Tag Archives: POC

The Academy’s 2017 Class is a Much-Needed Step in the Right Direction

The Academy has taken a huge step forward with rectifying their “white old man” look by adding a new freshman class of 774 actors and directors, including Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones, Jordan Peele, Nazanin Boniadi, Grace Lee (whom I’ve interviewed before), Zoë Kravitz, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Betty White (why hadn’t she been added yet???), B.D. Wong, Donnie Yen, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed and Dwayne Johnson.

(For the full list of new members from all branches, visit Oscars.org.)

According to the Oscars’ stats, the new members hail from 57 countries and are 39 percent female, with seven of the branches inviting more women than men. Thirty percent of the new members are also people of color.

This is a vast improvement for the Academy, especially taking in where the organization was about a year and a half ago, with threatened boycotts and outrage over the lack of minority-led Oscar nominated films. Fans had utilized April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to voice their anger, and the Academy has taken meaningful steps to respond, first by adding more members from various backgrounds last year, and now this new batch of members this year.

Of course, even though these numbers are huge steps in the right direction, there are some gaps that need to be filled. Such as there aren’t many listed who are also disabled. I say “many” because there could be people with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness, that are listed. As of my review, I only see one actor with a physical disability, Warwick Davis. The focus for the Academy right now is purely on gender and race demographics, but it’d be great to see the organization focus on disability demographics as well, since it might spur the organization to recognize films that feature actual disabled actors.

Also, there aren’t any Native actors listed and there’s very little Latinx and LGBT representation as well. Bigger gains could be made on these fronts. But on the whole, this fleshed-out Academy voting board will benefit both the Academy itself and movie goers, despite the opinion of one Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter.

Usually, I refrain from jumping on fellow movie critics and analysts, since oftentimes, we are getting paid for our opinion, and an opinion is something that you can either agree with and support or disagree with and turn the other way. However, for Feinberg’s analysis about the new batch of voters, I have to make an exception for.

Feinberg’s initial point—that jamming the voting board with more actors might seem more like a vapid political move to avoid bad PR—is rather innocuous by itself. You can either take it or leave (and even as an innocuous point, I would leave it because of the positive impact any move, including ones that could be seen as vapid and political, could have on the poor state of representation in Hollywood today). But what gets more intolerable is how aggressive Feinberg becomes in discrediting the actors who got the invite.

I hate to single anyone out, but I don’t even think the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy. Let’s start with this year’s invitees to the acting branch, whose names are the most familiar to the general public. Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really? Some have made only one big-screen contribution of any note, such as Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot. And many are predominately known for their work on the small screen: The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Underground‘s Aldis Hodge, Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, The Golden Girls‘ Betty White and Mr. Robot‘s B.D. Wong (I have similar reservations about several white male invitees, as well, such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and ex-bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.)

…None of this is intended to insult the talent and/or doubt the future potential of any of these individuals, but rather to examine and question what the Academy is trying to do here. I believe that the Academy’s intentions are admirable, but that its tactics are foolhardy. The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry’s diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog. This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered.

Feinberg might write that he’s not trying to insult these newly-minted Academy members by rejecting their entire body of work as a reason to be invited into the Academy, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. First of all, he’s acting like none of the people he’s listed have ever been in movies–they all have film credits to their name along with television credits. I mean, how many Jurassic Park films does B.D. Wong have to be in to be recognized as an actor in a film franchise, not to mention the voice of Mulan’s (bisexual) partner, Shang? Before Mr. Robot, Rami Malek was a film actor, having been part of the Night at the Museum and Twilight franchises. Heck, he just finished a movie, Buster’s Mal Heart. Doesn’t Rogue One count as a good reason for Riz Ahmed to be a part of the Academy? Also, are you really going to go as far as s**t on someone as respected and beloved as Betty White?

The bottom line is you can’t be invited to the Academy unless you’ve been in the movies or work in the film industry in some way (along with some other qualifiers such as sponsorship, etc.). For Feinberg to say that because these actors in particular have made their mark in TV as well is needlessly splitting hairs. Secondly, why not add them to the Academy?? What’s the big deal? With as long as these folks have been in the game, and with as many hours as they’ve dedicated to their craft, they deserve to give their say on what they feel are the best films of the year. It’s not like they don’t know what makes a good story, and that’s all a film is–a story. It would seem the only problem is that the Academy has proven that they aren’t just inviting people for good PR; they’re inviting people to double down on the promise it made to its members and audiences alike–to create an organization that actually reflects the movie-going public.

