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Olympic-sized “Rogue One,” “Luke Cage,” “Hidden Figures” trailers promise awesomeness

The Olympics is like the Super Bowl in that lots of big properties reveal their big trailers. Three such trailers were released during the Rio Olympics: Luke CageRogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Hidden Figures. Let’s take a look at each.

Luke Cage

First of all, it looks incredible. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never tuned into a Marvel Netflix production, either because I didn’t know the lore or, quite frankly, I just didn’t care. But the updated ’70s blaxploitation take on Luke Cage is both reminiscent of past awesome crime fighters like Shaft and extremely timely to what’s going on today.

Everyone has mentioned the imagery of the unkillable black man in a shot-up hoodie providing both commentary and relief from the constant deluge of black men and boys being killed by police or overzealous, racist men. But seeing that imagery in motion, just in the trailer, says so much without Luke Cage every saying a word. Also, the story itself seems to be told in such a way that someone like me, who has a hot-cold relationship with keeping up with all comics except for Archie Comics, can come into it fresh. It engages the audience whether you know about Luke Cage from the comics or not. That kind of treatment of comic book lore is gold, since you can’t always assume your audience knows everything about every character, especially if that character hasn’t become part of the collective consciousness in the same way Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have.

Overall, this is a WIN for me. I’ll check out the series once it drops, despite my own squeamishness of hearing/seeing broken bones.

Rogue One

As Marv Albert would say, “Yes!”—this is ticking all of the boxes for me. I think from now on, I’ll lessen my usage of “diversity” and starting using the word “inclusion” more, because the rebooted Star Wars series (yes, rebooted—let’s just admit that the prequels are out of canon now) is showing other movie franchises how inclusion is done. You don’t just hire actors of color to be sidekicks, MARVEL MOVIES. You hire actors of color for substantial roles and treat them just like any white actor. You create characters that actually represent and empower your audience, not just appease them with some paltry offerings. Somehow, Marvel seems to do better at inclusion with their television shows and Netflix series than they do with the actual movies. Even stranger is that Marvel and Lucasfilm are now under the same Disney umbrella, so you’d think some cross-pollination with casting tactics would have happened already. Marvel needs to take some notes from J. J. Abrams, stat.

Anyways, we’ve got talented actors doing talented things in this film. Even cooler is that the central character is a woman. Also cool is that Darth Vader finally looks cool again (once again, proof that this is a completely rebooted series). We also have some disability representation with Donnie Yen’s blind Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character. But will Yen’s character dip too far into the “mystical Asian kung-fu master” trope? Because if there’s one potential issue I see, it’s that. We just have to wait until the movie comes out. The other potential issue: Forrest Whitaker’s odd accent. But on the whole, Rogue One looks like it’ll proudly carry on the awesome legacy that began with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Hidden Figures

The film looks like it’s going to be one along the lines of 42 and Race in the sense that it’s going to be a feel-good film that also manages to teach the audience a historical lesson about overcoming discrimination to achieve excellence. But this film is also a reversal in practice for Hollywood, an industry that has ignored a story like this until now.

This role is something Taraji P. Henson should have played long before now, and its these types of roles Hollywood should have cast her in. What I’m saying is that usually, this type of “feel-good” role featuring a female character from the 1960s usually goes to a white woman, because in the ’60s as in today’s time, whiteness allows a certain privilege, meaning the character won’t have to deal with any sticky issues like race.

However, turning attention away from the history makers and achievers of the time only keeps black movie narratives stuck to the Civil Rights Movement. While that part of the ’60s is wildly important, there is more to the black experience than just misery. We didn’t exist just in the south; we existed all over the country, doing all kinds of things, including sending a man to the moon. Stories like this should have been lauded decades before now, not just now that Hollywood is slowly waking up to what many call in jaded tones the “diversity trend.”

On a much more shallower note: much like Whitaker, I’m unsure of Janelle Monaé’s accent in this film. I’m assuming she’s portraying a southerner; as a southerner, I’m always…disturbed by bad southern accents in films. There is an art to the southern accent not many non-southern actors have mastered. They always want to take it to that Scarlett O’Hara level, and not all southern accents are remotely like that. (I hated writing this paragraph, because I’m a loyal member of Electro Phi Beta…but I can’t lie about the accent.)

What do you think of these trailers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Exclusive Interview: #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend Creator Jessica Salerno

The voices are getting louder and stronger for Hollywood, Disney in particular, to include LGBT characters in their properties.

A few weeks ago, the hashtags and  trended on Twitter, showing not only how vast the audience is for mainstream LGBT content (unlike what Hollywood studios think), but also the urgency with which this type of content is needed. Around the same time #GiveElsaAGirlfriend trended, GLAAD released its annual Studio Responsibility Index, which found that out of Disney’s 11 properties released in 2015, none of them featured LGBT characters. (Paramount also featured no LGBT characters in its 2015 output.)

GLAAD stated in the report how Disney could rectify their issue, using Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I think must be a slightly veiled reference to the online movement for Finn and Poe to be in a relationship). To quote GLAAD:

As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth Star Wars film. 2015’s The Force Awakens has introduced a  new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written in to the story.

Elsa and Captain America are two other characters that have become part of Disney fans’ stable of coded characters. Many have said that Elsa’s self-acceptance and “coming out” moment regarding her ice powers relates to kids wrestling with their self-identity and the courage it takes to reveal that truth to family and friends. The song “Let It Go”, as the Guardian states, has been adopted as an anthem for LGBT fans. On the Marvel end of Disney, Captain America‘s close friendship with Bucky Barnes has been seen as having gay overtones by many fans, as well as Cap’s immediately close relationship with the Falcon; in fact, Falcon and Cap’s relationship in the comics inspired one fan to write Marvel, moved by how the two characters expressed emotions that, as the comic panel itself explained away, were emotions that were “left unsaid.”

With the tide turning higher and heavier towards Disney finally making a move and acquiescing to marginalized fans’ concerns and wants, I decided to reach out to the hashtag creators who were helping give renewed hope to fans wanting to see LGBT relationships on screen. Below is my email interview with Jessica Salerno, #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend*, who gives more insight into the creation of the hashtag as well as why it’s so important.

JUST ADD COLOR: Why did you create #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend?

Jessica Salerno: When I created the tag #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, it was something I definitely wanted to see be translated into the movies because of what it would do for the LGBTQ+ community, and because I myself love the Captain America movies and know many others do too! I had no idea people would actually catch on and help me trend it, but I couldn’t have been happier when they did.

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend has also been making the rounds. What do you think about these two hashtags and the message they represent? In other words, why have the hashtags hit a cord?

Both of these hashtags call for everyone to voice their support for two huge characters in the film industry, on a platform where they can be heard. These tags, once they get trending, show film studios everywhere that people want this representation of the LGBTQ+ community. these tags are both so important because when this many people speak up, they’re going to be heard. Having characters like Elsa and Captain America date the [same] sex would be revolutionary. People want superheroes and princesses to be able to be just like them—to show everyone that you can be a superhero and be bisexual, etc. It normalizes these sexualities and concepts that most of the world still shies away from, and these characters specifically speak out to the youth who view them—teaching them that no matter who they choose to be, they can still be a princess or a hero.

Why do you think Hollywood hasn’t made a prominent, out LGBT superhero or princess?

I think Hollywood hasn’t embraced the idea of a leasing LGBTQ+ character in films like these because they are worried about money. Frankly put, there is a huge amount of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc…worldwide that threaten the net worth of these corporations like Disney. The amount of backlash received from #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend just showed how many people still wrongly deny the LGBTQ+ community. But that’s why Hollywood needs to take these steps to normalize it with the platforms that they have.

How do you think the lack of LGBT characters has affected movie-going audiences?

I think the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in movies has affected the audiences, dwindling the amount of viewers who attend a movie if they know its another movie with an unnecessary heterosexual relationship forced into the mix just to make sure nobody tries shipping the male characters together. People want more representation, and they’re not going to be as willing to see a movie full of heterosexual stuff because that’s what we’ve been seeing for decades and its just not normal or realistic anymore. it hasn’t been for a while, and it needs to be realized.

What message do you hope people take away from your hashtag?

