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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.

Click to read the latest issue!

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

 

 

Three Reasons Why People Have a Problem with Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

This is a story that’s been a big dread of mine to write. Not because the issues are hard for me to understand; far from the contrary. I just didn’t want to watch the trailer for this movie. What movie am I talking about? Nina, the beleaguered movie about Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo.

Nina made tons of folks mad a few years ago, when it was in production, and now it’s making folks mad again now that the film is coming to Digital HD and VOD April 22. First, let’s take a look at the poster and the trailer, and see if you can figure out what might be at fault here.

Ealing Studios/IMDB
Ealing Studios/IMDB

Let’s also take a look at the storyline, which takes a story that has been refuted by Nina Simone’s estate and her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly:

The story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson. (IMDB)

And for a fair comparison, let’s look at the real Nina Simone, both talking and singing:

And here are some actresses discussing their feelings about the film. If you’ll notice, every one of the actresses gives a huge sigh before answering the question, showing how difficult a position it is to take on a film like this that intersects the issues of diversity in film as well as colorism in Hollywood.

Okay, so why are people upset? We can boil it down to three reasons:

1. Hollywood’s colorism

We hear a lot about diversity as a whole, but one of the most open secrets in Hollywood along with a lack of diversity is a focus on colorism. What’s colorism? Let’s use the Racebending. com definition, since it’s the most succinct one I’ve found in a while.

“Colorism is a form of discrimination in which people are accorded differing social and economic treatment based on skin color. Colorism occurs occurs across the world and can occur within an ethnic group or between different ethnic groups. In most entertainment industries—including Hollywood—lighter skin tone is given preferential treatment and [a] darker skin tone is considered less desirable. Oftentimes, heroes are cast with lighter skin and villains are cast with darker skin.”

As the definition states, Hollywood is rife with colorism, particularly when it comes to African American and Latina roles. Colorism affects not only limits the types of roles certain women are given, but it also makes young women who watch film and television feel like their skin tone makes them ugly and a pariah of society.

It’s not lost on quite a few that Saldana, through no fault of her own, fits neatly into Hollywood’s Eurocentric-laden idea of “black beauty.”

Evidence of this can be seen in Saldana’s acting career itself; more often than not, Saldana has played exoticized love interests, whether she’s in her own skin or not (such as her roles in Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy). Even in a film role like the title role of Columbiana, her character is sexualized to an unnecessary degree.

Damon Young from The Root examines Hollywood’s usage of Saldana’s beauty in his article, “Why People Are Upset That Zoe Saldana Is Playing Nina Simone, Explained”:

“…Saldana has had a very successful run as the primary love interest in blockbuster movies. Much of this success is undoubtedly due to her acting chops, professionalism and versatility. But also, it can’t be denied that Saldana possesses certain physical features that allow her to exist within Hollywood’s general standard of beauty. In fact, she doesn’t just exist within the standard. She might be the standard. And she’s such an attractive choice for these types of roles because she fills two boxes: the diversity box and an unrealistically attractive woman….Nina Simone, however, did not exist within this standard. She possessed features more commonly associated with black women. In fact, much of her work was centered on this. It’s a vital part of her story.”

Of course, Saldana isn’t the one to blame for Hollywood using her beauty as a way to keep colorism in check. Hollywood has to gather itself to deal with the fact that it does discriminate against darker-hued women, and that its practices affect people’s self-esteem. Some examples of colorism’s negative effects:

• “…When you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking. That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire. And in the history of television and even film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me.” —Viola Davis with The Wrap

• “To be very honest, I had to leave Hollywood because as a young child, it didn’t seem to flourish [in] my mind very well. Coming here from the islands, I didn’t even know that I was dark skinned there wasn’t a color issue in my head. I always thought I was beautiful. It wasn’t until I got in Hollywood that I started understanding there were dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks and there were roles for this character and roles for that character based on a color. I left Hollywood, and in the process of leaving it, it helped me develop myself into a woman.” –The Color Purple‘s Desreta Jackson with The Grio

• “When I was like 5 years old I used to pray to have light skin because I would always hear how pretty that little light skin girl was, or I would hear I was pretty ‘to be dark skinned.’ It wasn’t until I was 13 that I really learned to appreciate my skin color and know that I was beautiful.” -Keke Palmer at the Hollywood Confidential Panel

