Tag Archives: representation

Being Latinx in Hollywood: Media creators talk representation

Latinx representation in Hollywood is something that seems to be suspiciously under the radar, even though it’s highly important, as the Latinx identity is one that is diverse and multifaceted. Despite characters like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria in ABC’s Modern Family and the casts of Lifetime’s Devious Maids and TNT’s Queen of the South existing in the media, there’s still more that needs to be done in Hollywood, such as focusing more on darker-skinned tones, racial diversity, and whitewashing. For every Gloria onscreen, there’s only one April Sexton, Yaya DaCosta’s Afro-Brazilian role on NBC’s Chicago Med, or Carla Espinosa, Judy Reyes’ proud Dominican character on NBC’s Scrubs. Even the roles like Vergara’s role—which is a “sexy Latina” stereotype—need work in order to exist outside of the stereotypes that have been wrongly attached to Latinx characters and actors.

Two of the latest instances of Hollywood’s failure at Latinx representation are X-Men Sunspot and Dr. Cecilia Reyes. The Afro-Latinx characters, which will be part of the new X-Men film The New Mutants, will be played by Henry Zaga and Alice Braga. Zaga is Brazilian, but he isn’t black or biracial, which removes much of the context from Sunspot’s character, as his characterization stems from the racial issues he’s had to face as a biracial Afro-Brazilian. Alternatively, Braga is Afro-Latina, but being light-skinned, she’s able to exhibit a privilege that the original, darker-skinned actress up for the role, Rosario Dawson, can’t. Again, it takes an important piece away from a character that is not just Puerto Rican, but defined by her place in the African Diaspora.

Throughout this year, I spoke with several Latinx creators about how they feel about Hollywood’s Latinx representation and what can be done to make it better. This is a longform piece, so I’ll break this up into several sections:

The roles afforded to Latinx actors in Hollywood

Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (Lionsgate)

Latinx actors, like many POC actors, are offered less than their fair share of meaningful roles. When they are offered roles, they’re often racist.

“When Latinx actors do get roles, I feel they’re oftentimes stereotypes,” wrote Desiree Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge sci-fi comic book Catalyst Prime and writer for Women on Comics and The Nerds of Color, in an email interview. “The Spicy Latina, the Buffoon, the Tough Chick Who Dies, the Sexual Exotic Fantasy, the Drug Dealer, the Gangster, and so on.

“…What I find frustrating is when Latinx actors do get roles, it’s a struggle and they are locked into stereotypes,” said Rodriguez. “I’m a huge fan of Diego Luna, but the first role I saw him in he played a Cuban – when he is Mexican – man who was basically the exotic fantasy for the white female lead in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. This isn’t even getting into how Afro-Latinxs, Asian-Latinxs, and other mixed raced Latinxs are barred from roles because they don’t fit Hollywood’s pre-packaged idea of what being Latinx looks like.”

“I think currently, while we are seeing more visibility, the current roles that are offered or available to Latinos are the role of a servant position, like a maid or something that falls in line with the stereotypes people have about Latinos, like maybe a sidekick or a criminal,” said Janel Martinez, founder and editor-in-chief of Ain’t I Latina, a site celebrating Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinx culture.

“For example, in Orange is the New Black, a lot of people were hyped about the fact that there was a great representation of Latinas in the actual show, which is awesome, but when you look on the flipside of that, this is a show about women in jail,” she said. “Also, Devious Maids, [co-produced by Eva Longoria], it’s a full cast of Latinas, two of them identifying as Afro-Latina, and they were maids. I think people are seeing the visibility, people are excited to be able to say if you’re watching the show, you’re seeing our representation…but I think it’s still in a very limited scope. I find that it’s not just a Carrie Bradshaw or just someone who happens to be a Latina but maybe they’re the magazine editor in the movie. Their identity, while it’s important, isn’t in line with stereotypes and then manifested in the character that they essentially embody.”

“Typically, I see lots of immigrant, day laborers and criminal roles going to Latinx actors,” wrote Gerry Maravilla, Head of Crowdfunding at Seed and Spark and writer-director of Cross, in an email interview. “I think this comes from often lack of interaction on behalf of writers and filmmakers with Latinx people in the real world. As such, they rely on what they’ve already seen in films or what they see from the vantage point of their more insulated experience.”

“By ‘insulated,’ I don’t mean that they live secluded or antisocial lives, but rather the lives they lead don’t actually include Latinx people in any meaningful way,” he said. “Instead, they see the Latinx peoples working in roles like day laborers or think about Latinx gang culture because of its coverage in the media.”

I think the most important thing to remember about stereotypes is how detrimental they are to Latinx actors who are trying to be cast in roles that are meaningful [as well as] to creators and consumers as a whole,” said Kimberly Hoyos, filmmaker and creator of The Light Leaks, a website designed to support, educate and empower female and gender non-conforming filmmakers. “As a Latina creator, I’m not going to write a character that I wouldn’t personally maybe want to act as. I wouldn’t create someone who is my ethnicity that doesn’t represent something larger as a whole. As a consumer growing up, that’s what I would see, maids and…anything that was oversexualized or overcriminalized. I think that in part pushed me to be a creator so I would be in charge of what was being produced.

Amy Novondo, singer and actor, said that several people she knows are frustrated with the lack of quality roles.

“[Hollywood] thinks of that over-dramatized telenovela atmosphere and [they think that] Latinos are only capable of that kind of acting their minds,” she said. “I know a couple of Latinos who are really mad about this because we barely get a chance to get into the audition room and when we do, we’re stereotyped right out of the box. It’s like, come on—I want a little more than that.”

Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Why have these stereotypes stayed around, and why have they kept their power? The answers lie in the pervasiveness of media itself, wrote Rodriguez.

“Media has a lot of power. The images we see, coupled with the words we read or we hear imprint on us however subtly,” she wrote. “It’s something of an irony that the Latin Lover trope can be attributed to Rudolph Valentino’s – a white Italian man – performance in 1921’s The Sheik, while stereotypes like The Domestic – where Latinx characters are gardeners, maids, etc – are perpetrated by popular, well known Latinx actors like Jennifer Lopez. And in Lopez’s case, we have an instance where Hollywood shows how deeply entrenched it is with its discomfort and ignorance dealing with the Latinx identity.”

Rodriguez references The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, which exhibit Lopez in two roles that reinforce racial and ethnic hierarchies.

“In The Wedding Planner, Lopez plays an Italian woman who is, for all intents and purposes, highly successful and comfortably well off. In Maid in Manhattan, Lopez plays a Latina woman who works as a maid in an expensive hotel, just scraping by as a single mom, and only finds success after she falls in love with a white man,” she wrote. “This creates a distorted image. As an Italian woman, Lopez’s character is an independent and successful career woman who eventually finds love. As a Latina woman, Lopez’s character is a single mom (enforcing the idea that Latino men are absentee fathers/bad family men), working as a maid until a rich white man “saves” her; then and only then does she find success.”

“This is, perhaps, a cynical viewing of what are two separate, and admittedly tropey romantic comedies. But again, media has power. Consciously or not, there’s a negative message to be had in the fact that Lopez’s Latina identity was erased in favor of an Italian one in The Wedding Planner,” she wrote. “By erasing our Latinx identities in favor of white ones, either by erasing the very existence of our Latinx identities or whitewashing them with white actors, media contributes to misinformation about what being Latinx is. Who we are as a collective culture and people – which is highly diverse and layered. Yet these stereotypes are upheld by this continued enforcement of ignorance and whitewashing.”

