiculed today—Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are often told by Western societies specifically that they’re too weak, when our way of being is actually hardwired into us–our nervous systems that take in information a completely different way than non-HSPs. To write HSPs off in that way is completely erasing an entire population of people just because they feel things more intently. And often, folks who are sensitive make great leaders, so Henry had all the tools to be a terrific king.

VT: As someone who is sensitive, I think I had more sympathy for Henry than I did for Richard. I know for me, I try to hide how sensitive I can be to matters because of the fear of being misperceived incorrectly. To have the ability to see beyond yourself and to empathize with the world you live in is a powerful ability. My sensitivity makes me more conscious of suffering, pain, and how to support people who need it. I think Henry’s sensitivity was a gift that he wasn’t given the safe space to nurture in his role as King, and was chastised severely.

MJ: Yep. In many ways, he was a man ahead of his time. He existed in the wrong time period, to me. I mean, 2017 isn’t that equal for sensitive folks, either, but at least there’s more knowledge about sensitivity out there and more of a community and scientific study.

VT: I agree. Our society still isn’t safe to care for sensitive people, but is way better than the times Henry lived in, for sure. I think the hesitation to value sensitivity rests on the idea that if we’re in touch with our feelings, that relinquishes power and makes us vulnerable. I find that a lot of people who are anti-sensitivity are the main ones not comfortable with expressing themselves and allowing vulnerability to be seen by others.

MJ: Yeah. And in turn, that can make sensitive people internalize anti-vulnerability attitudes since (at least with some of my experiences) you feel like you’re going to get shunned anyway. I guess it goes back to Richard, too–if the world sees you in a certain way, then you’re going to start believing it’s true until someone else tells you otherwise or you yourself start realizing the world is full of BS.

VT: Preach it. I know that the fear of being shunned if I display my sensitivity is something I’m working on (esp when it comes opposite sex interactions). The internalization, whether due to disability, sensitivity, or both, can be detrimental to us in so many ways. Richard represented what that looked like regarding disability, & Henry represented what external forces look like for sensitive individuals.

MJ: Yeah, definitely. I can identify with Henry’s wish to just be left alone and study the Bible; I’ve actually thought “Maybe I should just become a nun” several times. At least my solitude would be seen as a noble thing and not a weird/hermit thing.The world gets too overwhelming sometimes, especially if you’re a sensitive person. But the world doesn’t respect the sensitive person’s boundaries or the fact that they’re just as capable of the loud extrovert.
Not that all extroverts are loud, but you get what I’m saying—it’s those qualities that are lauded more than contemplation.

VT: I agree. I go back and forth with being introverted and extroverted, but I do crave my alone time, especially when I’m feeling down. I need the space to vent feelings/emotions, but working it out in my head alone is how I cope with things. For me, because I’m a social person, it’s sometimes hard to tell people to back off & let me be. Being an only child, I’m used to being alone and it doesn’t bother me. There are times when I need a lot of noise & people, but when I need quiet & solitude, I have to have it or I can’t function.

MJ: I’ve always been introverted, some of it by my environment, but most of it is my personality. I’d rather be alone, writing or drawing, only choosing to be around people when I feel like it. People really drain me a lot. Henry looked pretty weary through most of the show, and I understand why—dealing with the demands of society is tough.

VT: It is. I could relate to that draining feeling he displayed. Though I love people, the older I’ve gotten, the more I can see myself drained. For someone who is a social worker, that’s part of the reason I’m not a traditional one – having to deal with people with such intensity would be too much emotionally (this is why I could never work with kids or the elderly, their needs are so great and I’d fear not saving them all). With Henry, he didn’t have the support he needed to be King effectively to his liking, or to his country. That added extra strain to an already stressful predicament.

MJ: And the one person who was there to help him, who seemed to realize he needed an extra arm, so to speak, to deal with the world was his uncle, who those scheming factions had killed. That left Henry even more defenseless.

VT: Exactly. Who knew that the Hollow Crown would have so many problematic layers?

MJ: Yep. It was even more problematic than I realized at first!

VT: I know!

MJ: I think we’ve about covered everything. Is there anything you think we left out of the conversation?

VT: I think we covered it all.

MJ: The reason it caught my interest was for the actress playing Queen Margaret, a Black woman in that role intrigued me greatly. She played her role well.

VT: I know it may sound scandalous, but I’m sure Somerset was the father of her son.

MJ: I totally think Somerset is the father, too!