Feinberg is poking a bear by singling out majority POC actors whilst adding parenthetically that he has some gripes with two white male members, as if that makes his poking okay (and tell me why Hamm and Ferrigno can’t sound off on films?). This is not the hill to die on, especially if your argument is created from something as baseless as “they’ve been on TV, therefore the films they’ve been in don’t count towards Academy membership.”

Feinberg does write in an earlier post about the new members that “there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list” and that many among the new members, particularly the new members of the directing branch, should have been invited long ago. However, he takes such a disturbing tone in his later analysis, with the excuse for it being the argument that adding more people of color to the Academy won’t stop racism from happening in Hollywood at large. But you can’t be both for and against more representation in Hollywood, unless you’re a champion at doublethink. Besides, arguing that the Academy can’t solve racism is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The gag is that everyone knows the Academy can’t solve industry racism by itself. The Academy, and its viewpoints up until the past year or so, is a product of a society that is still grappling with the realities of race, the sexual spectrum, mental illness, and how to deal with all of it in a respectful manner. There’s a lot more that has to happen inside of Hollywood to truly change the industry culture, sure. There’s also a lot that has to happen outside of Hollywood before it begins to trickle into Hollywood en masse. Like the Academy, Hollywood’s ills are only a product of America’s ills.

But that’s not to say the trickle isn’t already happening. We’ve seen more filmmakers bolstered by the many avenues now available to producing their visions, and we’ve seen more and more actors of color and marginalized communities speak out against terrible treatment in the industry. We’ve also seen the online community of movie fans—the audience members themselves—voice their frustration with the industry on social media, their message finding a place where it can be amplified and heard by The Powers That Be.

All of this led up to many watershed moments of representation in the past year, but none that inhabit the whole purpose of expanding the Academy more than Moonlight, an indie film showcasing a story about black gay men, winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Only two years ago, a film like that wouldn’t have made it to the nomination rounds. But, because of an Academy that had more minority members, Moonlight got the organization’s attention and became the Best Picture Winner, beating out a movie that couldn’t be more Status Quo if it tried, La La Land.

Also, the fact that more people from underrepresented communities will now have a chance to give other creators from underrepresented communities Oscar nods, it’ll give those creators the same clout and marketability their white counterparts have been enjoying for years. It’ll also give films featuring minority casts the same monetary and critical opportunities white films have never been without. In short, it’ll open up more possibilities in Hollywood for directors and actors, which will lead to more films being made, more awards given, and so on and so forth. The expansion of the Academy has the potential to have a snowball effect in Hollywood, and it can only be for the positive.

So, I, as a fellow entertainment analyst and critic myself, can’t abide the rhetoric that moves like these don’t change anything. It’s like telling the members of SNCC back in the ‘60s that their sit-ins at lunch counters wouldn’t amount to anything. Since we can now take for granted the concept of sitting at a booth in a restaurant, it would seem their sit-ins did make a world of difference. You can’t throw out progress just because it is slow and not immediately all-encompassing. That’s ridiculous.

I suggest for readers to take a look at Flavorwire’s article “THR Doesn’t Think All Those Women and POC ‘Merit’ Academy Inclusion'” by Jason Bailey, since he goes more in on Feinberg’s hitpiece-as-analysis way more than I did. But what Bailey writes at the end is particularly important:

It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter‘s loathsome annual tradition of ‘Anonymous Oscar ballots’). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.

To end this on a positive note, I’m excited that so many actors, many of whom should have been a part of the Academy in the first place, have now been added to this illustrious roster. I’m sure they’ll serve the organization well, and I can’t wait to see what films they nominate for 2018.

 

This photoshoot of Dev Patel and Imaan Hammam is begging to be turned into a movie

Dear Hollywood:

When we, the viewing public, say we want more diversity in our films, this set of photos is exactly what we mean.

This December 2016 Vogue photoshoot features Oscar-nominated Dev Patel and model Imaan Hammam are giving you a full sweeping international romance in just a few stills. Check it:

I happened to see the pictures from a tweet by film director Matthew A. Cherry, and as Fusion Editor-in-Chief Dodai Stewart responded:

I second this emotion. They look so good together you kind of hate them.