From #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend and from #GiveElsaAGirlfriend I hope people start to realize we can make a difference in the industry through just tweeting support from our phones or computers. I hope people start to realize the lack of LGBTQ+ representation, and I hope they start to support it and this cause. I hope people start to feel hopeful again that change is possible and happening for the LGBTQ+ community and that they see how many people are here to support that. It’s not just those in the community that want this change, and it’s empowering to those in it to see that again. from this tag I really hope people just continue to push for more representation and take a stand, because we can make this happen.

If Captain America was given a boyfriend, who would you choose?

I would love for Captain America’s boyfriend to be his long time friend Bucky Barnes! ♦

*JUST ADD COLOR reached out to Alexis Isabel, the creator of #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. She couldn’t be reached for comment. 

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

 

Disability in “Star Wars”: Comparing Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker & Finn

Star Wars is, of course, highly covetable science fiction. We’ve got “tales of daring-do” (as Stan Lee would say), awesome anti-heroes, a young person on a hero’s journey, and one of the biggest villains of all time, Darth Vader. But one constant that might escape the ableist point of view is that all of the Star Wars films involve a relationship between the main character(s) and disability. Specifically, one of the central themes of the the film series is how disability comes to define and/or change the character, either taking them further along their hero’s journey or down the path to the Dark Side. The paths Anakin/Darth Vader and Luke take inform how Finn, another character with a disability, will be treated as he develops in the films after The Force Awakens. 

Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

Anakin Skywalker’s change into Darth Vader is steeped in a classic film stereotype: defining a villain by their disability. Anakin starts his villain’s journey simply enough; emotionally, his ambitions toward greatness lead him to believe that his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is failing to teach him all there is to becoming a Jedi. Anakin’s distrust of Obi-Wan and the Jedi Order as a whole (which, in fairness, have their part to play in Anakin’s descent by doing nothing to solve the problem of Anakin’s dissatisfaction within the Order) leave Anakin to become easy prey to Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine’s knowledge of the Force allows him to see that Anakin has the potential to become something much greater than what he is, and he decides to use that potential to start the Empire. Not to mention that Anakin believes Palpatine will be able to save Padme from death in childbirth, something Anakin comes to believe the Jedi wouldn’t do (because it’d be an interference with the will of the Force). You’d think with the Jedi being powerful individuals themselves, they’d want to harness all of the power Anakin has for good instead of emotionally leaving him by the wayside, but that’s a topic for a different article, an article that could also compare Anakin to Kylo Ren, who also became a member of the Dark Side due to neglect (in his case, parental neglect).

That by itself has the makings of a great showcase for a hero’s descent into evil (and it would have been great, if the scripts and character development were actually fully realized).  But the prequel series decides to ape the original trilogy by having Anakin lose an arm to Count Dooku. Anakin’s first disability is something that defines him both as an able-bodied hero, by taking a sacrifice in order to stop the Evil Sith, and as a disabled villain, a man who will eventually defect from the Order and follow Palpatine.

The loss of his arm leads Anakin to take revenge on Dooku, an act that is taught against by the Order. Anakin cuts off Dooku’s hands and his head, which StarWars.com calls “one of the many turning points for Anakin.” Connecting disability to violence is something that defines the “Disabled Villain” stereotype; because a character isn’t fully able-bodied, the character then becomes angry at the world and decides to take out his or her aggression on others. (It’s also worth mentioning that before and after he loses his hand, Anakin kills the Tuskens and the entire crop of young Jedi trainees, so it’s as if his his inner discord becomes symbolized by his mechanized hand, the thing that takes him out of the “normalized” dynamic and into the space of the “Other.”)

Anakin goes deeper towards his destiny after leaving the Order and siding with Palpatine, who himself becomes disfigured by Mace Windu (after the Order finally put two and two together and realize that Palpatine has been the mastermind the entire time). During his fight with Palpatine, Windu becomes disabled as well—Anakin cuts his hand off, then Palpatine uses his Force electricity to shock Windu out of the window (which strangely has no glass at all). There is a casual quality to the way disability is conflated with evil; two individuals with disabilities are fighting against the “good guy,” who is able-bodied. The theme of inflicting pain on others because of the “evil” disability continues. As Palpatine tells Anakin at some point in the prequels, he must let his hate flow through him.

Media Smarts, ran by Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, backs up this reading of Anakin’s anger and Palpatine’s direction to embrace hate as a consequence of disability. “Throughout history physical disabilities have been used to suggest evil or depravity, such as the image of pirates as having missing hands, eyes and legs. More recently, characters have been portrayed as being driven to crime or revenge by resentment of their disability,” states the site. Media Smarts gives the example of the film Wild Wild West, in which Doctor Loveless has lost his legs. (The site also mentions that the TV version of Doctor Loveless uses another type of disability, dwarfism, to show villainy).

That hate Palpatine carries becomes shown as disfigurement; the hate Anakin carries becomes shown not only as a lost hand, but the loss of all four of his limbs as well as disfigurement. The final battle of the prequel trilogy features Anakin and his once-master Obi-Wan battling it out on an effects-heavy volcano. How they didn’t die just by the fumes and fire is a huge scientific and common-sensical oversight. But the ending of the fight once again conflates evil to disability. Anakin’s transformation into the Darth Vader we know comes after Obi-Wan leaves him for dead in the lava, leaving Palpatine’s droids to piece him back together inside a suit/breathing apparatus. The suit becomes the only thing keeping Anakin alive, but the suit—and Anakin’s disabilities—become symbolic of Anakin’s metamorphosis into a legendary villain. His use of the Force is one thing that struck fear into his underlings, but his classic muffled breathing through his apparatus is what audibly defines him throughout the original series and cements the erroneous relationship between disability and evil for the viewer.

What is interesting is that later on, Vader’s disability makes Vader become a different type of disability stereotype—the Victim.

Media Smarts cites Jenny Morris’ article “A Feminist Perspective” (part of the collection Framed Interrogating Disability in the Media), which examines how disability is used to make the viewer feel pathos with the character. Morris describes it as “…a metaphor…for the message that the non-disabled writer wishes to get across, in the same way that ‘beauty’ is used. In doing this, the writer draws on the prejudice, ignorance and fear that generally exist towards disabled people, knowing that to portray a character with a humped back, with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain feelings in the reader or audience.” Media Centre cites A Christmas Carol‘s Tiny Tim and The Elephant Man‘s John Merrick as characters whose disabilities are used to garner sympathy, and the moment Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask during his death scene is also using disability to create sympathy in the viewer. His burned and disfigured face makes him pitiable when Luke finally sees him. Now, he’s not a villain; he’s a man who has finally been redeemed and must be forgiven by Luke and the audience.

Luke Skywalker

Luke’s journey involves disability too, but his tale is laced with yet another stereotype; the “Hero.” Media Centre calls the “Hero” stereotype one involving the character overcoming their disability in order to prove their worth. Stirling Media Research Institute’s Lynne Roper wrote in her article “Disability in Media” that this stereotype is a way for characters to conform to “normal” standards “in a heroic way.” Media Centre uses superheroes like Daredevil (who is blind), Silhouette (who is partially paralyzed) and Oracle (who is a wheelchair user) as examples of the “Hero” stereotype, and Luke adheres to this stereotype as well. Luke is deep into his Jedi training by the time he comes into direct contact with Darth Vader, and his fight with Vader becomes a lynchpin moment for Luke. Vader cuts off his hand and reveals to him that he’s Luke’s father.

There are two choices Luke can make; either he gives into the Dark Side—aka become a disabled villain stereotype—like his father, or he can rise above his father’s expectations of him. Luke chooses the latter, but it’s fascinating how disability is used as means to set up a choice between good and evil in the original series, and how the prequels decide to continue this train of thought.

Finn

The theme of disability defining good and evil still endures in The Force Awakens. Towards the end of the film, Finn gets sliced up his spine by Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.

Medically speaking, Finn should have a severe spinal cord injury, most likely rendering him unable to walk or even use his arms. It’s already predestined, by evidence from the other films, that Finn’s disability will propel him even further on the good path (which could include the Jedi path, since the jury is still out on whether he’s Force sensitive).

It’s also clear by all the training John Boyega’s been doing that Finn will be walking in the film. This also ties into another theme of Star Wars: If there is a disability, it must be “normalized.” Anakin goes through excruciating pain as his fake limbs become fused to his body. Luke has a mechanical hand that seems to be linked to his nervous system, just like his father’s. It’s expected that Finn will have a mechanical spine that also has fused to his nervous system, allowing Finn to walk, run, and do other able-bodied functions. In a way, the new appendages not only “normalize” these characters post-injury, but it also suggests to the audience that they are now superhuman to a degree. They can now defy regular expectations and either become a powerful villain or The Chosen One.

Parting Thoughts

Star Wars is a fascinating film series that manages to encompass several themes that are at the root of great science fiction, the main one being that the future features those that accept others regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or disability. But, despite that ideal, the film series still showcases disability in a binary way. Either you’re a once-in-a-lifetime hero or an all-powerful villain if you’re missing a limb. You can probably assume that at some point, Kylo Ren, who wants to live up to his grandfather Darth Vader, will have a missing limb as well at some point in Episode 8. Remember: he still has to complete his training.

Looking for Love in Invisible Spaces: Meta & the Gap in LGBT Representation

(L-R) Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the Jan. 1, 2016 MASTERPIECE special Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. Courtesy of (C) BBC/Hartswood Films for MASTERPIECE

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

The patchiness of LGBT representation occurred due to several factors, such as cultural reticence, religious arguments, and entertainment companies worried about their bottom line domestically and internationally. The voids in representation have led to fans coming to their own rescue and creating alternate (and sometimes more accurate) readings of characters and their love lives.

The process of finding alternate interpretations of the characters not only provides fans who feel neglected by the entertainment world–such as LGBT fans and fans who are LGBT allies– the ability to participate in their favorite film or TV fandom, but also eases the anxiety created when an LGBT metatextual reading of a character, especially characters who already have a foothold in discussions surrounding LGBT media, doesn’t get the fair play it should in canonical tellings or retellings of a story. Basically, meta readings, and the subsequent fan creations that result from them, give fans the chance to tell the story from their point of view. They get to create a world that includes them in all of their complexity by allowing the canonical characters to have complexity not originally given to them by their original creators.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries are two great examples of when the canonical and meta worlds collide.

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

 

Canonically, Sherlock and John are friends, the most classic example of platonic love and partnership. However, the two characters have also been one of the many touchstones of LGBT media theory, especially where it concerns audience interpretation.

“Fans use these parallel worlds to explore what could have been or might be, especially as regards sexualities that have not found mainstream representation,” wrote Ashley O’Mara in her article, “Queering LGBT History: The Case of Sherlock Holmes Fanfic” for the site, Metathesis (metaistheblog.com). “There is no conclusive literary evidence that [Doyle] conceived of his Sherlock and John as ‘homosexual;’ their relationship presents as a romantic friendship although those were going out of fashion when he was writing. Likewise, despite queerbaiting, [BBC’s Sherlock co-writer Steven Moffat] insists that his Sherlock is not gay, let alone [asexual]. In [fanfiction] however, literally any interpretation goes.”

Those interpretations, which explore asexuality, aromanticism, bisexuality, and/or being gay, stem from said queerbaiting, which include suggestive moments in the BBC show, one of the biggest moments being during Irene Adler’s introduction in Series 2, Episode 1, in which Irene basically makes a case as to why John was actually falling in love with Sherlock without realizing it by comparing John to herself. Both John and Irene have considered themselves people who weren’t interested in men, yet, as Irene points out, both of them are very interested in Sherlock. There could also be a level of retroactive queerbating, as it were, happening within the original text itself; as O’Mara noted, Doyle was writing of romantic friendship when it was going out of style, with romantic same-sex friendship being replaced with a higher level of homophobia (at least among men; with women, romantic friendship and full blown same-sex romance was often overlooked by male society). The level of reticence around romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendship during such a societal change.

Meta readings have also occurred with many of today’s popular characters, such as characters in Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe. There are tons of  fan creations centering around the close relationship between Captain America and Bucky (aka the Winter Soldier), Captain America’s other close relationship with the Falcon, Iron Man and The Hulk’s friendship (as shown in the Avengers movies), and the friendship between Peggy Carter and waitress/aspiring actress Angie Martinelli in Agent Carter, just to name a few.

MARVEL'S AGENT CARTER - "A View in the Dark" - Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on "Marvel's Agent Carter," TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) HAYLEY ATWELL
MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER – “A View in the Dark” – Peggy discovers her murder investigation has huge ramifications that can destroy her career, as well as everyone near and dear to her, on “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” TUESDAY, JANUARY 19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
HAYLEY ATWELL

Despite canon interpretations falling short of fandom expectation, it’s beginning to be par for the course for actors who are affiliated with the fandom to speak out on behalf of their fans’ want for more inclusive entertainment. For instance, to address the Peggy/Angie fans, Peggy herself, Hayley Atwell, told fans at last year’s Fan Expo Canada what Peggy and Angie’s relationship meant to her. “The thing that stands out for me about Peggy and Angie is it’s seldom that you see on television friendship between two women that isn’t founded on the interest of a man,” she said. “There’s a genuine affection that they have for each other; whether or not you want to project the idea that it’s romantic or sexual is entirely up to you and how you want to view it. I think there’s a mutual respect that’s quite rare that I want to see more of in film and stories.”

As you’ll read in the next article (about the meta pairing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters Finn and Poe Dameron), Captain America co-director Joe Russo also states that he welcomes all interpretations of Bucky and Cap’s relationship. Also worth noting about the Star Wars pairing is that John Boyega recently confirmed to ShortList writer Chris Mandle that while the Poe/Finn pairing isn’t canonical, it was definitely something that existed in the mind of Oscar Isaac, who played Poe in the film.

With more and more actors co-signing fandom imagination, the day when there will be a mainstream LGBT couple in genre films and television could be coming soon. Maybe not soon enough, to be honest, but still sooner than originally thought possible.

Related articles/sources:

The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) (JUST ADD COLOR)

History of Homosexuality-19th Century (Wikipedia)

Meta Masterlist (http://loudest-subtext-in-television.tumblr.com/)

Meta: The Case of John Watson’s Sexuality (sherlockforum.com)

Hayley Atwell Discusses Agent Carter Season Two: Workplace Obstacles, Relationships, and “Cartinelli” (The Mary Sue)

Fan Expo 15: Atwell Declassifies “Agent Carter” Season 2 And Chris Evans’ Abs (Comic Book Resources)

The Heartbreak of LGBT Representation

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

There’s a lot of diversity in entertainment nowadays. Or is there? To say there’s “lots of diversity” in the media is to at once tell the truth and to lie. While the amount of non-white faces has increased in television and that the biggest movie of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, had a good portion of its cast played by non-white actors, the fight for diversity still wages on, and not just “diversity” in a racial sense. There’s also the fight for LGBT characters and relationships to be shown with as much regularity as straight characters and their relationships.
To get a good look at how LGBT characters and LGBT relationships have fared on the TV and film, let’s take a look at some of the stats GLAAD has compiled between 2012 and 2015.

LGBT TV STATS

Taking a look at the stats from the 2012-2016 GLAAD reports, television has done much better job of showcasing LGBT lives and love than the movies. However, when you take a look at the actual numbers, the truth is that television has done a better job of showcasing the lives of gay white men rather than all members of the LGBT community.

The biggest trend across the reports is that on the whole, gay white men make up half or more than half of the LGBT characters portrayed on television. Meanwhile, lesbian characters specifically usually make up half or less than half of LGBT characters; bisexual characters make up a paltry amount usually in the single-digit or barely double-digit numbers, but still more than transgender characters, who usually comprise about 2% of the LGBT character population.

On the whole, LGBT characters still comprise a small amount of the overall television character landscape. With a usual 96% straight character representation on television, only about 4% is comprised of LGBT characters.

EMPIRE: Jamal (Jussie Smollet, L) and Ryan (guest star Eka Darville, R) chat in the "Sins of the Father" episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, March 11 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: FOX Chuck Hodes/FOX
EMPIRE: Jamal (Jussie Smollet, L) and Ryan (guest star Eka Darville, R) chat in the “Sins of the Father” episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, March 11 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: FOX Chuck Hodes/FOX

The regularity to which LGBT characters are shown in relationships seems to be increasing, what with shows like Modern Family, Rosewood, Empire, Transparent, How to Get Away with Murder, Orange is the New Black and The 100, among others, showing gay relationships in a wide spectrum of emotion and depth. Overall, it seems television has shied away from the idea that LGBT people are the butts of jokes; increasingly, these characters are finally being portrayed with the same nuance that their straight counterparts have been for given for decades.

However, there’s still  lot that needs to be done. Bisexual, transgender, and lesbian relationships still aren’t shown at the rate that gay male relationships are, and if they are shown, they’re typically relationships featuring white individuals. Rosewood, Empire, and How to Get Away with Murder are some of the standouts for their portrayals of non-white or interracial LGBT relationships, featuring LGB and T characters.

ROSEWOOD: L-R: Gabrielle Dennis and Anna Konkle in the "Policies and Ponies" episode of ROSEWOOD airing Wednesday, Nov. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: John P. Fleenor/FOX.
ROSEWOOD: L-R: Gabrielle Dennis and Anna Konkle in the “Policies and Ponies” episode of ROSEWOOD airing Wednesday, Nov. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: John P. Fleenor/FOX.

 

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

 

LGBT FILM STATS

Film, on the other hand, has been lagging behind television. Seriously. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of films featuring LGBT characters is only 51 out of 317. That’s quite staggering. On top of that, the representation has been skewed; much like in television, the focus shifts primarily to gay white men, with lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender characters, not to mention any LGBT person who is also a person of color, are criminally underrepresented.

To go along with that, most LGBT characters are still found in comedies instead of other genres of film. This could be because LGBT characters have historically been reduced to stereotypical farce as a way to “other” them against the straight, normalized characters. However, Tangerine, a film featuring transgender characters played by transgender actors and featuring complex love and friendships (particularly the friendship between Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez’s characters Alexandra and Sin-Dee), has been critically acclaimed. It has also been confirmed that Deadpool will be 20th Century Fox’s first film starring a pansexual character, who is of course, the lead character of the same name. Also, as you’ll read about later on, there’s been an astronomical push to have Finn and Poe Dameron, the two main male characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to be in a relationship, as well as have Rey, the main female lead, be asexual and/or aromantic or lesbian.

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

However, with films like Star Wars (and to a lesser extent, all of the films released from major studios), the conventional worry is that a big player like Disney won’t jeopardize their bottom line with countries like China, who has stringent censorship laws, by having a same-sex relationship. However, if Deadpool rakes in the dough domestically as well as internationally, especially if his sexuality comes into play in the film, it could provide major studios enough leverage to greenlight a same-sex relationship.

The data also shows that the upward momentum in film and TV is still at a snail’s pace. In order for representation to exponentially grow, some studio is going to have to make the plunge. For instance, if it ever decided to listen to the very vocal portion of the fandom about same-sex relationships in film, it could very well be in Disney’s court to be that pioneering studio. If Disney won’t be the first, one of the other big studios will; regardless, after that particular studio steps up to the plate and succeeds, then the others will fall in line. Another way the status quo could change is by more indie films like Tangerine showing it’s possible to create LGBT-based films that are also lucrative investments. Or, change could come as a combination of the two. The downside is that it’s a shame that money has to be tied to a fight for representation at all.

References:

GLAAD “Where on TV” reports for 2013-2015, GLAAD Studio Responsibility Indexes for 2013-2015

https://www.glaad.org/files/whereweareontv12.pdf

http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv13

http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv14

http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv15

http://www.glaad.org/sri/2013

http://www.glaad.org/sri/2014

http://www.glaad.org/sri/2015

 

#OscarsSoWhite Dominates Oscar Nomination Talk

The Oscar nominations have been released, and the talk isn’t about who people want to win, but about why the list of nominees aren’t more diverse. This makes the second year that #OscarsSoWhite has dominated the social media and real world discussions about the highest honor in film, but this year is just one of many in which white stories and white actors and directors have been chosen over equally-as-talented minority actors and directors. Personally speaking, some of the domestic projects I’m rooting for are SpotlightSanjay’s Super Team, What Happened, Miss Simone?, CarolThe Danish Girl, and The Revenant, since they are the only stories featuring diversity of any sort and/or tell stories that need more in-depth coverage. (By the term “domestic,” I’m not including foreign films.)

The big question lots of people are having is why the nominations are still just as homogeneous in the acting categories as they were last year? At the very least, Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for Best Director. Some people are probably feeling like no one is listening to their cries for more diversity in films, especially since 2015 itself wasn’t that diverse of a film year to begin with; the biggest films featuring racial diversity were indie films, like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and Dope, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the end of 2015 so hard, to the point that it seemed like 2015 was more diverse than it actually was. Also, films like Carol, Tangerine, and The Danish Girl were about the only films of the year featuring LGBT stories. Yet, Tangerine, which featured transgender characters of color, was overlooked for Carol and The Danish Girl, which feature white lesbian or transgender characters.

The answer about the nominations issue comes in the form of time. There simply hasn’t been enough time for the changes the current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, have implemented to really be effective. The Hollywood Reporter called the Academy’s recruitment of more members from diverse backgrounds as “Phase one,” stating that “phase two” needs to be in effect, if it’s not already. “Now campaigners must ask: Do these freshman members change the nature of the game? The answer is yes, though the full effects of change won’t be felt for a few more years, as even more new members replace the old,” wrote Stephen Galloway for the site. “…Some insiders argue that the apparent diversity isn’t as widespread as it seems, and that the bulk of new members are entrenched in the Hollywood establishment. They’re right—this is still a relatively small contingent. Diversity is starting to happen, but it’s slow and its effects may not be felt fully for several years to come, or until the industry itself is more diverse.”

CHRIS ROCK

The old guard in the Academy could be considered part of the problem; the nominations list includes nominations for the screenwriting team of Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus; however, the screenwriting team is white, while the rest of the Straight Outta Compton crew, including director F. Gary Gray, weren’t nominated for the same movie. In case you haven’t guessed, F. Gary Gray is black, as are the actors in the film. Also, the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation wasn’t nominated at all, despite the star talent of Idris Elba, young actor Abraham Attah, and the direction of Cary Fukunaga. Ditto for Concussion, starring Will Smith, whose role in the film is tailor-made for Oscar nominations. Ditto again for Creed, which starred Micahel B. Jordan and was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, but only Sylvester Stallone was nominated for an award.

The other part of the problem is, of course, that it’s an industry-wide problem. Tambay A. Obenson wrote for Shadow and Act that people’s anger shouldn’t be with the Academy at all. “I continue to argue that our ire should not be with the Academy, but instead with the studio heads and financiers who decide what films are made. Until the playing field is leveled, this disparity between the volume, variety and quality of films made by/about white people and those made by/about people of color, will extend its run, uninterrupted.” One way he illustrated his point earlier in the article is when he discussed the Straight Outta Compton snub and wondering if Gray, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Will Packer, producers of the film, had any say over who would get to write the film.

Want to read more about diversity in film and television? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

However, one observation is the Academy’s old guard and the perpetrators of industry-wide problems are hand-in-hand, since quite a few of the perpetrators are a part of the Academy. Right now, the Academy—and the Hollywood industry itself–are in a vicious circle, feeding each other BS while the the public demands something new. However, there’s something to be said when the Academy president herself is speaking out against the nominations. “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated],” Isaacs told Yahoo’s Pete Hammond. “This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it.” When discussing the problems with a lack of diverse nominations, Isaacs said, “We have got to speed it up,” saying that the Academy’s efforts to recruit and focus on diverse films is happening at too slow a pace.

The changes are happening, but at a glacial pace. But as Obenson wrote, it would behoove us to support indie films that do showcase diversity as well studios and companies focusing primarily on diverse filmmaking like Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and Charles D. King’s MACRO Ventures, both of which put out statements today:

Here’s what I had to say about the Oscar nominations on Twitter:

The irony of all of this is that Chris Rock is going to host the Oscars this year. I wonder what his jokes will be like.

What did you think about the nominations? Give your opinions in the comments section below!