VT: I don’t see her willingly engaging with Henry to give him a heir

MJ: Yeah, me neither!

VT: I wished something about the paternity of the son would’ve came up… Henry couldn’t have been that naive.

MJ: Right. There should have been a non-canonical thing thrown in there just to let us know that Henry knew. He had to have known.

VT: I think we got that inkling when Somerset was beheaded that he knew she wouldn’t have grieved for him as she did for Somerset… but that could’ve been easily missed if you weren’t paying attention. But I think not allowing that knowledge to be made public goes back to Henry being perceived as weak and not catching on to things. But Henry had to know, as we both indicated.

MJ: Yeah. I wish that line or Margaret’s reaction to that line were amplified in some way. Something just wasn’t explored like it needed to be. But I do have to say that Sophie Okonedo was the GOAT in that role. She really put her foot in it.

VT: She really did. You loved her, you hated her… perfect portrayal. But I agree—that scene should’ve been explored further, that could’ve given us that hint.

MJ: It seemed like she was the only one who got the right tone for Shakespearean play. She was broad/campy enough without going overboard, and she was just serious enough to make Margaret believable.

VT: And near the end, the haunting of Margaret as the prophetess was perfect.

MJ: Yeah, that was so good. Such a good role. I’d say Hugh Bonneville was great too. He’s always kinda Shakespearean in his acting. He really knows how to chew scenery.

VT: I agree. If it wasn’t for Queen Margaret/Sophie O playing that role, I don’t think the series would’ve held my attention as well as it did.

MJ: Yep. That was the only reason I kept tuning in, to see what she was going to do.

VT: Lol… me too girl. Glad it wasn’t just me!

MJ: Nope, definitely not! I could have just tuned out after the first episode once Hugh Bonneville died. But I remembered Sophie was going to be in all three parts, so I stuck with it.

VT: Thank god for Margaret, the real MVP of the Hollow Crown

MJ: When she killed Plantagenet, she was so amazingly cruel. Loved it.

VT: The villainess we needed. So unapologetic about it, too

MJ: The villainess who would have had all of England on lock if she had a chance to rule.

VT: Oh yes, Queen Margaret would’ve been legendary. Imagine her rule… goodness.

MJ: There needs to be a show like this! Someone needs to make a Queen Margaret show. I’d watch that every day.

VT: YAS!!!

MJ: I’ll have to put a pin in that–another idea I need to utilize my screenwriting abilities for.

VT: DO IT!!!! I need this in my life.

MJ: Maybe that’ll be my claim to fame! I’m totally getting some ideas now. WGA, here I come!

VT: Girl, go get that fame, & write!

MJ: YES! Well, with that, I think we’ve covered every inch of The Hollow Crown. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this! It was a lot of fun!

VT: It was! I had a true blast!

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/

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

“Rogue One:” A satisfying, sad chapter in the “Star Wars” franchise [SPOILERS]



Synopsis (Lucasfilm): From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Monique’s review: What a film.

Maybe it’s that time of the month and I’m being hormonal, or maybe the film was just that sad. But it’s about 48 hours after having seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and I’m still reeling from the ending. AUGH! MY HEART!

The opening crawl to Episode 4: A New Hope states that rebel spies steal the Death Star plans, but it doesn’t say that they die! I haven’t gotten over it yet.

It also doesn’t help that the princess of all space, Carrie Fisher has died. Can 2016 give us a break yet?!

The good:

What I loved about the film is that we got to see what Star Wars is like outside of the confines of the traditional crawl, so to speak. I, for one, liked that the film decided to forgo the crawl and throw us right into the movie. It makes sense, since this is the first story that that kickstarts the entire franchise, but it’s also a bold move that takes the franchise further into the future. We’re in the 21st century with Star Wars now; it needs to go beyond what the older fans expect. Now that we’ve got younger fans, the franchise has to use the 21st century modernization to enthrall and keep them. Also, the lack of a crawl added a freshness that a new fan like me appreciated. It made me feel like I was watching a sci-fi action film that didn’t chastise me for not having grown up with the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s talk about the cast. Overall, the cast is 8/15 POC (or should I say MOC), which is hefty for a blockbuster film, especially since they are all main characters. This number, I should say, is if you count the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (the actual figure of Darth Vader, as usual, is played by another actor, this time Spencer Wilding) There are only five main characters who are women, and one of them, Jyn’s mother Lyra (Valene Kane), gets killed early in the film and the other, young Princess Leia, is portrayed by a body double (Ingvild Deila) with a CGI’d face. Aside from Jyn, the most prominent woman in the film is Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), a senator from A New Hope who is mostly used in this film to give gravitas with her face and clothes, but not much more. If anything, she seemed to act as a loose replacement for Leia in the majority of this film, almost as if she were a preliminary sketch for the actual Leia character, down to her white robes.

(Interesting fashion note: It appears that this film is setting up the idea that style trends are a thing in the Star Wars universe–White is a color that seems to have been popular up until the construction and usage of the Death Star. Perhaps the lack of white after A New Hope suggests that the innocence of the galaxy before the Death Star had been lost.)

Why is counting the amount of non-white people and women important? Because in Star Wars films of the past, the cast has been mostly white, with only a few POC actors as minor rebel pilots who quickly get killed. Having people of all racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds gives Star Wars the legitimacy it needs as both a contemporary film in a multicultural world and as a space opera itself; why does science fiction/fantasy just have be a place for white people, when we all would like to live in a galaxy far, far away?


The character portrayals themselves are great despite being a little truncated. Was it because the screenwriter knew we’d only be seeing these characters in one film? At any rate, the characters’ collective fates make their performances even more riveting and haunting. Felicity Jones held down the movie as Jyn Erso, further establishing the notion that women can successfully helm “boys’ movies” and bring in the big bucks. I also thought Diego Luna played Cassian Andor convincingly, but I must point out that like Mon Mothma, his character seemed like a sketch of an early Han Solo, what with his own “who shot first” moment early in the movie (although they don’t show a close-up on Cassian’s hand pulling the trigger, we know he’s the guy who shot his informant in cold blood).

Cassian, though, provides one of the most satisfying character arguments I’ve seen in film in a long time. Surprisingly, the film delves into privilege when discussing Jyn’s sudden turn to the resistance after years of not caring about who’s in power. Jyn’s turn comes after her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) dies. Even though Galen dies due to his involvement with the Empire—he was the chief architect of the Death Star, who defected, then later came back to work on the project in order to place a well-hidden weak spot—Jyn blames Cassian, who was ordered by the resistance to kill Galen. It’s when Jyn offends Cassian’s honor as it relates to fighting for the resistance that Cassian decides to tell her the ugly truth about herself. Jyn, he said, was picking and choosing when she wanted to fight for the resistance, whereas he had been fighting for it since he was a small child. While Jyn found it easy to take up the resistance mantle after years of running, Cassian and others like him had devoted their entire lives to the cause. Jyn had no right to assert she automatically knew more about fighting the good fight than someone like him, who had sacrificed everything to get to that point.

On the surface, it reads like a standard argument about who has more to lose and who has the most to learn. But when it’s played out, the optics—a white woman “Damonsplaining” resistance fighting to a Latino man whose been in the trenches long before she had no choice but to care—took the scene up a level to near discomfort for some in the audience, I’m sure. If put in today’s context, the scene was basically a man of color telling a “well meaning,” but insensitive and selfish white woman that she can’t co-opt the fight for social justice and chastise someone else’s part in the fight just because she realized she should have been fighting long ago. The distillation of Cassian’s message was that Jyn should be reckoning with herself as to why she found it so easy not to fight the good fight, considering all she had at stake. It shouldn’t have taken Galen’s death to spur her into action. Similarly, a lot of Jyn Ersos in the audience should ask themselves why it’s taken them so long to join the social justice fight a lot of marginalized people have already been a part of and, indeed, have sacrificed a lot for.

Other standouts include Donnie Yen as the blind devotee to the Force, Chirrut Îmwe, and his friend? life partner? Baze Malbus, played by Wen Jiang.

I went into the film aware of the strong reaction these two had garnered online, with many believing that these two could be Star Wars‘ first gay couple. I say that’s great if it’s true, but if it is, then it’d be nice for Lucasfilm and Disney to actually confirm that. 

Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Yahoo! Movies that he doesn’t mind people reading a relationship into the characters. “I think that’s all good” he said. “Who knows? You’d have to speak to them.”

“Them” being the characters. Come on now, Edwards. Quit being coy.

The coyness is what kills me, honestly. I’ll get to this in “the bad” section of this review, but seriously, the cutesy answers like this from directors need to stop. People don’t like having their emotions played with, and LGBT viewers are a demographic who have had their hopes dangled in front of them like carrots by the entertainment industry for far too long. Queerbaiting isn’t a good business practice for any entertainment studio, especially not in today’s time.

With that said, the evidence for Chirrut and Baze being that couple that’s been together so long that you can’t understand what they still see in each other (no pun intended) is strong from the beginning. They’re a package deal from the first time we meet them, with Baze hovering protectively over Chirrut, who is very much capable of being on his own. But even though we come to know that Baze is entirely aware of Chirrut’s independence (I mean, Chirrut can beat up hordes of stormtroopers in minutes), he still watches over him, and Chirrut lets him. Perhaps a better word to use is that Chirrut allows it.

Second, we have when the gang is on some rainy planet (the same planet Galen and Jyn have their sad reunion) and Chirrut decides to go trudging after Jyn, Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) and Cassian. If memory serves, Baze taunts him a bit, saying Chirrut would have to be lucky out on his own to survive. Chirrut says, “I don’t need luck; I have you.” At the very extreme, this could be excused away as just banter between really good friends. Sure, Chirrut and Baze are best friends, but movies don’t usually portray friendship in this fashion. This moment was basically the “You complete me” line from Jerry Maguire. Except that in movies, men and women are instantly coded as being in a relationship, while same-sex couples are nearly almost instantly coded as being “just friends.” If one of these characters was a woman, you’d have people vehemently arguing against any idea that their relationship was merely platonic friendship.

Also, this moment, as explained by Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, is something that seals the deal, if you were in doubt after the “I have you” statement:

“He spends his final moments in Baze’s lap, and as his friend stares down at him, devastated, Chirrut raises his hand as if to caress Baze’s cheek. It’s the simplest gesture, but it packs a potent, more-than-platonic current, and as Chirrut expires, it’s clear that Baze does not want to live in a world without this man. He charges almost suicidally into battle, firing at Stormtroopers while repeating Chirrut’s mantra over and over–finally, at the end of his life, paying tribute to his partner’s guiding philosophy–until he, too, is felled. And while there are still plenty of big moments yet to come as Rogue One completes its story and links up with the familiar opening minutes of A New Hope, I couldn’t stop thiking about that near caress and what it might mean. After the movie was over, I asked other audience members if they thought Baze and Chirrut could have been in a relationship, and I was surprised by how many people had been picking up on the same signal.”

I must also add that as Baze faces his death, he looks back at Chirrut’s body, as if he was mentally telling himself and Chirrut that he’d be reunited with him soon. Comfortable friendship is one thing, but showing an all-encompassing love to where you don’t want to live without the other is a completely different kettle of fish, and Rogue One toys with that kettle a lot. If you read their relationship another way, you’re basically sticking your head in the sand.

Another point: Yen did an interview with GT, formerly known as Gay Times Magazine. Movie stars who are playing gay characters do interviews with gay outlets, for instance, Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes doing an interview with OUT Magazine. So that kinda cements it as far as I’m concerned.

Chirrut and Baze as two people in a same-sex relationship remind me of what John Cho said about the invisibility of gay Asian men in movies. Cho said that for Star Trek Beyond, he took his character Sulu’s sexuality as a way to pay homage to some of his friends:

“…I always felt the Asian gay men that I knew had much heavier cultural-shame issues…I felt like those guys didn’t date Asian men because of that cultural shame,” he said. “So I wanted it to seem really normal in the future…that there was zero shame in the future.”

In this vein, Chirrut and Baze are even more important; not only are they providing a much-needed outlet for LGBT viewers, but they are also providing an outlet for gay Asian men, who are marginalized along racial lines and within the mainstream LGBT community as a whole.


I mentioned Riz Ahmed above; his character Bodhi is super important because it finally breaks with Hollywood tradition of casting brown actors as “the terrorist” or “the taxi driver.” Finally, an actor like Ahmed, of Pakistani heritage, can be the hero of a film.

Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani explained it best with his Twitter thread:

It was also cool to see Tyrant‘s Fares Fares in a role as well. The racial and ethnic diversity abounds in this film, and I’m glad for it.

The bad

I liked Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera. The trailers make you think you’re going to spend the majority of the movie with him, but we don’t. I wish we had more time with him.

Saw raised Jyn after was forced to separate from her parents, so you’d think we would have gotten to see more of their relationship after their reunion. It seemed like a waste to just have Whitaker around for a couple of scenes, only for him to die nobly minutes later. Whitaker gave his scenes his all, though; you can’t say he didn’t chew scenery.

