Tag Archives: ethnic representation

Want More From JUST ADD COLOR? Read COLORBLOCK Magazine!

JUST ADD COLOR is in the process of growing in 2016, and one of the ways we’re doing that is by creating COLORBLOCK Magazine, a monthly magazine that features more of the content JUST ADD COLOR has already—analyzing how race and culture are perceived in entertainment, and how those messages affect how we see ourselves.

The latest issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine is a recap of the Oscars, which was a mixed bag, to be honest. From the racist jokes to addressing stereotypes in film, to #OscarsSoWhite and more, this issue of COLORBLOCK hits some of the biggest moments from before, during, and after the Oscars.

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Here’s a bit from one of the magazine’s articles, “Lesson Providers and Tragic Figures: How The Revenant Reflects Hollywood’s Objectification of Characters of Color”:

Would you believe that Oscar film The Revenant has something in common with No Escape? Even though the film has been praised for its technical prowess and stellar acting, the Leonardo DiCaprio starrer has been called out on the story still following an old Hollywood trope: having a story involving non-white characters revolve around white leads.

Gyasi Ross wrote for The Huffington Post that the DiCaprio’s lead time in the movie could have been ceded to some of Native actors in the film. Comparing DiCaprio to Marlon Brando, who allowed Sacheen Littlefeather to speak to Native American sentiments at the Oscars, Ross wrote, “it would have been cool if [DiCaprio] surrendered that space for Native people to have some agency.”

Ross goes onto say that while The Revenant successfully strove for historical accuracy, it doubles down on the “white savior” trope that plagues many Hollywood films.

You can read the latest issue by clicking the link in the sidebar as well as clicking right here. You can also read past issues in the archive. If you love what you’ve read, make sure you leave me a comment, either on Twitter @moniqueblognet and @COLORwebmag, Facebook, or at ISSUU and share with your friends! These people did:

I’d love for you to read, share, and support!

Five Fantasy Books by Native Authors to Combat J.K. Rowling’s “History of Magic in North America”

You might have heard about J.K. Rowling’s literary misfire in recent days. The Harry Potter writer is busy creating new stories for her Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, and a new set of stories, telling the history of magical North America, hit Pottermore to eager fans. A promotional trailer was also released, in which some of the details of her North American history are revealed.

I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter books, despite my personal gripes. But one of gripe I had while reading her textbook tie-ins was that America was always put into stereotype. We didn’t get Quidditch; we got some dumb analog to American football because Americans are just more brutish that way (that’s how I interpreted it anyway). Now, we Americans don’t have the simple term “muggle” to describe non-magical people; we have some clunky term like “No-Maj,” which seems to imply that America’s usage of English is clunky and fumbly, unlike the Brits’ musical-sounding words. But she’s not the first European to view America as an overbearing, loud place, and she won’t be the last. And in truth, if she had stopped at just a history of white America, she might have saved herself some grief. But she decided to include Native American history into her fictional tale, and that has proved disastrous, and rightly so.

The major points of contention are:

• JKR lumped all of Native American culture together in one term, a term we should all be careful about using: “Native American community.” Native Appropriations’ Dr. Adrienne Keene writes that that phrase represents “[o]ne of the largest fights in the world of representations,” which is “to recognize Native peoples and communities and cultures” as “diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another.”

•  JKR appropriated the Skin-walker myth. JKR writes in her story that skin-walkers are a myth created around Native American Animagi (animagi being people who can transform into animals, like Professor McGonagall). The myth states that the skin-walkers had “sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation,” but in her world, the Native American Animagi used their powers “to escape persecution or to hut for the tribe.” She goes AWOL when she decides to call the Skin-walker myth itself “derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”

The skin-walker (yee naaldooshii) legend itself, in actuality, is of Navajo origin, and refers to a witch who gains their power to transform by breaking cultural taboo. Medicine men aren’t the same as skin-walker witches, since witches are using their methods to harm, and medicine men are using theirs to heal. I got my info from Wikipedia as well as other sites, which shows that it’s not that difficult to at least try to pay homage to a particular culture’s legends. I admitted the little research I’ve done because I’m not going to act like I’m an expert on Navajo culture; far from it. But Keene’s statement on the myth tells you what you need to know. “…[T]he belief of these things (beings?) has a deep and powerful place in Navajo understandings of the world. It is connected to many other concepts and many other ceremonial understandings and lifeways. It is not just a scary story, or something to tell kids to get them to behave, it’s much deeper than that.” So with that said, why does JKR feel she can call a part of someone else’s belief system “derogatory”?

• JKR doesn’t address the atrocity of white colonialization on Native peoples. In her story, JKR calls Europeans settlers merely “explorers,” as Keene points out, when we know that there was a lot more that went into their “exploring.” It’s currently unclear as to how she will address the full extent of devastation brought on by colonialization, but some clues are probably in how she addresses Africa and India’s magical histories in that same Magical Beasts textbook I mentioned above.

Native American fantasy and sci-fi, written by Native Americans

The story hasn’t gone without getting properly reamed in social media and on numerous websites. But this story is also just one of many stories out there that appropriates and erases Native culture until it can fit into a highly limiting, Eurocentric, often stereotypical view of Native Americans as a whole. JKR’s misstep also begs the question of if this, a story written by a non-Native, is out there, and if there are plenty other books by non-Native authors writing about cultures they might not know anything about, where are the fantasy stories (and sci-fi stories) written by Native American writers? How can we expose ourselves to fantasy that respects Native cultures and exposes non-Native readers to new ideas? Well, check these five examples out:

• Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, edited by Grace L. Dillon

This anthology is a great entryway into the world of Native American fantasy. The anthology, the first of its kind, features fantasy, stream-of-consciousness, sci-fi, and magical realism. Indian Country Today Media Network also states that Dillon, a professor of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, provides literary and cultural context for each piece, “making this book an excellent starting point for scholars and sci-fi fans alike.”

• Intersection of Fantasy and Native America: From H.P. Lovecraft to Leslie Marmon Silko, edited by Amy H. Sturgis and David D. Oberhelman

This book is more a literary study than an actual sci-fi or fantasy novel, but such a text is also useful for those wanting to become more versed in Native American fantasy and speculative fiction. Sturgis, part of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and David D. Oberhelman examine the push and pull between stories by Native authors such as Gerald Vizenor, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich, and non-Native uthors like J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and ironically enough, J.K. Rowling.

• Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles, Gerald Vizenor

Vizenor, part of the Anishinaabe people and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation, envisioned the destruction of America amid, as Wikipedia describes, “white greed for oil,” leading tribe of pilgrims to traverse the country’s dystopia. It could very well be argued that Vizenor’s then fictional world is coming true, seeing how bad climate change has become, much of it fueled by irresponsibility and a desire for oil. Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles was part of the literary movement known as the Native American Renaissance, which took place during the 1990s.

• The Tantalize Series by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Tantalize Series, by Smith, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, writes young adult science fiction that also reflects today’s highly diverse society. The series is set in Austin, TX and focuses on a werewolf protagonist who, along with her uncle, open a vampire-themed restaurant. But when a murder leaves them without a chef, they have to transform their new fill-in into a convincing vampire. This leads to a love triangle, skirmishes with the supernatural, and the reveal of just who is playing whom.

• Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse, by roboticist, Popular Mechanics contributor, and television host Wilson, of Cherokee heritage, advances the idea (and the fear) of robots becoming sentient and, of course, against humanity. In Wilson’s world, a supercomputer turns the world’s technology against its creators, killing most of the world. The only hope left is, as Tribal College Journal’s Ryan Winn describes it, “an off-the-grid Osage stronghold where humans resisting the assault find sanctuary.” The fact that this book (and its sequel, Robogenesis), is written by a robotics engineer makes the story even that more terrifying due to its potential plausibility.

There are more books out there, but the difference between throwing up your hands in defeat and actually finding them is putting in the work. The literary world is still very homogenous, to be nice about it. To be honest about it, the literary world is a colonialized, whitewashed place, with too many literary agents (many who are white) picking authors (many who are white) that reflect their same worldview. Finding proper representation in the literary world takes some work, but it’s out there.

What we as a society should work on is lifting up marginalized voices, such as Native writers. Their stories are just as valuable to the literary framework, and lifting up those voices would alleviate the anxiety that comes when other writers are given unmitigated freedom to write about characters from different cultures and races. When more Native American writers are given the chance to write about their experiences, and when they’re given the correct exposure, then everyone wins.

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But you still want to write your story about Native Americans. What you can learn from JKR’s missteps when it comes to writing about Native cultures (and any culture that’s not your own):

With all of this said, I’m sure there are still many of you writers out there who want to use Native American characters and cultural elements in future stories, but don’t want to fall into the JKR trap. From both my passive and active experiences, I can offer the following advice that might come in handy.

The lessons we can glean from JKR’s mistakes are lessons that we can learn from many books throughout history, including classics like the Tarzan series, movies like Disney’s Peter Pan, and books-turned-movies like The Help.

• Do your research. If you’re not of a culture, it would behoove you to crack open a book, or get on Google, or do something to arm yourself with knowledge before ever writing anything down. JKR’s lack of success when it comes to writing about Native American beliefs as a whole is that it would appear she did cursory research, but neglected to go deeper into any of the things she was investigating. For instance, Skin-walkers. Instead of co-opting the term and turning it into something of her own creation, she could have incorporated the belief as it is and as it has been for centuries without changing it into a “derogatory” set of “rumours” created by non-magical people. She could have shown some level of sensitivity.

• Once you do your research and get comfortable, you still might have some questions. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone—RESPECTFULLY—to help you out. As an outsider, you will never know everything that comes with being the race you’re writing about, but you can gain some valuable insight from someone who agrees to work with you on your story.

JKR could have asked for a Native American writer or consultant, or several Native American writers, consultants, and historians, to help her edit her story and point out some things she should include more of or forget altogether. This brings up another point: I’d suggest you only ask a person of the culture you’re writing for help after you’ve done the proper legwork necessary in terms of research. Don’t expect a person not of your culture or race to fill in everything for you, since that’s not how reciprocity or actual cultural exchange works. You come with your knowledge, and ask for guidance. Don’t expect that person to be the representation of all of their people. No race or ethnicity is a monolith; Native American culture is certainly not a monolith, since there are many different nations and tribes with their own customs and cultural attitudes. I can’t say this enough: CULTURES AND PEOPLE OF THOSE CULTURES ARE NOT MONOLITHIC. THIS ISN’T STAR TREK.

•Don’t take something of another culture and appropriate it to mean something else. Where JKR lost many is when she decided that the Skin-walker myth was something she could create into her own idea. It’s similar to how white Christianity turned voodoo into the devil’s religion, when it’s not that all. Cultural mythos and belief systems, especially the belief systems and myths of cultures that are routinely forgotten and appropriated in society, should be honored and respected. There’s still a way to incorporate these ideas into modern literature, but to me, the way to do that is to keep the original myth intact.

To this point, I also add: Don’t rewrite a peoples’ entire history on the earth to suit your whims. JKR’s attempts to write a complex history of American magic and provide a nuanced, diverse approach to inclusion, but her efforts became hamfisted, seeing how her knowledge on Native America, and America in general, is limited to stereotype. JKR writes of Native Americans, as a whole, as a magical people, but limiting an entire group to “magic” undercuts any of JKR’s good intentions and just makes her Native American characters “magical ethnic” tropes and flattens any inroads towards learning at least the very basics about the many types of Native American cultures. Again, to use voodoo, Americans (and I’m sure Europeans as well) tend to limit Africa to witchcraft (or huts, child solidiers, or the Savannah). None of these express the cultural, societal, ethnic, and racial complexities of an entire continent.

• If you still feel uncomfortable and believe you could offend people, just don’t write about that culture. There’s a lot more I could say about this, but you can’t write about what you don’t know.

• Despite your best intentions and even after you research and get outside help, you’re still taking a risk in misrepresenting a culture that’s not your own. Taking precautions and utilizing sensitivity can help you mitigate any issues, but you’ve got to remember that you’re still the outsider, and the insiders have every right to dissect what you’ve put out. Be careful.

These are just basic lessons, and I’m sure there are plenty more that can be learned from JKR’s mistake. Overall, if a writing decision feels sketchy, just don’t do it. You’ll save yourself headaches.

Great blogs on the subject:

They Are Not Ghosts: On the Representation of the Indigenous Peoples of North America in Science Fiction & Fantasy (aidenmoher.com)

“Formations of ‘Indian’ Fantasies: European Museums and the Decontextualization of Native American Art and Artifacts”

Non-white Protagonists in Fantasy and Science Fiction (theillustratedpage.wordpress.com)

Native American and Speculative Fiction: An Interview with Amy H. Sturgis (journeytothesea.com)

Native Americans to J.K. Rowling: We’re Not Magical (National Geographic)

Critic’s Notebook: J.K. Rowling’s ‘History of Magic in North America’ Reads Like a High School Textbook

 

 

Four Reasons “Underground” is Must-See Television

Did you watch WGN America’s Underground Wednesday night? I did, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be, and it still surprised me with just how much information and action they managed to pack into an hour. I was so tense throughout the hour, I was tired afterwards.

There are multitude of reasons to be a huge fan of Underground, but I’ll provide you with four great reasons you should watch the show and use it as a platform to deepen your understanding about slavery and the issues that continue to plague America.

1. Underground makes slavery relevant to today’s issues again

Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Photo credit: WGN America
Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Photo credit: WGN America

The one thing that has hurt slavery narratives in the past is that they were always told in a past, passive tense. Slavery is something that ended roughly 200 hundred years ago, but some of the narratives put in the media about slavery would make people think that the effects of slavery aren’t in effect today. Surprise, surprise for those who didn’t know this, but the effects of slavery have always been effect because there’s still two Americas within the same country. There’s still the feeling that one aspect of America doesn’t want to listen, or doesn’t care to listen, to other viewpoints. The after-effects of slavery show themselves in economic inequality, police brutality, white flight in neighborhoods, gentrification in urban areas, pay inequality, the denial of basic human rights both in the justice system and in social aspects (like allowing Flint, MI residents, many of whom are black, to drink lead-filled water from the polluted Flint River while Detroit gets its water from a different source).

What Underground does through various modes of storytelling and the usage of modern music (Kanye!) is bring slavery back to the present. Making the story modern makes the injustice that much more difficult to watch, and you can’t help but think about how this hateful practice of slavery still reverberates today. I think the handling of the characters and the story will make even the most casual and most “colorblind” of viewers wake up and think about what’s going on today and how they may or may not be playing a part in the continuing degradation of a people. In short, it’ll make folks think if they’re part of the solution or part of the problem.

2. Underground puts slaves at the forefront of their own story

L-R: Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Theodus Crane. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R: Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Theodus Crane. Photo credit: WGN America

The most annoying thing about some films about slavery or discrimination in general is that the “good” white people are put at the center of the story. Daniel José Older (who I’ve interviewed on JUST ADD COLOR before!) wrote for Salon that the Oscar-lauded 12 Years a Slave still had a white savior narrative with Brad Pitt’s character Bass saving Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup:

“About three-quarters through the movie Brad Pitt suddenly sohws up and, essentially, saves the day. Never mind that Pitt is also one of the film’s producers…In this otherwise monumental and groundbreaking film, written and directed in the age of stop-and-frisk and ‘stand your ground,’ of Trayvon and Aiyanna and Marissa and Renisha, did we really need yet another white savior narrative? We absolutely did not.”

Older also brings up Lincoln, which featured the idea that Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln alone fought for the rights of slaves, instead of showing the layered and multi-faceted effort it took to get Lincoln to actually consider ending slavery, an effort which involved abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.

“Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ erased Frederick Douglass, reinforcing the tired notion that a singular white man, through the sheer force of his moral conviction, brought slavery to an end. In ‘Lincoln,’ ans in ’12 Years,’ this cliché not only hobbles the film’s cultural relevancy, it is a narrative failure as well.”

The Help isn’t about slavery, but it still put Emma Stone’s character and her book writing journey at the center of the story, when the real story is about how these maids have been surviving amid the unchecked racism and unearned privilege of their white women “employers.”  In all of these stories, the feelings of white America—of wanting to absolve white guilt, of wanting to appease an injured ego still coming to terms with slavery itself—are at the center, when their feelings, while valuable, aren’t the feelings we should be focusing on in these stories. The characterizations should revolve primarily around the characters who are most oppressed, the characters who are facing these uphill battles on a daily basis. The focus on the white experience of learning about oppression is also another thing that keeps some slave movies stuck in a passive tone; the act of an outsider looking into a new world is a passive one, since the outsider can throw away the experience at any point. The act becomes more of a professorial anthropological exercise than one actually immersing themselves to the point of a complete understanding. A call to action doesn’t come from studying a group from afar; it comes from feeling akin to that group, feeling like your well-being depends on their well-being.

Having the oppressed tell their own story is what gives a show like Underground its power. There are two white characters that do become part of the Underground Railroad, but it already looks like they aren’t set up to be “white saviors,” necessarily. They are part of the cogs of the Railroad, but the show isn’t depicting them as being the initial catalysts. In fact, the characters exemplify the difference between viewing slaves and slave rights as an anthropological study and feeling the call to action to actually help them. John Hawkes starts out as an abolitionists of sorts, but he’s still advocating for the law, which was set up to go against black people in the first place. Elizabeth, his wife, is initially against him advocating for slave rights, but once she visits John’s brother, the evil plantation owner Tom Macon, she sees a boy fanning her from the rafters. That boy, combined with her own desire for a family, changes her mind completely about slave rights. She finally sees herself in them and feels that call to action, which spurs her husband on to do the same. But, they are working in conjunction with slaves securing their own freedom; they’re not acting as shepherds herding a flock.

L-R David Kency, Jessica De Gouw, and Marc Blucas. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R David Kency, Jessica De Gouw, and Marc Blucas. Photo credit: WGN America

The slaves themselves, not John and Elizabeth, are the leads of this story. Aldis Hodge’s Noah is the one who is hell bent on getting to freedom, and he’s not planning on going alone; he’s taking a group of slaves with him. Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Rosalee is, of course, going to go with him, but we see her come to terms with her place on the plantation and how clearly not-free she is, even though she works in the Big House. Much of this realization comes when Suzanna Macon, the “lady” of the house, starts talking about selling Rosalee’s little brother James. (Of course, there’s going to be the big realization that Rosalee and James are both Tom and Rosalee’s mother Ernestine’s children.) The slaves decide for themselves how they want the rest of their lives to play out, and they take action to make their dream of freedom come true. This makes Underground stellar television as well as a stellar take (and more truthful take) on the slave story.

(For another slave story with slaves actually at the forefront of their story, check out this Atlantic article on the film Sankofa.)

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3. Underground highlights the insidious nature of white privilege

(L-R) Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond. Photo credit: WGN America
(L-R) Amirah Vann and Reed Diamond. Photo credit: WGN America

There are many scenes that are terrible to watch, but the scene that probably made me want to throw up the most was the juxtaposition of the little baby’s funeral (the baby who was killed by its mother, who didn’t want it to grow up in slavery) to the birthday of Tom and Suzanna’s daughter Mary. That, coupled with the family sitting down at dinner and being waited on by the house slave staff just made me want to scream to the rafters. But these scenes are also important because it shows how ugly the phenomenon of white privilege is. Or, to put it another way for those who get blindsided by that term, I’ll use a phrase I’ve already used in this post: unearned privilege.

For those who either hate/feel offended by the term “white privilege” or don’t understand what it means, here’s the definition, per the students of The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women class at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. (The page itself is housed by Mount Holyoke College):

White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it the most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold as a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

The definition goes onto give examples, such as interpreting types of dressing, manners of speech, and general behaviors as being “racial neutral” when in fact, as the definition states, “they are white.” It ends with this:

“…White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level.”

The definition also quotes James Baldwin, who stated, “Being white means never having to think about it.”

What is great about Underground is that it makes a point to show not just how extreme white privilege can be in how it excused and upheld slavery, but how it works its way into even the most well-intentioned of people, like Elizabeth and Tom, who still have the option to decide if they want to help slaves or not, and for a while decided not to help slaves for the sake of building a family. White privilege is something that needs to be worked out of the American system. The sooner the better, because all of us are Americans and deserve true equality, not a system based on antiquated, racially-based ideas.

4. Underground is just plain good

L-R: Aldis Hodge and Alano Miller. Photo credit: WGN America
L-R: Aldis Hodge and Alano Miller. Photo credit: WGN America

What else can I say? It’s terrific. It’s got no commercials, for one. Second, John Legend has proven himself to be a fantastic executive producer with this show; I’m still waiting on more news about that Thomas-Alexandre Dumas film. Third, it’s got a great cast: Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Alano Miller, Amirah Vann, Jessica De Gouw, Renwick Scott, Mykleti Williamson, Marc Blucas, Reed Diamond, Adina Porter, Theodus Crane, Johnny Ray Gill and Christopher Meloni, to whom I tweeted this:

Because weren’t we all rooting for Stabler to bop heads and take names? (There’s still time to stop being a wildcard and get on the right side of history, August Pullman! But his character also proves a point about white privilege; August can choose to play both sides—tricking the slave woman trying to escape by pretending to be a freedom fighter—solely for his own benefit.)

What do you love about Underground? Give your opinions below, and make sure to watch Underground Wednesdays at 10/9c on WGN America.

Three Ways “Scalped” Could Be a Game-Changer (If It’s Careful)

Have you heard of the DC/Vertigo comic book Scalped? If you’ve been a fan of the comic book, it’s now been greenlit as an upcoming show on WGN America!

The Hollywood Reporter has described Scalped as such:

“‘Scalped’ is described as a modern-day crime story set in the world of a Native American Indian reservation. It explores power, loyalty, and spirituality in a community led by the ambitious chief Lincoln Red Crow as he reckons with Dashiel Bad Horse, who has returned home after years away from the reservation.”

This show is very big news in the world of television as well as the world of media in general. Scalped could very well be the hottest show of the upcoming season, and it’s ability to be a game-changer can be broken down into three reasons:

Scalped will boast an all-Indian cast

The Hollywood Reporter states that WGN America is aiming at doing something Hollywood hasn’t willingly done at any point in its history. As the site reports, “Insiders say WGN America is eyeing an all Native-American cast.” When was the last time you saw Hollywood do something like that?

This is groundbreaking for two different reasons. First, it increases TV’s lead in the diversity race; film still has tons of mileage to go if it wants to catch up. Second, America hasn’t had an all-Native led show ever. The most we’ve seen Native Americans on television is in some kind of historical setting, as if they’re all dead. Or, if we do see them in a modern sense (such as in Sleepy Hollow) we only get to see them for five minutes in one episode (I’m still hoping for Eddie Spears’ Big Ash to make a return). A show like Scalped could really open some doors for Native actors trying to make it in Hollywood.

With its pulpy tone, Scalped could be the Empire of its kind, which means huge fame, but also huge consequences

This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good in that Scalped could become must-see, live-tweetable television in the same vein that Empire has dominated social media and pop culture as a whole. Or, as it’s been compared to, it could be the Sopranos of the Twitter age, or even the Breaking Bad of the Twitter age, a show that ensares its audience with gripping drama.

The bad thing about Scalped possibly becoming an Empire specifically is that with that fame comes compromise. Everyone (including myself) loves Empire. But as fun as Empire is, the show is not without its problems, such as colorism. (Before her character was bumped up, Gabourey Sidibe’s secretary character Becky was an afterthought, Ta’Rhonda Jones’s character Porsha is the comic relief to light-skinned Cookie, Bunkie was killed in the first episode, Lucious’s maid is a heavy-set, older black woman, and Malik Yoba’s character Vernon, who had an interesting subplot as a recovering drug addict, was killed later on in the first season by Rhonda.) Other issues include the treatment of women in the show, particularly the character Cookie, who, while a fun character (and a character I love), is filled with the “angry black woman” stereotype. Taraji P. Henson herself talked about how ironic it was that she would win a Golden Globe for playing an ex-convict rather than any of the other characters she’s played.

The Scalped comic book has been praised as a gritty modern noir, but the book has also faced its fair share of criticism, such as glossing over of the diversity of Native issues and Lakota culture as a whole. Wikipedia describes the comic as such:

“The series focuses on the Oglala Lakota inhabitants of the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in modern-day South Dakota as they grapple with organized crime, rampant poverty, drug addiction and alcoholism, local politics and the preservation of their cultural identity.”

While much of this could be handled with a deft and knowledgeable hand (such as by a Native writer or a writer who has done a lot of outside research and has fielded the help of consultants), it’s unclear how much knowledge comic book writer Jason Aaron has about the Lakota or Native Americans in general. Aaron, a non-Native white writer, could be critiqued as having fallen into the same pitfalls many other writers have fallen into when writing modern Native characters. As Indian Country Today Media Network writes:

“The question of whether Scalped was exploitative and harmful was raised from the get-go. …Scalped creators, writer Jason Aaron and artis R.M. Guera, aren’t Natives, and whether the world they depicted ultimately treated Native people fairly in the course of their series is a topic for debate.”

Rob Schmidt of Blue Corn Comics has written his critique of the story, which, in fact, does state, in so many words, that Aaron did rely on stereotypes of reservations:

“It’s clear what Aaron’s inspiration is for this ultra-negative portrayal of life on the rez: the horrible situation at Pine Ridge in the ’70s, when rabble-rousin activists fought a corrupt tribal government. This is the conflict that ended in Wounded Knee and put [activist] Leonard Peltier in prison for life.

Trouble is, that was 30 years ago. Tribal governments are much cleaner now because anyone with a cellphone, copy machine, or website can expose their flaws. Indians do use technology, believe it or not, although you wouldn’t know it from SCALPED. This series reads as if it was set in the 1970s–as if Aaron wanted to do a Quentin Tarantino version of Thunderheart.

…Moreover, casinos aren’t a major source of crime. Every Indian casino gets approved and regulated by multiple levels of government. The most recent gaming scandals involved lobbying in Washington, not crime on the rez.”

Schmidt goes onto say that one of the book series’ tropes is that it portrays is that “[t]he many bad Indians outweigh the few good Indians [,] [t]hus the Indians have gotten what they deserve.”

An argument could even be made about the name of the book itself indulging in stereotype, as well as the most popular cover art of the first volume by British artist/writer Jock (shown above). We’ve already had tons of issues with folks appropriating headdresses, and drawing one in an attempt to grab potential readers’ attention is no different.

Scalped could delve much deeper into Lakota history, culture, and the issues facing the Lakota and all Native Americans in a much more honest light than the comic. 

Scalped is a show that already has elements of being both a godsend to Native actors and the Native community as well as becoming a thorn in the Native community’s side. But there’s time to make Scalped the show that can entertain as well as educate.