• The original casting call for Straight Outta Compton was laced with colorism, calling for “fine girls” who are “light-skinned”, while darker-skinned girls were “poor, not in good shape.” The “hottest of the hottest” girls had to have their real hair (the other girls could wear weave; the hair discrimination is yet another level that needs to be discussed at a later time), and could be “black, white, asian, hispanic, mid eastern, or mixed race too.” The unspoken thought was that only truly beautiful girls have their own hair and can be of any race, but, even with the mention of black women in the “hottest of the hottest” section, it’s still implied that to be especially beautiful as a black person, you have to be light-skinned.

So what does this have to do with Saldana playing Nina Simone? Primarily because Saldana had to be darkened up to play Simone while there were many other actresses, actresses with darker skin tones and a more Afrocentric beauty, to play Simone. In short, the film’s cast didn’t need to put Saldana in horrible prosthetics and makeup to get her to that point of mimicking Saldana’s Afrocentric beauty; they could have simply cast someone who actually looked closer to Simone from the beginning. Since we don’t have the clear reasoning as to why Saldana was cast, most have assumed that Hollywood’s preference for casting lighter skin tones had something to do with it. Having Saldana play a woman who was all about promoting the beauty of darker skin and wider features runs counter to Simone’s work. To sum it up, here’s what Simone Kelly said in 2012 to the New York Times about Saldana getting cast as Simone:

“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”

2. Fear that Saldana and the Nina crew didn’t understand Nina Simone’s basis for her art

As stated above, Simone’s work was all about blackness, in particular exalting dark-skinned, Afrocentric beauty. None of this means that Saldana is somehow not “black enough”. But, what people are saying is that Saldana’s casting blocks other women of color who are better suited to the role, and the colorism at the root of that blockage is what Simone was fighting against with her art.

What has made people even more on edge about Saldana playing Simone is that some feel Saldana doesn’t understand (or want to understand) the issues of race in America. Saldana has been taken to task for her comments about how “there is no such thing as people of color.” Technically, what Saldana was attempting to say is that people should be judged on their own merits, not by the racial constructs set up by society, but her point came across to some as her wanting to be “colorblind.” Saldana’s comments are referenced in this Essence article, “Why Zoe Saldana As Nina Simone Doesn’t Work,” by Josie Pickens:

“My argument against Whites making a film about badass, radical black omen like Nina Simone–and an actress who sometimes identifies as Afro-Latina (but most times claims not to see or understand color) portraying her–is that quite frankly, we cannot afford the luxury of letting another one of our heroes be recast as some gentler, more digestible version of themselves. …The casting of Nina was intentional, as the casting was intentional in the film Gods of Egypt and countless other films attempting to tell Black stories through anti-Black lenses.”

The “Whites” Pickens could have been referring to are the team behind Nina, which is predominately white. Jezebel posted pictures of the crew, and while they didn’t put commentary with the photos, its implied that the crew didn’t know what pitfalls they were falling into because of a probable lack of awareness of black issues, or even the many different types of black beauty.

Singer India Arie said it best in her interview with Business Insider when addressing how Simone looks in the film:

“It made me sad. The way she looked in the movie was ugly. Whether or not Nina Simone was beautiful in your eyes, I thought she was beautiful. But in this movie, she just looked weird. Her skin looked weird, and her nose looked weird. It made me wonder, was that how the filmmakers see how her? Did they not think she was beautiful? Were they like, ‘Yeah, we got it! That’s how she looked.'”

(However, it’s worth noting that the director of the film, Cynthia Mort, has sued the film’s production company, saying that she doesn’t like the film that was ultimately created—a film that was going to focus on Simone’s artistry and activism. Her suit claims, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that the production company acted to “frustrate Mort’s involvement in the film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement.” Such frustrations include edits to the film and a lack of communication of those edits to Mort.)

3. It just looks bad

I don’t think I need to explain this one with a long paragraph. The makeup, the accent, the story, and everything else about it just looks off, to say the absolute least about it. Just take a look at the poster and trailer again and compare it to actual video of Simone to see what I’m writing about.

Okay, the film’s bad. But how much flack does Zoe Saldana deserve?

There’s been some issue as to how much of the blame is on Saldana and how much of it is on the Hollywood filmmaking process itself. There’s two schools of thought; that the actress should know when and when not to take a role and that Hollywood has to remove itself from its Eurocentric way of thinking about race, color, and racial/ethnic representation as a whole. The debate is compounded with the fact that Saldana is Afro-Latina, and as a member of the African diaspora, many feel like she should be given the chance to play a black legend.

As the actresses in the video stated above, Saldana is a fine actress. The critiques about the film aren’t directly about her as her own person, but how Hollywood has kept its colorism ceiling in check when it comes to which black actresses can play which character. But it’s hard to critique the film without some believing that Saldana’s blackness, and the blackness of all light-skinned black people, are in question.

Blackness should never be in question. What is in question is the lack of responsibility involved when it came to making a film that properly represented Simone, her art, and her message, which revolved primarily around colorism and racism. Seeing Saldana in what is effectively blackface (or as Arie called it, “black(er) face”), goes slap in the face of Simone’s message. Even without the colorism angle, there should have been a responsibility to not make a film that would dull down Simone’s legacy to just a story based on the rumor of a romance between her and her manager, a rumor that’s been repeatedly refuted by Simone’s own people.

Again, it can all be boiled down to two points. First, Simone Kelly’s assessment to Time of Saldana and her part in the film:

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so ficiously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture. It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

And second, Arie’s comments to Business Insider:

Zoe has said that playing Nina Simone is her truth. Does she deserve any of this blame?

I don’t know her and I don’t think she did anything wrong. If I were in her shoes and I admired Nina Simone the way that I hear she does, I would have said yes, too, and I don’t even think I can act. If they asked me to sing Nina Simone, I got that. But I never pursued it because I felt it was not my place. And I don’t know if it was her place to do that.

I think they cast Zoe Saldana because they wanted a big name, but that makes me ask, ‘Is the name Nina Simone not big enough to get people to come to the movie?'”

What do you think of the Saldana-Simone movie controversy? Give your opinions in the comments section!

 

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!

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!

Exclusive Interview: Chantel Riley (“Race”)

Race, the biopic of Jesse Owens and his historic Olympic Games showing in 1936 Berlin, will soon be in theaters to trill and inspire audiences. The film, starring Stephan James as Owens, focuses on perseverance and success amid what would appear to be insurmountable struggle. Owens’ driven quality have inspired Chantel Riley, who plays Quincella Nickerson in the film.

JUST ADD COLOR was excited to have this exclusive interview with Riley, who talked about her stage life prior to film, how Race could be a contender for the 2017 Oscars, and her feelings about #OscarsSoWhite. To learn more about Race click here to see film stills and clips. Race comes to theaters Friday, Feb. 19.

Tell me about Quincella, your character. 

Quincella Nickerson is real, so she was actually around. She met Jesse in California. He had a track meet there and she’s always been into sports. From the research I read of her online–there’s not much–said that she was Jesse’s number one fan. Quincella Nickerson was always around when he was around. She was at all of his track meets and even at special events with celebrities and politicians, she would be around and he would invite her to the parties.

She was well known herself; she was a socialite. Her father was a businessman, very affluent in that time, especially in the 1930s; being a wealthy African-American man in the 1930s wasn’t very known in that time. So, a lot of people knew who her father was and who she was. I think she loved going out and being around people.

This is your first movie role. How is it to cut your film teeth on a project like this?

I was very shocked when I booked this role, and now I’m really excited. For it to be a movie like this is a big deal for me. I haven’t been in the industry that long, compared to most people, and to have your first film be something like this, and that this story is so powerful and for it to be about someone like Jesse, is such an honor for me. I’m so glad I can call this my first film project.

You come from the stage, having played Nala in The Lion King. First, how cool is it to have played a role like that, and second, what were some of the differences between stage and film acting that you had to get used to?

I’ve been in the [Nala] role for four years now, going on five, and it was the only thing I’ve done. It was very challenging to me at first to be on set. You have to be aware of your surroundings; you have to be aware of camera angles and…to make sure [the cameraman] can see your face. A lot of that I had to get used to. But on the stage, you just have to make sure your back’s never to the audience. When you’re on set…you’ve got to make sure you’re well aware of your surroundings and of every angle; they’ll shoot a scene from one area and they’ll shoot the exact same scene and you have to do it the exact same way from across the room. That was a little bit challenging.

Also, too, [The Lion King] was a live performance every night, so I think I pressured myself a lot to get every take perfect the first time because you’re so used to doing that onstage. You get one chance on stage in front of the audience; it’s not like you do a scene and then you’re like, “OK, guys, let me take that from the top and try this again.” You go all out. That’s definitely another major different from stage and set.

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Race is a film that’s hoping to inspire audiences, much like 42. How did the film and its story inspire you?

Just knowing what Jesse had to go through during that time, I can’t even imagine what it’s like. I mean, it’s not too far off from what’s going on now, but just getting adversity just from the color of his skin and people looking down on him because of the color of his skin. It really taught me to push through no matter what and to not let anybody’s idea of you stop you from becoming the star you want to become or the person you really want to see yourself to be and God sees you to be also.

I just admire his courage to go through what he did, especially in a time during the Hitler regime and going to the Olympic Games…[Owens] had to make that decision [to go to the Games or stay]. He made that decision to go, and thank God he did, because he killed it, obviously, and won four gold medals. [He] proved not only to Hitler, but to the world, how amazingly talented he is and how you can be if you just put your mind to it and push. What he did for people of color was just incredible and proved to the world that we are more than what [they] think we are. It really inspired me to push.

Even in the film industry right now, #OscarsSoWhite has been going around and I don’t want to use [Hollywood’s discrimination] as an excuse to say they won’t hire me because I’m black. I want to be able to use that as a challenge and flip that around for the better for myself and say I can overcome that challenge, the same way Jesse did. I’m not going to use it as an excuse to say I’m never going to make it. No–I’m going to break that barrier and show [Hollywood] that I can make it!

#OscarsSoWhite has been a big topic. Race could be one of the films that breaks the Academy’s color barrier come nomination time in 2017. What do you think of the importance of a film like Race for our culture, especially in light of the Academy debacle?

It’s such a relief to see people that look like myself on film, and to see that people are excited about it. What it’s doing now is that it’s inspiring other filmmakers and directors and casting directors to now say, “Let’s try to make a difference here, let’s change it up and give people of color a chance.” There’s no doubt that we aren’t just as talented, just as smart, just as creative as they are. And goes for black, Hispanic, Native, Asian–we can do just as much as they can, it’s just a matter of giving us the chance to do so. That’s why I’m so excited for Race, and for the Nat Turner film that just came out at Sundance [The Birth of a Nation]. It [shows] what we are capable of doing and…[gives] us that chance to tell a story. Whether it’s a historic figure or non-historic figure, just give us the chance to tell that story.

It’s kind of bittersweet what’s going on, because it’ has to be talked about. I’m glad that it’s now being talked about and people are now making changes to make that happen. Because I believe that you have to start from the internal. Look at the makeup of the Academy. It’s like 95 percent men and 90 percent white or some kind of crazy, ridiculous number like that? It just starts form the internal source and make a change that way. And it’s not just a race difference, but age difference matters too. A guy that’s 80 years old isn’t going to understand or relate to films like Straight Outta Compton, you know what I’m saying? They definitely need to change it up and I’m glad that they are finally making that decision to do so.

What do you hope people learn from Race?

What I really hope people learn from this film is perseverance and believing in yourself to know you can make a difference. Jesse worked hard his whole life and pushed himself to limits only a few of us could ever imagine, but you see the benefits of doing so, of pushing and not letting trials and tribulations cut your dream off. We all go through it–we all have a dream and we all struggle, but you can’t let the struggle completely cut off the goal. We get to the point where we’re so close, and I just want everyone to persevere and push through because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Diversity Alert: “Star Wars: Episode VIII”, Ava DuVernay, “Roots” and “Underground” TV Trailers+ More

There’s a couple of big ticket items to discuss! Topping the list is Star Wars: Episode VIII, Ava DuVernay’s projects, and some trailers from Roots and Underground.

Star Wars: Episode VIII

The biggest news of this week is the beginning of filming for Star Wars: Episode VIII! John Boyega, who just won a Rising Star BAFTA the night before filming, tweeted out this declaration Monday.

 

Other big news surrounding Episode VIII is the additional casting. Coming to the already diverse cast list are Benecio Del Toro, Laura Dern and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who has worked with Sarah Hyland in XOXO and has various TV credits, including TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and NBC’s About a Boy.  

Star Wars released this official production announcement, which is also marks the start of the Star Wars hype machine once again. 

Ava DuVernay’s film and TV projects

Ava DuVernay is doing major things right now! First, she’s working with Oprah on the OWN adaptation of Queen Sugar. The first table read happened Sunday, and DuVernay chronicled it on Twitter:

Also, DuVernay is in contention to direct two films: the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (a very creepy book, if you ask me), and Intelligent Life, a sci-fi thriller potentially starring Lupita Nyong’o. The latter film is what’s exciting me the most, since black women in sci-fi is still a revolutionary thing to see (Nyong’o also’s got her sci-fi scorecard filled up thanks to Star Wars, but even in that, she’s simply voicing a character, not appearing as herself on screen, something a lot of viewers took issue with). But all of this directorial news is encouraging, given the #OscarsSoWhite climate we’re in. DuVernay’s upcoming jobs are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to Hollywood fixing its diversity-behind-the-camera problems, but her opportunities do show that 1) Hollywood can act responsibly when it feels like it; it’s ineffectiveness is just mostly due to laziness and status-quo thinking over anything and 2) that the talent of people of color (in this case, women of color) can and will be recognized, despite the fractured systems that were created to keep them out and on the sidelines.

Roots and Underground

The trailers for History’s Roots remake and WGN’s upcoming slave series Underground have left me impressed, and I’m sure you’ll be just as impressed by them as well. Below are the trailers as well as the Underground first look. On a shallow note: Kunta Kinte’s turbans are my favorite things ever. Roots premieres Memorial Day; Underground premieres March 9.

(Read about my EW Community articles about the original Roots and the upcoming Underground here and here!)

The Danish Girl

If you loved The Danish Girl, it’s coming to DVD/Blu-ray March 1. If you want to rewatch it even earlier than that, the digital download will be available Feb. 16.

Here are the pertinent deets via Universal Pictures’ press release:

With love comes the courage to be yourself in The Danish Girl, coming to Digital HD onFebruary 16, 2016, and Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on March 1, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Inspired by the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, the remarkable love story is “a cinematic landmark,” according to Variety’s Peter Debruge. The Danish Girl on Blu-rayand DVD comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. The Focus Features release is nominated for four Academy Awards® including Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado), and Best Production Design (Production Designer, Eve Stewart; Set Decorator, Michael Standish).

Academy Award® winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Academy Award® nominee Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) star for Academy Award®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables). In the 1920s, a strong and loving marriage evolves as Gerda Wegener (Vikander) supports Lili Elbe (Redmayne) during her journey as a transgender woman. Through the other, each of them finds the courage to be who they are at heart. “Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are sensational!” declares Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz, while Debruge of Variety raves, “Redmayne gives the greatest performance of his career.”

Also starring Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Sebastian Koch (Homeland), Amber Heard (Zombieland), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd), The Danish Girl is a moving and sensitive portrait that Lou Lumenick of The New York Post calls “a remarkable and timely story.”

BLU-RAYTM AND DVD BONUS FEATURE:

  • The Making of The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hooper, and others on the filmmaking team share some of the creative processes that enhanced the beauty of the movie.

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

Casting News:

Zhang Ziyi to Star in ‘East/West’ Comedy for Universal

American Gods Author Neil Gaiman on Why Casting The 100s Ricky Whittle as Shadow Is So Vital 

Idris Elba in Talks for the Lead in The Mountain Between Us

John Ridley’s ABC Pilot ‘Presence’ Casts Marcus Anderson

Archie Panjabi to Star in ABC Anthology Drama ‘The Jury’

Other News:

How a Bruce Lee Origin Tale Is Taking Flight With Chinese Money and Abundant Diplomacy

Sundance Fights Tide With Films Like ‘The Birth of a Nation’

The Magicians’ Arjun Gupta on Hollywood Diversity and Penny’s Portrayal in the 4th Episode

What do you think of these stories? Give your comments below!

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

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

As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles/sources:

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

History of Homosexuality-19th Century (Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

The NAACP Image Awards Does What the Oscars Couldn’t

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Related articles:

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

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