“[Stereotyping is] very, very detrimental and limiting because when you think of Latin America, we’re talking about over 20 countries and yes, we’re talking about Spanish [as a language] there are other languages [as well]…so I will say that when it comes down to not just representation, but inclusion in Hollywood, a person has to be invested in learning about the culture because there’s so many different moving parts,” said Martinez. “You can be Latino, Latina, Latinx, but you can be black, you can be Asian, you can be white and Latino. There has to be a great understanding of the culture.”

“…I think the work that is needed to really depict a Latino hasn’t been done and I think, specifically, when it comes to the representation, a lot of times they don’t even specify the nationality of the Latino [character]. …[Viewers] don’t even know if this person is Ecuadorian or Puerto Rican or if they’re from Honduras or Nicaragua or wherever because whoever wrote the role[.]”

Martinez also talked about how the different languages, slang words, and other cultural identifiers that make up Latin America aren’t taken seriously as characterization tools.

“When we see the portrayals on our screen, those things are not necessarily taken into account,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a strong grasp on what it means to be Latino, either Latino in America or Latino abroad.”

Jennifer Lopez and Tyler Posey in Maid in Manhattan (Columbia/TriStar)

Hoyos said that stereotypes are at their most insidious when people don’t even recognize them as such.

“I think the most dangerous thing about stereotypes is that to the untrained eye, they’re not seen as anything negative…To the average viewer, if they see one crime movie with Latinx as they gang members or the thugs, they may not even call that movie racist,” she said. “They might be like, ‘Oh, other movies do that.’ It becomes a normalized thing, and I think that’s why need to educate ourselves as a whole. I think a lot of that goes to correcting others when we see problematic media as a whole.”

Maravilla echoes this point by examining the news’ portrayal of Latinx Americans.

“I think these stereotypes originate from a similar place as the kind of roles that go to Latinx actors. They come from an isolated or insulated experience from Latinx people that prevents them from seeing or understanding them as complex, three-dimensional people,” he wrote. “When you look at other films, Latinx people are often criminals, immigrants, blue-collar people, and when they look at news coverage, this is also typically our depiction.”

“As filmmakers try to balance telling an engaging and affective story, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of making a narrative work at a story level, he wrote. “Because their focus or interest isn’t necessarily on accurate cultural representation, they rely on stereotypes to satisfy their story needs, but end up not fully realizing (and in some cases just not caring) about the harm these stereotypes are doing.”

Next: Whitewashing and brownface in Hollywood

“GLOW” Is An Unexpected Commentary on American Racism

When I watched Netflix’s latest success, GLOW, what I expected was to see a faithful-to-the-ugly-’80s dramedy about the makings of real-life ’80s wrestling show GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I expected a focus on strong women, which there was. But what I didn’t expect was a sneak attack of much-needed racial commentary.

One of the show’s overarching themes is how much racial stereotyping and trope plays into the world of entertainment wrestling. Racial and ethnic stereotypes have been an often-overlooked, but integral part of entertainment wrestling’s success, such as The Iron Sheik, Samoa Joe, Sheamus, Latin Lover, SabuMexican America, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and G-Rilla, the original gangsta character George Murdoch (aka WWE’s Brodus Clay and Impact Wrestling’s Tyrus) adopted to start his career. Stereotypes of all forms play a part in wresting’s personas, from the hillbilly character of Bubba Ray Dudley and the gimmicky play on Hornswoggle‘s height as a little person to the cartoonish, flamboyant “macho man” brashness of Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Randy Savage and spoiled brattiness of “The Miracle” Mike Bennett and his wife, “The First Lady of Wrestling” Maria Kanellis Bennett, to the self-explanatory nature of The Honky Tonk Man.

The show explores exactly why stereotypes are seen as means to an end in the world of wrestling–it’s easy to create a character. Unlike how director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) was trying to create an indie subversive treatise on the patriarchy with characters who needed a lot of backstory, there is no need for characters with layers in professional wrestling. The ease of stereotypes, especially the racial ones, allow for the audience to quickly understand who a character is and what their motivations are in one sentence (or in some cases, no sentences at all). Carmen Wade (Britney Young) is part Cherokee, but instead, her character is the Incan gentle giant Machu Picchu, with simultaneously plays on Carmen’s lovable demeanor and the stereotype of the wise, ancient, “medicine woman” type. Reggie Walsh (Marianna Palka) plays on a mish-mash of Viking and Nordic stereotypes as Vicky the Viking, who pillages towns.

Sydelle Noel (R) and Kia Stevens in GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix)

Beirut (Sunita Mani) is, in wrestling terms, a “heel” by playing on the “brown-as-terrorist” stereotype that was reinforced within the season thanks to a newscast of Lebanese terrorists who held a U.S. plane hostage. It doesn’t matter that the character behind Beruit, Arthie Premkumar, isn’t actually Lebanese. Welfare Queen (Kia Stevens) spoke to the image white America had (or still has) of the poor black woman–that she’s actually a lazy slob living in wealth thanks to taking advantage of the government. It doesn’t matter that the character’s real persona, Tammé Dawson, actually worried about if her son, who is getting an Ivy League education, might be made fun of or, worse, that her son could actually come to resent her playing on all the stereotypes they’ve worked to disavow. Fortune Cookie aka Jenny Chey (Ellen Wong) is actually Cambodian, but what’s important is that she wrap up all of America’s dis-ease with the Vietnam War and its growing tension with communist China in one small bamboo hat-wearing package.

The ultimate heel of the show, Zoya the Destroyer aka Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) plays heavily on America’s fear of Soviet Russia. Does it matter that “Zoya” isn’t actually Russian? Nope. All that matters is that she portrays every Russian stereotype to the nth degree. The same goes for Liberty Belle aka Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), who has to play up every nasty stereotype about “The Good U.S. of A.,” which includes believing White Jesus is an American citizen, that apple pie reflects patriotism (even though it’s actually Dutch in origin), and that blonde and white equals pure and “All-American.”

Alison Brie (L) and Betty Gilpin in GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix)

However, stereotyping is quickly shown to be a double-edged sword; while it might be easy to get your characters out, it also opens the fans, particularly those who don’t realize the gag, to use the stereotypes as an excuse to showcase their racism. The best example of this is in the final episode, when Arthie gets spit on and heckled with racial epithets. The fact that she’s playing up the terrorist stereotype could be, if we’re using Sam and producer Bash’s (Chris Lowell) lenses, subverting the stereotype itself and taking the power away from that image by mocking the absurdity of the stereotype. But the audience for wrestling isn’t thinking about writing a thesis on stereotype subversion. What ends up happening is that there are some fans who believe whatever is put in front of them, and if they see a stereotype of a terrorist, they feel justified in hurling racial slurs. What happens to Arthie is exactly what Tammé and Junk Chain aka Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) discuss one-on-one; how will they know if the audience is in on the joke and laughing with them instead of laughing at them?

The first season of GLOW sets up for a second season that seems ripe to dig deeper into the emotional fallout the wrestlers will go through when it comes to playing up stereotypes. We were left with a question mark on whether Cherry would continue with the group, seeing how she aced an audition for a lead part on a TV procedural. The procedural itself seems to still be in line with Cherry’s blaxploitation past, but still, it’s miles better for her than the work she’s putting out as Junk Chain. For her, she’d finally be seen as a legitimate actress, not a B-movie star. Arthie might have a love for TV wrestling, but that love might pale in comparison to the amount of inner turmoil she’s already facing after her first TV match. Ruth is naively oblivious to the fact that she’s not portraying Russians as actual Russians, something made clear when she went with the hotel owner to his family’s gathering. But she’s primed and ready for a huge inner dilemma next season. Tammé hasn’t had to face her son yet, but with GLOW’s growing popularity, she’ll certainly have to.

