Japan’s gender-bending history

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Genking, a male-born Japanese TV personality and ‘genderless’ pioneer.

Jennifer Robertson, University of Michigan

I’m an anthropologist who grew up in Japan and has lived there, off and on, for 22 years. Yet every visit to Tokyo’s Harajuku District still surprises me. In the eye-catching styles modeled by fashion-conscious young adults, there’s a kind of street theater, with crowded alleyways serving as catwalks for teenagers peacocking colorful, inventive outfits.

Boutiques are filled with cosmetics and beauty products intended for both males and females, and it’s often difficult to discern the gender of passersby. Since a gendered appearance (“feminine” or “masculine”) often (but not always) denotes the sex of a person, Japan’s recent “genderless” fashion styles might confuse some visitors – was that person who just walked by a woman or a man?

Although the gender-bending look appeals equally to young Japanese women and men, the media have tended to focus on the young men who wear makeup, color and coif their hair and model androgynous outfits. In interviews, these genderless males insist that they are neither trying to pass as women nor are they (necessarily) gay.

Some who document today’s genderless look in Japan tend to treat it as if it were a contemporary phenomenon. However, they conveniently ignore the long history in Japan of blurred sexualities and gender-bending practices.

Sex without sexuality

In premodern Japan, aristocrats often pursued male and female lovers; their sexual trysts were the stuff of classical literature. To them, the biological sex of their pursuits was often less important than the objective: transcendent beauty. And while many samurai and shoguns had a primary wife for the purposes of procreation and political alliances, they enjoyed numerous liaisons with younger male lovers.

Only after the formation of a modern army in the late-19th century were the sort of same-sex acts central to the samurai ethos discouraged. For a decade, from 1872 to 1882, sodomy among men was even criminalized. However, since then, there have been no laws in Japan banning homosexual relations.

It’s important to note that, until very recently, sexual acts in Japan were not linked to sexual identity. In other words, men who had sex with men and women who had sex with women did not consider themselves gay or lesbian. Sexual orientation was neither political nor politicized in Japan until recently, when a gay identity emerged in the context of HIV/AIDS activism in the 1990s. Today, there are annual gay pride parades in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

In Japan, same-sex relations among children and adolescents have long been thought of as a normal phase of development, even today. From a cultural standpoint, it’s frowned upon only when it interferes with marriage and preserving a family’s lineage. For this reason, many people will have same-sex relationships while they’re young, then get married and have kids. And some even later resume having same-sex relationships after fulfilling these social obligations.

Contentious cross-dressing

Like same-sex relationships, cross-dressing has a long history in Japan. The earliest written records date to the eighth century and include stories about women who dressed as warriors. In premodern Japan, there were also cases of women passing as men either to reject the prescribed confines of femininity or to find employment in trades dominated by men.

‘Modern girls’ (‘moga’) stroll along the Ginza, Japan’s Fifth Avenue, in 1928.
Wikimedia Commons

A century ago, “modern girls” (moga) were young women who sported short hair and trousers. They attracted media attention – mostly negative – although artists depicted them as fashion icons. Some hecklers called them “garçons” (garuson), an insult implying unfeminine and unattractive.

Gender, at that time, was thought of in zero-sum terms: If females were becoming more masculine, it meant that males were becoming feminized.

These concerns made their way into the theater. For example, the all-female Takarazuka Revue was an avant-garde theater founded in 1913 (and is still very popular today). Females play the parts of men, which, in the early 20th century, sparked heated debates (that continue today) about “masculinized” women on stage – and how this might influence women off the stage.

However, today’s genderless males aren’t simply weekend cross-dressers. Instead, they want to shatter the existing norms that say men must dress and present themselves a certain way.

They ask: Why should only girls and women be able to wear skirts and dresses? Why should only women be able to wear lipstick and eye shadow? If women can wear pants, why shouldn’t men be able to wear skirts?

Actually, the adjective “genderless” is misleading, since these young men aren’t genderless at all; rather, they’re claiming both femininity and masculinity as styles they wear in their daily lives.

In this regard, these so-called genderless men have historical counterparts: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cosmopolitan “high collar” men (haikara) wore facial powder and carried scented handkerchiefs, paying meticulous attention to their Westernized appearances. One critic – invoking the zero-sum gender attitudes of the era – complained that “some men toil over their makeup more than women.” Conservative pundits derided the haikara as “effeminate” by virtue of their “un-Japanese” style.

On the other end of the masculinity spectrum were the nationalistic “primitive” men (bankara) who wore wooden clogs (geta) to complement their military-style school uniforms. Ironically, like their samurai predecessors – and unlike the foppish haikara – the macho bankara would engage in same-sex acts.

Japan’s ‘beautiful youths’

Probably the biggest contemporary inspiration for today’s genderless males are a spate of popular androgynous boy bands. Cultivated and promoted by Johnny & Associates Entertainment Company, Japan’s largest male talent agency, they include boy bands like SMAP, Johnny’s West and Sexy Zone.

Johnny’s West performs their song ‘Summer Dreamer.’

There’s a term for the type of teenage boy that Johnny & Associates cultivates: “beautiful youths” (bishōnen), which was coined a century ago to describe a young man whose ambiguous gender and sexual orientation appealed to females and males of all ages.

Similarly, Visual Kei is a 1980s glam-rock and punk music genre that features bishōnen performers who don flamboyant, gender-bending costumes and hairdos. In its new, 21st-century incarnation as Neo-Visual Kei, the emphasis on androgyny is even more pronounced, as epitomized by the prolific career of the androgynous Neo-Visual Kei pop star Gackt, who enjoys an international fan following.

The ConversationSince the word “genderless” is misleading, a better term might be “gender-more,” in the sense that young men – especially in Tokyo – are insisting on the right to present and express themselves in ways that contradict and exceed traditional masculinity. In the long span of Japanese cultural history, there have been many things that were – and are – new under the sun. But genderless males aren’t among them.

Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and Art History, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How media sexism demeans women and fuels abuse by men like Weinstein

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Advertising continues to portray women as charming keepers of the home, making it harder to succeed at work.
Andrea44/flickr, CC BY-SA

Virginia García Beaudoux, University of Buenos Aires

The sexual abuse scandal currently embroiling media mogul Harvey Weinstein has stunned the United States, with Hollywood and the fashion industry declaring that “this way of treating women ends now.”

As an Argentinean woman who studies gender in the media, I find it hard to be surprised by Weinstein’s misdeeds. Machismo remains deeply ingrained in Latin American society, yes, but even female political leaders in supposedly gender-equal paradises like Holland and Sweden have told me that they are criticized more in the press and held to a higher standard than their male counterparts.

How could they not be? Across the world, the film and TV industry – Weinstein’s domain – continues to foist outdated gender roles upon viewers.

Women’s work

Television commercials are particularly guilty, frequently casting women in subservient domestic roles.

Take this 2015 ad for the Argentine cleaning product Cif, which is still running today. It explains how its concentrated cleaning capsules “made Sleeping Beauty shine.”

The prince could help clean up, but why bother when women can do it all?

In it, a princess eager to receive her prince remembers that – gasp – the floors in her castle tower are a total mess. Thanks to Cif’s magic scouring fluid, she has time not only to clean but also to get dolled up for the prince – who, in case you were wondering, has no physical challenges preventing him from helping her tidy up.

But why should he, when it’s a woman’s job to be both housekeeper and pretty princess?

Somewhat paradoxically, advertisements may also cast men as domestic superheroes. Often, characters like Mr. Muscle will mansplain to women about the best product and how to use it – though they don’t actually do any cleaning themselves.

Mansplaining domestic chores.

More recently, there’s been a shift – perhaps an awkward attempt at political correctness – in which women are still the masters of the home, but their partners are shown “helping out” with the chores. In exchange, the men earn sex object status.

Thanks for ‘helping out,’ hubby.

We’ve come a little way, baby

Various studies on gender stereotypes in commercials indicate that although the advertising industry is slowly changing for the better, marketing continues to target specific products to certain customers based on traditional gender roles.

Women are pitched hygiene and cleaning products, whereas men get ads for banks, credit cards, housing, cars and other significant financial investments.

This year, U.N. Women teamed up with Unilever and other industry leaders like Facebook, Google, Mars and Microsoft to launch the Unstereotype Alliance. The aim of this global campaign is to end stereotypical and sexist portrayals of gender in advertising.

As part of the #Unstereotype campaign, Unilever also undertook research on gender in advertising. It found that only 3 percent of advertising shows women as leaders and just 2 percent conveys them as intelligent. In ads, women come off as interesting people just 1 percent of the time.

Britain paves a path

Even before it was forced to reckon with allegations that Harvey Weinstein had also harassed women in London, the United Kingdom was making political progress on the issue of women’s portrayal in the media.

In July, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority announced that the U.K. will soon prohibit commercials that promote gender stereotypes.

“While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes,” its press release stated, “tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

As of 2018, the agency says, advertisements in which women are shown as solely responsible for household cleaning or men appear useless around kitchen appliances and unable to handle taking care of their children and dependents will not pass muster in the U.K. Commercials that differentiate between girls’ and boys’ toys based on gender stereotypes will be banned as well.

Sticky floors

The U.K.‘s move is a heartening public recognition that gender stereotypes in the media both reflect and further the very real inequalities women face at home and at work.

Worldwide, the International Labor Organization reports, women still bear the burden of household chores and caretaking responsibilities, which often either excludes them from pay work or leaves them relegated to ill-paid part-time jobs.

In the U.K., men spend on average 16 hours per week on domestic tasks, while women spend 26. The European Union average is worse, with women dedicating an average of 26 weekly hours to men’s nine hours on caretaking and household tasks.

In Argentina, my home country, fully 40 percent of men report doing no household work at all, even if they’re unemployed. Among those who do pitch in, it’s 24 hours a week on caretaking and domestic chores for men. Argentinean women put in 45 hours.

You can do the math: On average, Argentinean women use up two days of their week and some 100 days annually – nearly one-third of their year – on unpaid household labor.

Real-world consequences

These inequalities, combined with advertising that reinforces them, generate what’s called the “sticky floors” problem. Women – whether would-be investment bankers or, I dare say, aspiring Hollywood stars – don’t just face glass ceilings to advancement, they also are also “stuck” to domestic life by endless chores.

The cultural powers that be produce content that represents private spaces as “naturally” imbued with female qualities, gluing women to traditional caregiving roles.

This hampers their professional development and helps keep them at the bottom of the economy pyramid because women must pull off a balancing act between their jobs inside and outside of the domestic sphere. And they must excel at both, all while competing against male colleagues who likely confront no such challenges.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama once pointed out this double standard in homage to his then-competitor Hillary Clinton. She, he reminded an audience in 2008, “was doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards in heels.”

The ConversationThe sticky floor problem puts women in a position to be exploited by men like Weinstein, who tout their ability to help female aspirants to get unstuck. Until society – and, with it, the media we create – comprehend that neither professional success nor domesticity has a gender, these pernicious powerful dynamics will endure.

Virginia García Beaudoux, Professor of Political Communication and Public Opinion, University of Buenos Aires

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It’s not just O’Reilly and Weinstein: Sexual violence is a ‘global pandemic’

(l) Bill O’Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, CC BY 3.0, (r)Harvey Weinstein at the 2011 Time 100 Gala. (Photo credit: David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0)

Valerie Dobiesz, Harvard University and Julia Brooks, Harvard University

The recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in the American media industry, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly, has elicited shock and sparked debate on violence against women in the United States.

Sexual harassment isn’t the exclusive domain of show biz big shots. It remains alarmingly prevalent nationwide, even as other crimes are generally decreasing nationwide.

In the U.S., a 2006 study found that 27 percent of college women reported some form of forced sexual contact – ranging from kissing to anal intercourse – after enrolling in school. This sexual violence is heavily underreported, with just 20 percent of female student victims reporting the crime to law enforcement.

Nor is sexual harassment limited to the United States. The U.N. has called gender-based violence a “global pandemic.” As experts in emergency medicine and legal research at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we believe it’s important to acknowledge that this issue transcends national borders and class boundaries to touch the lives of roughly 33 percent of all women worldwide.

A world of trouble

According to World Health Organization estimates, one in three women worldwide will experience either physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, many of them before the age of 15.

In fact, for many rural women, their first sexual encounter will be a forced one. Some 17 percent of women in rural Tanzania, 21 percent in Ghana, 24 percent in Peru, 30 percent in Bangladesh and 40 percent in South Africa report that their first sexual experience was nonconsensual.

Intimate partner violence is also pervasive globally. In one World Health Organization study, 22 to 25 percent of women surveyed in cities in England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Zimbabwe reported that a boyfriend or husband had committed some form of sexual violence against them. Globally, up to 55 percent of women murdered are killed by their partners.

Violence against women takes many forms, ranging from psychological abuse to the kind of sexual predation, sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein. Honor killings, physical attacks, female infanticide, genital cutting, trafficking, forced marriages and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered gender-based violence.

Rates range from country to country – from 15 percent in Japan to 71 percent in Ethiopia – but violence is, in effect, a ubiquitous female experience.

Sexual violence is committed at particularly high rates in crisis settings like war zones, refugee camps and disaster zones.

In these places, even humanitarian workers are not immune. Dyan Mazurana and her colleagues at Tufts University found that many female development-aid staffers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues.

Explaining sexual violence

So what’s driving this pervasive phenomenon? Research reveals that there are multiple causes of sexual violence, among them gender inequality and power differentials between men and women.

For example, sexual violence occurs more frequently in cultures where violence is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honor, sexual purity and male sexual entitlement are strongly held.

Even in many countries that rank well on gender equality, including in the United States, weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence can encourage and effectively condone such behavior.

So can cultural acceptance. Weinstein’s sexual predatory behavior was longstanding and well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity – until women began speaking up.

Likewise, Fox News renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract even after he and the company had made at least six multi-million-dollar settlements with women who filed sexual harassment claims against him. Awareness of a problem is one thing; taking action is quite another.

Men with lower educational levels, or who have been exposed to maltreatment or family violence as children, are more likely to commit sexual violence themselves.

That’s because violence begets violence, a relationship that’s abundantly clear in the kinds of conflict zones where we work. Mass rape has long been used as a weapon of war, and has been well-documented during conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and South Sudan.

Among the most salient cases are the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. According to the U.N.‘s High Commissioner for Refugees, up to 500,000 Rwandan women were systematically raped in 1994 as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, while tens of thousands of Bosnian women and girls were systematically raped between 1992 and 1995.

Psychological trauma

Wherever and however it happens, violence against women and girls poses a major public health problem for women and their communities.

Some 42 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence reported an injury
– including bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, broken bones and injuries to the ears and eyes – as a consequence of that abuse. Women who suffer violence are also 1.5 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, twice as likely to experience depression and drinking problems and twice as likely to have an abortion.

Violence against women is also closely associated with suicide and self-harm.

If there’s any silver lining to the Weinstein and O’Reilly scandals, it’s that in coming out against these high-profile men, dozens of women have helped to highlight not just the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States but also the societal norms that silence women and allow abusers to go unchecked.

Humanitarian organizations from the World Health Organization to the U.N. to the U.S. Agency for International Development have recognized that gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue. Addressing it requires working with men and boys, too, to counter the cultures of toxic masculinity that encourage or tolerate sexual violence.

After all, women’s rights are human rights, so sexual violence is everyone’s problem to solve.

The ConversationThe fact is, societies with high rates of sexual violence are also more likely to be violent and unstable. Research shows that the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.

Valerie Dobiesz, Emergency Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Director of External Programs STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation, Core Faculty Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard University and Julia Brooks, Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend reading: The ’90s comes back with Tim Reid, Tia Mowry and Jaleel White + more

It’s oddly comforting to see the names “Tia Mowry,” “Jaleel White” and “Tim Reid” back in the TV news cycle. I’m going to check out their new show Me Myself and I and feel like it’s TGIF again.

Here’s what’s going on around the internet:

Tia Mowry & Tim Reid join CBS comedy, ‘Me, Myself & I,’ which stars Jaleel White|Shadow and Act

Bambi Artist Tyrus Wong on PBS American Masters|HapaMama

Netflix nabs worldwide rights to musical from ‘Chewing Gum’ star Michaela Coel, ‘Been So Long’|Shadow and Act

Women Power! 115 Films by Indigenous Artists at imagineNATIVE with 72% Female Directors|Indian Country Today

Amazon Orders Fred Armisen-Maya Rudolph Comedy, Wong Kar-wai Drama, 3 Other Projects (EXCLUSIVE)|Variety

Meet the African Woman Teaching Chinese Girls How to Code|NextShark

Elaine Welteroth, Teen Vogue’s Refashionista|New York Times Magazine

American Indian Nurses: Healing Grounded in Native Values|Indian Country Today

The Women’s March Organizers Are Planning a Women’s Convention in Detroit This Fall|W Magazine

Julia Solomonoff’s Gorgeous ‘Nobody’s Watching’ Sheds New Light on the Latino Immigrant Experience|Remezcla

Crank the A.C. and tune into the “Haikus With Hotties” livestream

Y’all know about Haikus With Hotties? You know—that calendar that features hot Asian dudes expressing themselves through concise Japanese poetry? Well, the hotties are back, and they’re doing a livestream TODAY!

This afternoon, between 1 pm PT to 4 pm PT, some of the Haikus With Hotties guys—Kenta Seki, Ilram Choi, Ronnie Woo, Mike Bow, Sunkrish Bala, Geo Lee, Chuck Maa, Desmond Chiam, D’Lo, Peter Sudarso, and Chris Pang—will hold a livestream. I’m assuming part of the reason for the livestream is to promote the 2018 calendar, Haikus For Hotties (this time around, the haikus will be written by fans).

But there will also be tons of talk with fans, who can send in your questions to @haikushotties.

This is bound to be a good time, so if you’re at work, or at on your lunch break, find a way to tune in to get some pep in your step. Also, make sure to visit to learn more about the calendar and the guys featured.

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“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!