Ram Leela poster
A significant portion of the NFL’s fan base has reacted negatively to the national anthem protests of the past year. The responses tend to follow a pattern:
The stadium is no place for political protest. The game is a color-blind meritocracy. To protest football is to protest America.
But according to a study we published last year, white football fans and black football fans hold very different views about the relationship between football and national pride. And it might explain why there have been such divergent, emotional responses to the protests.
Black Americans love football, but…
Social scientists who study sports have long argued that sports are a powerful political stage. Popular wisdom, on the other hand, tends to maintain that sports are inherently apolitical, and should remain that way.
It’s true that until recently, visible black protests in American sports were rare. Yes, Muhammad Ali was outspoken about politics and became a symbol of black protest in the 1960s. And there’s the famous instance of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the 1968 Olympic Games. But generally, athletes have not waded into politics, no doubt in part because of the influence of corporate interests and sponsors. (Michael Jordan, when asked why he wouldn’t endorse a black Democratic candidate for Senate in 1990, famously said, “Republicans buy shoes too.”)
So for many white fans, the racial issues addressed by the protests upend what they see as the innocent, colorless patriotism of football.
But for black fans, feelings of alienation toward the imposed patriotism in NFL games have been stewing for a while. And it may be that black athletes finally decided to respond to the attitudes of their black fans.
In our study, we aggregated 75 opinion polls between 1981 and 2014, and compared the relationship between national pride and football fandom among white and black Americans.
We found that since the early 1980s, national pride has been in decline among American men and women of all races. But among black men, this decline has been especially sharp. At the same time, it’s also been accompanied by a marked increase in their interest in the NFL.
We suspect that this inverse relationship isn’t coincidental.
Which Americans do patriotic displays speak to?
For decades, the league and broadcasting networks have conflated football with patriotism. Massive American flags get spread across the field before the game, celebrities sing highly produced renditions of the national anthem, military jets streak across the skies and teams routinely honor veterans and active service members.
Networks air segments about the players’ lives and team histories that emphasize racial integration and national unity. They also promote the narrative that hard work and following the rules lead to success on the field – the crux of the American Dream.
Indeed, our study did show that enthusiasm for football and national pride are interrelated.
But the nature of this relationship depends on your race.
Only among white Americans did we find a positive association between football fandom and national pride: Football fans were much more likely to express high levels of national pride than white Americans who weren’t football fans. Among African-Americans, on the other hand, there was a negative association. This suggests that when black fans watch their favorite team play, it’s a very different type of experience.
And this was happening long before Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee.
Black identity and American identity
W.E.B Du Bois once observed that for black Americans, a fundamental tension exists between their American identities and their black identities. We now know from other studies that African-Americans tend to see themselves as less “typically American” than other races. Meanwhile, among white Americans there’s a common tendency to link American national identity with whiteness.
It could be that the symbols of American national pride – so visible during football games – give white fans the chance to unite their national pride with their fandom. To them, the fact that African-Americans make up between 65 and 69 percent of all NFL players is simply part of the country’s ethos of “inclusion.”
But for black fans, the overrepresentation of African-American athletes might mean something else. Football broadcasts can create highly visible opportunities to express black prowess, pride and resistance. At the same time, watching wildly successful black players on the football field might sharpen the contrast of racial injustice off the field.
Meanwhile, studies have shown that the more black Americans emphasize their blackness, the less likely they are to have patriotic feelings.
Together, this could create a situation where black fans are prone to reject the popular national narrative that links football to a wider, ethnically blind meritocratic order. To many of them, football isn’t connected to any sort of national identity in a positive way, so it’s easier for black fans to press successful black athletes to protest the status quo and use their platforms to address issues of discrimination and inequality.
In other words, even before black athletes started taking an explicit stand, their presence and success on the field created the conditions to question the dominant ideology of a meritocratic, colorblind society. National debates about inequality, police brutality and incarceration clearly resonate with many players, and they’ve been pushed to respond.
Looking at it this way, these protests were only a matter a time.
It’s official–he MCU finally has a confirmed LGBT character! According to Tessa Thompson (in response to someone else who was being antagonistic), her Thor: Ragnarok character Valkyrie is bisexual, just like how she is in the comic books.
She’s bi. And yes, she cares very little about what men think of her. What a joy to play! https://t.co/d0LZKTHCfL
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) October 21, 2017
She later tweeted this clarification.
YES! Val is Bi in the comics & I was faithful to that in her depiction. But her sexuality isn’t explicitly addressed in Thor: Ragnarok. https://t.co/hmb5lYN5to
— Tessa Thompson (@TessaThompson_x) October 23, 2017
When the news broke, the internet was decidedly of two camps–one who felt Thompson’s admission was proof of Marvel (aka Disney) finally giving much-needed bisexual representation, and the other, who felt like it was still Marvel/Disney trying to have their cake and eat it too.
Guess what? Both camps are right. Here’s why.
1. Yes, it is a step in the right direction
Even though an actor admitting that her character is still canonically bi shouldn’t be that big of a deal (i.e. when Ryan Reynolds said Deadpool was still going to be bi in his film adaptations), for a place as faux-liberal as Disney, it’s a very big deal. This is coming from a company that has created their Marvel franchise into a world of toxic and fragile masculinity, where even crying gets seen as a girly thing to do.
Even though fans have long had their speculations about certain characters, this is the first time anyone from the MCU has finally gone on record as saying their character is part of the LGBT spectrum. For many fans, this will mean they can finally, canonically claim someone as a positive representation. They’ll be able to go see Thor: Ragnarok and feel happy that finally there’s someone like them on screen. Also, for some, the fact that her sexuality isn’t expressed could be a positive; the ultimate goal for LGBT characters is for their sexuality to be treated like a non-issue; for some viewers, having it as a “non-issue” means that it’s not used as Valkyrie’s defining quality.
2. Valkyrie’s bisexuality not being physically represented could be a problem.
Comic book writer Gail Simone tweeted this sentiment, and I don’t think she’s alone.
I want to be happy about this but…
Dang it, why is this stuff still coded and ‘implied?’ https://t.co/jQLN227J2C
— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) October 24, 2017
For as many people who are happy just to her that Valkyrie is still bisexual in the films, there are just as many who will feel like Disney hasn’t gone far enough. It’s one thing to have an actor say that their character is still canon-compliant as far as their sexual orientation goes; it’s another to actually have that character express that orientation on screen. If it’s not a big deal, then why can’t she be seen with a girlfriend or a boyfriend?
To be fair, Thompson implied to a Twitter follower that a blonde valkyrie seen with her character is, in fact, our Valkyrie’s girlfriend, but the implication is made with a winking emoji, not words. To use Simone’s words, it’s still an implication, not an outright fact.
What can we take from this?
To look at this thing from a macro view, Disney is a company that has many branches that don’t often work together. For instance, the Disney Channel is making its own network history by having its first openly gay storyline in its popular show Andi Mack. And earlier this year, Disney Junior showcased its first lesbian couple on the massively popular Doc McStuffins. ABC routinely focuses on LGBT storylines through How to Get Away with Murder, Grey’s Anatomy, Fresh Off the Boat, black-ish, When We Rise and The Real O’Neals (recently cancelled).