(From right) Sydelle Noel, Ellen Wong, and Sunita Mani in GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix)

As The Atlantic‘s Dion Beary wrote in the 2014 article, Pro Wrestling is Fake, but Its Race Problem Isn’t, it’s the behind-the-scenes dilemmas that are the real draw for wrestling fans, since what happens in real life is often woven into the on-screen conflicts. And, just like how racial stereotyping and racism itself is a part of GLOW, The WWE was also facing its own issues with racial bias.

Beary detailed how the WWE’s black wrestlers were constantly getting beaten in the ring, from “jobbers”–wrestlers whose main job is to be beaten–and veteran wrestlers alike, like Big E and “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry. All of this highlights the fact that in its then-62 years, the federation had yet to crown a black wrestler the winner of the WWE Championship, the highest honor in the federation.

The article focuses on a 2003 WWE match to make its point. WWE’s RAW World Champion was Triple H, and the underdog looking to take him on was Booker T, a black wrestler.

“‘Somebody like you doesn’t get to be a world champion,’ Triple H told Booker T during a promo, a segment meant to build excitement for a match. Triple H made mention of Booker’s ‘Nappy hair,’ and claimed Booker was in the WWE to make people laugh, to be an entertainer rather than a competitor, to ‘do a little dance’ for him.

The crowd ate it up, and loud ‘ASSHOLE’ chants rained down on Triple H. The next week, Booker T gave an impassioned talk about his past, about how he’s overcome every obstacle that has been put in his way in life, and how he was going to beat the odds again at Wrestlemania 19 to become the world champion. It was, in one sense, brilliant storytelling. Hollywood is chock-full of plots that involve scrappy minorities overcoming racism to accomplish their dreams. With Triple H as the franchise, and the franchise’s job being to eventually lose to the underdog, fans were thoroughly in the corner of Booker T. The storybook ending just made so much sense.

And then Triple H won. 1-2-3. There was no cheating, no controversial finish, non ambiguity about it.
There’s real-life drama and then there’s fictional drama. WWE’s response to allegations of racism, misogyny, homophobia ad ableism have always been the same: It’s fictional. But that excuse wears thin when the fictional racism lines up perfectly with the real-life racism.”

According to Wikipedia, there still hasn’t been a black wrestler crowned as the ultimate champion. However, wrestlers of other minority backgrounds have been crowned throughout the championship’s run in the late ’90s and ’00s, including The Rock, Eddie Guerrero, Yokozuna, Alberto Del Rio, Rey Mysterio, and Batista. Still, the fact remains that in matches such as the one between Triple H and Booker T, racially-laced storylines play a huge part in professional wrestling, much to its detriment.

The cast of GLOW

What’s happening in GLOW not only shines a light on the issues plaguing professional wrestling, but also the acting industry as a whole. The same problem affecting Ruth and the other GLOW women are the same ones affecting actors today–all of the great, meaty roles are given to white men, while everyone else has to make lemonade out of lemon roles, with your success hinging on how much (or how willingly) you lean into your assigned stereotype. But as GLOW shows, even if you happily go into creating the best stereotypical character ever, your reward might be in the form of diminishing returns.

The success of GLOW’s second season will hang on just how much time is devoted to delving into the problems caused by the cast opening up Pandora’s Box of stereotyping. With so much material to mine, from the world of professional wrestling to the real life actresses’ own stories of offensive casting and other Hollywood horrors, it’d be to GLOW‘s detriment if it doesn’t hold Hollywood down in a headlock in Season 2.

“Power Rangers” shows the superhero genre how representation is done

Photos: Kimberley French/Lionsgate

If you told anyone that the movie that was going to shake up the superhero genre in the best way would be the film adaptation of Power Rangers, they would be shocked and probably, in some strange, elitist, I’m-too-old-for-Power Rangers way, appalled. But Power Rangers has come out of the blue as the film when it comes to portraying a diverse group of people in a way that is both organic and makes sense for today’s world and today’s multicultural and diverse audience.

The two characters that have set Power Rangers apart from other films are Trini (the Yellow Ranger), played by Empire star and pop singer Becky G., and Billy (the Blue Ranger), played by Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘s RJ Cyler. Trini is the first LGBT character in the Power Rangers universe and her story includes her coming to terms with her sexuality and her “girlfriend problems.”

“For Trini, really she’s questioning a lot about who she is. She hasn’t fully figured it out yet,” said director Dean Israelite to The Hollywood Reporter. “I think what’s great bout that scene and what that scene propels for the rest of the movie is, ‘That’s OK.’ The movie is saying, ‘That’s OK,’ and all of the kids have to own who they are and find their tribe.”

Cyler talked to ScreenRant about how he got into character as Billy and what he learned about respectfully playing a person on the autism spectrum.

“I wanted to show a different…viewpoint of people that are seen as bieng on the spectrum…Or people dignosed with autism, ’cause it’s like I feel like us being outsiders looking in and I take that, I cast my own stone when I say that, ’cause there’s a lot that I didn’t know before,” he said.

“I actually sat down and shut my mouth and actually just listened and you know, accepted every bit of information with no judgement,” he said. “I know that it was my job to show, you know, that people that are on the spectrum are just regular people, literally just how we talk, how me and [Becky G] talk, they feel the same way, they have the same emotions, they wanna be loved…they want relationships; they want, you know, connections, and it’s just like I was really excited to be able to play tthat ’cause I know it means so much to so many people, ’cause all of us are affected by it…and it’s something I feel like we needed to have in this movie to be honest.”

If you’re an O.G. Power Rangers fan, then you know that the show has always included a diverse cast, which, in retrospect, might have been kinda daring for the time (despite the fact that the black and Asian cast members were the Black and Yellow Rangers…) I know for sure that, despite for the subject color naming, I was positively affected by Power Rangers, since I saw myself in both Zack Taylor (Walter Jones) and Trini Kwan (Thuy Trang, RIP), who was the only woman of color on the original season, I should add. It seems like we’re seeing another generation of action fans being positively influenced by Power Rangers again, if Twitter is anything to go by.

In short Power Rangers has shown all of these other blockbuster films how it’s done when it comes to representation. There’s no time to worry about box office returns or any other political machinations when it comes to showing people as they exist in the world. I’ll definitely have to check out Power Rangers for myself, because it might just help me with my own increasing knowledge about where I sit on the autism spectrum (since, from research I’ve done and from personal anecdotes I’ve heard about myself, I believe I’m a prime candidate to be diagnosed with ASD). Growing up during a time when your own vision of autism was Rain Man, it’ll be refreshing to see a different portrayal of a condition that affects all of those affected in many different ways.

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

“Into the Badlands” Season 2 premiere is a masterclass in inclusive TV

Daniel Wu as Sunny (Antony Platt/AMC)

It’s already a cliche to say this, but Into the Badlands Season 2 showed up Iron Fist in nearly every way possible. If there Hollywood needed an example of how to make an inclusive martial arts-based action show that doesn’t appropriate cultures but actually respectfully melds cultures together into something new and original, then Into the Badlands is that much-needed example.

Did that sentence confuse you? Let me just break down what I’m trying to say in some bulleted points while telling you what you need to know about the jaw-dropping Season 2 premiere.

• The beginning didn’t linger. 

 

I hope you had your Into the Badlands DVDs or On Demand players handy to catch up on the first season, since the show didn’t waste any time jumping back into the story and the action, and that’s great, because while the show’s story is fantastic, the biggest selling point are the extensive, thought-out, creative fight scenes.

We’ve  dropped in on Sunny (Daniel Wu, who is also one of the show’s executive producers) after being transported to a slave colony to work in the mines. Gone are the days of being a Clipper (aka an upper-tier slave), and now, all Sunny cares about is getting out of the mines and back to Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and his new baby. And hopefully to get back on the right terms with Veil, since his role in her parents death is…dubious.

(Look, let’s get this out of the way right now in this huge aside; Sunny didn’t kill Veil’s parents. BUT, he did stand by while Quinn (Martin Csokas) killed them with Sunny’s sword. BUT, Quinn also threatened to kill Sunny. BUT, Sunny can totally take down Quinn, and he didn’t. BUT, Sunny was just waking up to the system as it is and he didn’t realize he was a slave until he realized he wanted more for his life, particularly because of his relationship with Veil. As you can see, the circular argument can go on and on. But bottom line is that he didn’t kill Veil’s parents, but he didn’t stop Quinn due to self-preservation and, to be blunt, selfishness. He wanted to be around to be with Veil, and he didn’t really think enough about Veil’s parents to realize he needed to stop Quinn from killing what could have become his own extended family. However, how did he think he could go explain this to Veil??? Not to be glib, but he didn’t think the “I’ll stand by like my hands are tied” thing through at all.)

At any rate, Sunny wants to get his family back and find his redemption. Right now, it seems like he could and he couldn’t; his new bunkmate frenemy Baijie (newcomer to the show Nick Frost) sold him out in order to try to secure his own freedom, but Sunny already had a plan before Baijie ratted him out; Sunny wants to try to take out the big wrestler of the group in order to become the new head of the slave food chain and, possibly, get his chance to escape.

HOWEVER, before we even get to Sunny making a plan, we immediately see Sunny try to escape from the first few minutes of the show. IT WAS INTENSE! THIS IS HOW YOU START AN ACTION SHOW!

• The diversity and badassery of the Into the Badlands‘ women

I can honestly say that this is one show that treats its women with respect. (Except for that one woman Baijie straight-up punched unconscious just to get a ring to buy his freedom. Baijie should know better than that.)

Overall, the women on Into the Badlands have thoroughly impressed me, even more so this season. One criticism that some, including Mediaversity Reviews, pointed out is that despite the presence of Veil and the awesomeness of The Widow, the show was centered around white feminism. (Li of Mediaversity Reviews also breaks down just how diverse the main cast is, which is that it’s pretty diverse and more multicultural on an individual-by-individual basis than I initially gave the show credit for. For instance, Mantock is black, Hispanic, and white, not just black as I alluded to in my recent Into the Badlands article. My bad.)

However, one of this season’s mission statements seems to be to correct that oversight, since this season, we’re seeing a much more diverse range of women, including The Master, played by Chipo Chung, who is Asian and black and the most powerful person on the show, period. As many online have noted, the show seems to be a masterclass for Marvel on how to 1) create a show with a POC Iron Fist and 2) how to simultaneously make an Iron Fist with Asian heritage and a proper female Ancient One that doesn’t appropriate the culture she’s supposed to be a part of (and, again, is an Ancient One with Asian heritage). She’s everything we wanted both Iron Fist and the Ancient One to be.

Chipo Chung as The Master  (Antony Platt/AMC)

And Tilda (Ally Ioannides), who was just The Widow (Emily Beecham)’s daughter, has now been elevated to Regent. And her crew is also amazing.

And another upcoming new baron, Baron Chau, looks like she can f*** some people up good-fashioned. I can’t wait to see her fight scenes, especially if she has fight scenes against The Widow. (She’s got to have some fight scenes against The Widow.)

• A diversity masterclass for other shows

Yes, the show’s Season 2 premiere had a serendipitous moment by coming on during the same weekend as Iron Fist‘s premiere, simultaneously one-upping it and showing it how it’s really done when it comes to the martial arts game. But the show is a masterclass for any new series looking to infuse cultures together without appropriating or otherwise offending its audience.

This is something that was taken seriously last year, as evidenced by the whole spiel Wu had about rewriting Romeo Must Die through Sunny and Veil, but this year, the crew has taken their commitment to diversity even more seriously than before. We have the examples of the women above, but we also have just the worldbuilding in general. In every scene, you have a multicultural world which reflects the show’s multicultural audience. The world itself doesn’t particularly rest on whiteness as a default or as a power play, something I originally thought the show was using in the first season with Quinn’s family, coupled with the fact that Quinn and The Widow were the only barons we saw until the introduction of Edi Gathegi’s Jacobee (I still wish we saw more of Jacobee).

We’re also getting yet another baron; along with Chau, we’re also getting Baron Hassan, and the two of them together have opened up the baron game in the vein of Jacobee; anyone can be a baron, and knowing that anyone can attain that kind of power is refreshing, and in its own way, subversive, since the power everyone’s battling over is the same original sin that started America in the first place–slavery. It’s interesting that even though the America Into the Badlands inhabits is a post-apocalyptic type of America, it’s still a country that wrestles with the concept of power through owning others.

• Surprises on surprises on surprises

We had the surprise of the Master being who she is, the surprise of The Widow upping her game this season (her big set piece was amazing to view, and I could watch that over and over again), and the surprise of Veil finally having her baby. But the biggest surprise was seeing QUINN AS VEIL’S CARETAKER! What kind of Frankenstein nonsense is happening right now?! We all thought he was dead! What is he doing with Veil and Veil’s baby?! Also, is he trying to seek redemption as well, or is he trying to regain his power to take on his son Ryder (Oliver Stark), who is now the new baron?

Overall, I’m PUMPED! I can’t wait to see where the rest of this season is taking us! What did you think of the first episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Riverdale” react: Let’s talk about Jughead’s sexuality

How do we feel about Jughead and Betty as an item? (CW)

Riverdale Episode 6 | “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” | Aired March 2, 2017

As I wrote before, love was in the air on the latest episode of Riverdale, Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” and maybe it’s just me, but one of my early criticisms of the show thus far is that it is trying wildly hard to impress as the new pulpy, soapy teen show on TV, so much so that it overshoots its mark on several occasions. The first two were involving Chuck and Ms. Grundy, the third being how ridiculously evil the parents of Riverdale are towards their kids (as explained by Black Girl Nerds’ Chelsea A. Hensley). The fourth mark against the show is how Jughead’s sexuality has been treated.

For those of us in the know (which includes a lot more kids and teens than I gave Archie Comics credit for despite being a fan of the comic when I myself was a preteen, which means its rebranding as a fresh new comic book franchise has paid off in dividends), Jughead has been officially canonized as asexual. We don’t have to speculate over his sexuality anymore (although, I have to admit that creating your own headcanon for Jughead was kinda fun–there was one point early in my Archie Comics fandom that I would swear that Jughead and Betty would hook up, then I felt like Jughead and Veronica could make a good opposites attract pairing that clearly wouldn’t last long but would have huge fireworks, then when Kevin came along, I would swear that Jughead and Kevin would be together through their shared love of burgers and competitive eating.)