The film I see is one where it’s a retro Hitchcock-esque romantic thriller. Hammam’s character is a 21st century Grace Kelly, a cool, collected woman who’s as glamourous as she is intelligent. She’s a rich socialite who’s living in gilded prison; for some reason, she has some dangerous men after her. Meanwhile, Patel is a former MI-6 agent who is assigned to protect her, which involves taking her to a safe house in Australia. At first, all Patel’s character wants to do is retire to the English countryside where he can raise sheep and indulge his first passion, oil painting. But as he explores the Australian outback with her, he slowly starts falling in love not only with the geography, but with her as well. Eventually, the mission becomes one of getting rid of the thugs chasing her, moving back to the English moors, and putting a ring on it. The movie ends with all of this being accomplished, the last shot being on Patel’s character finally outside of his country home, painting the rolling hills with Hammam’s character hugging him from behind.

Hollywood, if you made this movie, I would start saving my money now to see it at least six times in the theater.

What movie do you think is happening in these photos? Give me your thoughts!

“Magic: The Gathering”: Saheeli Joins WOC Planeswalkers Kaya & Narset

Art: Jeremy Jarvis for Magic: The Gathering/Wizards of the Coast
Art: Jeremy Jarvis for Magic: The Gathering/Wizards of the Coast

Having become a newly-minted fan of Magic: The Gathering, it’s a great opportunity to dive into the types of representation the company is striving towards. In case you’re wondering, my new fandom of the company stems from the fact that I am the consultant on Magic: The Gathering’s first black female Planeswalker, Kaya, Ghost Assassin. Instead of rehashing the particulars of how Kaya positively affects Magic’s representation mission, check out these links explaining the character and the process I took when providing notes.

There are other people of color out there who might not have given a second thought to Magic: The Gathering, quite frankly, because in communities of color, games like Magic are often labeled as “white people stuff.” That idea comes from how fantasy at large is treated; it’s usually a free for all for white characters to exist in a world devoid of racial/ethnic diversity. But to its credit, Magic is doing their best to meet the challenge of diversity in fantasy head on. Not only is Kaya one of their newest Planeswalkers, but they also are aiming to represent the multitude of players out there with characters who reflect our world. One such character that I’m really excited about is Saheeli.

Here’s the official bio of Saheeli:

On her home plane of Kaladesh, Saheeli is a famous inventor renowned as the most brilliant metalsmith of her time. She’s best known for the bewitchingly lifelike artifact constructs she crafts out of gleaming iridescent metal. From the smallest insect to the largest elephant, Saheeli has an uncanny ability to replicate any creature she sees, capturing the essence of its life in her metal creation. Admirers, collectors, and investors flock to see her designs, spending hours gazing, enraptured by her artistry.

Her innate, effortless talent has made her the envy of many fellow inventors, especially lifecrafters who look to her both for inspiration and as a formidable rival. Saheeli doesn’t shy away from competition; when it comes to defending her hard-earned reputation, she is fiercely cutthroat. But when not in contest, she’s wholly supportive of the efforts of other inventors, happy to share advice, a kind word, or an encouraging smile. She thrills at the prospect of innovation, and basks in the creative spirit that surrounds her in Ghirapur. Her bright, optimistic personality draws others to her, and her genuine, thoughtful nature resonates with her fans, who hail from all corners of Kaladesh.

Saheeli’s talents extend beyond what the people of Kaladesh realize or understand. She’s a Planeswalker with a powerful magical command over metal. She can access seemingly endless threads of metal, which she can then weave into one of her creations. And once created, Saheeli’s magic allows her to compel her metal constructs to do her bidding. Thanks to her abilities, she’s never at a loss for an artifact companion.

So, what’s the excitement about Saheeli for? Well, for starters, she’s one of the few women of color in the cast line-up. At present count, there are two other women of color—Kaya and Narset. Another character worth noting in this group as an adjacent member is Tamiyo, who is a member of the moonfolk.  The moonfolk’s culture and the moonfolk’s plane, Kamigawa, are loosely based on Japanese culture. In fact, Magic admits this in their description of Kamigawa:

Reminiscent of sengoku-era Japan, this plane contains two symbiotic worlds: the utsushiyo, or material realm, and the kakuriyo, or kami spirit realm. Each kami was a divinity, and the way to happiness was to honor these gods and live by their ways. The inhabitants of Kamigawa were content with this life of devotion. Then the unimaginable happened. Their gods turned on them.

Naturally, the small amount of women of color (and people of color of all genders) is an issue, but Magic is well aware of this issue and are actively working to correct this as best they can. The increase in representation of women of color in the Planeswalker series is something that is encouraging and seeing how serious Magic is about representation, I’m quite certain there’s more coming down the pike towards this end. Saheeli is a welcome addition to the list of women Planeswalkers.