Disney proper has also dabbled with gay representation, to clumsy effect, in Beauty and the Beast (it’s the thought that counts, but still, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as it was made out to be, and it was made worse by Josh Gad severely backtracking for no reason). But while its offshoots have a much more nimble time delving into LGBT-friendly storylines, Disney itself has trouble, as evidenced by that Beauty and the Beast scenario and the severe lack of storylines in Lucasfilm and Marvel movies. Maybe Valkyrie is the first true step for LGBT representation in Marvel films. If that’s the case, then maybe their next foray will be less timid and more boisterous.
“What’s your zombie apocalypse survival plan?”
The question invites the liveliest discussions of the semester. I teach a course on social movements in fiction and film at West Virginia University, where I also conduct research on race and gender politics in the United States.
George Romero’s first film, “Night of the Living Dead,” is on the syllabus. The film was groundbreaking in its use of horror as political critique. Half a century later, Romero’s films are still in conversation with racial politics in the United States, and Romero’s recent death calls for reflection on his legacy as a filmmaker.
Romero shot “Night of the Living Dead” in 1967, when Americans’ attention was focused on powerful televised images of race riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and on the Vietnam War, the likes of which were new to broadcast news. Romero reimagined scores of bleeding faces, twisted in rage or vacant from trauma, as the zombie hoard. He filtered public anger and anxieties through the hoard, reflecting what many viewed as liberals’ rage and disappointment over a lack of real social change and others saw as conservatives’ fear over disruptions in race relations and traditional family structures. This is the utility of the zombie as a political metaphor – it’s flexible; there is room enough for all our fears.
In “Night of the Living Dead,” an unlikely cross-section of people are cornered in a farmhouse by a zombie hoard. They struggle with each other and against the zombies to survive the night. At the end of the film, black protagonist Ben Huss is the sole survivor. He emerges from the basement at daybreak, only to be mistaken for a zombie and shot by an all-white militia. The militiamen congratulate each other and remark that Huss is “another one for the fire.” They never realize their terrible error. Perhaps they are inclined to see Huss as a threat to begin with, because he is black.
At the start of Romero’s next film, “Dawn of the Dead,” in which another unlikely bunch faces off against zombies in a shopping mall, police surround a public housing building. One officer remarks on the unfairness of putting blacks and Hispanics in these “big-ass fancy hotels” and proceeds to shoot residents indiscriminately, not distinguishing between the living and the undead.
The officers are shooting to restore the “natural order” in which the dead stay dead. But their actions also restore the prevailing social order and the institutions that create and reinforce racial inequality.
In my class, I connect these scenes of dehumanization to contemporary racial politics, using them as a springboard for conversations about racially motivated police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. These discussions focus on the zombie as a dehumanized creature.
In returning from the dead, zombies lose their human essence – their agency, critical reasoning capacities, empathy and language. As Cohen writes, “Zombies are a collective, a swarm. They do not own individualizing stories. They do not have personalities. They eat. They kill. They shamble. They suffer and they cause suffering. They are dirty, stinking, and poorly dressed. They are indifferent to their own decay.” Zombies retain a human form, but lose their individuality and are dehumanized in their reanimation.
Minority victims of police shootings are often portrayed in the media as dangerous, animalistic and even monstrous – meaning they too are stripped of their basic humanity. Social psychologists argue that perceptions of humanity are a critical part of social cognition – the way we process or think about other people and social settings. When we see people or groups as less than human, predictable consequences arise. Romero’s films tune us in to our own potential for dehumanization.
Dehumanization relaxes our moral restrictions on doing harm to others and ultimately facilitates violence against them. When people see members of a group as an undifferentiated “hoard,” they’re susceptible to the same error as the militiamen in “Night of the Living Dead.” When they couple dehumanization with hatred, resentment or fear, they become like the resentful police officer in “Dawn of the Dead.” Dehumanization of black Americans underpins the violence perpetrated against them in Romero’s films and in America today.
Dehumanization isn’t confined to police violence. New research shows that dehumanization of Muslims and Hispanics underlies support for restrictive immigration policies and a border wall. It also undercuts support for aid to refugees.
In my own research, I show that political candidates are often dehumanized in political discourse and campaign imagery. This work suggests that monsters plague our elections and governance processes more broadly.
Romero will be best remembered for giving the zombie a place in mainstream American culture, but he also gave us a warning about human psychology and critical insights into racial politics in the U.S. For this reason, his work will continue to have a revered place on my syllabus.
Kevin Spacey presents his new movie Margin Call at the Berlin Film Festival 2011 (Wikimedia)
I’ve about had it with Hollywood. Between Austin’s film scene with Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles and Birth.Movies.Death’s Devin Faraci, Harvey Weinstein, and the various other sexual assault/harassment allegations that have surfaced from all corners of society, it’s clear that the problem connecting all of these is that Hollywood and other industries offer umbrellas of protection to those who have power, money, and–most often–penises. Those who are the least protected are the young (girls and boys), women in general, and those who come from marginalized and underrepresented communities, including–but not limited to–racial and cultural communities, the disabled, and those from the LGBT community.
Most of the cases we’ve heard about involve women facing lecherous, predatory men, such as the 80+ women who have come out to tell their stories involving Weinstein–including Rose McGowan and Annabella Sciorra, who say Weinstein raped them–and the 300+ women who say director James Toback sexually abused them. But there are also those cases involving men, such as Terry Crews, and minors. We’ve heard it from Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. We’ve heard it from those who have accused Bryan Singer. And now we’re hearing it from Broadway actor and Star Trek: Discovery star Anthony Rapp, who was preyed upon by Kevin Spacey when Rapp was 14 years old.
Rapp’s account–which you can read in full at Buzzfeed–is horrifying.
— Ellen Cushing (@elcush) October 30, 2017
Rapp having to relive a memory he hadn’t told anyone about since it happened was made even more traumatic by the type of statement Spacey released as an “apology.”
— Kevin Spacey (@KevinSpacey) October 30, 2017
There’s so much wrong with this statement–and folks are right to compare it to the equally obtuse and rambling statement Weinstein put out at the beginning of his saga, via The New York Times:
Both statements are exercises in trying to shift blame to anything and anyone other than themselves. For Weinstein, his scapegoats were the times he grew up in and his demons–which he does have, most definitely, however from actresses’ statements, he seemed untroubled by his demons until he had to issue an apology. For Spacey, his scapegoat is…being gay. Spacey certainly has his demons too, but they have nothing to do with his sexual orientation. They, like Weinstein’s, have everything to do with falling in lust with absolute control and absolute power.
To equate being gay to molestation is a two-fold act of cowardice and violence. First, the conflation is a slap in the face to the LGBT community, a community he has apparently run from his entire acting career, despite decades of rumors and direct questions about his sexual orientation. Secondly, it sets America’s progress with LGBT rights and attitudes back to the stone age. LGBT Americans have had to live with these types of regressive stereotypes for much longer than we straights have been aware of them. In fact, it’s straight America that has perpetuated these myths within our society. Again, the demon at work is absolute control and absolute power, and those who are in the majority have the power to control the narrative however they want. In this case, it’s straight people passing along the stereotype that those who are gay or otherwise along the spectrum are pedophiles and predators.
For Spacey to, as many have said, hide behind the rainbow flag now after he’s ran from it for so long is ugly and morally lacking. He should be ashamed of himself.
Speaking for those of us who review TV and film for a living, there’s the added moral condition of how to approach Spacey’s body of work after this bombshell.
I’ve followed the Weinstein saga closely, and provided my point of view to Bustle on how women in in the film criticism industry could come to terms with approaching Weinstein-backed films now that the facts are out in the open. One part of my opinion that got edited out (since most of us in the article were on the same wavelength and repeating each other), was that if it were a case of avoiding one actor and his filmography, say Woody Allen, then it’d be easy to avoid and remove our support from that actor. That’s what I’m going to do when it comes to Kevin Spacey. Just like with Weinstein, where there’s one story of wrongdoing, there’s bound to be more (whether or not they come forward).
It seems like Netflix is taking this avoidance approach with Spacey as well; the streaming network has announced that it will end House of Cards after the sixth season, which is currently in production. Netflix and Media Rights Captial’s joint statement (via The Hollywood Reporter)
“Media Rights Capital and Netflix are deeply troubled by last night’s news concerning Kevin Spacey. In response to last night’s revelations, executives from both of our companies arrived in Baltimore this afternoon to meet with our cast and crew to ensure that they continue to feel safe and supported. As previously scheduled, Kevin Spacey is not working on set at this time.”
Various celebrities, particularly those who are gay, also spoke out against Spacey’s conflating statement, as well as Beau Willimon, the creator of House of Cards.
My statement regarding Anthony Rapp and Kevin Spacey: pic.twitter.com/8z6zotHWE5
— Beau Willimon (@BeauWillimon) October 30, 2017
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) October 30, 2017
— Zachary Quinto (@ZacharyQuinto) October 30, 2017
Just wanna be really fucking clear that being gay has nothing to do w/ going after underage folks
— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) October 30, 2017
*Sexual abuse by opposite and same sex predators. https://t.co/EhRkhdtlcG
— Rhea Butcher🇵🇷 (@RheaButcher) October 30, 2017
No no no no no! You do not get to “choose” to hide under the rainbow! Kick rocks! https://t.co/xJDGAxDjxz
— Official Wanda Sykes (@iamwandasykes) October 30, 2017
Being gay should never be equated with sexual assault or pedophilia. Thanks for giving the homophobes more ammo #KevinSpacey. 🙄
— Lance Bass (@LanceBass) October 30, 2017
Thankfully, the tide of voices has helped keep the narrative on Rapp’s story and not on the spin Spacey and his team were trying to pull (which, on some outlets, they succeeded). The focus should always be on the side of the victim and not on the perpetrator, who is still only out to control and use power, even when his (or her) back is up against the wall. If Hollywood could come to terms with its demons and finally rid the industry of predators, it’d be a much more enjoyable industry for actors and crew, film and TV critics, and the audience at large.
With that said, the best way to end this is with Rapp’s words on why he decided to come forward.
I came forward with my story, standing on the shoulders of the many courageous women and men who have been speaking out 1/3
— Anthony Rapp (@albinokid) October 30, 2017
to shine a light and hopefully make a difference, as they have done for me. 2/3
— Anthony Rapp (@albinokid) October 30, 2017
Everything I wanted to say about my experience is in that article, and I have no further comment about it at this time.
— Anthony Rapp (@albinokid) October 30, 2017
The recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in the American media industry, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly, has elicited shock and sparked debate on violence against women in the United States.
Sexual harassment isn’t the exclusive domain of show biz big shots. It remains alarmingly prevalent nationwide, even as other crimes are generally decreasing nationwide.
In the U.S., a 2006 study found that 27 percent of college women reported some form of forced sexual contact – ranging from kissing to anal intercourse – after enrolling in school. This sexual violence is heavily underreported, with just 20 percent of female student victims reporting the crime to law enforcement.
Nor is sexual harassment limited to the United States. The U.N. has called gender-based violence a “global pandemic.” As experts in emergency medicine and legal research at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we believe it’s important to acknowledge that this issue transcends national borders and class boundaries to touch the lives of roughly 33 percent of all women worldwide.
A world of trouble
According to World Health Organization estimates, one in three women worldwide will experience either physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, many of them before the age of 15.
In fact, for many rural women, their first sexual encounter will be a forced one. Some 17 percent of women in rural Tanzania, 21 percent in Ghana, 24 percent in Peru, 30 percent in Bangladesh and 40 percent in South Africa report that their first sexual experience was nonconsensual.
Intimate partner violence is also pervasive globally. In one World Health Organization study, 22 to 25 percent of women surveyed in cities in England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Zimbabwe reported that a boyfriend or husband had committed some form of sexual violence against them. Globally, up to 55 percent of women murdered are killed by their partners.
Violence against women takes many forms, ranging from psychological abuse to the kind of sexual predation, sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein. Honor killings, physical attacks, female infanticide, genital cutting, trafficking, forced marriages and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered gender-based violence.
Rates range from country to country – from 15 percent in Japan to 71 percent in Ethiopia – but violence is, in effect, a ubiquitous female experience.
Sexual violence is committed at particularly high rates in crisis settings like war zones, refugee camps and disaster zones.
In these places, even humanitarian workers are not immune. Dyan Mazurana and her colleagues at Tufts University found that many female development-aid staffers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues.
Explaining sexual violence
For example, sexual violence occurs more frequently in cultures where violence is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honor, sexual purity and male sexual entitlement are strongly held.
Even in many countries that rank well on gender equality, including in the United States, weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence can encourage and effectively condone such behavior.
So can cultural acceptance. Weinstein’s sexual predatory behavior was longstanding and well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity – until women began speaking up.
Likewise, Fox News renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract even after he and the company had made at least six multi-million-dollar settlements with women who filed sexual harassment claims against him. Awareness of a problem is one thing; taking action is quite another.
Men with lower educational levels, or who have been exposed to maltreatment or family violence as children, are more likely to commit sexual violence themselves.
That’s because violence begets violence, a relationship that’s abundantly clear in the kinds of conflict zones where we work. Mass rape has long been used as a weapon of war, and has been well-documented during conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and South Sudan.
Among the most salient cases are the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. According to the U.N.‘s High Commissioner for Refugees, up to 500,000 Rwandan women were systematically raped in 1994 as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, while tens of thousands of Bosnian women and girls were systematically raped between 1992 and 1995.
Wherever and however it happens, violence against women and girls poses a major public health problem for women and their communities.
Some 42 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence reported an injury
– including bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, broken bones and injuries to the ears and eyes – as a consequence of that abuse. Women who suffer violence are also 1.5 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, twice as likely to experience depression and drinking problems and twice as likely to have an abortion.
Violence against women is also closely associated with suicide and self-harm.
If there’s any silver lining to the Weinstein and O’Reilly scandals, it’s that in coming out against these high-profile men, dozens of women have helped to highlight not just the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States but also the societal norms that silence women and allow abusers to go unchecked.