In any event, Jughead being clearly defined as asexual (and maybe, in an unspoken fashion, also canonized as aromantic seeing how he hates the idea of relationships outside the realm of close friendship) put a lot of Jughead’s behavior and preferences into focus. It all made sense. Why wouldn’t Jughead be asexual? In fact, he’s always been asexual, even though the 1940s didn’t have a name for it yet. What’s even better about the current run of “Jughead” though–aside from the sharp wit and seriously laugh-out-loud moments, is that Jughead is portrayed as a confident, imaginative, semi self-absorbed teenager whose priorities include loafing, playing video games, eating, and hanging out with his best friend Archie. Everything and everyone else can kick rocks, especially Reggie, Jughead’s historic nemesis-now-turned-frenemy. In short, Jughead has become even more Jughead-like, and part of that is due to cementing his sexuality.

Now, though, that positive step towards representation and sexual diversity has been shortchanged by “Riverdale” making Jughead kiss Betty, thereby starting a romantic, sexually-implied relationship. Now, of course, there are various types of asexuality, which does include kissing, but as a character, Jughead has never shown an inkling towards liking kissing, let alone willingly engage in it. This TV characterization of Jughead goes too far—it has begun erasing the core of what made Jughead great.

I wrote a little bit about my feelings about Jughead and Betty’s moment as a Twitter moment:

Of course, as I say in my Twitter thread, I am not asexual so while what I have to say may be well-intentioned, it certainly isn’t the end-all-be-all of opinions. Enter Jordan Crucchiola, who wrote “An Asexual’s Defense of Jughead Kissing Betty on Riverdale” for Vulture. She writes that Jughead is allowed to be a character who is still discovering his own sexuality.

An important thing to consider is that Jughead’s preferences are being reduced to whether or not he is asexual, which takes away from the nuance of the asexual spectrum, which is wide and varied. Some of the better articles discussing Jughead’s orientation point out that he might not necessarily be aromantic, even if he is asexual. I, for example, identify as a pan-romantic gray asexual. That means I’m capable of having nonsexual crushes on anyone, regardless of gender or sex, and that my asexuality isn’t written in stone. There’s that “gray” area where I’m philosophically flexible. I am not motivated by sexual desire, and have never had any sexual partners, but I do experience deep love through my friendships and have experienced many instances of “crushing” on people I take a strong liking to.

I am also a very affectionate person, and many asexual individuals appreciate, enjoy, and seek out physical feedback from others, just like gay, straight, or bi individuals do. The ultimate end game just looks different than we’ve been taught to expect in health class, on TV, and in the movies. It’s about setting the correct boundaries with people in your life who are comfortable sharing such closeness without it leading to a sexual relationship. It takes some searching for the right people, but it can be done.

Again, I’m not asexual and I highly respect Jordan’s view on this subject. With that said, though, let me just say this: Jordan states at the end of her article that she hopes that the writers are going in the direction of eventually making Jughead understand and realize his sexual orientation, and I certainly hope so as well. But the one thing that irks me the most is that while Jughead might be given the “let him find his way” scenario, Kevin, who is also in a similar boat as far as sexual representation goes, is never portrayed in that way. Kevin, on the other hand, gets the straight-up (no pun intended) confident gay teen storyline, a storyline that would have been the “let him find his way” storyline just 10 years ago or less. The fact that Kevin being gay is played as passe while Jughead’s canonical sexuality seems, at least on the surface, is ignored, is a sticking point.

Some of this is addressed in a thread by Twitter user TheShrinkette, who states in her Twitter profile that she identifies as gray aromantic asexual.

Cole Sprouse, who portrays Jughead in the series, gave his his opinion on the controversy, showing his in-depth Jughead knowledge in the process. First, according to Bleeding Cool:

I think, first and foremost, this conversation deserves more time than something that we can quickly do here. There are two forms of representation Jughead has received over time. In [Chip] Zdarsky’s Jughead, he’s asexual. That’s the only Jughead where he is asexual. He’s aromantic in the digests, which is a different thing but deserves attention as well.

But what I found when I was really diving in — because once we started putting Jughead and Betty together, I started doing research to see if that was a narrative that even existed in the digests, and it turns out it is. It’s a narrative that’s existed for a long time. There are a handful of digests in which Jughead would say things like, ‘Oh, Betty, if I did like women, I guarantee you would be the one I would marry outright. You are the best person around.’ He would say these things that are really romantic and cute with an appreciation for Betty and I think it’s become clear to me now that Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] has taken off with that trend.

While I think that representation is needed, this Jughead is not that Jughead. This Jughead is not Zdarsky’s Jughead and this Jughead is not the aromantic Jughead,” he said. “This Jughead is a person who is looking for a kind of deeper companionship with a person like Betty and Betty ends up being this super nurturing, caring, care-taking person that with Jughead’s screwed-up past they end up diving into each other and it ends up being a beautiful thing.

How are people going to respond? Truthfully, they’re probably going to be quite incendiary about it at first. Do I think that’s ill-placed? No. Do I think they should give it a shot? Yeah, I do, because I think now — after filming thirteen episodes — it makes sense to me and, if it makes sense to me as the person who’s dumping so much time and especially so much argumentation into trying to represent Jughead correctly, if it makes sense to me, it will make sense to other people as well.

Also, here’s what he said to Glamour before the show in February:

So, the day I was cast was actually the same day he was announced as canonically asexual. It wasn’t in the digest—it was in Zadarsky’s universe, so it was in one of the newer comics that was written. But Jughead’s always been a romantic in a way that he, in the earlier comics, stayed away from girls and put his attention toward his food fetishism. So he’s always kind of had this narrative, but when I started doing my research into Jughead’s sexuality specifically there’s always been little areas where he got close enough to potentially suggest that he might like either Betty or Ethel, or even some comics where he gets kissed by Veronica. I don’t think it was really cemented in the digest too much what stance Jughead took.

I think, in this show, he’s not a romantic and not asexual. I argued in the beginning, creatively, that he should be both, but in this show, he’s kind of a tortured youth that ends up finding a comfort and a resonance with another person who’s going through a lot of trauma. They end up forming this kind of beautiful, honest union, and I think that, to me, is a narrative that works with this universe of Jughead. But I think that kind of asexual and a-romantic representation is really important. If it ends up finding a place in Riverdale and in future seasons, then hopefully we’ll do it with tact and in a way that respects what it is and how it resonates.

It should also be noted that Sprouse did fight for Jughead to be asexual and, as far as I believe—and from what his quotes suggest—is still fighting for Jughead to be asexual.

With all of this said, what do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Being Asian in Hollywood: Actors, directors, and creators talk representation

(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter, Kesavmwable.com)
(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter, Kesavmwable.com)

Representation in Hollywood is an issue by itself, but Asian representation in Hollywood is near non-existent. With the state of Hollywood being that black equates to “diversity” (despite there being more types of diversity out there than just being black) and Asian characters are still overrun with stereotypes or whitewashing, Asian actors and actresses have had a tough uphill battle in breaking through the glass ceiling.

JUST ADD COLOR is all about exploring how all types of diversity are showcased in Hollywood, so I thought it would be fantastic to have an ongoing series called POC in Hollywood. First up, the Asian American experience in Hollywood. In this longform piece, we’ll take a closer look at some of the issues and biases plaguing Asian creatives in Hollywood.

This is a longform, so if you’d like to jump to specific parts, here’s the table of contents:

Whiteness as the default

IMDB
IMDB

Historically, Hollywood has used Asian locales and people as props, while white characters are given layered characteristics. In short, white characters have been treated as humans, while everyone and everything else are only developed in stereotypes.

The most recent examples of this include The Birth of the Dragon, in which a white character is used to frame Bruce Lee’s biopic, Doctor Strange, which sees Tilda Swinton playing an Asian role and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, which is a white character used to exploit a stereotypical Asian mysticism, Ghost in the Shell, which uses Japanese culture to frame Scarlett Johansson as The Major and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, which features India as a backdrop for white characters and Dev Patel playing a stereotypical Indian character.

“What’s particularly silly about The Birth of the Dragon is that they invented a fictional white character thinking that that would be what North American audience would want,” wrote Quentin Lee, The Unbidden director and founder of Margin Films in an email interview. “The filmmakers obviously fell flat on their faces. Not only it wasn’t historically accurate for the story, the film ended up insulting Bruce Lee and the audience who would support it. It was a creative misfire.”

Chris Tashima, an Academy-winning director for the 1998 short film Visas and Virtue and co-founder of Cedar Grove Productions, wrote that while he hasn’t seen The Birth of the Dragon yet, he found the basis of the film “ridiculous.”

“It’s understandable, why this has been the practice—being that traditionally, decision makers have been white males, and like anyone else, will want to see stories about themselves, and that audiences have traditionally been thought of as young, white males,” he wrote. “However, all of that is changing. It has been changing for a while, and it’s easy to see where it’s going: towards a diverse world. That’s an old practice and you’d think Hollywood would want to project, and put themselves on the cutting edge, and be more inclusive. It’s old, and tired, and more and more, I think audiences will want to see something different, something more truthful.”

“I think the overarching theme that runs through how Hollywood/the West represents POCs has to do with the ease with which they are able to strip POCs of agency over their own stories,” wrote Kesav Wable, Brooklyn-based actor, writer, 2011 HBO American Black Film Festival finalist for his short film, For Flow and Sundance lab short-listed screenwriter for a script about a Pakistani boxer wrongfully accused of planning a terror attack.

“This may come across as a bit exaggerated or radical, but I do believe that there is a link between white imperialist concepts such as ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘white man’s burden,’ which validated a lot of the literal takings from POCs that happened throughout earlier periods in civilized history, and now, in a media-hungry world where information, content, and stories are the most valuable currencies, there is an analogous “taking” of the narratives that POCs have lived through. By depicting POC characters through the lens of a white character, it enables white audiences to keep POCs’ stories at arm’s length, and to not completely empathize with those characters because they are not given the complete human dignity and complexity that is afforded the white character.”

“Perhaps, this, in a way, damps down the guilt that white audiences may feel if the POCs stories/circumstances have to do with the literal takings that were exacted by their ancestors. Or it’s just good for a cheap laugh. The truly insidious effect of POCs being usurped from their own narratives is that, even many of us POCs begin to start viewing things through a white lens and stop questioning whether these stories truly represent who we are because of how pervasive white-controlled media is.”

Wable used the upcoming film Happy End, which is about a bourgeois European family living amid the current refugee crisis. “Granted, I haven’t seen the film, so it’d be presumptive of me to conclude that refugees are not conferred with dignity/complexity as characters, but the very thought that French filmmakers think that shining a light on a bourgeois family with the refugee crisis as a ‘backdrop’ can be instructive about their world, speaks volumes about what it is white people are most interested in; themselves,” he wrote. “In this case, apparently, the context is a rueful rumination on their own blindness to the refugees’ plight. Somehow the irony of the very film’s existence as a manifestation of that blindness seems to be lost on them.”

Mandeep Sethi, filmmaker and emcee, also discussed about Hollywood’s tendencies to erase non-white people from their own stories. “I think centralizing POC stories around white characters is Hollywood’s way of taking a black or brown story and making it about white people,” he said. “Our culture is full of amazing stories and histories and Hollywood loves to cherry pick what they like but leave out the real nitty gritty including the people who created, interacted, and setup that story.”

Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)
Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)

Sinakhone Keodara, founder CEO of Asian Entertainment Television and host of Asian Entertainment Tonight, wrote that Hollywood’s penchant for using whiteness as a default is “a heinous tradition that is long overdue for a change.”

“Rather than trying to normalize Asian presence on screen to a wide American audience, Hollywood often goes the tired, well-worn and ‘safe’ route of using a white character in an attempt to more easily relate the character to a majority white American audience.  It’s cheap and unnecessary, because the proper and more effective way of relating a character to an audience is writing a character with emotional depth,” he said. “Ethnicity informs and colors our individual and community experiences, but emotion transcends ethnic boundaries.  With political correctness aside, Hollywood needs to stop engaging in a form of neo-emotional and neo-psychological colonialism against people of color, especially Asians by injecting whiteness into our stories.”

“I think that centralizing PoC stories around white characters is always going to happen as long as the people telling these stories are white,” wrote Asia Jackson, an actress, model and content creator. “What Hollywood needs is not only diversity on-camera, but to also make greater efforts to allow filmmakers of color to tell their own stories.”

Jodi Long, an actress who was a castmember of the first Asian American TV sitcom All-American Girl and member of the actors branch of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote that while whiteness as the default is the reality in Hollywood, a study shows a much needed change in film. “I just saw a new study The Inclusion Quotient done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media where the reality in terms of box office is changing, where women and diverse actors in lead roles are now performing extremely well,” she wrote. “Money talks in Hollywood but we still have to get beyond the implicit (unconscious) bias that factors into which projects get greenlit based on outmoded ways of thinking.”

Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)
Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)

Kunjue Li, Ripper Street actress and founder of China Dolls Productions Ltd., also addressed how money rules Hollywood, despite Hollywood not making the audience demand actually work for them financially. “I don’t think [whitewashing] is the right thing to do, and second of all, I don’t think it’s very commercial,” she said. “…[I]f they want to sell to Chinese audiences, which is the second biggest film market, then they need to tell a Chinese story…I think you have to tell a Chinese story [with] a Chinese cast.”

“If the film [was] an an American-Chinese co-production, [it would] actually help with the film itself because then it doesn’t have to go through the quota system…which means that only 30 percent of foreign films are allowed to show in China markets every year. If they do it as a co-production, then they get 1/3 of Chinese funding, but they have to have 1/3 of a Chinese [cast]. They’ll have one-third of Chinese funding, they’ll have domestic showings, they don’t have to go through the quota system, it’s much more feasible. Commercially, [whitewashing] doesn’t even work. I don’t understand why people keep doing that.”

Next: The pain of exoticism

What Disney’s Lack of a Black Disney Prince Reveals about America’s View of Black Masculinity

We’ve got Aladdin. We’ve got Kokoum. We’ve got Shang. We’ve got Kuzco. We’ve got Naveen. We’ve got Maui, who is technically a demigod. But where’s the animated black Disney prince? Inquiring minds want to know, but inquiring minds also want to understand why the majesty of the black man has been erased from Disney’s range of thought.

Disney has had some explaining to do about this issue, but the problem became glaringly apparent with the development of The Princess and The Frog, which included a belabored creation process for the prince character that would eventually become Prince Naveen. Originally, the prince character was going to be, from what I remember, a charismatic “Cary Grant” type. According to the old, old description from The SuperHeroHype forums:

[PRINCE HARRY] A gregarious, fun-loving European Prince, in his early twenties. A young Cary Grant. Charming, witty but irresponsible and immature. Loves jazz. Dialect: British upper-class.

This was met with criticism, because why couldn’t a black prince be created? The other princesses get princes of their own races—why not Tiana? Disney met this criticism by changing Prince Harry to a beige, non-white, but also non-black Prince from…Maldonia? Needle scratch.

Let me already say that this statement goes against the fact that this film, despite its flaws, is a representation of interracial marriage, something that is rare in entertainment. But The Princess and the Frog reveals how Disney failed even that narrative. 1) Why make Naveen from a made-up country? Why have the love interest for the first black Disney princess, a character set in a real place, literally be a person who couldn’t exist in our world (because where is MaldoniaNowhere.) Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a character from an actual country if Tiana’s from New Orleans? 2) If Disney set out to create a film focusing on an interracial relationship, it would have been nice for them to include such a focus in their marketing plan. The creators never focused on the type of impact such a story could have on its audiences, so they never showcased it in any interviews or press information. They were only focused on marketing the film as the first black Disney princess film. This is not to say that value can’t be taken from The Princess and the Frog having an interracial relationship, but it would have been fantastic if Disney had actually recognized the story they had on their hands (and thus, the story they could have fleshed out and made even better and more meaningful).

The questions I’ve always had are 1) what prevented Disney from creating a black Disney prince, and 2) why have they not created a black Disney prince before? Why are we still relying on The Lion King for the closest thing we have to a black Disney prince?

I thought I’d take to Twitter to ask this question. Here are the results.

https://twitter.com/smoothfuego1/status/764126650879672321

https://twitter.com/NilesAbston/status/763870650486317056

As it turns out, that while there are some men who aren’t particularly moved by the lack of a black animated Disney prince, there are many others who are upset, to say the least, about the lack of a black Disney prince.

Disney’s silence on not creating a black Disney prince reflects how America at large views black men, black masculinity, and the desirability of black males.

1. Black masculinity is still seen as dangerous: It is telling that the only black man that exists throughout the entirety of the film is Doctor Facilier. If you recall, Tiana’s father, the black man that is a good father, good husband, and all-around upstanding guy, dies during Tiana’s childhood. First, there’s the question of why Disney would even hire a big name like Terrence Howard to say just a couple of lines. But the more serious question is why does Disney feel more comfortable seeing black male villainy on screen rather than a positive portrayal of black fatherhood and manhood?

Despite the fact that Doctor Facilier was designed to be scrawny (and that Disney decided to hire their former long-time animator and Jambalaya Studios creator Bruce W. Smith to oversee his design in order to give the film representation behind the scenes), Doctor Facilier still embodies latent ideas that could be in the subconscious of the film’s white creators and are definitely in the collective consciousness of America at large. On the whole, America still treats black people, uniquely black men, as inherent, born criminals. There’s still a dangerousness that people expect from black men, which explains why so many black men have been stopped by police no bogus claims, thrown in jail for petty crimes (or no crime at all), or killed at the hands of police, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. This idea of “dangerousness” is also inherent in the amount of Latino and Native American men killed by police; there seems to be an “us against them” mentality with some police officers, and that’s not how policing is supposed to be.

The idea of dangerousness goes all the way back to slavery. I wrote in my Michael Brown post that Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others like them have been killed at the ages that they would have been sold for the highest price if they existed during slavery times. That age range is also the same range that they would be (and have been) considered the most dangerous.

Even much of the language used to describe Brown, Martin, and others depict a stereotype of savagery and fear in the mind of the killer. Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, called Brown a “demon” and as someone who was basically hulking up the more he got shot. George Zimmerman described himself as being in fear for his life. That narrative goes back to the idea that black men are brutes that need to be broken like horses, otherwise, they provide a danger for “good” people.

If a black man is considered dangerous by America, then could America accept the idea of a black prince? Could a positive portrayal of a black prince exist in a culture that still fears a section of its citizens? I implore Disney to disrupt the stereotypes facing black men by creating such a character.

2. Black wealth is a buried secret in America: Like how outsiders simply view Rio’s black population as living in favelas, America itself still views its black people as living in poverty. Such an idea is clearly not true, but it’s an idea that still resonates with America’s racist view of black Americans. Just look at how Donald Trump is trying to win over black Americans–by telling them they’re in poverty, they have no jobs, and they’re surrounded by crime. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asks. A LOT.

But if we look at American history as a whole, there has been black wealth. Take for instance Greenwood, the area of Tulsa, OK called “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. That area was then burned down in 1921 in what is called the Tulsa race riot, which was started by neighboring white citizens who felt Greenwood was growing in status and political clout. They felt that to secure their own hold on American wealth and politics, they had to burn down a positive representation of black success.

African-American culture is also removed from pan-African culture, which holds the history of many black princes, generals, etc. The richest man in the world of all time is 14th century African prince Mansa Musa. However, such history, including American history such as the Tulsa race riot, aren’t taught in school.

With such representations of black wealth destroyed, the myth has persisted that black wealth–and therefore, rich black people–doesn’t exist. Such thinking could have taken place when it came to the idea of creating Tiana’s prince. Did the team behind the film not consider the fact that there have been and are, indeed, wealthy black people? Or did they think that was impossible?

3. Black men are seen as unfeeling and emotionless: Again, to go back to slavery, black people were considered to have no feelings at all, thereby partially justifying slavery in the minds of white Americans at the time. Stereotypes like the smiling Sambo and the brutish, hypersexual creature who lives to take white women portray black men in two dynamics, both of which being untrue; either they’re cartoonish buffoons without realistic cares, or they’re an insatiable animal.

There’s also another reason black men are seen as emotionless: the emotional toll some black families put on their black men. Many boys are taught growing up that it’s not okay to show emotion, especially cry. To “be a man,” it’s thought that bottling emotions is the way to go, because showing emotions is “girl stuff.” However, the double whammy of society and familial pressures affects black men in a way that I feel is still unexplored in modern media.

In Disney animated films, we often see princes with a wide range of emotions. Aladdin’s entire story focused on his emotions about being a “streetrat” hoping to impress Princess Jasmine. Tarzan’s story is a classic coming-of-age tale. Shang, a captain in the army, has to deal with the pressures of leading a battalion to glory while processing the death of his father (a moment that probably happens too quickly in the film). Kokoum, who doesn’t express much emotion (which is also a stereotype of the Native Brave), shows reverence for Pocahontas, concern over her safety, and eventual anger at what he thought was John Smith taking advantage of Pocahontas. Even Eric, who is possibly the most wooden Disney prince of all time, has a couple of moments of feeling, even if it’s just confusion as to who rescued him. If Disney created a black prince, would they be able to give him the emotional beats he deserves?

Which leads me to the final point:

4. Disney’s think-tank doesn’t understand the black male experience (and of course they wouldn’t): John Lasseter and his crew have an inclusion issue that must be addressed. Why is it that there isn’t a person of color in these higher ranks? Why is it that Disney acts like Silicon Valley in how they exclude POC voices in its animation ranks? ABC, Lucasfilm, and now even Marvel seem to have a grasp on the idea of including diversity to meet audience demands. Disney, the parent company, still lags behind.

Do I think Disney would eventually make a black prince? Perhaps. But do I think they could really make a black prince that speaks to the black experience on a macro-scale? No. I recommend for Disney to hire black male animators into their ranks, and specifically hire thinkers and, as they call folks, “dreamers” who can be given carte blanche to direct films, much like how they give themselves carte blanche to create films. If a Cars franchise can be created, then an animated film starring a black Disney prince, a film created with sensitivity, intelligence, and a root in the black experience, can be created as well.