K2SO, played by Alan Tudyk, was…interesting. This might be the first droid I’m lukewarm on. I get that he’s supposed to have a personality—all of the droids do—but maybe the personality went a little overboard with this one. He (since the droid is coded as such) sounded a little too human to be a realistic, more crudely made droid, and it took me out of the film a little bit each time he spoke. He did grow on me, but it took a while.

I wish there were more women of color in this film. I address this at length in this article, but just to reiterate, it’d be nice for me, as a black woman, to see more black women and women of color in general do things in this franchise.

Also, it kinda seems like Jyn still co-opts the resistance and becomes a de facto leader, even though she hasn’t done much to earn the role. Meanwhile everyone else who has given much has to follow her, as if they’ve never come up with a bright idea before. That bugged me. Again, the optics—white savior leading POC soldiers towards victory—painted the picture.

Chirrut is awesome, but does his characterization bleed into the “Hero” stereotype of disabled characters? It definitely could.

Much emphasis is on how accomplished and independent he is in spite of his disability, as if his disability is something that would make him weak otherwise. What’s actually true is that he’s strong because of his disability; it’s because of his adversity that he’s found the strength to channel the Force. On the other hand, though, the fact that he uses the Force to see has its roots in the ableism of the script, which posits that with “sight,” Chirrut is closer to being an able-bodied person. However, Chirrut doesn’t struggle against his disability, which is something that is seemingly inherent in the “Hero” stereotype. He seems to embrace it as a part of himself, which is encouraging. In short, Chirrut’s characterization teeters on both edges of the disability stereotype spectrum.


I already mentioned it above, but just to reiterate: It’s not cool when franchises bait the audience. If Chirrut and Baze are together, everyone in the film should be of one accord and say that to the press. Edwards’ maddeningly cutesy answer flies in the face of those who don’t feel Chirrut and Baze’s relationship is a joke to piddle around with. Of course, I’m sure Edwards is a fine person; he, like most of the people under the Bad Robot helm, is all about diversity. I also don’t think he means to turn Chirrut and Baze into a joke. But to say that we should ask the characters takes all of the onus off of him as the director, who has the unique ability of deciding who gets to be what in the movie. He made it a point to have a diverse cast, right? Why not make it a point to say definitively if Chirrut and Baze are in love? What’s the difference? (I know, “money,” but seriously, though, what’s the difference?)

Finally, I didn’t like the idea of reviving characters with CGI at all.

I understand the minds behind the film feeling that Tarkin and Leia were crucial to tying this film into A New Hope. But I just didn’t care for it at all. It was way too creepy and jarring to me. However, Leia looked a lot more convincing than Governor Tarkin (who we know as Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope). Like Leia, Tarkin had a body double (Guy Henry), but whereas Leia’s transplanted face looked like it could be sustained relatively easily throughout a film (because of Leia’s Disney Princess like features, which are probably easier to animate), Tarkin’s wasn’t realistic enough. To me, this was a case of the animation needing to be as close to the uncanny valley as possible, if not all the way in it.

For me, Tarkin’s face had too many Pixarisms to make me believe it was a real person. Yes, I know the CGI was by Industrial Light and Magic, but I’m sure there was some crossover at some point since this is a Disney movie after all. The eyes seemed too big, the nose seemed to long, and he ended up coming off as a more realistic version of the old man from Pixar short Geri’s Game.

This video explains what I’m talking about (after much fanboy-ing):

If O’Reilly could play Mon Mothma, who looks just like the original Mon Mothma, Caroline Blakiston, how come Guy Henry, who looks and sounds similar to Peter Cushing, couldn’t play Tarkin without the CGI?

Final verdict

I liked the film a lot. It’s a bit of a mood-killer, since all of our heroes die. But I don’t think we were ever promised they’d survive. The subversive aspect of a genre film like this one injecting some realism is quite jarring; we’re used to the heroes surviving no matter what. Even when Han Solo was supposedly dead from carbonite, he still survived. The fact that everyone dies and not just one singular character ups the stakes for the entire fight for the galaxy. It’s no longer child’s play; it’s hardcore. We’re not just following fun characters on an adventure; we’re following people who will give up their lives for a cause. Things are serious, and it’s fascinating that such a serious tone would inject itself in these films at this point in time. As many have said, this film has a serious social message embedded within it (again, something the film’s team coyly deny). If anything, the film warns us to jealously guard our own freedoms; don’t wait until it’s too late to stand up for what’s right.