Humanitarian organizations from the World Health Organization to the U.N. to the U.S. Agency for International Development have recognized that gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue. Addressing it requires working with men and boys, too, to counter the cultures of toxic masculinity that encourage or tolerate sexual violence.
After all, women’s rights are human rights, so sexual violence is everyone’s problem to solve.
The fact is, societies with high rates of sexual violence are also more likely to be violent and unstable. Research shows that the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.
Valerie Dobiesz, Emergency Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Director of External Programs STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation, Core Faculty Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard University and Julia Brooks, Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University
In 2014, Time magazine declared American culture had reached a “transgender tipping point,” with transgender people achieving unprecedented media visibility.
However, in light of recent policy shifts – such as the White House’s rollback of federal guidelines that supported transgender students and Trump’s July 26 Twitter pronouncement that the U.S. military will no longer allow transgender service members – some have questioned whether this visibility has actually meant greater acceptance of trans people.
Studies have shown that entertainment has the power to shape attitudes on health and social issues, from organ donation to the death penalty. But little research has explored the impact of portrayals of transgender people.
For this reason, we wanted to see how transgender TV characters might influence the attitudes of viewers. Specifically, we tested whether political ideology plays a role in how audiences respond to these potentially polarizing depictions.
Transgender media visibility
Time’s “transgender tipping point” from a few years ago was attributed to fictional trans characters in shows like “Transparent” and “Orange Is the New Black” and news coverage of controversial policy issues, such as discrimination lawsuits about school bathrooms. In April 2015, nearly 17 million people watched Caitlyn Jenner come out as transgender on “20/20.”
It was in this context that the USA Network drama “Royal Pains” included a storyline about a fictional transgender teen named Anna who experiences complications while transitioning from male to female. Although Anna’s subplot lasted only 11 minutes, it grappled with numerous issues: the medical profession’s historical treatment of transgender individuals as mentally ill, parental rights regarding adolescent transitions and the risks of hormone replacement therapy.
We first learned of the upcoming “Royal Pains” storyline in early 2015, when the show’s writers contacted Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a USC Annenberg-affiliated program that gives entertainment industry professionals accurate and timely information for storylines on health, safety and national security. (Erica is a researcher at HH&S.)
HH&S facilitated conversations between the writers and an expert in the medical treatment of transgender youth. The resulting June 23, 2015 episode, “The Prince of Nucleotides,” received a 2016 GLAAD Media Award, with transgender activist Nicole Maines making her acting debut as Anna.
Before we could study the impact of Anna’s storyline, we wanted to make sure that the audience was mixed in its views on transgender rights – in other words, that the show wouldn’t simply be preaching to the choir.
Since the 2016 U.S. election, countless stories have explored the “media bubbles” in which Americans live. This trend toward fragmentation permeates news, social media and entertainment. TV shows with broad audience appeal tend to address hot-button social issues relatively infrequently and superficially. Regular viewers of boundary-pushing series, on the other hand, may already be left-leaning.
Research by GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) indicates that transgender characters have appeared primarily on streaming platforms and premium cable channels, while broadcast network shows – which have larger audiences – tend to feature transgender characters only in brief storylines, if at all.
This means viewers disinclined to watch a show like “Transparent,” which features several trans characters, might still encounter such characters in minor storylines in mainstream programs.
“Royal Pains” (2009-2016) was about as mainstream as TV gets today. The show had no real history of addressing LGBTQ issues, so Anna’s episode was unlikely to attract a particularly trans-supportive audience. For us, this made it the ideal show to study transgender portrayals and how they might influence viewers across the ideological spectrum.
Do minor subplots make a difference?
Because HH&S had consulted on the storyline, the members of USA Network’s social media team were open to helping us with our study. They posted links to our survey on the show’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts following the episode. We supplemented this sample by recruiting “Royal Pains” viewers from market research panels. Only those who had seen the episode or one of the two prior episodes were eligible. Of the 488 viewers in our study, 391 had seen Anna’s episode.
Because there were several different shows at the time featuring transgender characters, we asked viewers which of these they had seen. We also measured their exposure to transgender issues in the news, including the unfolding Caitlyn Jenner story.
Finally, we examined several important variables that are known to impact viewers. These include identification with main characters, a sense of being drawn into the world of the story (what media scholars call “transportation”) and the emotions evoked by the storyline.
We found that “Royal Pains” viewers who saw Anna’s story had more supportive attitudes toward transgender people and policies, and we found a cumulative effect of exposure to transgender entertainment narratives. The more portrayals viewers saw, the more supportive their attitudes. Neither exposure to such issues in the news nor Caitlyn Jenner’s story had any effect on attitudes. In other words, the fictional stories we examined were more influential than events in the news.
Consistent with previous research, in our data, political conservatism strongly predicted negative attitudes toward transgender people and lower support for policies that benefit transgender people. However, exposure to two or more transgender storylines cut the strength of this link in half. That is, politically conservative viewers who saw multiple shows featuring transgender characters had more positive attitudes toward trans people than those who saw just one.
Political ideology also shaped viewers’ responses to the “Royal Pains” narrative. Those who were politically liberal were more likely to feel hope or identify with Anna, whereas those who were politically conservative were more likely to react with disgust.
Beyond the bubble
Hollywood is not a panacea for healing our nation’s deep partisan and ideological divisions. To influence attitudes on a broad scale, entertainment storylines must first reach audiences outside cloistered media bubbles.
However, our research suggests nuanced portrayals of transgender individuals – particularly in mainstream forms of entertainment – can break down ideological barriers in a way that news stories may not. Cumulative exposure across multiple shows had the greatest impact on attitudes, but even a relatively brief storyline had a powerful effect too. While politically conservative viewers were more likely to react with disgust, such reactions were tempered by seeing trans characters on a variety of shows.
At a recent GLAAD-sponsored panel, trans actress and activist Laverne Cox noted:
“We’ve got to tell these stories better because lives are on the line. Trans people are being murdered, are being denied health care, access to bathrooms and employment and housing because of all of these…misconceptions that people have about who we really are.”
As the future of thousands of active duty service members hangs in the balance, it’s more imperative than ever to understand how the public responds to media representations of transgender people.
Erica L. Rosenthal, Senior Research Associate, Hollywood, Health & Society, University of Southern California and Traci Gillig, PhD Candidate in Communication, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Colorism might be a spectre of a racist past, but it still haunts the African diaspora, especially black women, today. With the popularity of bleaching creams still in existence around the world and systemic prejudices leveled against darker-skinned women daily, Charcoal is a film that aims to get to the root of colorism and extricate it.
The film, made by Haitian-born film director and photographer Francesca Andre, focuses on two women who try their hardest to overcome their own self-hate.
Charcoal captures the parallel stories of two black women and their lifelong journey to overcome internalized colorism, find self-acceptance and ultimately redemption. Despite the vast distances between them, these women both face a barrage of social messages from strangers and loved ones alike: That their darker complexion makes them less worthy of love, acceptance or respect. Yet through this painful erosion of their self-worth, these women rediscover their power and undergo a metamorphosis. They fully embrace the beauty, versatility and dignity of their melanin and begin to disrupt the generational cycle of self-hatred within communities of color.