Secondly, she’s the first Planeswalker that is repping for South Asian culture (to my knowledge): From what I’ve seen and researched, there hasn’t been another Planeswalker that has focused on South Asian representation. Just like with Kaya, Saheeli touches on a section of the Magic audience that hasn’t seen them in Planeswalker form. Also like with Kaya, what Saheeli represents is empowering.

Thirdly, seeing Saheeli cosplayers warms my heart. This particular cosplay took place during PAX West, which featured Kaladesh, Saheeli’s plane, and the Kaladesh Inventors’ Fair.

It’s going to be great to see even more Saheeli cosplay (as well as Kaya cosplay!)

Welcome to the Planeswalker family, Saheeli!

What do you love about Saheeli and Kaladesh? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Sleepy Hollow” Post-Mortem: The Death of Abbie and the Painful Erasure of Black Women

The formulation of this post started at some point between this tweet:

And this tweet:

with some final conclusions coming in at around these tweets:

Indeed, several TV critics on Twitter were aghast at what happened:

And several online recaps had the same theme throughout the post: If Abbie and Nicole Beharie are gone, then what’s the point of even watching the show? Just as important: Why on God’s green earth would the writing team as a whole (including the showrunner) go out of their way to lead the fanbase on and act like they were going to give the fanbase what they wanted (which is a final say-so on #Ichabbie) just to turn around and destroy the only thing that made the show worth watching? To quote Vulture’s Rose Maura Lorre, “The latter statements [of Pandora stating in her dying breaths that Ichabod loves Abbie] lead me to believe that, intentional or not, this show’s careless disregaard of its Ichabbie ‘shippers has been fucked up. Make them just-friends or make them more-than-friends, but have a conversation about it and stick to your decision. Don’t keep stringing the ‘shippers along with your hand-kissing and your ‘be still my beating heart’ (which no person has ever said platonically) while you know Abbie’s imminent fate full well.” And as The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen wrote, “I’m not sure if there were behind-the-scenes issues we are privy to, but Beharie’s a crucial element of the series. Tom Mison is a fine actor, but without the two of them together, what’s the damn point?”

The chemistry between the two leads, Tom Mison and Beharie, was the only thing that kept mostly everyone tuned in. (I say most, because somehow, there are folks out there who think Sleepy Hollow is just Ichabod’s story of time travel. When was he the only lead on this show? I have a lot more to say about this later on in this post.) Sure, the creative elements that made up the show, like the lighting, the set design, the creature makeup and stuntwork, and the time travel/Christian apocalypse madness were amazing and really gave the show its creepy edge. But the glue that stuck all of those disparate parts together were the grounding forces provided by Ichabod and Abbie. Without one or both of them, the show’s just a bunch of junk, to be quite honest about it. So I ask again: Without Abbie, what the f*ck is the point of watching a fourth season?! 

I don’t even like using coarse language, but how else am I supposed to get this point across? How much more plainly can I say it? Abbie was the show. Even Mison would agree to that, I’m sure, since he was never without a kind word to say about working with Beharie and being able to share the same breathing air as her. Mison has always stuck up for Beharie and looking back on it, it makes a lot of sense as to why neither Mison nor Beharie have done a lot of press for this season. It’s slowly come out that Beharie was deeply unhappy during S2 and wanted out of her contract, and I don’t blame her for wanting to leave, because as I’ve written before, Abbie was made to be a house slave for Witchy White Feminist Katrina.  As far as Mison is concerned, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Mison eventually leaves as well. If someone decides to interview Mison about his thoughts on everything, I betcha he’ll reveal his true emotions over this, just like how he did with Ichabod fawning over Katrina in S2. (To paraphrase him from an earlier interview, he had a serious disagreement with the writers about how Ichabod was acting out of character. We already know how he felt about Katrina from some of his DVD commentary, in which he shades Katrina for only being able to lift a stick even though she was supposed to be a powerful witch.)

I could just go on rambling, but I’m going to use my favorite writing tools—bullets—to boil down my points into easy-to-follow chunks.

The Breakout Shows of 2015: “Mr. Robot” and “Into the Badlands”

2015 saw a ton of explosive shows vie for our attention, from the new seasons of How to Get Away with MurderScandal, and Empire, to the new faces on rookie shows like RosewoodQuantico, and The Grinder (or, in The Grinder‘s case, familiar faces we haven’t seen in a while). But if there were two new shows that captured the imagination more in 2015, they would have to be Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands.