Search Results for: into the badlands

Tessa Thompson just cosigned this AM/BW short film!

There’s a new short film on the horizon, and it’s got the Tessa Thompson seal of approval.

There aren’t many details on this film, except that it’s spearheaded by Rebecca Theodore, national media critic and co-host of film podcast Cinema In Noir, fellow filmmaker Cynthia (@cynfinite) and is starring actor Jake Choi (Front CoverHawaii 5-0, Younger) and actor/model Melanie Ennis.

Clearly, there’s tons of chemistry from these pictures, but there are some other reasons to look forward to this film as well, starting with the big news of the day:

 

• The Tessa Thompson bump. This short film is already gathering its cult following, but now the film’s fanbase will get even bigger now that Thompson has cosigned it and wants the first available seat at the screening.

The entire exchange started when, in response to a conversation about the new season of The Bachelorette in which Blake, an Asian American contestant, gets shafted by Rachel, the series’ first black Bachelorette.

When she found out about Theodore’s film, she was all over it.

• It’s one of the few pieces of media about Asian men and black women in relationships. Rarely are these relationships showcased in the media (as well as other POC interracial relationships) in favor of the heavily prevalent black/white interracial relationship dynamic. However, these couples are out there and they deserve to be represented.

On a related note, this is one of the many reasons folks were excited about Into the Badlands (including me, as you can read here). This is also why so many people were upset about the Season 2 finale (you can read my thoughts at Black Girl Nerds).

• The leading lady is the size of the average woman. You’d think the “average woman” would be represented in the media more, seeing how most women nowadays are between sizes 14 to 16. But instead, actresses that are in these size ranges and upwards are usually billed as comic relief (case in point: the trailer for Girls Night). However, that’s not the case in this short film; Ennis, who is a size 14, is clearly the leading lady in control of her relationship destiny. I mean, Choi practically wants to eat her face off. It doesn’t get much more primal than that (and keep these pictures barely safe for work).

In short, I, like Thompson, will be on the lookout for this film. What do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Man Crush Monday: Daniel Wu

Daniel Wu as Sunny – Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Gallery – Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao/AMC

I understand I haven’t written about Into the Badlands in a while. Life happens, everyone–more than I’m letting on in this sentence. I’m planning on writing notes on the series as a whole after the Season Finale. But until then, let’s all ogle at Daniel Wu in amazing Into the Badlands costuming.

Maybe it’s just that Wu-as-Sunny just looks great when he’s dressed by the baronesses (Chau, whose color is white, and The Widow, whose color is blue). Baronesses seem to have a lot more style than the barons, and I wonder if that was a specific gendered choice by the Into the Badlands team.

Wu has redeeming qualities aside from his good looks an looking fabulous in tailored clothes. He’s the executive producer of Into the Badlands, for one, and he’s had a storied career in Hong Kong, starting out as a model and falling into acting after being discovered by film director Yonfan. After starring in 60 films, he’s become known as the “young Donnie Yen” (and indeed, it’d be amazing if an English-language film for the American market starring both Yen and Wu was made–I’d have a front row seat).

Voice your love for Daniel Wu below in the comments section!

Being Asian in Hollywood: Actors, directors, and creators talk representation

(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter, Kesavmwable.com)
(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter, Kesavmwable.com)

Representation in Hollywood is an issue by itself, but Asian representation in Hollywood is near non-existent. With the state of Hollywood being that black equates to “diversity” (despite there being more types of diversity out there than just being black) and Asian characters are still overrun with stereotypes or whitewashing, Asian actors and actresses have had a tough uphill battle in breaking through the glass ceiling.

JUST ADD COLOR is all about exploring how all types of diversity are showcased in Hollywood, so I thought it would be fantastic to have an ongoing series called POC in Hollywood. First up, the Asian American experience in Hollywood. In this longform piece, we’ll take a closer look at some of the issues and biases plaguing Asian creatives in Hollywood.