Charcoal has been featured many times over in the press, including Shadow and Act, Afropunk, Bridgeport Daily Voice, The Brooklyn Reader, ThinkProgress, Caribbean Life and Sheen Magazine, as well as publications from around the world. The film has also won several awards, including the 2017 Reel Sisters Best Narrative Short Award, 2017 Crystal Ship Filmmakers Visionary Award, and the 2017 Women of African Descent Juror’s Choice Certificate.
This won’t be the last time JUST ADD COLOR covers Charcoal, so stay tuned. Until then, check out the film’s trailer and see what you think.
SPOILERS for Blade Runner: 2049 and a possible TRIGGER WARNING for mentions of rape and sexual assault.
Hollywood is still reeling from the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s abhorrent conduct. Even though Weinstein is being dismissed from various film boards, including the Academy, it begs the question: What about the other men in Hollywood who uphold toxic masculinity and rape culture?
Harvey Weinstein was kicked out of the Academy because we found out about him, not because Hollywood did.
Hollywood always knew about him.
— Alana Mastrangelo (@ARmastrangelo) October 14, 2017
— The Mary Sue (@TheMarySue) October 15, 2017
OK so the Academy kicked out Harvey Weinstein.
But not Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, or Woody Allen.
— Militia Etheridge (@MaryEmilyOHara) October 14, 2017
Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby are still members of the Academy (Woody Allen never became a member) https://t.co/6vjjaffSso
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) October 11, 2017
Hollywood has been a hotbed for all versions of toxic masculinity, from predators to the benign “as a father of daughters” type–however that type is just as insidious. Like Martin Luther King’s abhorrence for the “white moderate” who does nothing in order to not make waves, the male moderate does and says nothing when women around him cry for help. It usually takes someone close to him (a daughter, for instance) for him to see that society treats women as second class citizens.
Toxic masculinity is not just apparent in Hollywood (and various other industries); it’s also apparent in the stories Hollywood tells. The latest blockbuster in theaters, Blade Runner 2049, is rampant with toxicity. Yet, it also wants to have its progressive cake and eat it too. But placing two women in roles of power doesn’t make it okay for every other woman in the film to be treated like a walking Barbie doll. Here’s how Blade Runner 2049 fails its women and illustrates the double standard in Hollywood.
Women as props
The effort Blade Runner 2049 goes to make sure women are seen as objects is astounding, especially contrasted against how much effort the film went into making sure we recognized Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) as a “strong female character.” (To be honest, most of the likability of Joshi comes from Wright’s force as an actress, her ability to make rather static, paint-by-numbers-“I’m a hardass police boss” lines have some actual weight.)
As in the original Blade Runner, which focused its attention on Deckard and used rape as the titular “romantic” shift in the relationship between Deckard and the film’s replicant love interest Rachel, Blade Runner 2049 uses women as a backdrop for male angst and women’s pain as a tool to show male dominance.
Using women as a blank slate is best shown in the existence of Joi (Ana de Armas), a female companion anyone can buy, made by the Wallace Corporation, the company that replaced the Tyrell Corporation in replicant-making superiority. Joi is a virtual girlfriend, and while we don’t see all of Joi’s capabilities, it’s insinuated that she can take on any personality that best fits her “boyfriend.” In Joi’s introductory scene, we see that she takes the form of a 1950s housewife–the cliche of male superiority and female objectifcation–and in her daily life, she usually dresses in clothes reminiscent of the mod 1960s and 1970s. I believe, since K has a love for the 1950s and 1960s–what with him listening to swingers’ music in his apartment–K probably programmed Joi to dress this way; Joi’s actual “default mode” of dressing is in comfortable, yet cute athleisure wear. It’s quite ironic that Joi, a woman who is stripped of personal choice, is programmed to dress in the clothes of the women’s liberation.
If there’s Joi, where are the male companions for sale? It would have been more interesting to show how subjugation has become a big theme of Blade Runner‘s future, with both women and men virtual dolls available for customers. Something similar is ignored in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. As I wrote in my review for Mediaversity Reviews:
Heterosexuality is large and in charge in Marvel’s cinematic universe, even in outer space. You’d think if it’s plausible for Peter to be in a relationship with Gamora, an alien, there should be some mention of same-sex attraction or asexuality. There was one explicit chance for different sexual preferences to be subtly brought up—a scene on a pleasure planet where sex robots available for touring ne’er-do-wells. There could have easily been male Johns paying for the services of male sex robots. Or there could have been women utilizing either male robots or female robots. But the film only shows us men with female sex robots. In fact, the reason we’re shown this planet is to reintroduce us to Peter’s questionable father figure Yondu, who is buttoning his pants after finishing a night with a female sex robot.
With the future usually thought of as a time when fears about sexual orientation have subsided, you’d think that for ever huge Joi advert, there’d be one for, let’s say, ‘Yul’ (since this world is all about mixing Russian themes in with its Japanese futurism). If I saw a naked Yul billboard, I might not be so annoyed by seeing one featuring a naked Joi. Male fragility blocks Blade Runner 2049 from engaging in any type of equitable conversation about male and female objectification–how dare a man be shown in a fetishistic way! Male fragility blocks most films, including “harmless fun” like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, from showing men a less powerful, submissive position.
The catch with the replicants and AI made by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)–the reason his company has become the new standard in replicant-making technology–is that his replicants obey all rules. This would be an interesting thing to explore if this quality was actually explored in all replicants, male and female.
Yes, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is supposed to be a Wallace replicant, and up until the point we meet him in the film, he has been following all rules to a T. But, as the male lead, he’s afforded the ability to go against his programming; we only see mental complexity in the men in this movie, replicant and human. Meanwhile, female robots don’t get that type of treatment. Joi, we’re led to believe, is supposed to be undergoing some type of mental progression. But it seems more like she’s fulfilling her programming by choosing to love K more intensely over the course of the film, to the point where she asks him to transport her to a portable device. When K initially refuses, scared that it might cause him to lose her forever, she does exert some power by saying if he didn’t do it, she could do it herself. But this one moment of personal power isn’t enough to overcome her other moments of mindlessness. Also, the two times she does use her own power is only in service of K, not for her own mental exploration.
The other replicant in this film, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), also follows the rules without being given the opportunity to challenge her role. She clearly has feelings–she sheds tears several times in this movie, indicating how she’s internally at odds with Wallace’s orders and her own place in the world. Yet, we see her dutifully follow Wallace’s directives, even after seeing Wallace gut a newly-born female replicant just to show how docile his replicants are. Why doesn’t she ever challenge Wallace? If she knows the importance of the story’s mystery figure–the child borne of a replicant–and that having that figure in the clutches of Wallace means no one any good, why doesn’t she ever team up with K? What makes her loyal to Wallace when all she seems to know is abuse?
If K can get emotional growth, why can’t Luv? She’s earned it as much as K has.
Also, Rachel is revitalized in this film, only to have her be shot mere seconds later. Her entire point in this story is to be used as an object in Wallace’s plan to turn Deckard to his side. But when Deckard doesn’t fall for it (Rachel had green eyes, not brown, he says), the fake Rachel is shot by Luv. Once again, Rachel’s pain is used only to further Deckard’s storyline. It would have been nice to know what this Rachel thought of everything happening; was she aware of how she was being used? Did she retain any of the original Rachel’s memories? What part could she have played in the burgeoning uprising? And could she have at least lived long enough to meet her daughter? Deckard gets to.
Blade Runner 2049 overcomplicates its own story by how grotesquely it uses the female form to titilate, shock, and arouse awe. Take a look at how old Las Vegas is depicted in the film:
There’s more nakedness shown in the actual film; the remnants of huge naked women dot the wasteland, helping the film achieve its R rating. Why does Las Vegas have to be proliferated with humongous naked women statues? What purpose does this serve?
As Li Lai wrote in her review for Mediaversity Reviews, the film is a “trainwreck for gender equality”:
To watch this film is to suffer through a parade of hypersexualized female bodies that are purchased as digital toys, deployed as prostitutes, or gutted through the uterus to demonstrate man’s control over the world he created. The gratuitous violence against women is never challenged by the filmmakers; on the contrary, the camera seems to delight in rendering shock value as if it will make the film harder, or edgier. Devon Maloney pens a great piece on the misogyny of Blade Runner 2049 for Wired:
“Three men manage to take up 95 percent of the emotional frame on screen, leaving little room for the women around them to have their own narratives. There’s manic pixie dream girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), whom K (Ryan Gosling) has literally purchased. K’s boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), berates him at work and then invites herself over, drinks his alcohol, and comes on to him. Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), the sex worker with a heart of gold, repeatedly comes to K’s aid (in every way you can imagine). Wallace (Jared Leto)’s servant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) has the most tangible personality, yet she’s obsessed with pleasing Wallace. Even Rachael makes a cameo as a plot device for Deckard, embodying the final archetype—the martyred Madonna—of this Ultimate Sexist Megazord. Not one of these female characters voice an ambition or desire that does not pertain to their male counterparts.”
Additionally, the character of Joi, K’s digital girlfriend, employs the damaging trope of ‘Born Sexy Yesterday’ as described by Beth Elderkin:
“’Born Sexy Yesterday’ is the crafting of female characters who have the minds of children but the bodies of mature women…the idea that a sexy yet virginal woman needs a man to explain the basic fundamentals of being a person, making her dependent on him. It doesn’t matter how unremarkable he is, she’ll always find him fascinating, because she’s never known anyone else.”
The film’s obsession female sexuality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If anything can be learned from the Harvey Weinstein scandal and other scandals that have hit Hollywood in recent weeks, it’s that women in Hollywood–on screen and off–are only given a box to express themselves inside of, while men get the entire playground. Too many men in Hollywood seem to think that women only exist to be sexual objects. Either you’re supposed to be like Joi and do whatever you can to please men in charge, or you’re meant to be a relic like the statues, forgotten or blacklisted as “hard to work with” because you decided to stand up for your voice. And even then, your body is used against you; just like how the statues showcase the barren wasteland of Las Vegas, an actress’ body can either be used as sexual currency or the reason why she doesn’t book any roles.
The conceits that women are sponges for abuse, “born sexy yesterday,” or sirens who need to be punished are myths that has been ingrained into Hollywood’s storytelling. Many of the men who tell the majority of these stories are also men who don’t know how to treat women fairly is highly troubling. This is a general statement–I’m not casting singular doubt on the folks behind Blade Runner 2049, but this film is full of that standard male-dominated thinking that believes itself to be progressive, when it’s actually regressive.
To take the heat off of Blade Runner 2049, let’s look at another filmmaker, Joss Whedon. For whatever reason (Buffy, I guess), Whedon has been lauded as a feminist writer. Even before his own scandal surfaced, Whedon’s version of feminism has never included women of color, so immediately, it was suspect. But now, it’s apparent that Whedon’s feminism wasn’t for anyone other than to serve his own agenda. Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, said Whedon only utilized his clout as a “feminist” to get closer to actresses he wanted to cheat with. According to Cole’s op-ed in The Wrap, Whedon’s own description of the women he was surrounded by flies in the face of his supposed politics.
“Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, ‘When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.’ But he did touch it. He said he understood, ‘I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,’ but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, ‘would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.’”
He’s blaming the women he decided to pursue for his own martial transgressions instead of taking responsibility for his actions. And yet, he’s the one chosen to write the upcoming Batgirl film, even after his draft of Wonder Woman, which is completely written from the male point of view and only highlights Diana when he wants to showcase her as a sexual object or a thing for his Steve Trevor to act against.
Should’ve have Joss Whedon write Wonder Woman SMH pic.twitter.com/mOSUWZuQMW
— Alyssa (@TheJoltaire) August 31, 2017
I’m reading Joss Whedon’s original script for Wonder Woman pic.twitter.com/r0NOIrfEew
— pumpkinziella (@Punziella) June 16, 2017
— Eleen (@Gas_Eleen) July 7, 2017
Can someone claim to be a feminist and still see the female only in virgin/whore dynamics? Yes. Similarly, can a film like Blade Runner 2049, which tries to show women in progressive roles, still reinforce staid, tired tropes? Yes. Can Hollywood claim to be forward thinking while female actors (and male actors) get harassed and even assaulted by toxic men just for daring to do their job? Yes.
Women as interchangeable
Out of the entire film, the grossest part for me was seeing Joi pay for the services of replicant prostitute Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) in order to have sex with K. The scene was supposed to be one that inspired pathos for Joi’s condition as a hologram–she can’t actually touch K–but seeing it play out was like watching an idea that seemed good in someone’s head become horrifying when enacted in real life.
The scene doubled down on the Blade Runner franchise’s lackadaisical treatment of women, this time proving that it does believe that women are not only props, but are interchangeable ones. Was K having sex with Joi or with Mariette? Does it even matter? It seems like it doesn’t, since towards the end of the movie, K caresses Mariette’s face with the same loving tenderness he tried to caress Joi with–and Joi had just “died” in the prior scene.
Again, to go back to Hollywood, the theme of interchangeability is rampant within the industry. Women are usually written as tropes in films–either as supportive girlfriends or wives, quirky “manic pixie dream girls,” “strong female characters” (which just means the woman curses and fights, but still fulfills the patriarchal demands of a sexual object), or they’re “smart,” meaning they’re usually dressed “unattractively” but still act as a type of sexual release (think of how Velma from Scooby Doo has become one of most pornographically-presented Hanna Barbera characters) or they’re dressed unattractively (and behave like a stereotypical dork) as if to say smartness in women equals ugliness.
It’s only been in recent times that films featuring women living outside of the patriarchy have been presented in ways other than the 1940s “women’s prison” films. Yet, there’s still so much further to go. Blade Runner 2049 is case in point. With as futuristic as the film’s supposed to be, everything about the film references Hollywood’s past and current treatment of women as both actresses and characters. Joi’s defining characteristic is that she’s sexy. Joshi’s main characteristic is being “tough.” Luv’s main characteristic is “loyalty.” However, K is allowed to be sexy, tough, loyal (to a point), and smart, discerning, confused, self-aware, brooding, cool, sad, disillusioned, etc. He gets a range of emotions, while the women either only serve one purpose or are used interchangeably to serve one man, as is the case with Mariette and Joi serving K and Luv and Rachel serving Wallace.