The question I have for Scalped revolves around the basis for the book itself. As already stated, the book is, as The Hollywood Reporter states, “partially inspired by the 1975 arrest of Native American activist Leonard Peltier.” The Hollywood Reporter states that Peltier was arrested for killing two FBI agents in a shootout on a reservation, but his supposed guilt has long since been put into question, and many have made petitions to get Peltier’s sentence reexamined, lessened, or removed all together.

This point in history could be a great basis for a show, if taken into account as a watershed moment in Native and American history. Will the show decide to delve deeper into Native American issues and cultural differences and similarities? Will the show actually portray a more realistic portrayal of the Lakota than shown in the comics? Or will the show continue the book’s issue of failing to avoid stereotypes? The fate of Scalped is in the hands of Doug Jung, another non-Native. Will Jung and the show’s team bring on Lakota consultants in an effort to make the show fun and exciting while being respectful of the culture? We’ll see, and for that alone, Scalped is must-watch TV, at least for the first episode.

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

Oscars Fallout: Many Sound Off on Program’s Stereotypical Asian Jokes

Yesterday, tons of people gave their two cents on Chris Rock’s Oscars monologue. The monologue itself has been met with a range of emotions, from delight to disgust (you can read my opinion here). But it’s the jokes outside of the monologue that made people justifiably upset, especially since the jokes were a part of a night dedicated towards ending the diversity glass ceiling in Hollywood. Towards the end of the night, two tasteless jokes reared their ugly heads, and both made fun of Asians.

First, Sacha Baron Cohen, as his poser character Ali G., crudely compared the Minions to Asian men by using the phrase “little yellow people” and invoking sexual stereotyping.

Apparently, Baron Cohen was supposed to do his bit with Olivia Wilde straight, but he had his wife, actress Isla Fisher, sneak in his Ali G. costume. “The Oscars sat me down beforehand and said they didn’t want me to do anything out of order, they wanted me to actually just present it as myself,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain (as reported by the Guardian). “But luckily my wife put on the Ali G beard in the disabled toilets and I managed to get away with it.” In order to put the whole costume on while in the bathroom, they pretended Baron Cohen had food poisoning. According to what Baron Cohen said, Rock gave him “the thumbs up” to go ahead with the stunt after meeting with Rock to quickly pitch him his idea.

Second, when Rock opened the part of the show usually dedicated to introducing the accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, he introduced three Asian kids. While the kids were cute, the joke wasn’t.

“As they clutched briefcases, they visually illustrated the stereotype that Asians are diligent workers who excel at math,” wrote the New York TimesMelena Ryzik. “‘If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,’ Mr. Rock added, a punch line interpreted as a reference to child labor in Asia.”

These jokes were tone-deaf, seeing how the entire tone of the night was one berating Hollywood for its tone-deafness when it comes to black actors and actresses. At worst, the jokes showed how there are implicit biases even in intra-racial and intra-ethnic relations that need to be deleted. As pointed out in yesterday’s “5 of the Top Moments from the Oscars” post, it would have been great if Rock had discussed how all minorities are marginalized in Hollywood, since that is actually what #OscarsSoWhite is about. To quote #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign from her exclusive interview with JUST ADD COLOR:

I think it’s unnecessarily limiting and I think it’s unfortunate that they can’t get out of that box for themselves because I’m not in that box…It’s not clear to me why people think that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black and they can’t see past who I am and understand that I’m multifaceted, or if it’s just easier for them to think in binary terms. But that’s not what #OscarsSoWhite is about at all. Race is just one portion of it; it’s all marginalized communities, and within race, it’s not just black people; it’s definitely about Asian people. It ‘s definitely about Latinos and Latinas and Hispanics. It’s about everyone who should be represented on the screen.

As Rebecca Sun for The Hollywood Reporter points out, the Oscars welcomed Asian stars Byung-hun Lee, Priyanka Chopra, Dev Patel and other POC stars as presenters for many reasons (which can make up its own post), one of them being that they are also a part of the large demographic the Academy (and by extension, Hollywood itself) should represent more, a demo that obviously isn’t limited only to black people. While black actors and actresses don’t get cast as much as they should, Asian, Latino and Native actors and actresses get cast at an even smaller rate:

What’s equally as sad is that Rock had proven himself to be the right guy to take on Hollywood for its transgressions, both in his career and, by several accounts, earlier that night in his monologue.

“For most of the Oscars, Chris Rock proved himself once again to be a dynamic truth-teller abut systemic racism, managing not only to make pointed comedy out of #OscarsSoWhite but to keep it front and center long after his biting opening monologue. Then, about two-thirds through, he took a break to make an Asian joke,” wrote Lowen Liu for Slate. Jeff Yang wrote for Quartz about how he flipped in between the #JusticeforFlint event and coverage of the Oscars, ready to be entertained by Rock’s wit. “[W]hile I had decided to refrain from watching, the prospect of bringing the pain to a theater full of Hollywood’s most cream-colored creme de la creme was awfully tempting. And so, I cheated: I kept a tab open during his monologue and monitored the reactions of my friends to his blistering assault on the Academy Awards’ embarrassing whiteness,” he wrote. “…But my amusement was shortlived.”

Many actors, actresses, and even NBA star Jeremy Lin tweeted their disapproval and disappointment in the jokes.

So far, there’s been no word from Rock or his camp re: his Asian jokes.

This controversy has ignited conversation about the role minority activists should play. As Al Jazeera asks, “Should minorities advocate for one another?”

As stated in the Oscars article Monday, if I was tasked with hosting the Oscars, I would have made sure to advocate for all minorities and oppressed people, because we’re all in this fight together. I wouldn’t have specifically only discussed the black acting pool, because the #OscarsSoWhite issue affects more than just the black acting pool. However, that’s how I’d do it. The question of if minorities should advocate for one another should be a resounding yes. The unspoken question, though, seems to be if Chris Rock should have been (at least on Oscar night) that particular minority activist who does advocate for others. As to what Rock feels about his own performance and how he should proceed in the future can be answered by Rock himself, but the disappointment the jabs at Asian stereotypes caused is something that will linger for a while and, hopefully (like all disappointment should) lead to increased action to make sure all people properly represented by the media (including jokes).

What did you think about the off-putting jokes? Give your opinions in the comments section!

5 of the Top Moments from Oscars 2016

1. Chris Rock made everyone uncomfortable, and rightly so. 

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. giphy (29)
  3. 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 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.

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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

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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. 

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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!

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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.

4 Reasons Why black-ish’s Tackling of Police Brutality Was Amazing

black-ish killed the game Wednesday night! The show opened eyes, ears, hearts, and minds with its bottle episode “Hope,” in which the Johnsons sat and watched yet another case involving the death of an unarmed black man. There were several unexpected moments, including the introduction of the good-looking prosecutor and the continued acting career of Don Lemon.  But there were other reasons why the episode was a standout, and why it’ll go down in the history books as one of the most important episodes of the show’s short run.

1. black-ish tackled police brutality in an even-handed way

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What was important for black-ish to do was to give all viewpoints on the police brutality issue. Not all black people, and frankly, not all people in general, hold the same views about police brutality, and the characters on black-ish give each viewpoint merit. Dre, Ruby and Pops believe that all police are bad (despite Dre’s constantly nagging the police whenever he heard a noise outside his house) and that the system is rigged against them. Rainbow believed that there was some injustice, but the system still worked on the whole. Junior took to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book to educate himself on the world and, like a lot of young adults, feels compelled to go protest. Zoey seems like she’s constantly zoned out on her phone, but she actually is affected, probably more affected than anyone else; she, like a lot of young people, feel lost. Jack and Diane simply want to know what’s going on and why.

What’s fascinating to me is that there wasn’t any “right” or “wrong” way to feel. What happened was that everyone was expressing their viewpoints because of their personal worldviews and upbringings. Dre grew up in a neighborhood that was rampant with police for good and bad reasons, and that upbringing shaped his worldview of the police. Rainbow grew up in a commune, and her level of trust is reflective of that. Ruby and Pops come from an era that’s different even from Dre’s upbringing. The kids have grown up in a kinder world than the one Dre grew up in, and because of Dre and Rainbow’s economic and social status, they have been shielded from a lot. Their lack of experience played out with the kids feeling a sense of hopelessness and an urge to put their feet to the pavement and march. Everyone’s opinions were equally acknowledged and challenged, and everyone came out with the consensus to work together to deal with the situation at hand.

2. The episode didn’t hold back on the humor.

This wasn’t an ordinary “Special Episode” of a show, even though it was a very special episode. Black-ish did what it always does, which is discuss real world issues, but it also didn’t forget to bring the jokes. I laughed the hardest when Junior didn’t agree with Dre on some of his police brutality stats, and Dre mutters how he wants to see Junior in the back of a cop car for disagreeing with him. When you type it out, it sounds horrific, but when you hear Anthony Anderson say the words in the same manner we’ve said stuff when someone decides to eviscerate our points, it’s hilarious.

Also hilarious: The show touched on how everyone went through a Malcolm X phase during the late ’80s and early ’90s, including Dre. Every episode of A Different World looked like Dre’s “I’m blackety black” look. Compare:

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Let’s not forget Pops being a Bobcat, in his former life, not a Black Panther. “Still part of the radical cat family!”

3. Anthony Anderson gives the performance of his career, black-ish or otherwise.

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To be fair, black-ish has had some amazing moments, moments that go under the radar because it’s usually encased in Dre’s voiceover. But black-ish is always laying down the law when it comes to how the other half lived (and is still living). The discussion about swimming and the quick jab at colorism during the Season 1 finale are just two that stick out in my mind. Anderson’s moment in Wednesday’s black-ish episode, though, was one that I know will reverberate in people’s consciousness for a long time.

His statement about his pride and fear for Barack Obama as the first black U.S. President is something I’m sure a lot of people can identify with. I identified with it immediately, since my family and I were also afraid Obama would get assassinated when he got out of the car dubbed “the Beast.” Those minutes of him and Michelle walking down the street, waving happily to people, were some of the most tense moments of my life. Anderson’s tension came through in that scene, as well as his sadness and profound anger at how America consistently tries to keep black Americans back. (Just remember the beginning scene of the second act when Dre’s voice over and file footage showcase the deaths of civil rights heroes and those who wanted to make a difference, and then think back to Dre’s tear-filled eyes as he recounted what should have been one of the happiest days of his life.)

Kudos to you, Anderson; you’ve earned yourself another Image Award. Emmys: you better give Anderson a nom, if not an award next year.

4. blackish shows that the family that protests together, stays together

BLACK-ISH - "Hope" - When the kids ask some tough questions in the midst of a highly publicized court case involving alleged police brutality and an African-American teenager, Dre and Bow are conflicted on how best to field them. Dre, along with Pops and Ruby, feel the kids need to know what kind of world they're living in, while Bow would like to give them a more hopeful view about life. When the verdict is announced, the family handles the news in different ways while watching the community react, on "black-ish," WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24 (9:31-10:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Patrick Wymore) MILES BROWN, JENIFER LEWIS, MARSAI MARTIN
BLACK-ISH – “Hope” – When the kids ask some tough questions in the midst of a highly publicized court case involving alleged police brutality and an African-American teenager, Dre and Bow are conflicted on how best to field them. Dre, along with Pops and Ruby, feel the kids need to know what kind of world they’re living in, while Bow would like to give them a more hopeful view about life. When the verdict is announced, the family handles the news in different ways while watching the community react, on “black-ish,” WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24 (9:31-10:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Patrick Wymore)
MILES BROWN, JENIFER LEWIS, MARSAI MARTIN

What I loved a lot about the episode is that, in an effort to show their solidarity and to make their displeasure known, they decide to join the protest as a family unit. That message is so heartening to me, because it shows that no matter how powerless you feel (like how Zoey felt), you can still make a difference in your own way. By voicing your concerns, marching, protesting (by traditional or non-traditional means), you are changing society for the better. It also shows that if each person or each family decided to make a difference, no matter how small, imagine how much (and how quickly) society would change.

What did you think of this very important black-ish episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

4 Reasons the All Nations Network Will Be What American Television Needs

Guess what, everyone? Canada’s Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) is launching a sister channel in the United States!
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APTN is launching All Nations Network sometime this year. The 24-hour channel will be, as the press release states, “the first network to bring both native and non-native audiences in the U.S.”,  providing “native news, sports, scripted, lifestyle, feature-length movies and children’s programming written, produced, and directed by Native Americans, among others.”

APTN cites Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes speech and Jim Jarmusch’s statements about the need for Native entertainment in America.

In the midst of the discourse over the lack of diversity in Hollywood, some of entertainment’s top stars and creators have joined to endorse ANN’s U.S. entrance.   From Robert Redford to Oscar nominated actor Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves), Robbie Robertson (The Band) and acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch they have joined in endorsing the network. Their voices echo the Golden Globes speech by actor Leonardo Dicaprio who thanked the First Nations people in his acceptance speech for his award for “The Revenant.”

“I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world,” the actor said at the award ceremony held in Los Angeles. “It’s time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them,” added DiCaprio. “It’s time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

“There is demand for a national Native network across the country,” said award winning filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. “A vibrant new generation, a golden era of Native film-makers and artists will be born and have a dedicated channel through which to express their voices. There is a market that is waiting. There is an audience that is waiting. The time is now.”

The channel has also received the endorsement of Jarmusch, Robert Redford, Graham Greene, and Robbie Robertson.

Jean La Rose believes its high time for Native Americans to be represented in their own nation.

“We think the time is right for Native Americans to have their own channel and are happy to see the positive discussions Castalia has had with major US Pay TV operators,” says Jean La Rose, APTN’s Chief Executive Officer. “Certainly, our experience in Canada has been one of creating and providing opportunities for our producers, for our storytellers, to tell our stories, in our words, to our Peoples and to the world. Native American producers are poised and eager to have the same opportunities and we believe that we can work together to provide a unique window into the lives – past, present and future – of this community.”

The channel will be headquartered in New Mexico and is currently working closely with Native American filmmaker, Sundance Film Festival award winner and Directors Guild of America award-winner Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals and NBC’s Friday Night Lights).

This is awesome news! You need to know the four reasons the All Nations Network (ANN) will become a force to be reckoned with.

1. Proper representation of Natives

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You know as well as I do that Native Americans are barely represented in today’s television landscape. Most would say they aren’t represented at all.

The lack of representation is appalling, and that kind of lack of representation finds its way into American policy and practice. For example:

  • Many Americans only learn about Native American culture in a past-tense, historical setting; we rarely learn about the state of Native American life as it is today. This leads many to just assume that Native Americans are extinct.
  • Native Americans are subjected to a harsher climate of racism. While the media is (rightly) focused on the plight of African-Americans, the media isn’t reporting on the other atrocity that’s facing the nation: the amount of race-related and sexual abuse crimes levied against Native American communities. Combined with a lack of substantial local and national government support, Native Americans are faced with substandard living conditions (conditions that have been compared to “third world” scenarios), higher rates of crime committed against them in their communities with little to no recourse for justice, high rates of food-and-drink related illnesses such as diabetes, and poor mental health support (just last year, the suicide rate among young Native Americans was considered to be at “crisis levels.”)
  • Native Americans must routinely fight against racist imagery, such as the Washington NFL football team (you know the one), who is fighting tooth and nail to keep their racist mascot. Native Americans must also fight against the unauthorized usage of their cultural arts and culture, such as the successful outlawing of headdresses at certain music festivals and the current lawsuit the Navajo Nation has against Urban Outfitters, who has labelled several of their products as “Navajo.” The appropriation stems from the erroneous idea that Native American culture is somehow public domain. Some folks also think that by showing up in redface to a football game, or by wearing a headdress with fake war paint on their cheeks, that they are somehow “honoring” Native culture.

Will a television channel solve all of these problems? Of course not. But some of the tension surrounding these issues can be alleviated, at least minutely, with Native American people able to actually see themselves and their culture, humor, community issues and successes shown to them (and the rest of America) on the TV screen. Speaking anecdotally as a black woman, I know that my life would be 10 times harder if I wasn’t able to see shows like Sleepy Hollow, black-ish, Empire, and the smorgasbord of the ’90s sitcoms that shaped my childhood. Seeing my image on screen has helped me figure out my place in the world and it showed that despite all the wrongdoing America could level against me, I was still a valuable part of the country. To never see your image on television is something I don’t have the words to describe.

2. We’ll finally get to see what Canada’s been able to see

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Canada has been hogging all of the good programming for themselves. I’ve heard so much about Mohawk Girls and Blackstone, and I’ve never been able to watch an episode. But now that the ANN is coming, perhaps they’ll lease out some of the Canadian shows for American audiences. Maybe we’ll also get to learn more about the history and culture of Canadian First Nations as well. I’m crossing my fingers and toes that APTN gives us the goods and enlightens us at the same time.

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

 

 

3. New stars on the horizon

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Speaking of Canadian shows, wouldn’t it be great to have a platform for Canadian First Nations stars in the U.S.? Also, wouldn’t it be great if the ANN becomes the launching pad for new Native American stars? Hollywood has been bad business for every minority, but Native actors are one of the most underserved and abused groups in Hollywood history. Between a lack of representation, having their history propagandized by racists, and having white actors play Native characters in redface, Native Americans have had one of the most heinous battles against Hollywood and getting proper representation. Hollywood would say that there aren’t enough Native actors to fill roles, but the catch is that Hollywood discriminates against Native actors and discourages others who could be great actors from trying out.

Hollywood has to do better on its end, for sure. With that said, a channel like ANN could become the starting point for many Native kids who have been bitten by the acting bug and are inspired by ANN programming to become the star they’ve always wanted to be. Again, seeing yourself on screen is powerful, and it makes you believe you can become anything you want to be. ANN could definitely be the moment that defines many young kids’ lives, kids who will ultimately become part of the driving force behind Hollywood’s change towards true equality.

4. More representation=less discriminatory/uneducated views

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As written up top, one single channel can’t wipe out the ills of every issue facing Native Americans. But a channel can help teach the rest of us non-Natives about the issues our Native friends and family face.

A lot of us don’t have any starting point when it comes to knowledge about contemporary Native life. And, frankly, a lot of people are too lazy to use Google to learn about it for themselves. Most of the knowledge many Americans carry around about Native Americans is false, because it all comes from movies and TV that portray a very racist, propagandized view of Native culture. Heck, movies and TV don’t even portray that there are different Native tribes, with different rituals and heritage. All we get shown is a monolithic, cartoonish view. That’s unfair to Native people, certainly. But it’s also equally unfair to us, because we have been robbed of expanding our minds and exploring the lives of our neighbors, friends, and family members. In short, we as a country have been unsympathetic to Native issues and we as a country haven’t empathized with them. Check this tweet:

We haven’t practiced the ability to see ourselves in Native Americans, and that’s one of the many shameful practices America has yet to contend with.

But, a channel like ANN can go far in helping us rectify that shame. Is it looking with rose-colored glasses? Maybe. Again, one single channel isn’t the end-all-be-all for solving centuries worth of problems. But for the upcoming generations, it can help them be more empathetic and, probably, allow them to bridge the gap better than prior generations have. At the very least, they’ll be willing to try instead of wash their hands of an entire group of people. And those of us that are older, who still want to make a difference, will be able to have an even deeper understanding of the ills that face our society. Listening to Native voices through ANN’s programming (which will include entertainment, but also news and special interest pieces, I’m sure), will help us get a true grasp on what’s happening right under our noses in America, and how we can help be better citizens and better people overall. Coming to terms with hard truths like this:

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is what’s going to make America go forward in a clear-headed, much more responsible way.

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

3 Reasons Why #Richonne is a Black History Month Gift

Hip hop hooray, Richonne (Rick and Michonne) is now officially canon in The Walking Dead! And, as luck would have it, such a development has happened in one of the most hallowed of months, Black History Month. This didn’t go unnoticed by many on Twitter:

So why is this the Black History Month gift we didn’t know we were going to get? Three reasons:

1. Finally, the truth is acknowledged

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Richonne has been a long time coming. Probably too long, according to some fans. The purpose was for the slow build, but with that slow build came dull love interests for Rick. Finally, Rick has figured out that he needs to be with Michonne, someone who is at his caliber of zombie-killing as well as a viable, intelligent leader.

2. Richonne made racists mad

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Now, let’s just say for the record that #notallRichonnehaters are racists. Some just genuinely don’t like it, and that’s cool. However, some don’t like Richonne (or The Flash‘s WestAllen or Sleepy Hollow‘s Ichabbie) purely for the reason that it’s a white man with a black woman. 

I’ve written before about the multiple viewpoints surrounding black woman/white man interracial relationships on television (and an article outlining more viewpoints around interracial fetishism is in this month’s issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine). But overall, a relationship like Richonne is progress. For example, Richonne shows that: 

  • The Walking Dead reflects its audience. Sure, the show still has a problem with killing off black guys. But at the very least, the inclusion of Rick and Michonne’s relationship (along with Glenn and Maggie) represents a large quantity of the audience (and America in general) who are in interracial relationships. They want to see themselves represented on screen, and what better power couple is there than Richonne?
  • Michonne is treated as any other woman on The Walking Dead. That is to say, she’s treated like a love interest. More detail on this later in the post.
  • Most audience members want to see diversity in all forms, including in their love stories. For the longest, The Walking Dead‘s only interracial love story has been Glenn and Maggie. For them to be the only ones out of all of the characters that have been on The Walking Dead (well, the only ones that are still alive, anyways) is quite astounding and, demographically speaking, doesn’t make sense. Richonne adds some much-needed diverse realism to the proceedings.

But, despite all of the positives that Richonne have going for it, there are some folks in the fandom who are pissed because Michonne is a black woman. There’s still a color barrier when it comes to relationships on television, and that color barrier seems to get even tougher in genre television. But Richonne has helped break that barrier, and those who are mad about it for the wrong reasons can fall back. 

 

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

• Black women are shown to be viable love interests for the white male lead

Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

 

Black women have had a history of either being desexualized or hypersexualized, and both depictions act as reasons why they aren’t seen as viable love interests for the main character, especially if that main character is a white man. For example:

  • Julia Baker from the 1970s show Julia is an example I use a lot for everything, but the character is perplexing in how chaste she is. First, it’s written that her husband was killed in the Vietnam War; writing out the husband and portraying a black family without a two-parent household is an issue in itself, but Julia herself is portrayed as being the perfect black woman, a woman who is “clear” enough in attitude and personality that she can be accepted by her white neighbors, but in order to stay outwardly virtuous, she must remain unwed. She’s a symbol of black respectability rather than just being a multifaceted black woman. Diahann Carroll herself, who played Julia, called her character a “white Negro” with little to do with the black experience.
  • Grantchester featured a troubling storyline in one of its episodes. The episode featured an American jazz group that was touring England, and the jazz singer, Gloria Dee, falls in love with Sidney and sleeps with him. However, the next day, Sidney comes to regret the decision, since he only slept with her to forget about the love he had for his best friend, Amanda, who was marrying a rich jerk. Gloria’s heartbreak is touched upon, but it’s also portrayed as if heartbreak for her is par for the course. She was also depicted as being a stereotype of a black woman jazz singer; every line was hilariously cartoonish, her voice had a Mae West lilt, and her persona was that of the “bad girl.” Sidney’s disgust with himself for sleeping with Gloria gets so bad that he throws out his jazz records; while his character was throwing them out because it reminded him of his personal and moral transgressions (he’s not one to just sleep with anyone), the act could also be interpreted as him believing that jazz (a black medium) and the singer herself led him astray, not his own actions.
  • Michonne herself has been touted by some as a “strong black woman,” even though such a stereotype-laden description strips her of her roundedness as a character. There are pockets of people who feel that, in order for the show to have a feminist angle, Michonne should stay the silent warrior. But these demands aren’t placed on other women (usually white women), like Carol (who is just as deadly with weapons as Michonne) or Maggie (who is, as has been written earlier in this post, in a relationship).

The reason for this distaste and exoticism of black women has its roots in the slave trade. As Paula Byrne wrote in her book about the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, many sailors and sea captains would rape African women and girls on the ship, later claiming that black females’ supposed hypersexuality made them do it (instead of taking responsibility for a lack of morality). The myth of hypersexuality continued throughout slavery, with white plantation owners blaming their victims for their own sexual abuse. Slave owners also helped with desexualization (and a slave’s further removal from personhood) by employing slaves as caretakers, which led to the “Mammy” stereotype. Today, the remnants of both stereotypes make it hard for black women characters, and black actresses, to exist in a fully realized way. Either black characters are “tough” (desexualized), a “Mammy” or caretaker (“desexualized”) or they are a Jezebel (hypersexualized). Hardly ever have they been portrayed as human beings.

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The feeling of bias towards black women in television, especially when it comes to black women characters possibly being the love interest for white male characters, also has antebellum roots. One of the many excuses for slavery was that it kept black men in line and kept their “prey,” white women, safe. Black women were also seen as threats, but the threat was based on a black woman gaining the same rights and status as a white woman. White women during this time benefited from this white supremacist view by being uplifted as genteel prizes.

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White supremacy is a dirty word today, but white women characters (and actresses, to a certain extent) are still lifted above other characters (and actresses) for no reason other than race. The fear of a black woman “stealing” a white man, especially the white male character, still holds true for some viewers of The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, The Flash and other shows that have a black female lead who shows interest in the white male lead. Because of unresolved historical issues, which has led to us seeing mostly white men/white women pairings in the first place, a black woman character with a white male lead might seem to some as a black woman not knowing her station. If Michonne wasn’t who she is, there wouldn’t be any problem.

Sharon, a guest post writer for Black Girl Nerds, summed it up succinctly:

Here’s what it comes down to: if Michonne weren’t a dark-skinned black woman, many of the people who were so surprised by Richonne would have expected it a long time ago. Were it a white actress (the kind we’re used to seeing as love interests on TV and in movies) playing the role of Michonne, sharing intimate scenes with Rick, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have been a case of if Rick and Michonne get together, but when.”

The thought that white goes with white and black goes with black is dying, thanks to the rise of black-white interracial relationships. But television still shows that pockets of this ideology is still alive and well. There are still moments when the media decides to portray black women as objects or obstacles instead of people. But thankfully, Richonne isn’t one of those moments. Richonne does the opposite; it turns the trope of the “strong black woman” on its head. Not only can a black woman be strong and kickass, but she can also be nurturing (like how Michonne is to Carl) and woman worthy of love. Basically, a black woman can be a human being.

As Rick himself, Andrew Lincoln, told TV Line:

“When we [shot it], we wanted it to have a feeling like these two great friends just looked at each other and realized, “Of course.” It was natural…and Michonne has been a mother figure and best friend to Carl for so long. And she saved Rick’s life and Carl’s life on countless occasions. There’s something rather moving about these two warriors getting together.”

So there you have it.

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