This is a longform, so if you’d like to jump to specific parts, here’s the table of contents:

Whiteness as the default

IMDB
IMDB

Historically, Hollywood has used Asian locales and people as props, while white characters are given layered characteristics. In short, white characters have been treated as humans, while everyone and everything else are only developed in stereotypes.

The most recent examples of this include The Birth of the Dragon, in which a white character is used to frame Bruce Lee’s biopic, Doctor Strange, which sees Tilda Swinton playing an Asian role and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, which is a white character used to exploit a stereotypical Asian mysticism, Ghost in the Shell, which uses Japanese culture to frame Scarlett Johansson as The Major and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, which features India as a backdrop for white characters and Dev Patel playing a stereotypical Indian character.

“What’s particularly silly about The Birth of the Dragon is that they invented a fictional white character thinking that that would be what North American audience would want,” wrote Quentin Lee, The Unbidden director and founder of Margin Films in an email interview. “The filmmakers obviously fell flat on their faces. Not only it wasn’t historically accurate for the story, the film ended up insulting Bruce Lee and the audience who would support it. It was a creative misfire.”

Chris Tashima, an Academy-winning director for the 1998 short film Visas and Virtue and co-founder of Cedar Grove Productions, wrote that while he hasn’t seen The Birth of the Dragon yet, he found the basis of the film “ridiculous.”

“It’s understandable, why this has been the practice—being that traditionally, decision makers have been white males, and like anyone else, will want to see stories about themselves, and that audiences have traditionally been thought of as young, white males,” he wrote. “However, all of that is changing. It has been changing for a while, and it’s easy to see where it’s going: towards a diverse world. That’s an old practice and you’d think Hollywood would want to project, and put themselves on the cutting edge, and be more inclusive. It’s old, and tired, and more and more, I think audiences will want to see something different, something more truthful.”

“I think the overarching theme that runs through how Hollywood/the West represents POCs has to do with the ease with which they are able to strip POCs of agency over their own stories,” wrote Kesav Wable, Brooklyn-based actor, writer, 2011 HBO American Black Film Festival finalist for his short film, For Flow and Sundance lab short-listed screenwriter for a script about a Pakistani boxer wrongfully accused of planning a terror attack.

“This may come across as a bit exaggerated or radical, but I do believe that there is a link between white imperialist concepts such as ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘white man’s burden,’ which validated a lot of the literal takings from POCs that happened throughout earlier periods in civilized history, and now, in a media-hungry world where information, content, and stories are the most valuable currencies, there is an analogous “taking” of the narratives that POCs have lived through. By depicting POC characters through the lens of a white character, it enables white audiences to keep POCs’ stories at arm’s length, and to not completely empathize with those characters because they are not given the complete human dignity and complexity that is afforded the white character.”

“Perhaps, this, in a way, damps down the guilt that white audiences may feel if the POCs stories/circumstances have to do with the literal takings that were exacted by their ancestors. Or it’s just good for a cheap laugh. The truly insidious effect of POCs being usurped from their own narratives is that, even many of us POCs begin to start viewing things through a white lens and stop questioning whether these stories truly represent who we are because of how pervasive white-controlled media is.”

Wable used the upcoming film Happy End, which is about a bourgeois European family living amid the current refugee crisis. “Granted, I haven’t seen the film, so it’d be presumptive of me to conclude that refugees are not conferred with dignity/complexity as characters, but the very thought that French filmmakers think that shining a light on a bourgeois family with the refugee crisis as a ‘backdrop’ can be instructive about their world, speaks volumes about what it is white people are most interested in; themselves,” he wrote. “In this case, apparently, the context is a rueful rumination on their own blindness to the refugees’ plight. Somehow the irony of the very film’s existence as a manifestation of that blindness seems to be lost on them.”

Mandeep Sethi, filmmaker and emcee, also discussed about Hollywood’s tendencies to erase non-white people from their own stories. “I think centralizing POC stories around white characters is Hollywood’s way of taking a black or brown story and making it about white people,” he said. “Our culture is full of amazing stories and histories and Hollywood loves to cherry pick what they like but leave out the real nitty gritty including the people who created, interacted, and setup that story.”

Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)
Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)

Sinakhone Keodara, founder CEO of Asian Entertainment Television and host of Asian Entertainment Tonight, wrote that Hollywood’s penchant for using whiteness as a default is “a heinous tradition that is long overdue for a change.”

“Rather than trying to normalize Asian presence on screen to a wide American audience, Hollywood often goes the tired, well-worn and ‘safe’ route of using a white character in an attempt to more easily relate the character to a majority white American audience.  It’s cheap and unnecessary, because the proper and more effective way of relating a character to an audience is writing a character with emotional depth,” he said. “Ethnicity informs and colors our individual and community experiences, but emotion transcends ethnic boundaries.  With political correctness aside, Hollywood needs to stop engaging in a form of neo-emotional and neo-psychological colonialism against people of color, especially Asians by injecting whiteness into our stories.”

“I think that centralizing PoC stories around white characters is always going to happen as long as the people telling these stories are white,” wrote Asia Jackson, an actress, model and content creator. “What Hollywood needs is not only diversity on-camera, but to also make greater efforts to allow filmmakers of color to tell their own stories.”

Jodi Long, an actress who was a castmember of the first Asian American TV sitcom All-American Girl and member of the actors branch of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote that while whiteness as the default is the reality in Hollywood, a study shows a much needed change in film. “I just saw a new study The Inclusion Quotient done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media where the reality in terms of box office is changing, where women and diverse actors in lead roles are now performing extremely well,” she wrote. “Money talks in Hollywood but we still have to get beyond the implicit (unconscious) bias that factors into which projects get greenlit based on outmoded ways of thinking.”

Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)
Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)

Kunjue Li, Ripper Street actress and founder of China Dolls Productions Ltd., also addressed how money rules Hollywood, despite Hollywood not making the audience demand actually work for them financially. “I don’t think [whitewashing] is the right thing to do, and second of all, I don’t think it’s very commercial,” she said. “…[I]f they want to sell to Chinese audiences, which is the second biggest film market, then they need to tell a Chinese story…I think you have to tell a Chinese story [with] a Chinese cast.”

“If the film [was] an an American-Chinese co-production, [it would] actually help with the film itself because then it doesn’t have to go through the quota system…which means that only 30 percent of foreign films are allowed to show in China markets every year. If they do it as a co-production, then they get 1/3 of Chinese funding, but they have to have 1/3 of a Chinese [cast]. They’ll have one-third of Chinese funding, they’ll have domestic showings, they don’t have to go through the quota system, it’s much more feasible. Commercially, [whitewashing] doesn’t even work. I don’t understand why people keep doing that.”

Next: The pain of exoticism

Exclusive Interview: #StarringJohnCho creator William Yu

Could John Cho have swept Emilia Clarke off her feet in Me Before You? Or could have been everyone’s favorite astronaut in The Martian? Or could he have been Captain America in The Avengers? These possibilities and more are imagined with the hashtag #StarringJohnCho.

#StarringJohnCho, which also has a site and Twitter page by the same name, explores the roles John Cho (and by extension, other actors and actresses of Asian descent) could have played, and played well, but were denied solely because of race. The site and Twitter page, both of which contain photoshopped posters featuring Cho in the films’ leading roles, has gotten tons of press, and rightly so; the movement’s mission is to make people think critically about who gets cast in roles, why they get cast, and who gets left with the riff raff. Even better: #StarringJohnCho also has the support of Cho himself.

I was excited to speak to the man behind the movement, William Yu. In an email interview, Yu discussed the origins of #StarringJohnCho, Hollywood’s annoying casting practices, and what film role he would have liked to see Cho crush.

How did you come up with #StarringJohnCho?

As a Korean-American who has a passion for television and film, I’ve always had the lack of representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood in my mind. With the rise of television shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None that bring nuance to the portrayal of Asian-Americans, I wondered why the current state of racial diversity in Hollywood remained largely unchanged. When I read that films with more diverse casts result in higher box office numbers and higher returns on investments for film companies, I couldn’t understand why Hollywood wouldn’t cast lead actors to reflect this fact. I’m tired of hearing from people that they can’t “see” an Asian-American actor playing the romantic lead or the hero, so I created #StarringJohnCho to literally show you.

Are you surprised by the immediate success of the hashtag/Twitter movement?

This was a relevant topic that was important to me, so I always hoped that it would take off. But I am definitely blown away by the support that has come since I first launched a week ago. I’m very grateful that the majority of the reactions to the movement have been positive! I’m really appreciative of the followers who have gone the extra mile and created their own movie posters, it’s been amazing to see people really make it their own. While there have been a few opposing individuals along the way, I think their reactions prove that this conversation is a necessary one.

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

Why do you think there was such a groundswell of support?

I think a number of factors came into play at the right time. John Cho has always been a cult figure for Asian-Americans and those that have followed his work, but there has never been a rallying cry to bring these people together. With #OscarsSoWhite and #whitewashedOUT trending, the conversation of diversity in Hollywood has never been more relevant and top of mind. When I’ve had conversations with others about how Asian-Americans are represented in media, many times it comes down to being able to envision or imagine how an Asian-American would be a part of a film or TV show. Having a tangible, in your face solution, is something that I think people didn’t even realize that they needed to drive the message home.

John Cho has always been very vocal about AAPI visibility in Hollywood, so it must be great to have him like the hashtag/Twitter page. How does it feel to have Cho’s support?

It’s wonderful knowing that he acknowledges and understands the message of what we’re trying to get across. Choosing Cho as the focal point of the movement was a conscious decision, but there was definitely some risk in using his face, especially if the tag started to take off. It’s been great having other Asian-American thought leaders like Margaret Cho, Constance Wu, Ellen Oh, and Phil Yu also support the movement! Because as much as #StarringJohnCho is centered around him, there is a greater conversation about how Asian-Americans are perceived in our society to be had.

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

Cho’s most recent TV endeavor, Selfie, made waves for actually casting an Asian-American in the leading male role, but the show eventually went off the air. It was probably thought that another Asian American man wouldn’t be cast as in a leading male role, but now we have Daniel Wu on Into the Badlands and Aziz Ansari in Master of None. Albeit that’s only three roles in the tons of roles awarded to non-Asian men in Hollywood, but with that said, do you think the tide has shifted (if at all) for Asian actors on TV since Cho’s romantic comedic turn in Selfie? And why do you think there’s been no movement in film?

While I love seeing Wu and Ansari on screen, as well as Randall Park and Ki Hong Lee making waves, I don’t think we’re at the point to say the tide has shifted. I’m hopeful that these shows and actors are setting the right precedents for demonstrating that there is a desire and appetite for story-telling that integrates Asian actors. It represents possibility and opportunity. The staying power will be proven in the frequency and reception of future programs.

As for film, I believe that there is an issue in that Asian-Americans are not seen as individuals who can carry a major film. As the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA’s Bunche Centers shows, films with more diverse casts perform better at the box office and have higher returns on investment than those that are less diverse. I don’t understand why Hollywood doesn’t cast leads to reflect this fact, as the risk seems worthwhile. I think Alan Yang said it best in The Hollywood Reporter‘s article when he said, “[Hollywood] cast Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. He wasn’t a movie star until they put him in those movies. For people who are making decisions, you have to take that risk.”

Hollywood seems to adhere to a set of stereotypes when it comes to uplifting or degrading men that are or aren’t their idea of a “viable leading man.” Why do you think Hollywood still lives by these stereotypes, particularly the stereotypes affecting Asian actors?

I think it dates back to the time when movie audiences would typically go see movies because of the actor who was in it, not because of the story that was being told. Thinking of Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, these stars draw audiences before a trailer gets released. As such, I’m sure executives want to continue to greenlight movies that feature these few individuals or find those that closely resemble them. But with franchises like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games, and many Marvel films, we’re seeing a greater focus on the stories that these films are telling. There’s an opportunity for diverse casting because the films make the stars, not the other way around. #StarringJohnCho demonstrates that these stories still work with Asian-America lead, so why not take the chance?

John-Cho-Selfie-ABC-LARGE
John Cho in ‘Selfie’. ABC.

How do you think #StarringJohnCho ties into other AAPI/POC-visibility movements like #whitewashedOUT, #OscarsSoWhite, etc.?

The goal of #StarringJohnCho was always to ignite a conversation and build upon the amazing discussions currently being had around race. I think that the movement adds another facet to the discussion by questioning why Asians can’t play leads that aren’t race specific. It’s not just about jobs and Hollywood dollars, but asks how we perceive people of color in our society.

How do you hope #StarringJohnCho affects Hollywood? Also, what message do you want viewers of the hashtag to come away with?

I hope that #StarringJohnCho will not only show fellow Asian-Americans that they can be anything they want to be, but also show those with less active imaginations that the opposition to an Asian-American playing the lead of a major motion picture is an unfounded and antiquated notion. It’s been great seeing those in the film industry support the movement, and I do hope that those in the decision making positions are taking note. #StarringJohnCho demonstrates the desire for an Asian-American lead, now Hollywood execs just have to see it.

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

The film adaptation of Crazy, Rich Asians is coming. Do you think the film could open the door to more Hollywood films starring all-Asian or mostly-Asian casts?

I love that a movie like Crazy, Rich Asians is getting made. With films that feature an all-Asian or mostly-Asian cast, I think what’s great is that they are amazing opportunities to show the world the complexities and nuances of Asian-American culture that are not typically brought to life onscreen. I am hopeful that these stories will resonate with audiences both Asian and non-Asian. And with its success, films like these will absolutely make the thought of creating similar movies will be far less daunting for Hollywood.

What would be your dream film or TV show starring John Cho?

My favorite movie last year was Ex Machina. Would love to see John Cho tearing up the dance floor as Oscar Isaac’s Nathan Bateman.♦

Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho
Courtesy William Yu/#StarringJohnCho

Other articles to check out:

THR Dream Casts the ‘Crazy, Rich Asians’ Movie|The Hollywood Reporter (written back in 2015!)

Working in Hollywood When You’re Not White|The Hollywood Reporter

#StarringJohnCho Was A Reality, Briefly, in ‘Selfie’|Inverse

 

The NAACP Image Awards Does What the Oscars Couldn’t

The NAACP Image Awards was what non-white Hollywood needed to release pent-up aggression and, to paraphrase NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, to honor themselves. Even though the Oscars is seen as the highest form of award in the film world, it technically functions like what Chris Rock called it—a white BET Awards. The NAACP Image Awards was created to counteract the Oscars from the beginning, and once again, it’s purpose has been revisited and reinvigorated again.

Personally speaking, I’ve long thought that the NAACP Image Awards and the BET Awards don’t get the credit they deserve, the NAACP Image Awards moreso. The prestigious quality of the NAACP should have had every person of color flocking to the theater to be a part of the Image Awards, even if it meant to just sit in the audience. Michael B. Jordan said that he would sneak in before he became a big star; everyone should have been doing that. To be fair, many in Hollywood do support the NAACP Image Awards, but you know you’ve seen the Image Awards in year’s past, and you’d see that half of the winners actually decided not to show up, as if they didn’t care to be honored by folks who look like them as the gun for the Oscar.

The current climate surrounding the Oscars is serving a purpose, and it’s garnered the change that has been sorely needed in the American media, but it’s also unfortunate that some of the non-white Hollywood elite needed this shakeup to wake them up to what has been in front of their faces for so long. The NAACP Image Awards has always been there; it’s just some of those that were in the audience hadn’t ever showed up. They’d let someone get their award on their behalf for whatever reason. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the reason was; they should have shown up because the NAACP is part of the reason they’re even able to work in Hollywood in the first place. They needed to have paid their respects long ago.

The theme of the NAACP Image Awards was to rightly diss the Oscars and to be the antidote to the Oscars’ and Hollywood’s problems. Anderson’s Straight Outta Compton rap was unleashed with pinpoint accuracy. Tons of speeches showcased the need to celebrate unrecognized talent. Stacy Dash was roasted by Anderson’s jokes. And, in comparison to what the Oscars didn’t do, the NAACP Image Awards actually nominated and gave awards to some of the biggest movies of the year, movies that were FULL of people of color. Creed, Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation, Dope, Infinitely Polar Bear, Lila and Eve, The Perfect Guy, etc., etc….all were honored in some way, and it was fantastic.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
colorblock-february-2016
 

 

Also honored were the year’s crop of television shows, including Being Mary Jane, black-ish, Rosewood, Sleepy Hollow, Fresh off the Boat, Jane the Virgin, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Empire, and more were given their due. But I have some bones to pick, which I picked at a little on Twitter.

There were snubs that I feel up-in-arms about. First, why were Rami Malek and Daniel Wu not given nominations for their dramatic work in Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands? Malek has been honored tons this awards season; it seems remiss that he wouldn’t be honored by the NAACP for the work he’s done on Mr. Robot. Ditto for Wu. Into the Badlands is a masterpiece of a slow-build action show, and Wu’s work is extraordinary and groundbreaking. In fact, both men have turned in some groundbreaking work. (Read why it’s groundbreaking here.)

Second snub: No comedy noms for Fresh off the Boat or Jane the Virgin or Master of None? Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang had a screenwriting nom, but the show didn’t get one for overall comedy, and Hudson Yang was nominated for his role, but the show itself wasn’t recognized. What was with these snubs? Also snubbed: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, despite Andre Braugher getting nominated for his Brooklyn Nine-Nine role. I love black-ish, and I do think it deserves its nominations, but how dangerous is it to have Anthony Anderson host (by the way, he should remain the host for all time) and then give black-ish all of the comedy awards? It’s probably not favoritism, but it looks like it. I think Anderson’s hosted it without having won for his category, so I’m putting a pin in this. We’ll see what happens next year.

Overall, though, the NAACP Image Awards was everything the Oscars couldn’t be in its current state. It addressed the current climate, and it also awarded those who have flexed their activist muscle to help the community, such as Bree Newsome, the woman who took down South Carolina’s confederate flag. These honorees embody what the NAACP has been at its core and, despite the organization’s growing pains, strives to continue to be. It’s this level of activism and awareness that has always set the NAACP Image Awards apart from other award shows. It knows its history, and it knows how it wants to steer us in the right direction for the future. All we need to do is support it and help its vision flourish.

Related articles:

NAACP Image Awards: The Complete Winners List (The Hollywood Reporter)

Anthony Anderson Talks #OscarsSoWhite at Image Awards: “This Is What Diversity Is Supposed to Look Like” (The Hollywood Reporter)

The Breakout Actress of 2015: Yasmine Al Massri

JUST ADD COLOR has discussed the majesty of Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands and the talents of the shows’ leading men, Rami Malek and Daniel Wu. But don’t think we’ve forgotten another breakout star from 2015. Today’s salute goes to Yasmine Al Massri, who plays Nimah and Raina Amin on ABC’s Quantico. 

Why you should focus on Al Massri: Quantico is a groundbreaking show already because it has the first South Asian lead of an American drama, Bollywood/international star Priyanka Chopra. But the show also breaks ground in having a Muslim, Middle Eastern character who isn’t a stereotype. She’s her own person, and her religion is something that is a part of her (like how Christianity is a part of a lot of people in America), but doesn’t define her.

Al Massri portrays two characters that are challenging mainstream viewers how they view Middle Easterners and Muslims. The rhetoric America has been battling for years, but this year in particular, is that Muslims and Middle Easterners are terrorists bent on destroying American values. But Nimah and Raina are characters that fly in the face of that stereotype. They are Muslim, Middle Eastern women who not only love America, but were (spoilers) actively working to stop a terrorist cell from hurting innocents. Of course, because they are hijab-wearing Muslim women, the Quantico recruits (including Chopra’s character Alex Parrish) wrongly believe they are the terrorists (until they’re proven wrong, of course.)

YASMINE AL MASSRI

Al Massri discusses the double-standard with TV Guide. “[The twins] think of Alex as one of their own. To have Alex doubt us, it’s out of line. How can you doubt us? We are in this together,” said Al Massri about having Alex, one of the three brown women in the recruit class, doubt Nimah and Raina. “That’s the challlenge of the twins being suspects. I get so may messages from fans now saying, “Yeah, we know the Muslims are gonna be the terrorists like usual.” I’m so happy that people will now see that Nimah and Raina were on an underocver mission that actually serves and protects the United States of America.”

By having Nimah and Raina on television, hopefully audience members start to better humanize Americans of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims within their minds, because scapegoating leads to dire consequences, such as the murders of three North Carolinian students who happened to be Muslim. This event happened three days after Al Massri received her script, according to the New York Times. “And suddenly where I came from made sense,” she told the Times. “To be a veiled Muslim woman on screen is a very scary minefield for me.” But a role like this was a challenge Al Massri was ready to take. “I am a contradiction myself,” she said. “I’m always looking for something that scares me, because when I’m not scared I’m not stimulated.”

What do you think about Al Massri and her roles on Quantico? Give your opinions below!

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

The Biggest TV Events of 2015: “Tut” and “The Wiz Live!”

2015 was the year of TV specials, such as History’s Texas Rising (which was, to use a buzzword, problematic for me), Sons of Liberty, and Saints and Strangers (which, from the commercials at least, also looked like it had its moments of historical propaganda).  But, there were two specials that stood out, at least for this writer. Tut and The Wiz Live! were what TV specials should aspire to in this day and age. Why? Let’s take a look.

Why Tut was great: This year is supposed to be the year in which I use a lot less “I” in my posts, but I have to break my rule for just a second and put in some personal opinion; I’ve wanted to see a proper dramatization of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s reign for decades, which means, I’ve wanted that for most of my life. After seeing the travesty that was Exodus: Gods and Kings come to theaters, I was especially ready for a Tut movie or TV show (or anything concerning ancient Egypt) that actually cast non-white actors. I was robbed when FOX killed Hieroglpyh, but I was appeased and delighted when I learned about and later watched Tut. 

Tut-Avan-Jogia-5

Spike’s Tut, starring Avan Jogia, Ben Kingsley, and Sibylla Deen, was a boon for the network, and it was a joy to watch. Everyone gave stellar performances, and for me, the breakout star was Jogia, who proved he’s got leading man material. To quote part of my review:

It’s really Jogia’s shoulders that the film rests on, and he plays the part of a boy maturing into a seasoned, slightly jaded king exceptionally well. Perhaps you slept on his talent when he was in ABC Family’s teen soap Twisted. Perhaps you didn’t watch Victorious because you’d grown out of Nickelodeon dramas. If you weren’t aware of Jogia’s talent before, Tut will show you that Jogia’s not someone who’s cut from the same tween star cloth as some of his other contemporaries. His capabilities for drama and action not only relay his maturity and awareness, but also show how ready he is for the movies. Movie studios: if you’re still doing those same outdated practices of casting only white actors because you think they’re the only ones capable of being thought of as a leading man, you’re doing everyone, including yourselves, a great disservice, since Jogia should be on every casting director’s “leading man” list.

The most important part was that there wasn’t a white actor portraying a non-white character. Again, to quote my review:

Films that are set in either ancient Egyptian or biblical times are some of the films Hollywood loves to whitewash the most. I give some reasons as to why I think that is, but just a quick summation: Hollywood is still behind the times when it comes to casting. It still acts as if it’s still in the golden age of Hollywood, when a large majority of America was white and wanted to see only white faces instead of the diversity that existed around them in America and in the world (something Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler points out in his takedown of the comic book movie and racial diversity).

Tut does an exceptional job at casting people who aren’t white. I know some people have said they feel the casting should have been of darker people. To that criticism, I say, “I understand.” But from my point of view, Tut gives us a vision of Egypt that’s closer to the truth than Exodus and other films like it have ever done. I’m extremely proud of how Tut decided to cast against Hollywood “business-as-usual” methodology. More than likely, I’ll have posts about this later, but for now, here’s my handclap for Tut‘s casting department.

As I addressed in the blockquote, there are some who are irritated that actual Egyptian actors weren’t cast for this film and some would say that this miniseries is just as whitewashed as Exodus for that reason. I’d say that while they aren’t Egyptian, let’s not compare Tut to something like Exodus, which went out of its way to copy the whitewashed biblical epics of the 1950s. Tut’s casting department did what casting departments should always do, and that’s cast non-white actors for non-white characters. And, Tut proved that stories featuring non-white figures, including dramatizations of historical characters, can and will bring in audiences, especially those thirsting to see themselves on screen.

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

Why The Wiz Live! was great: The Wiz Liveis NBC’s first successful live musical event, and good for it, because it had a ton of expectation riding on it. In short, the direction by Kenny Leon (who was revealed in the making-of special to be a taskmaster in the best way), the talent, featuring Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Elijah Kelley, Amber Riley, Stephanie Mills, Uzo Aduba, Cirque du Soleil, tons of dancers, and newcomer Shanice Williams, and the set design and use of the stage combined into truly magical entertainment.

It was fantastic to see black representation on this apologetic of a scale. In a way, the production plays on the core tenet of Afrofuturism; that blackness is defined by black people only, not by the society in which black people exist at present. Within Afrofuturism, black people aren’t “black people.” They’re just people, defined by their circumstances, just like how every white person in every movie and TV show is defined.

The Wiz Live! - Season 1

It was also a historical production on account of the first showcase of ballroom culture on standard television. The gay ballroom scene has still remained underground, despite some of the dancers featured in The Wiz Live!, Dashaun Wesley, Danielle Polanco and Carlos Irizarry, being dancing legends in their own rights (as well as working choreographers) and despite pop culture’s penchant for lifting heavily from gay club culture. But famed choreographer Fatima Robinson brought the ballroom to mainstream America in the most creative and funky way; by making The Emerald City one big ballroom. (Also amazing: seeing Queen Latifah’s Wiz as a drag king, which was the icing on the Emerald City cake.) Between seeing Williams’ star born right on their screens, Uzo Aduba inspiring all of us to believe in ourselves, and being bowled over by the surprise of The Emerald City, Twitter was on fire with people tweeting about how much the amount of representation present in The Wiz Live! spoke to them.

What did you think of these specials? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

The Surprise Meta Moment of 2015: Black Hermione Becomes Real

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

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

black-hermione-finished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

 

The COLOR Fall TV Schedule!

It’s getting close to the fall TV season, so I spent part of the weekend actually developing my fall TV viewing/reviewing/recapping schedule (instead of what I usually do, which is wing everything the weekend before fall TV starts).

So, for everyone who loves reading my recaps and viewpoints on TV (and like interacting with me with my live-tweeting), there’s THE OFFICIAL COLOR SCHEDULE!

(All times listed are CT since I’m in the central time zone)