The fact that nearly every female character dies in the film is also evidence of the film’s belief that regardless of these women’s various stations in life or their motivations, they are all interchangeable and disposable. This movie reeks of the “fridged woman” stereotype, which means that women are killed in stories solely to advance a male-driven plot. Comic book writer Gail Simone has compiled a huge list of female comic book characters that have been killed or brutalized solely for the male lead to be spurred into action.
However, Blade Runner 2049 fails at even allowing he male leads to be spurred into action because of female death. The deaths of these women are treated with nihilism, as if their deaths are to show how brutal this futuristic world can be. Maybe that point would be better made if we saw more male characters be faced with certain death throughout the film; most of the male characters we meet at the beginning of the film are still alive at the very end, while most of the female characters are dead. Even though K gives up the ghost in the film’s final seconds, he still survived all the way to the ending credits, which is more than we can say for more deserving female characters.
The only male character that dies in this film is Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). His death links him to these women; he’s the only male character in the film to show any deference to the female-made miracle he’s witnessed–Rachel giving birth to her daughter. The only man in the movie who shows any ounce of respect towards a woman gets killed because of it.
Women who are erased from their own narratives
A female character that does survive, however, is Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), but that’s only because she has to be kept in a sterile environment due to a condition (maybe a condition related to her birth). Ana is also the prodigal daughter everyone’s been looking for. However, as far as the film’s storytelling goes, is she only considered useful by the story because Deckard’s her dad, not the power she has as the first of her kind?
This might seem like nitpicking, especially since Ana inverts the audience’s trained expectation for the leading man to be the golden child. Having K realize he’s not the chosen one is actually quite satisfying–he’s built a huge mythology in his head by this point in the movie, so when he learns the truth from replicant leader Freysa (Hiam Abbass), one of the few women of power in this film, it’s fascinating to see his ego deflate before our eyes. When he realizes his only purpose is to be the usher for a female savior, he becomes disillusioned once again.
However, when K has this great realization should be when the film actually starts. The real story isn’t K’s journey from replicant-to-human-to-replicant; the real story is Ana’s. Why is it that we follow K throughout his search–which has K go around 360 degrees back to his emotional starting point–and watch him die, when the real story is happening off screen? This film should have been about Ana, not K.
Having the film follow K instead of the real focus is toxic masculinity at work. It’s subtle, but the film’s basically saying that K’s story is more important not because of any revelations he might have, but because he’s a man. That’s the only reason I can see as to why we don’t follow Ana, who has the balance of the entire world in her hands. The real mystery isn’t if K is a human; it’s how did a human (or suspected replicant) and a known replicant have a naturally-conceived replicant child? What’s the science behind this? And what would Ana do with this power once she’s made aware of her unique position? She might be alive, but why is she fridged out of her own story?
There’s a parallel here. Just like how we’re told K is more important than Ana, we’re often told men’s stories and emotions are more important than women’s. Women are often portrayed as being naive and not knowing what they want, while the man somehow magically does. This is indicative in the rape scene between Rachel and Deckard, which is played more like a love scene than the brutal act it actually is.
As Eric Haywood wrote for Roger Ebert (linked above):
Here’s the scene in a nutshell: Rachael’s with Deckard in his apartment. They’re sitting together at his piano when he tries to kiss her. She pulls back, then jumps up and races for the door (the shaky handheld camerawork emphasizing her urgency and determination to leave). She opens the door, but Deckard jumps in front of her—looking quite angry, mind you—and slams it shut with his fist, then grabs her with both hands and physically slams her against the window.
That’s our hero in action.
Then, as if all that weren’t creepy enough, he orders her to say, “Kiss me.” She doesn’t want to, so he orders her again. This time she says it. He kisses her (because, hey, she just told him to, right?), she kisses him back, and they continue as we fade to black.
To be fair, there’s an argument to be made that the scene is probably attempting a certain level of emotional complexity here. Rachael is a replicant of an advanced design. She’s had the memories of her creator’s niece implanted in her mind, leading her to believe that she’s actually human. Anyway, the idea seems to be that she and Deckard are both overcome with passion, but she’s resisting because (having been dismissively told by Deckard that she’s actually an android) she can’t trust her emotions. But the basic thrust (sorry) of the scene remains the same: Deckard wants sex, he wants it right now, and she does not. So he literally holds her hostage until she agrees to give it up.
Basically, Deckard, like so many men before him, believes he knows what Rachel wants, even though she clearly states the opposite. Her feelings don’t matter, since its Deckard’s feelings that are given precedence in the story.
If Rachel did proclaim that she was raped by Deckard, would anyone believe her? And would anyone disbelieve her because she’s a replicant, or would it be because she’s a woman?
In real life, women are often disbelieved, regardless of the positions they hold in life. They are made out to be liars. It shouldn’t be a surprise that so many women have never come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment, since people would only be concerned with how they somehow “asked for it.” What did they wear? What were their actions? Did they, like Rachel, say what the man wanted to hear (never mind if it was said out of coersion)? However, what’s hardly ever asked is what did the hero of the story–what did the man—do. Like too many men that populate Hollywood (and the White House), Deckard’s actions are never explored or punished. He remains our hero. Even his storyline with Rachel is remade into a noir-esque love affair in Blade Runner 2049. The truth gets turned into something more palatable. Rachel is erased.
What would be cool is, if the Blade Runner 2049 sequel ever gets made, that Ana becomes the lead of the story. We should have been following her all along. What I fear is that Deckard will become the lead again, and the film will be all about exploring if he is actually a replicant. This would be a huge disservice to the story, since everything hinges on Ana.
As far as films go, Blade Runer 2049 is only but one of the many films out there that do a disservice to its female characters. The film, like many before it, is also victim to the illness of toxic masculinity in the Hollywood industry. It’s not the fault of the films who suffer from this toxicity; it’s the fault of the filmmakers. Sadly, too many screenwriters, directors, and producers don’t even realize that they have a problem. Too many enjoy living high off the hog, misusing their privilege. However, until those in charge do have a wake-up call (or are replaced), women like Ana, Joi, Luv, Mariette, Joshi,and Rachel will stay in their boxes while men continue to take up all of the playground. ♦
Apparently, there’s a special Downton Abbey surprise coming. According to Facebook:
According to Digital Spy, it could be the long-awaited, long-rumored Downton Abbey movie. Fans of the show, which ended in 2015, will probably thrilled. If you’ve followed me for a long time, then you’ll know that I was once a fan (and eventual hate-watcher) of Downton Abbey, so I’ve got my own two cents on the idea of a movie as well. But since it seems like Downton Abbey is about to come back into our lexicon, I’d like to push the conversation toward one long-forgotten character that didn’t get the time he deserved, nor the representation he needed. No, I’m not talking about Thomas, although he needs some love too. Who I’m talking about right now is Kemal Pamuk, the diplomat from Turkey.
The sad case of Kemal Pamuk
Introducing Pamuk into the first season story of Downton Abbey was, I thought at the time, going to provide some much needed drama to the entire Mary and Matthew dynamic. In fact, I was hoping Mary would have ended up with Pamuk since the alternative, Matthew, was her cousin. (Social mores might have been different back then, but if an episode of Poirot, “After the Funeral,” can discuss how bad it is to have an affair with your cousin, then maybe Downton Abbey shouldn’t have been pushing it so hard.)
However, Pamuk wasn’t meant to be around for long. In fact, he was meant to weirdly coerce Mary into having sex, have a heart attack in Mary’s bed from a “heart condition,” and then get stuffed in a broom closet, never to be seen again (or discovered as a mummy by one of the poor maids).
Supposedly, Julian Fellowes, the man behind Downton Abbey, said Pamuk’s early death was inspired by real life. According to what he told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2011, Fellowes told the story of the man used as the inspiration for Pamuk (according to the Telegraph):
“I did enjoy the death of Pamuk because it was true. That story came from a friend of ours. He had a great house and he was looking through a great aunt’s diary in which he found an account of a visiting diplomat who died. In the house there was a passageway only to be used by single women to go to their rooms. One of them had smuggled this diplomat into her room and he died in the middle of doing it!
She was absolutely at her wits’ end–this was about 1890. She knocked on the next door and the blameless matron in there realise[d] at once that if this story came out it would touch them all and there would be a great scandal. To avoid it they woke up all the other single women in the passageway and this group of dowagers and debutantes lifted the corpse and carried it to his own bed.
Our friend looked up the diary of his great grandfather at the same period and in it he found a note simply saying ‘We had a tragedy-nice Mr. so and so was found dead in his bed.’ Those ladies got away with it! When I heard that story I thought, ‘One day this will come in handy…!”
I get that, as a bit of cheeky, macabre fun, the story of the dead diplomat is something that would work great in a show that wants to be a subversive take on the traditional costume drama. (Is Downton Abbey really subversive? You be the judge.) But wasn’t it also a waste of a character? When the episode aired, those of us new to Fellowes (like me) weren’t yet aware of how much Fellowes uses shortcuts disguised as cheek in his storytelling. In the latter seasons, the reliance on quick shock and tidy storytelling bows became an unfortunate part of the norm. Pamuk’s death is the first instance of shortcutting in Downton Abbey.
Pamuk and the “sexual exotic” stereotype
One of the things I’ve realized after the end of Downton Abbey is that Pamuk was basically a “hypersexual ethnic” role. Pamuk is the son of the Turkish sultan, and he does have a big role in the Turkish government. But none of that is focused on; instead, what’s the big focus is how he’s a primal, sexual character. Yes, Theo James is hot. But it’s really annoying that Pamuk’s only defining characteristic is that he’s horny.
According to the “Arabface” page of racist-stereotypes.com, Middle Eastern characters have often been seen as a multitude of negative stereotypes, including the sexually-crazed lech. “For centuries the Arab has played the role of villain, seducer, hustler and thief — the barbarian lurking at the gates of civilization,” states the site.
Arabs trying to abduct, rape, and or kill fair skinned Western maidens has been another very popular theme that dates to the earliest days of filmmaking. In Captured by Bedouins (1912) marauding tribesmen kidnap a Western girl, try to seduce her, and then demand a ransom for her return. Their plans are thwarted when the girl’s British officer fiancée sneaks into their camp and rescues her.
Several films with the same theme were popular in the 1980s; desert sheikhs abducting and threatening to rape Western maidens; Brook Shields in Sahara (1983), Goldie Hawn in Protocol (1984), Bo Derek in Bolero (1984), and Kim Basinger in Never Say Never Again (1986).
The idea of the exotic and sexual Middle Eastern man can also be used as sexual currency, or as Arabstereotypes.com so aptly describes it, as “dangerous romantic heroes.” This is seen in 1921’s The Sheik, in which the title character, played by 1920s heartthrob Valentino, saves the life of a white woman who was about to be raped by another sheik. Just so happens Valentino’s character isn’t actually Middle Eastern, but the rapist sheik actually is.
In the film, Valentino plays an Arab who kidnaps a white woman and holds her captive, waiting for her to fall in love with him. When she escapes and is kidnapped by another Arab sheik who plans to rape her, Valentino’s character becomes the romantic rescuer of women (who the storyline later reveals, is not in fact Arab).
The site also outlines how Harlequin novels also draw from the sheik stereotype to draw readers into the fantasy of a dangerous, exotic ideal.
Harlequin romance novels tend to have a common storyline of white women being abducted by Arab men and falling in love with them in the process. The Sheik, written by E.M. Hull in 1919, is the first known Harlequin novel based on a romance between a white woman and an Arab sheik, which initiated a genre that continues to the present. Many contemporary Harlequin novels revolve around the figure of the sheik as a domineering seducer and abductor of women who are either Arab or European, or Euro-American. In these storylines, Arab men are either threatening, or sites of romantic intrigue, and white men are often needed to rescue the damsel in distress.
Looking back at his death, it’s clear to me that Pamuk probably had a lot more he could have offered as a character instead of getting the short end of the stick with his awful storyline. At best, he could have been a viable threat to Matthew’s eventual love for Mary (because at the time Pamuk comes on the scene, Matthew could care less about Mary). However, he’s portrayed at his absolute worst. That is to say, he’s portrayed simply as a dick, in all senses of the word.
What about actual Turkish actors?
The stereotype Pamuk plays into is one thing. Add on top of that the fact that the character isn’t played by a Middle Eastern actor to begin with.
Theo James is British with Greek ancestry. While he might have more tan skin than the average Anglo-Saxon, a Middle Easterner darker skin doesn’t make.
It seems like his casting was consistent with lazy casting that figures that any person with a tan (natural or otherwise) can play any ethnicity and race. As I called it in my article about Henry Zaga being cast as Afro-Latinx X-Man Sunspot, being “white ethnic” grants you a specific set of privileges. In short, the amount of roles you could play are endless.
“As a white actor, Zaga could audition for–and land– as many leading roles as he wants. As a “white ethnic” actor, he can take not only traditionally white roles, but also those that call for non-white roles as well, such as Sunspot. Another example of this is Zach McGowan, a white actor who, because of his slightly darker “surfer boy” look, has been cast to play native Hawaiian historical figure Ben Kanahele in Ni’ihau.”
Granted, if a Turkish actor did portray Pamuk, the character itself would have to have been rewritten. It’d be useless to have proper representation only for the character to instantly die. But if Pamuk had a real storyline, the character could have been a great moment for Middle Eastern representation.
It’s not like Pamuk is going to come back in the Downton Abbey movie, so I’m not expecting anything great in the way of representation of any type. If Fellowes can’t bear to reprimand Mary for being a butt, then I doubt he’d bring in refreshing racial diversity or treat Thomas with any respect. But there are lessons we can learn from Pamuk and his characterization.
1) Pamuk’s death serves no purpose, therefore his character might not have even been warranted.
2) Pamuk’s characterization as a sly racial stereotype can give writers an instance of what not to do when creating layered Middle Eastern characters, even characters that only show up for one episode.
3) If you have to kill off a character, don’t stuff them in a broom closet.