In the face of these threats, which Marvel superhero might be best equipped to defend the people, ideals and institutions under attack? Some comic fans and critics are pointing to Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel.
Khan, the brainchild of comic writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, is a revamp of the classic Ms. Marvel character (originally named Carol Danvers and created in 1968). First introduced in early 2014, Khan is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who fights crime in Jersey City and occasionally teams up with the Avengers.
Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, fans have created images of Khan tearing up a photo of the president, punching him (evoking a famous 1941 cover of Captain America punching Hitler) and grieving in her room. But the new Ms. Marvel’s significance extends beyond symbolism.
In Kamala Khan, Wilson and Amanat have created a superhero whose patriotism and contributions to Jersey City emerge because of her Muslim heritage, not despite it. She challenges the assumptions many Americans have about Muslims and is a radical departure from how the media tend to depict Muslim-Americans. She shows how Muslim-Americans and immigrants are not forces that threaten communities – as some would argue – but are people who can strengthen and preserve them.
After inhaling a mysterious gas, Kamala Khan discovers she can stretch, enlarge, shrink and otherwise manipulate her body. Like many superheroes, she chooses to keep her identity a secret. She selects the Ms. Marvel moniker in homage to the first Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who has since given up the name in favor of becoming Captain Marvel. Khan cites her family’s safety and her desire to lead a normal life, while also fearing that “the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something.”
As she wrestles with her newfound powers, her parents grow concerned about broken curfews and send her to the local imam for counseling. Rather than reinforcing her parents’ curfew or prying the truth from Khan, though, Sheikh Abdullah says, “I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities benefiting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect.”
Her experience at the mosque becomes an important step on her journey to superheroism. Sheikh Abdullah contributes to her education, as does Wolverine. Islam is not a restrictive force in her story. Instead, the religion models for Khan many of the traits she needs in order to become an effective superhero. When her mother learns the truth about why her daughter is sneaking out, she “thank[s] God for having raised a righteous child.”
The comics paint an accurate portrait of Jersey City. Her brother Aamir is a committed Salafi (a conservative and sometimes controversial branch of Sunni Islam) and member of his university’s Muslim Student Association. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Bruno, works at a corner store and comes from Italian roots. The city’s diversity helps Kamala as she learns to be a more effective superhero. But it also rescues her from being a stand-in for all Muslim-American or Jersey City experiences.
Fighting a ‘war on terror culture’
Kamala’s brown skin and costume – self-fashioned from an old burkini – point to Marvel Comics’ desire to diversify its roster of superheroes (as well as writers and artists). As creator Sana Amanat explained on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” last month, representation is a powerful thing, especially in comics. It matters when readers who feel marginalized can see people like themselves performing heroic acts.
As one of 3.3 million Muslim-Americans, Khan flips the script on what Moustafa Bayoumi, author of “This Muslim American Life,” calls a “war on terror culture” that sees Muslim-Americans “not as complex human being[s] but only as purveyor[s] of possible future violence.”
Bayoumi’s book echoes other studies that detail the heightened suspicion and racial profiling Muslim-Americans have faced since 9/11, whether it’s in the workplace or interactions with the police. Each time there’s been a high-profile terrorist attack, these experiences, coupled with hate crimes and speech, intensify. Political rhetoric – like Donald Trump’s proposal to have a Muslim registry or his lie that thousands of Muslims cheered from Jersey City rooftops after the Twin Towers fell – only fans the flames.
Scholars of media psychology see this suspicion fostered, in part, by negative representations of Muslims in both news media outlets and popular culture, where they are depicted as bloodthirsty terrorists or slavish informants to a non-Muslim hero.
These stereotypes are so entrenched that a single positive Muslim character cannot counteract their effects. In fact, some point to the dangers of “balanced” representations, arguing that confronting stereotypes with wholly positive images only enforces a simplistic division between “good” and “bad” Muslims.
Kamala Khan, however, signals an important development in cultural representations of Muslim-Americans. It’s not just because she is a powerful superhero instead of a terrorist. It’s because she is, at the same time, a clumsy teenager who makes a mountain of mistakes while trying to balance her abilities, school, friends and family. And it’s because Wilson surrounds Kamala with a diverse assortment of characters who demonstrate the array of heroic (and not-so-heroic) actions people can take.
For example, in one of Ms. Marvel’s most powerful narrative arcs, a planet attacks New York, leading to destruction eerily reminiscent of 9/11. Kamala works to protect Jersey City while realizing that her world has changed – and will change – irrevocably.
Carol Danvers appears to fill Kamala in on the gravity of the situation, telling her, “The fate of the world is out of your hands. It always was. But your fate – what you decide to do right now – is still up to you … Today is the day you stand up.” Kamala connects the talk with Sheikh Abdullah’s lectures about the value of one’s deeds, once again linking her superhero and religious training to rise to the occasion. In both cases, the lectures teach Kamala to take a stand to protect her community.
Arriving at the high school gym now serving as a safe haven for Jersey City residents, Kamala realizes her friends and classmates have been inspired by her heroism. They safely transport their neighbors to the gym while outfitting the space with water, food, dance parties and even a “non-denominational, non-judgmental prayer area.” The community response prompts Kamala to realize that “even if things are profoundly not okay, at least we’re not okay together. And even if we don’t always get along, we’re still connected by something you can’t break. Something there isn’t even a word for. Something … beautiful.”
Kamala Khan is precisely the hero America needs today, but not because of a bat sign in the sky or any single definitive image. She is, above all, committed to the idea that every member of her faith, her generation, and her city has value and that their lives should be respected and protected. She demonstrates that the most heroic action is to face even the most despair-inducing challenges of the world head on while standing up for – and empowering – every vulnerable neighbor, classmate or stranger. She shows us how diverse representation can transform into action and organization that connect whole communities “by something you can’t break.”
Hollywood’s still growing in its discussions about diversity in entertainment, and one area the industry is lacking is multifaceted, unique, and contemporary portrayals of Native Americans. Indigenous multimedia documentarian Pamela Peters is aiming to push the conversation into overdrive with her photography exhibit, “Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood.”
The exhibit, which ran this August at These Days gallery in Los Angeles, featured Native actors and writers dressed as ’50s and ’60s star icons like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.
To quote from the exhibit’s page:
REAL NDNZ RE-TAKE HOLLYWOOD showcases photographs from Diné photographer and filmmaker Pamela J. Peters, whose work seeks to disrupt and decolonize clichéd portrayals of Native Americans. This series “re-takes” and recreates classic, iconic portraits of movie stars of yesteryear by replacing those past film icons with contemporary Native American actors. Photographing “Real NDNZ” in the elegant clothes and iconic poses of James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, and others from the classic period of Hollywood film—rather than in the buckskin, feathers, and painted faces featured in most Hollywood films—deconstructs time-worn, demeaning representations and opens up new possibilities for seeing Indigenous peoples as contemporary, creative people.
Peters told AJ+ that her project was aimed squarely at disintegrating society’s stereotype of the Native American.
“For so long, the image of Native Americans has always been the relic of the past, with stereotypes–buckskin, feathers, leather,” she said. “…I really want to dispel that ugly stereotype that many people perceive when they think of Native American.”
— LikeAGirlProductions (@likeagirlinc) November 27, 2016
We’re now living in Trump’s America, which means we’re going to be subject to folks who think they can say racist ish and get away with it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a good comeback when you’re stunned into silence, shocked someone would even say something racist to you for just walking down the street. But the Asian Social Network has created a hashtag called #ChangeWithWords to help us already have some good comebacks locked in our mental banks.
The hashtag was specifically created with young kids in mind. Kids today have no reference point to a time in which people willingly said racist stuff, and these kids need help the most in dealing with these uncertain times.#ChangeWithWords was designed to give people a way to defend themselves as well as give the bully something to think about and, maybe, change their mind about how they interact with people in the future.
Here are some that have already been shared online:
— Judy G just (@judygarci) November 12, 2016
“Wow you speak English really good for an Asian!”
“I speak it well because I, unlike you, understand grammar.”#changewithwords
— ChristineMarie Dixon (@cmldixon) November 12, 2016
White girl: Make America White again!
— Judy G just (@judygarci) November 12, 2016
-Trump’s gonna build that wall! Get your papers ready.
– Really? W/what money? US still owes China trillions. Got money?
— AsianSocialNetwork (@AsianSocialNet) November 13, 2016
– “bet you can’t see with your small eyes!”
— Tommy S. 🐕 (@Haviktrocity) November 12, 2016
If you’ve got some good comebacks you want to share, leave your comments below or, better yet, supply them directly online with the hashtag #ChangeWithWords. You never know who might need your witticisms to help them get through the day.
We’ve got Aladdin. We’ve got Kokoum. We’ve got Shang. We’ve got Kuzco. We’ve got Naveen. We’ve got Maui, who is technically a demigod. But where’s the animated black Disney prince? Inquiring minds want to know, but inquiring minds also want to understand why the majesty of the black man has been erased from Disney’s range of thought.
Disney has had some explaining to do about this issue, but the problem became glaringly apparent with the development of The Princess and The Frog, which included a belabored creation process for the prince character that would eventually become Prince Naveen. Originally, the prince character was going to be, from what I remember, a charismatic “Cary Grant” type. According to the old, old description from The SuperHeroHype forums:
[PRINCE HARRY] A gregarious, fun-loving European Prince, in his early twenties. A young Cary Grant. Charming, witty but irresponsible and immature. Loves jazz. Dialect: British upper-class.
This was met with criticism, because why couldn’t a black prince be created? The other princesses get princes of their own races—why not Tiana? Disney met this criticism by changing Prince Harry to a beige, non-white, but also non-black Prince from…Maldonia? Needle scratch.
Let me already say that this statement goes against the fact that this film, despite its flaws, is a representation of interracial marriage, something that is rare in entertainment. But The Princess and the Frog reveals how Disney failed even that narrative. 1) Why make Naveen from a made-up country? Why have the love interest for the first black Disney princess, a character set in a real place, literally be a person who couldn’t exist in our world (because where is Maldonia? Nowhere.) Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a character from an actual country if Tiana’s from New Orleans? 2) If Disney set out to create a film focusing on an interracial relationship, it would have been nice for them to include such a focus in their marketing plan. The creators never focused on the type of impact such a story could have on its audiences, so they never showcased it in any interviews or press information. They were only focused on marketing the film as the first black Disney princess film. This is not to say that value can’t be taken from The Princess and the Frog having an interracial relationship, but it would have been fantastic if Disney had actually recognized the story they had on their hands (and thus, the story they could have fleshed out and made even better and more meaningful).
The questions I’ve always had are 1) what prevented Disney from creating a black Disney prince, and 2) why have they not created a black Disney prince before? Why are we still relying on The Lion King for the closest thing we have to a black Disney prince?
I thought I’d take to Twitter to ask this question. Here are the results.
Past due & sad. Not that the princes are a main focus. Fact: T'Challa will now be the 1st ever Black Disney prince.
— Damian (@U_Madman) August 13, 2016
I'm not stressed about it. Let the WOC have their shine https://t.co/pTPznTF1mT
— Kennard Can Shoot (@RobVanGotDamn) August 12, 2016
I don't expect anything different. We are not their audience. Never were. https://t.co/uZd4sghTZy
— Tony Snark (@Latinegro) August 12, 2016
For a while I turned away from Disney. Although they're films were entertaining, there wasn't much to get personally excited
— grvph (@GRVPHTE) August 12, 2016
Then I noticed a lack of blk male leads in animation, so I held on to those gems as much as I could
— grvph (@GRVPHTE) August 12, 2016
that and wild ambition is probably why I'm trying to get into the animation field. To inspire underrepresented children….
— grvph (@GRVPHTE) August 12, 2016
….of color that were/are in my situation growing up
— grvph (@GRVPHTE) August 12, 2016
— Emmanuel (@ItsTheRenegade) August 12, 2016
1/? – I started tuning Disney movies out at a very young age. Kind of intuited “I* wasn’t someone they targeted or https://t.co/WNSk7gtjN1
— Lamar Giles (@LRGiles) August 12, 2016
2/? or cared about. But, I became troubled by missing (or derogatory) black boys/men in media when I hit my teens
— Lamar Giles (@LRGiles) August 12, 2016
3/? Got kind of bitter about invisibility. As an aspiring creator (then) I sort of though I wasn’t welcome in media
— Lamar Giles (@LRGiles) August 12, 2016
4/? When I finally discovered good representation in my late teens, it was life changing. My current work was inspired by it
— Lamar Giles (@LRGiles) August 12, 2016
— Lamar Giles (@LRGiles) August 12, 2016
— Lamar Giles (@LRGiles) August 12, 2016
It's annoying. I'm not huge Disney fan but it would be nice to see a person of color that was a Prince
— Jerard Williams (@JD0892) August 12, 2016
the only Disney movie I could relate to is Lion King which made me wonder how did Disney view black ppl
— Jerard Williams (@JD0892) August 12, 2016
its trash and long past due. and its on purpose
— marcussimmonscc (@marcussimmonscc) August 12, 2016
Definitely underreped. But being 💯 the company hasn't seen a financial reason to. "the bottom line" and all that. 🙄 https://t.co/ZtNXLHBaCy
— Halston with an H (@HeyImHalston) August 12, 2016
I don't feel anything about it. The "prince" isn't really an archetype I aspire to… pic.twitter.com/2EkWf1hK8U
— flesh-colored (@haitreason) August 12, 2016
I'm not going to lie, I'm not really bothered by it because I never really thought about it.
— dat boi dave (@superhausdraws) August 11, 2016
I do think it's way past due, & a detriment considering Black animators' impact on the studio like Floyd Norman
— AudacityOfHope (@infinitewords14) August 11, 2016
I thought about it more with The Princess and The Frog..makes you wonder how much focus if any is towards making it happen.
— AudacityOfHope (@infinitewords14) August 11, 2016
it's really removed me from their stories with ppl in them. I steer toward animal based titles like Lion King
— Ira (@IraHobbsJr) August 11, 2016
& I think it also did alot in my formative years to instill that black men didn't even exist in those kind of universes.
— Ira (@IraHobbsJr) August 11, 2016
As it turns out, that while there are some men who aren’t particularly moved by the lack of a black animated Disney prince, there are many others who are upset, to say the least, about the lack of a black Disney prince.
Disney’s silence on not creating a black Disney prince reflects how America at large views black men, black masculinity, and the desirability of black males.
1. Black masculinity is still seen as dangerous: It is telling that the only black man that exists throughout the entirety of the film is Doctor Facilier. If you recall, Tiana’s father, the black man that is a good father, good husband, and all-around upstanding guy, dies during Tiana’s childhood. First, there’s the question of why Disney would even hire a big name like Terrence Howard to say just a couple of lines. But the more serious question is why does Disney feel more comfortable seeing black male villainy on screen rather than a positive portrayal of black fatherhood and manhood?
Despite the fact that Doctor Facilier was designed to be scrawny (and that Disney decided to hire their former long-time animator and Jambalaya Studios creator Bruce W. Smith to oversee his design in order to give the film representation behind the scenes), Doctor Facilier still embodies latent ideas that could be in the subconscious of the film’s white creators and are definitely in the collective consciousness of America at large. On the whole, America still treats black people, uniquely black men, as inherent, born criminals. There’s still a dangerousness that people expect from black men, which explains why so many black men have been stopped by police no bogus claims, thrown in jail for petty crimes (or no crime at all), or killed at the hands of police, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. This idea of “dangerousness” is also inherent in the amount of Latino and Native American men killed by police; there seems to be an “us against them” mentality with some police officers, and that’s not how policing is supposed to be.
The idea of dangerousness goes all the way back to slavery. I wrote in my Michael Brown post that Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others like them have been killed at the ages that they would have been sold for the highest price if they existed during slavery times. That age range is also the same range that they would be (and have been) considered the most dangerous.
Even much of the language used to describe Brown, Martin, and others depict a stereotype of savagery and fear in the mind of the killer. Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, called Brown a “demon” and as someone who was basically hulking up the more he got shot. George Zimmerman described himself as being in fear for his life. That narrative goes back to the idea that black men are brutes that need to be broken like horses, otherwise, they provide a danger for “good” people.
If a black man is considered dangerous by America, then could America accept the idea of a black prince? Could a positive portrayal of a black prince exist in a culture that still fears a section of its citizens? I implore Disney to disrupt the stereotypes facing black men by creating such a character.
2. Black wealth is a buried secret in America: Like how outsiders simply view Rio’s black population as living in favelas, America itself still views its black people as living in poverty. Such an idea is clearly not true, but it’s an idea that still resonates with America’s racist view of black Americans. Just look at how Donald Trump is trying to win over black Americans–by telling them they’re in poverty, they have no jobs, and they’re surrounded by crime. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asks. A LOT.
But if we look at American history as a whole, there has been black wealth. Take for instance Greenwood, the area of Tulsa, OK called “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. That area was then burned down in 1921 in what is called the Tulsa race riot, which was started by neighboring white citizens who felt Greenwood was growing in status and political clout. They felt that to secure their own hold on American wealth and politics, they had to burn down a positive representation of black success.
African-American culture is also removed from pan-African culture, which holds the history of many black princes, generals, etc. The richest man in the world of all time is 14th century African prince Mansa Musa. However, such history, including American history such as the Tulsa race riot, aren’t taught in school.
With such representations of black wealth destroyed, the myth has persisted that black wealth–and therefore, rich black people–doesn’t exist. Such thinking could have taken place when it came to the idea of creating Tiana’s prince. Did the team behind the film not consider the fact that there have been and are, indeed, wealthy black people? Or did they think that was impossible?
3. Black men are seen as unfeeling and emotionless: Again, to go back to slavery, black people were considered to have no feelings at all, thereby partially justifying slavery in the minds of white Americans at the time. Stereotypes like the smiling Sambo and the brutish, hypersexual creature who lives to take white women portray black men in two dynamics, both of which being untrue; either they’re cartoonish buffoons without realistic cares, or they’re an insatiable animal.
There’s also another reason black men are seen as emotionless: the emotional toll some black families put on their black men. Many boys are taught growing up that it’s not okay to show emotion, especially cry. To “be a man,” it’s thought that bottling emotions is the way to go, because showing emotions is “girl stuff.” However, the double whammy of society and familial pressures affects black men in a way that I feel is still unexplored in modern media.
In Disney animated films, we often see princes with a wide range of emotions. Aladdin’s entire story focused on his emotions about being a “streetrat” hoping to impress Princess Jasmine. Tarzan’s story is a classic coming-of-age tale. Shang, a captain in the army, has to deal with the pressures of leading a battalion to glory while processing the death of his father (a moment that probably happens too quickly in the film). Kokoum, who doesn’t express much emotion (which is also a stereotype of the Native Brave), shows reverence for Pocahontas, concern over her safety, and eventual anger at what he thought was John Smith taking advantage of Pocahontas. Even Eric, who is possibly the most wooden Disney prince of all time, has a couple of moments of feeling, even if it’s just confusion as to who rescued him. If Disney created a black prince, would they be able to give him the emotional beats he deserves?
Which leads me to the final point:
4. Disney’s think-tank doesn’t understand the black male experience (and of course they wouldn’t): John Lasseter and his crew have an inclusion issue that must be addressed. Why is it that there isn’t a person of color in these higher ranks? Why is it that Disney acts like Silicon Valley in how they exclude POC voices in its animation ranks? ABC, Lucasfilm, and now even Marvel seem to have a grasp on the idea of including diversity to meet audience demands. Disney, the parent company, still lags behind.
Do I think Disney would eventually make a black prince? Perhaps. But do I think they could really make a black prince that speaks to the black experience on a macro-scale? No. I recommend for Disney to hire black male animators into their ranks, and specifically hire thinkers and, as they call folks, “dreamers” who can be given carte blanche to direct films, much like how they give themselves carte blanche to create films. If a Cars franchise can be created, then an animated film starring a black Disney prince, a film created with sensitivity, intelligence, and a root in the black experience, can be created as well.
What do you think about this? Give your opinions in the comments section below, and if you give your opinions in Twitter, use the hashtag #BlackDisneyPrince. The more people who comment and hashtag, the higher the chances Disney might actually see this post and our hope for a black Disney prince might come closer to a reality!
JUST ADD COLOR is known as a place that discusses representation in entertainment. But let’s be honest; there are a lot of sites and online personalities that discuss representation in entertainment. And even though my biggest interest is in how entertainment highlights Americans of all backgrounds, I’m even more interested in how those of us that aren’t always represented still manage to find ourselves and our voices, despite society telling us we shouldn’t even bother.
If I may be a little transparent here, I have to say that I’m surprised other sites who do focus on representation, particularly race, in entertainment haven’t focused on cultivating self-worth just as fiercely. It’s one thing to talk about what’s wrong with representation, and it’s another to discuss that as well as give examples and tips on how to combat the depression and isolation that comes with being weighed down by stereotypes. I wish there was a site that helped me overcome my issues growing up, so with that in mind, I’d like to provide that kind of a site to others. Thus, the introduction to a new permanent part of my site, #RepresentYourStory.
I’ll start off the #RepresentYourStory initiative with myself. I am a black woman who has had to face her share of colorism, hair politics, and general odd treatment growing up. As I’ve told Shaun from the “No, Totally” podcast, I might not be the lightest person in the world, but I’ve still felt like I’ve been given “light-skinned privileges” for other reasons beyond my skin color.
The stereotypical image of a black girl is one that unfortunately still seems to relate back to the “pickaninny”, a stereotype that vilifies black children, especially those with darker skin and coarser hair. I, on the other hand, was born with long, thick, medium-grade hair, and I’ve had to field questions of “Is that your real hair?” to people literally praising me solely because of my hair. Some folks even thought I wasn’t black because I had long, loose (and at that time, permed straight) hair. People have wanted to separate me from my African-American heritage because of my hair, declaring me to be French, Caribbean, Indian and so forth. That kind of attention made me feel really strange growing up, like I was a freak. I don’t like being made to feel like I’m somehow better just because of how I look, since anyone, regardless of their skin color or hair texture, can be beautiful. Top it off with the fact that, apparently, I am a highly sensitive person, something I don’t think many teachers expected from a child in general, much less a black child. I have always dealt with being the odd person out in many different scenarios.
In short, I’ve grown up often feeling like a token, especially in my mostly-white high school (the first time I’d been in a mostly-white environment); because I didn’t act in accordance to people’s narrow definitions of black behavior, I was automatically given other privileges and allocations and, in many ways, placed closer to whiteness. Meanwhile, other black kids in high school would look at me strange, as if I’d done something wrong, when I’d never asked for the treatment I was given. The irony is that I’m one of the most black-focused people there are, with a love for my blackness instilled in me by my mother. You can listen to me talk about my life on Shaun’s podcast here:
I resented being thought of as a token then, and I especially resent it now, since social media is, in many ways, like another big high school. There are many gatekeepers to what it means to “be black” on the internet, and I often don’t fit the bill for what their version of “blackness” entails. Having come up against that type of thinking on the internet in a very personal way, I have little patience for black folks telling other black folks how they should or shouldn’t think in order to be accepted as “black.”
It was only until a few years ago, particularly when I started my journey into owning a website, that I began to find myself and my voice. I realized that I didn’t have to feel weird because of my sensitivity, my hair, or how people viewed me. The baggage folks were placing on me wasn’t a reflection of me; it was a reflection of their own insecurities with themselves as well as their own narrow view of what blackness can be. I’ve always been a person who didn’t follow the crowd, but now I know there is a true strength in not being part of the flock of society. Being different is not a weakness. Being different is a strength if you can value the insight there is in being different, and if you have the internal fortitude it takes to own that difference. I admit that I didn’t always have that kind of fortitude. To be honest, there are days when I’m still not up to snuff 100 percent. But I’d rather be myself, be different, and own my self-worth than try to portray everything to everyone else.
So now that I’ve given my story, I want to read yours. How do you represent your story? What affected you growing up or later in life? What advice do you have for others who might need the same advice you needed years ago? Tell me about it! You can either submit a short article to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you need help getting started, you can fill out my #RepresentYourStory questionnaire, and I’ll write an article based on your responses. If you love the #RepresentYourStory initiative, share it with everyone you know!
Either way, we can all help each other heal our wounds society has given us if we have the courage to be transparent, honest, and empathetic. Regardless of how we portray ourselves on social media, we all aren’t perfect; we’ve all had hills to climb in life. But we can all show each other the way by saying, “I’ve been there, too.”
Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange are two of the latest in a litany of projects in Hollywood that have whitewashed and otherwise erased Asian identity from film. The films have been an issue for as much as a year in advance (or, in Ghost in the Shell’s case, longer) before their initial releases, meaning worry for the respective studios and mounting anger for fans and moviegoers who want an authentic and culturally respectful film experience.
Each film has its many problems, but to give a short overview of what’s plaguing these films, here are the bulleted points:
Ghost in the Shell
• Scarlett Johansson cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi (now just called “The Major” in the film, possibly the first clue that the film is not only wiping away the main character’s Japanese racial identity, but also the property’s inherent ties to Japan’s post-World War II tech boom).
•According to ScreenCrush’s source, Paramount allegedly hired visual fx company Lola VFX to create a Japanese filter for a character, probably Johansson’s Major. Paramount maintains that the fx filter was for a background character and never for the Major, but the fact remains that Paramount engaged in yellowface, regardless of who the character is.
• Sam Yoshiba, the director of Kodansha’s international business division (based in Tokyo), states that he’s fine with Johansson as The Major and that this is a great opportunity for a Japanese property to make it to the international (i.e. American) market. (which has rights to the Ghost in the Shell property). According to Kotaku, Yoshiba told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” Yoshiba also told The Hollywood Reporter that “he was impressed by the respect being shown for the source material.”
• Max Landis, the screenwriter of American Ultra, released a video condemning the casting, but also states in his video (as reported by Entertainment Weekly), “The only reason to be upset about Scalrett Johansson being in Ghost in the Shell is if you don’t know how the movie industry works.” He also stated that outraged fans are “mad at the wrong people,” stating that the problem isn’t with parties such as Johansson, the studio or the director, but with the film industry itself. He also argues a point that many would disagree with—that there’s a dearth of big names in film. “As recently as about 10 years ago, there stopped being big stars,” he said. “There are fewer and fewer stars who mean anything.” Not true.
Meanwhile, the internet took matters into their own hands by fancasting Rinko Kikuchi, from Pacific Rim, as Kusanagi. What’s heavily ironic is that it seems like the costuming/hair department took direct inspiration from Kikuchi’s Pacific Rim character Mako Mori when designing The Major for the big screen.
How the Ghost in the Shell remake would have looked if Rinko Kikuchi was cast as Major Kusanagi (artist unknown) pic.twitter.com/f5sIPln4A3
— Samuel Dore (@Bursteardrum) April 18, 2016
• A video features Japanese participants talking about the Ghost in the Shell controversy. The throughline of the video is that the people interviewed don’t see a problem with Johansson as The Major. But now the video is being used by pro-Ghost in the Shell movie fans to denigrate those, particularly Asian Americans, who are against Johansson as The Major.
•Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu invokes the term “blackface” when discussing the Ghost in the Shell casting controversy, making people upset.
The statement was made during a panel including Wu, Ming-Na Wen, Joan Chen, and Lynn Chen, moderated by Teddy Zee. “It was particularly heinous because they ran CGI tests to make her look Asian,” said Wu. “Some people call it ‘yellowface,’ but I say ‘the practice of balckface employed on Asians’ because that’s more evocative.” She also said the special effects tests “reduces our race and ethnicity to mere physical appearance, when our race and culture are so much deeper than how we look.”
Before the conference, Wen had tweeted about Johansson’s casting, writing, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.”
• Tilda Swinton is cast as The Ancient One, originally a Tibetian character as well as an antiquated stereotype of an Asian mystic. Swinton was cast as a way to create a more updated, non-stereotypical version of the character, and while casting a woman is a unique decision for the character, the casting also erases the character’s original Asian roots. Check her out in the trailer:
(Personal commentary: aside from Swinton as a jarring Ancient One, hearing Benedict Cumberbatch with an nasally American accent is…upsetting.)
•Swinton tells Den of Geek that when she was approached to do the character, she was never told that she was playing an Asian man. “The script I was presented with did not feature an Asian man for me to play, so that was never a question when I was being asked to do it. It will all be revealed when you see the film, I think. There are very great reasons for us to feel very settled and confident with the decisions that were made.”
• C. Robert Cargill, the co-screenwriter for Dr. Strange, tells his friends, film reviewers and hosts of movie review/comedy show Double Toasted Korey Coleman and Martin Thomas, about the process he took in remaking The Ancient One. In his words, he didn’t want to offend China with a Tibetan character. (Discussion occurs around the 18 minute mark.)
However, Cargill later clarified his comments on Twitter, since his original comments suggest that he and Marvel were of the same mind about the Tibet-China situation. “CLARIFICATION: that interview answer going around was to a question from a fan specifically about MY JUSTIFICATION, not Marvel’s…FOR THE RECORD: no one at Marvel or with the film ever talked to me about China, so contrary to headlines, I didn’t confirm anything.”
Entertainment Weekly also states that the film version of The Ancient One is now based in Nepal, which makes it even more confusing as to why a non-Asian actress was chosen.
• Marvel releases a statement about their record of inclusion, obtained by PEOPLE.
“Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.”
One could say their statement features many fictional statements as far as their film universe goes, because the MCU is still not diverse enough in terms of race, gender, and sexuality.
These are a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot to parse through. At first, I was going to write a post providing my point of view, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I, a black woman, might want to sit this one out. I’ve written on entertainment moves affecting Asian Americans before, but let’s be honest; I’m not Asian, and I’m not about to wade in any “honorary Asian” waters, especially with how nuanced the issues surrounding these films have become. Instead, I thought I’d ask some of my online buddies if I could interview them about their opinions on these films.
Keith Chow is the creator and head of The Nerds of Color, a site focusing on the nerdy side of entertainment, but from the perspective of POC and other marginalized peoples. Claire Lanay is the new weekend co-host of podcast Afronerd Radio and CEO of Renegade Nerd Entertainment. I was happy to interview them both via email and break down just what people needed to understand about the lack of foresight and sensitivity that went into the creation of the Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange movies.
What were your initial reactions to the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One and Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi?
Chow: I think like most folks, I was disappointed but not surprised. It’s hard to believe that whitewashing is still considered acceptable practice in Hollywood, and these castings are no exception. But in light of the outrage (and lack of box office) that movies like Aloha and Gods of Egypt engendered, you’d think the studios would start taking the hint.
Lanay: Initially, I was mildly annoyed yet amused by Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One…I tried to play devil’s advocate and ask myself what discussions led to this outcome? Similar to the problems with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, many of these comic book characters were created several decades ago and are inherently racist. Other properties were created as a result of cultural appropriation which has now become a recognizable trope in it of itself i.e. White guy learns the ways of the East, masters it in a day and is better suited to unlock the wisdom, magic and skills of these mystic teachings in a manner the savage natives never could – Iron Fist, anyone?
So why switch The Ancient One from a Tibetan man to a British woman? Could the reason have been that without including another female character, the film would look the way most movies, comic book or otherwise, do – a sausage fest? OK fine. Let’s make her a woman.
I half-jokingly tell my friends that Hollywood has an unspoken rule about not allowing more than one person per color per movie or TV show (if at all). On the rare occasions there is more than one person per color, they’re usually a minor/expendable character and therefore, the first to get killed off…Unless you’re Empire or Blackish, you can’t have more than one black character…Doctor Strange has Benedict Wong playing the servant. They have Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Baron Mordo. So, of course, they most certainly cannot have another POC playing the Ancient One. Heavens, no! Too many minorities! I may not like Hollywood’s twisted logic and how they conduct ethnic/gender musical chairs to feign balance or political correctness, but I’ve grown accustomed to it.
Now that they’re saying the reason why the character isn’t Tibetan is because it would piss off China… I’m right back to square one asking “WTF?” Here I was trying my hardest to understand their reasoning and then they go throwing me for a loop with their mental gymnastics in a weak attempt to rationalize whitewashing. Just because you don’t want the character to be Tibetan doesn’t mean the character cannot be Asian. Would The Ancient One originally have announced him/herself as Tibetan? If they’re so worried about making all that Chinese dough… why not make the character Chinese? Have him/her speak Mandarin. Have him/her walk around with a large neon sign that says “Made in China”.
They’re implying that in order to avoid offending other cultures, they have to erase them. Are they so lazy that they are not willing to put any thought into how they could modernize these POC characters for today’s audience?
As for Ghost in the Shell, here are some thoughts I had in regards to Max Landis’ comments:
To make a blanket statement that there are no Asian A-List actors, well yeah, if Asians are not even allowed to play Asian, then I don’t see how it would be possible for them to be visible enough to become A-list. That’s not by accident, that’s by design.
The other thing that was mentioned was that there are no Asian actors capable of getting a movie greenlit… See the highlighted movies on this list [in this article’s inset]. [Most] fail, flop, bomb. Yet, nothing changes. I’m starting to wonder if they ever will…Scarlett Johansson is playing a character named Motoko Kusanagi. It baffles my mind that there are people who don’t see this as offensive.
Marvel has had a long-standing issue with casting for a certain demo; i.e. casting all male leads except for the Black Panther as a white male (even more specifically, a white male with either dark or blonde hair and a “dudebro”-ish attitude, even if the character wasn’t originally written that way). Marvel has no Asian superheroes, and the chance they could have had to give representation, with Iron Fist, was missed [for more information on Iron Fist and the lack of Asian representation, visit The Nerds of Color and Twitter hashtag #AAIronFist]. With that said, how do you feel Marvel should have tackled The Ancient One?
Chow: The problem is that Marvel, like a lot of people, assume whiteness is the default. So when they encounter tricky ethnic characters (i.e., stereotypes) like the Mandarin or the Ancient One, their solution is to remove that character’s race and think they’re doing us a favor. I said this during the whole #AAIronFist thing, but the way you deal with negative racial stereotypes isn’t to erase race from the equation, just write the character better. In the case of the Ancient One, just make the character not one-dimensional, and he/she could still have been Asian.
I guarantee an actress of Tilda Swinton’s caliber would not have taken the role if it was one-note. So why not afford that opportunity to an actress of color? Better yet, if you had to racebend Ancient One (for fear of Chinese censors or whatever) then don’t cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange! Can you imagine someone like Sendhil Ramamurthy or Naveen Andrews in the role? Hell, I would have been happy with Keanu Reeves (who was rumored). But they cast the whitest man in the world? Come on now.
Lanay: Wasn’t anybody out there the least bit curious as to what George Takei could have done with The Ancient One? Ken Watanabe? Chow Yun-Fat?…How about Michelle Yeoh? Joan Chen? Gong Li? Bai Ling?
I’ve had so many heated debates and arguments with people about Iron Fist. The argument for keeping Danny Rand white is that “it’s what the author intended for how that character’s story should be told”. According to that logic, we should stay 100 percent true to the original cannon and lore even if that means 80-plus years of American comic book history has primarily only given us white male leading characters as the hero and a handful of female/POC characters seen mostly as sidekicks, background or filler.
Recall, if you will, Michelle Rodriguez’s comments after Michael B. Jordan was cast as Human Torch and Jason Momoa was cast as Aquaman – “Stop stealing the white people’s characters and make some of your own”. As if no one has tried? Even if I understood why it’s bemoaned when a POC is cast as a character originally envisioned as white, why is it ok to “steal” our characters who were specifically created to be of color?
As much as I like and respect Marvel, I am truly disheartened by their approach to this issue. They rather avoid it than face it head on. For a company whose brand is kick-assery and bravery, this looks cowardly. Am I surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes. Captain America: Civil War will be their 14th film and only now are they barely getting Black Panther and Captain Marvel on the film schedule.
I will say that they do seem to be putting in a concerted effort on the TV side. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the wonderful Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May and Chloe Bennet’s Daisy Johnson (nee Skye) has addressed her bi-racial parentage. I’m pleased to see that has been acknowledged since other hapa actresses such as Kristin Kreuk have played fully white characters on shows like Smallville.
Dr. Strange, as a comic book series, draws its inspiration from the 1930s radio series Chandu the Magician, which also features a white man receiving mystic instruction from an Asian teacher, this time an Indian yogi. With all of the stereotypical Asian mysticism Dr. Strange is based in, how do you feel the film should have been approached (despite the fact that we haven’t seen the full movie)? With Benedict Cumberbatch playing Dr. Strange and set pictures featuring non-Asian actors in Asian locations and in Tibetian monk-esque clothes, how do you feel about the appropriation factor of the film?
Chow: It’s the same problem with Iron Fist, Doctor Strange is another example of the white man goes to the Orient for enlightenment trope. It’s so obvious that people’s reaction to the trailer was “Didn’t we already see this in Batman Begins? And I’d answer, yeah, you’ve seen it in every movie! At this point, Hollywood should start casting more POC leads just to stand out from the pack. Studies have already proven those films make more money anyway. But Strange and Iron Fist and even Daredevil prove Hollywood only thinks of Asians as set decoration and not human beings.
Lanay: I do not deny they have a very talented roster. I’m a Sherlock fan, so I don’t doubt Cumberbatch will bring something interesting to the role. Tilda Swinton also played a role originally meant for a male in the movie Snowpiercer. Her bizarre character was in no way defined by gender or race regardless of the fact the movie was directed by a Korean or that the story was based on a French graphic novel. Swinton’s look is androgynous, unique and has always benefited her with sci-fi roles. For all we know, she’ll be utterly fascinating to watch in Doctor Strange.
As for them playing dress up in monk-esque attire? Appropriation is unavoidable. I’ll say this – I have a problem with folks using all of my toys but not allowing me to play with them.
Swinton has come out and said that the way she was approached for the role was never under the guise that she was playing an Asian man and that she’s confident in how she’s portrayed the character in the film. How do you feel about her statement? Also, what do you think about the compounded problem Marvel has created by whitewashing a character, yet adding diversity by making the character a woman?
Chow: It could have been a woman of color. Just because they gender bent the character doesn’t give them a pass if they’re still being racist. If they were going to change the character, and not make him “Asian,” then what’s with all the orientalism in the setting? Even then, it’s still wrong because they’ve taken yet another POC character and erased him from existence.
That goes back to what I said earlier, she may not be “playing Asian” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t whitewash the character. They still took an originally Asian character and bent over backwards to come up with a reason for why said character had to be played by a white person. This is the double standard that’s the most frustrating. When I called for an Asian American actor to play Danny Rand, I had to come up with every justifiable reason for the suggestion, how an Asian American would not alter the character whatsoever. But white folks are like “just shave your head, it’s all good.”
|Hollywood’s History of Whitewashed Asian Films (as provided by Claire Lanay)|
Ghost in the Shell is, as Jon Tsuei has written on Twitter, an inherently Japanese story, but now the history is probably getting taken out of the film. Do you think the film is on the path of ignoring some of the historical and cultural elements that makes Ghost in the Shell as provocative as it is?
Lanay: If that’s the case, then why call it Ghost in the Shell? If you’re going to remove the character’s backstory and culture, then call it something else. At least Tom Cruise and Doug Liman understood that when they were making ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. It was an American adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill. They weren’t going to be idiots and keep the same title, the same character names and the same history. Would you buy Tom Cruise playing a character named Keiji Kiriya?
The publisher of Kodansha has stated that he sees nothing wrong with Johansson playing Kusanagi, and quite a few Japanese movie goers have expressed the opinion of not going to see the movie anyway. What does this tell you about how the international market, particularly the Asian market, might accept or reject this film?
Chow: The way we view and discuss race in America is very different than how people in other countries view and discuss race. Japan has its own issues with how it views race and ethnicity that is irrelevant to Asian Americans in America.
To be blunt, folks in Japan or China might flock to the movie. Who knows? But that isn’t the problem. My advocating for Asian American actors has nothing to do with Chinese moviegoers, to be honest. China has its own movie industry with its own stars. There are a billion and a half Chinese people in the world. In China, “representation” of Chinese faces isn’t an issue. That is not what’s happening here, however. We [in America] have to move away from this idea that Asians in America are all foreign. Going back to Iron Fist, the whole gist of my original essay was to prove that we too are American. Why does “westernizing” something automatically require casting white people? This is the question I want people to ask themselves.
Lanay: The reason why a lot of folks in Japan are not upset about Johansson’s casting in Ghost in the Shell is because they already have their own media infrastructure. They already have their own, actors, singers, dancers, writers, producers, directors. They already have their own content made for them by them. So they don’t really care about one movie with one white actress. In this country, Hollywood gives us less than a handful of opportunities to see ourselves represented in movies and television, so of course we’re clamoring for whatever crumbs and scraps are tossed our way. The rest of the world soaks up our content, but we don’t promote or watch content from the rest of the world. That makes seeing diversity in American media all the more important to POC in this country because it’s such a rarity.
Do I think it’ll do as well as Lucy? Doubtful. Do I think a Black Widow movie would be the better option for Johansson? Absolutely! She’s not hard up for cash or some struggling actress trying to make her big break. She didn’t have to say yes to Ghost in the Shell.
I want to see Doctor Strange. Controversy aside, I am a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I’ll take a look at Iron Fist since I’ve enjoyed watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Even though the nasty discourse has left a bad taste in my mouth, I’m very curious to see how they build towards The Defenders. Can’t wait to see Luke Cage! Will I watch Ghost in the Shell? Nah, I’ll be skipping that one.
Recently, several actresses of Asian descent have called The Major “blackface,” launching another layer to the outrage. Do you think about the controversy over calling such casting “blackface,” despite the term “yellowface” in existence?
Chow: Yeah, I cringed when I saw that report. I in no way condone the analogy, primarily because yellowface is an offensive and racist enough practice on its own — but I get why Constance felt she had to make it. One of the problems is that most people think race in America is binary. This has always been part of the struggle for Asian Americans when discussing race in that context.
Often in matters of race, Asian Americans are only perceived depending on their relation to whiteness or blackness. But I don’t think that excuses co-opting black struggle to make a point. I think as a community we have to be mindful about how we coalition build and support one another without being anti-black in the process. This is why the backlash against #OscarsSoWhite was disheartening. This was an example of a pan-ethnic protest against the industry’s overwhelming whiteness, but for whatever reason non-black POCs thought their issues were being ignored. It didn’t help that during the telecast aired, Asians were still openly mocked.
So I understand the frustration and feeling like you’re invisible. But we shouldn’t criticize others for not standing up for us if we don’t first stand up for ourselves. This is why I’m working with Ellen Oh (of #WeNeedDiverseBooks fame) to launch a campaign to bring even more attention to the racist practice of whitewashing. We’ll be attempting to take to social media on May 3 with the hashtag #WhitewashedOUT. I’ll have more details on that soon[click here for that information].
Lanay: As someone who was fortunate enough to grow up with friends and influences of all backgrounds… As someone who has so much love and respect for the African American community… As someone who is deeply proud to call many intelligent, creative, beautiful Black people my friends… I’m very troubled by Constance Wu’s choice to use the term “blackface” over the term “yellowface” in regards to what we’re discussing here. She specifically said “blackface” because she thought it would be more “evocative”.
While I fully appreciate the outrage towards her comments, I have some idea of where she’s coming from. During the Oscars telecast, Chris Rock did a fine job of addressing the #OscarsSoWhite elephant in the room. So all the more reason people in the Asian community were upset and insulted by three little Asian kids being paraded on stage to make fun of their own kind. Can’t forget Sacha Baron Cohen’s “little yellow people with the tiny dicks” joke.
While I deem her tone to be a little aggressive or hostile, I can understand why Wu and many others were incensed by these jokes during a show that was basically hammering diversity down people’s throats. Yes, there were no Black nominees. There were no Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Disabled, or LGBT ones either (as far as I know).
…When I came across the “blackface” comment, my first thought was: “Why all of the sudden, are Asians getting angry now? Why weren’t they speaking out and standing up when we were getting disrespected or excluded before?” I was starting to feel like I was the only Asian-American who gave a damn. Why are the rest of them so late to the party?
…I’m bothered by Wu’s comments because it reinforces the divide amongst POC. We should be working together. It’s bad enough that we keep falling into the trap of begging Hollywood for a seat at the table and trying to convince white people of our worth without us turning on each other too.
What do you want Hollywood to learn from these casting debacles?
Chow: Mainly that white people are not the only people in the world. I wan the studios to understand that having non-white people in a movie can actually be a good thing. But mostly, I want there to be more opportunity for actors of color.
Lanay: The studio executives don’t view these decisions as debacles. They’re not listening. They don’t care. They wanted to cast name-actors, so they did. White is the standard of beauty. White is the grade for which excellence is measured. White is the default setting. Anything outside of that is seen as an abnormality.
Rinko Kikuchi is an academy award-nominated actress for her role in Babel. She’s already in the nerd-sphere starring in projects like Pacific Rim. Tao Okamoto is a supermodel in Japan. She was in The Wolverine and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I bet you anything, these women weren’t even considered. I bet you no Asian actress was considered for Ghost in the Shell.
There have been plenty of white-starred movies that have failed. There have been plenty of diverse-starred movies that have succeeded. Hollywood learns nothing. The outliers who take risks and go against conventional wisdom are the ones who will instill change… eventually. I hope I’m still around to see that change. Scratch that. I am going to be part of that change. ♦
The controversy surrounding these films are needed, and the conversations they’re starting are necessary. If Hollywood is really going to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to proper representation, two of the first places to start are finally ending the practices whitewashing and yellowface. When a group of people grow up hardly ever seeing themselves on-screen, that causes serious psychological, social, and cultural repercussions. Ending these practices and representing people fairly on-screen would allow for everyone to feel accepted and like they are a valued part of America. Lanay states this point best:
“For a long time, I hated being Asian. I hated the way I looked. I hated not getting the auditions I wanted. I hated not being taken seriously. My mother would always tell me not to make waves. With all due respect – F*ck that sh*t! I’m making some damn waves! Nobody should feel like they were born in the wrong skin. Nobody should feel ashamed for being what they are.”
Other articles to check out:
N.O.C. One-Shot: Whitewashing in Black and Yellow| The Nerds of Color
Some Thoughts on Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell|The Nerds of Color
What a Shitty Week to be an Asian American Woman in Hollywood|The Nerds of Color
Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?|New York Times
Like a lot of sites focusing on diversity in the media, JUST ADD COLOR highlights a lot of stories about being defined by labels, particularly bad ones. So much in or society is dominated by how others see us and how each of us are portrayed in the media. That can do a lot of damage to a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. But with all of the labeling that happens in a lifetime, how about living beyond those stereotype-laden labels that limit us? In other words, how do we find our self-worth, despite the messaging we’ve received? #BeyondtheLabels will highlight how people who are considered “outsiders” by the media—because of race, gender, weight/size, sexuality, ability, mental health, etc.—have rediscovered their self-worth and self-acceptance.
Fashion blogger Freddie Harrel combines her love for style with her passion for helping others gain self-confidence because of her own past struggles self acceptance. Her story reminds me of the stories many women of color, black women in particular, have when it comes to accepting their hair, being told by others they were pretty “for a black girl,” and consistently being put down by the mean-spirited and well-meaning alike. Her story is also familiar to me because, like me and many other women of color, she went to a school where she was the minority. Being put in a situation of being the only black person in an institution is stressful enough, but having to deal with both outward and unspoken discrimination is even more taxing on a teenager’s mental growth into adulthood.
Her moment of clarity came after years of trying to fit in. “Before I am a woman, before I am black, I am Freddie,” she said. “…In a really non-arrogant way, I think that’s amazing. I can’t believe I’ve missed that in so many years.”
Instead of me describing her story, just watch this video, created by Stylelikeu’s “What’s Underneath Project: London.”
Gods of Egypt is already Hollywood’s first flop, but it’s more than that. It’s a rallying cry for those who know how important it is for whitewashing to end. (However, quiet as it’s kept, Gods of Egypt is also a rallying cry for those who just like good movies; have you seen the awful special effects?)
When a bad movie comes out, you can expect hilarious, gleefully-written reviews, and the reviews for Gods of Egypt have been no different. Here are just 10 of the funniest ones.
“It tries so hard…and ultimately achieves so little.” —Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
[W]hat raises Gods of Egypt above all other historically botched FX epics is the stupefying schlock of its visual effects, from Ra’s shoddy starship to the digital monsters that take shape lie something out of Video [Apps] for Dummies. Come back, Clash of the Titans, all is forgiven. —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“In all honesty, the highlight of this two hour dumpster fire is Horus yelling, “IT’S LETTUCE!” at the top of his lungs because it’s as if the film is recognizing how ridiculous all of this is. “—Chris Sawin, Examiner
“Here is a film about Egyptian gods, where the entire primary cast is white, except for a token appearance by Chadwick Boseman I can only imagine the producers could never have predicted their release date would coincide with Oscar weekend, where the diversity issue has taken Hollywood by storm. That said, a diverse cast could not have saved this train wreck.”—Julian Roman, MovieWeb
“When the first trailer for Gods of Egypt emerged last year, it seemed to have the opposite of its intended effect: It advertised how bad the movie was going to be.”—Peter Suderman, Vox
“The movie most likely to be airburshed onto the side of a van…is so ridiculously outlandish that it couldn’t possibly be tied to anything in reality, so it’s unfortunate that it borrowed a real place as a loose setting.”—Katie Walsh, The Columbus Dispatch
“As one character puts it, “If I ever attempted to explain, your brain would liquefy and run out of your ears.”—Kyle Smith, New York Post
“If Gods of Egypt had been set against a mystical backdrop not based in reality, it might have been easier to forgive the fact that its gods are essentially Iron Man mixed with Power Rangers.”—Terri Schwartz, IGN
“Imagine the worst costume epic imaginable. Imagine no more. It exists.”—Soren Andersen, The Seattle Times
“As the film totters to its predictable finale, the closing moments set up a sequel, a prospect far more terrifying than anything we’ve just seen.”—Anna King, Time Out
If you saw Gods of Egypt, what did you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
1. Chris Rock made everyone uncomfortable, and rightly so.
For a full month, I was on the edge of my seat waiting on what Rock would have to say, and I wasn’t disappointed. Rock is known for going for the jugular, and during the Oscars, he not only went for the jugular, but he went for all the major arteries in Hollywood’s body with glee. He made fun of everything, including Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith just being mad because Will Smith wasn’t up for Concussion (remember how Pinkett Smith started the boycott talk?) and the Oscars itself, calling it the “White People’s Choice Awards.”
Rock was put in a very difficult position to post the awards show in the midst of controversy, but he seemed more than up to the task. Even with all of the insults and jabs he leveled at Hollywood and those in the audience, I have a feeling we saw Rock holding back. If he really wanted to make people mad with the truth, he’d know exactly how to do it. But coming on stage with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” playing in the background, telling a room full of the Hollywood elite that Hollywood is undoubtedly racist, showing a video of black people outside a Compton movie theater talking about film inequalities, and introducing Michael B. Jordan as someone who should have been nominated are all great ways to make people uncomfortable. What I wonder is how many of the “liberal” folks in the audience thought Rock wasn’t talking about them, despite him clearly saying he was addressing the “liberals” of Hollywood. That’s the unspoken joke of the night.
There were three moments in Rock’s time as host that made my jaw drop on the floor:
- During the Black History Moment taped segment with Angela Bassett, I could have sworn that the joke was setting up towards another elaborate jab at Will Smith. Maybe I was reading too much into the joke, but with the set up (and the choice of films, like Shark Tale), I was so sure a takedown of Smith’s career was coming, especially in light of what Rock had said about them in the monologue. The joke actually was making fun of Jack Black being in a lot of Will Smith movies, which led me to breathe out a sigh of relief.
- How did Rock and co. get Stacey Dash to play a part in her own takedown? Did she know what the joke was? Did she know she was the joke? In any event, I was floored. The Weeknd’s face told the story.
- The taped segment in which Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, and others showed how tough it is for black actors to get parts. The takedown of Joy was my particular favorite.
Could more have been said about all minorities who are marginalized in the industry? Certainly. There was only one guy all night who talked about how the Oscar should belong to everyone, and it was one of the guys outside of the Compton theater. Some folks were getting on Rock for not discussing the plight of all minorities in Hollywood. I’ll say that for myself, I recognized how I would have handled the situation, which is talk about how all people who are not part of white Hollywood are blocked out of all of Hollywood’s creative process, but I am not Chris Rock. Rock handled it from his perspective, and his perspective is just what he presented last night—the black American experience. Would it have been nice if a bone was thrown to everyone affected? Yes. The Native cast members of The Revenant, Byung-hun Lee, Sofia Vergara, and many of the other non-black POC presenters don’t have the same opportunities either, some less so. Could his monologue have wrongly cemented it in people’s minds that #OscarsSoWhite is only about black people? It most certainly could have. With that said, I still think Rock’s hosting duties accomplished what it needed to, which is to shame the Academy on its biggest night.
2. The tonal shifts of the Oscars.
Between Rock laying it on thick about Hollywood’s “sorority racist” mode of business and other presenters like Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman looking like they’d rather be anywhere else during certain points of the night, the rest of the presenters pretended to be cautious and/or unaware as they presented awards that, overall, only showed how white the Oscars actually are.
Even more uncomfortable were the additions of scores of non-white presenters. One reason I keep mentioning Jordan is that he should have been nominated. Heck, a lot of the presenters should have been nominated, like Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation. I say more presenters should have looked upset. In any event, the night was clearly an uncomfortable one for most people in attendance (and for most people in attendance, deservedly so).
3. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs doubles down on diversity, asks room to do the same
I did like Boone Isaacs’ speech about the Academy’s pledge to do better, and I especially liked that she asked others in the audience to do the same. The actors are routinely forgotten about facilitators in Hollywood’s game, but on some level, they share culpability for continuing Hollywood’s mode of business. They themselves could change how films are made just by refusing to take on certain roles. For instance, if an actor or actress gets a role to play a traditionally Asian or Mexican character, they could decide not to take it in the hopes that it’ll actually go to an actor or actress that properly fits the bill.
4. Lady Gaga reminded us that it really is on us.
I think the most powerful song of the night was definitely Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You” for the documentary The Hunting Ground. Gaga’s emotional performance, coupled with the on-stage appearances of many victims of sexual assault and rape, really drove home the point of V.P. Biden’s speech beforehand; it’s truly on us to stop others from becoming sexual assault victims.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets his Oscar!
Everyone, including the Best Actor nominees, stood up in applause for DiCaprio’s win. It was a win that has taken many years to earn, but he finally did it. He also gave us yet another great speech, in which he outlines how important it is for us to address climate change.
What did you think of the night? What were your favorite moments? Which moments didn’t you like? (Ali G. is on my list.) Write about it in the comments section!
EDIT: I did forget to mention the joke about the little Asian kid accountants. That joke really fell flat to me because 1) I didn’t get it and 2) what was the message, if there was one? In any case, it, along with Sacha Baron Cohen-as-Ali G’s joke comparing the Minions to Asian people were low points of the night.