What do you think about this? Give your opinions in the comments section below, and if you give your opinions in Twitter, use the hashtag #BlackDisneyPrince. The more people who comment and hashtag, the higher the chances Disney might actually see this post and our hope for a black Disney prince might come closer to a reality!

#DifferenceMakers: Janel Martinez’s “Ain’t I Latina” Reps for Afro-Latinas Left Out of the Conversation

There is not enough focus on the people who live at the intersections of cultures and ethnicities. The Afro-Latina identity is one such group that seems to go under the radar in the media, and for no good reason. In the media, the idea of the Latina is that of a light-skinned, European or mestizo looking woman. Even in popular magazines geared towards the Latinx community and Latinas in particular, the diverse range of Latinas aren’t routinely showcased, Afro-Latinas in particular. The stereotype of what a Latina should look like isn’t capturing the full scope of those who are, in fact, Latina. Enter the much-needed site, Ain’t I Latina? to work to correct that oversight.

Ain’t I Latina was created by Honduran-American multimedia journalist Janel Martinez, who sought to give Afro-Latinas the coverage they’ve been missing in the media. Her Twitter page gives a quick summary of what you can expect:

Her bio page gives a more in-depth explanation of her site.

Ain’t I Latina? is an online destination created by an Afro-Latina for Afro-Latinas. Inspired by the lack of representation in mainstream media, as well as Spanish-language media, Janel Martinez, a 20-something journalist and New York native, wanted to create a space where millennial Latinas can celebrate their diversity. In addition to offering celebrity news, career advice, lifestyle coverage and exclusive interviews with today’s hottest Latinas, Ain’t I Latina? offers you, the reader, an opportunity to share your story.

There is a lot to take in on Ain’t I Latina, including the site’s latest interview with Evelyn Lozada and daughter Shaniece Hairston, Afro-Latina musicians and authors to look out for, theatrical portrayals of the Afro-Latina identity, etc. Most important of all, it fosters community and an outlet for women who haven’t seen themselves celebrated on the whole in media. I recommend you give Ain’t I Latina a shot.

Are you a fan of Ain’t I Latina? What do you love about the site? Give your opinions below!

Zendaya’s Mary Jane Watson could be the biracial heroine you’ve been looking for

K.C. UNDERCOVER - Disney Channel's "K.C. Undercover" stars Zendaya as K.C. Cooper. (Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin)
K.C. UNDERCOVER – Disney Channel’s “K.C. Undercover” stars Zendaya as K.C. Cooper. (Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin)

It’s official: Zendaya is playing Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Marvel film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. But why is everyone quick to assume that Mary Jane is black? What if it turns out that Mary Jane is biracial, like the actress playing her? And if this is true, how will this positively affect other biracial girls of African-American and Caucasian heritage that see her on-screen?

There has been plenty of talk about the lack of mono-racial people of color (for lack of a better word) for a while now. But it seems like most people don’t turn that conversation to a group of people of color who have been unrepresented, sometimes twice or many times over: biracial and multiracial people of color.

Technically, most of us in the U.S. have at least one other ethnicity in our heritage. But most of us claim just one. In many respects, the “one drop rule” still applies, even in the mouths of people who state that they don’t believe it. If you look black, you’re black. If you look Asian, you’re Asian, etc. Halle Berry famously said that her mother, who is white, told her to accept that she’s black, because that’s all anyone would see. Even President Barack Obama, who is biracial, is constantly called the first black president, even though that title negates the other half of his heritage. The same is happening with Zendaya’s Mary Jane; most people assume she’s playing a black Mary Jane, when it could be that she’s playing a biracial Mary Jane, a character that could draw on Zendaya’s own experiences as a biracial woman.

I should stress that I’m putting asterisks and air-quotes around the word “could.” Knowing how Marvel is at representation sometimes, there’s the overwhelming possibility that Zendaya is playing a black character. However, this particular film has the most inclusive casting of a Marvel film, and none of it seems like stunt casting. This film, as far as I’m concerned, is a watershed moment for Marvel and could signal a higher degree of focus and sensitivity towards casting. This sensitivity might also be applied to characterization. If it is, that would be a boon for biracial people, specifically those of African-American and Caucasian heritage, because biracial and multiracial people are hardly ever showcased in the media, and when they are, they are usually shown in an objectifying and dehumanizing light.

According to The Critical Media Project, the 19th and 20th centuries generally showcased biracial people as the “tragic mulatto,” the byproduct of a sordid relationship between a white and black couple. These characters were usually seen in a binary light, being tragic figures because they couldn’t fit into either the white or black worlds. The context in which these characters were viewed was from a white point of view; the only value these characters had were if they could pass as white, and if they couldn’t then their supposed tragedy made them unfit to exist in a world that only viewed race in terms of “undesirable” blackness and “exceptional” whiteness. There are several films like this that have been shown on TCM, but the most popular one has to be Imitation of Life, in which the biracial woman rejects her black mother, passes as white, and remains as such until her boyfriend leaves her because of her black heritage. (Spoiler alert: Her mother dies of a broken heart after her daughter tells her she hates her; the daughter only comes to her senses after her mother has died and she flings herself onto her mother’s casket during her funeral procession.)

Today though, biracial and multiracial people are now thought of as the product of an exotic, idealized future. This sounds like it should be positive, but it still puts biracial and multiracial people in terms of theory, not reality. To quote The Critical Media Project:

“…[T]he increasingly globalized nature of identity means that the conversation around mixed race tends to move beyond an isolated focus on black/white issues to incorporate other racial and ethnic identities. Mixed race individuals are often talked about in futuristic terms, conceptualized as modern hybrid beings that signal a faster, stronger and better world ahead. They are also often sexualized and fetishized as mysterious, exotic, sexy and extraordinary looking.”

Even though the tone of the conversation has shifted, biracial and multiracial people are still afflicted with stereotyping and objectification. Maybe one reason we rarely see biracial and multiracial people represented in the media is because too many people still view the idea of a multiracial society as a futuristic, sci-fi world that isn’t here yet, when in fact, it is here. It’s been here for centuries. In short, things have got to get out of the theoretical and into the practical when it comes to representing biracial and multiracial people as people, people who live in the now. Zendaya’s Mary Jane could go a long way in beginning to right that wrong.

The biggest film featuring an interracial family in recent memory is Infinitely Polar Bear, starring Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo. Mirren Lyell for Mixed Nation also cites Nickelodeon shows Sanjay and Craig and The Haunted Hathaways as recent TV shows depicting interracial families. But there should be more films like this. Indeed, there should be more media of all types about multiracial and biracial people. As John Paul Brammer of Blue Nation Review wrote:

In the context of the media diversity debate, multiracial people exist in a precarious place. On the one hand, they seem to be left out for the sake of a more direct approach to criticism of media representation of minorities. “We need more black characters” or “We need more Asian characters” are strong demands with a history of mischaracterization and discrimination behind them. “We need more multiracial people of color” is seen as a level of intersectionality that Hollywood simply can’t process.

On the other hand, multiracial characters are often employed as copouts in the media, used to represent ethnic minorities in a more “palatable” way for mainstream audiences. Multiracial black actors with light skin are hired over black actors with darker skin. White Latinos are hired over Latinos with ethnic features.

Even films with progressive racial themes have come under fire for this. The film Dear White People, a film created to represent black people and discuss white racism, was criticized for casting as its protagonist a biracial, light-skinned black woman.

More representations of biracial and multiracial characters could help quell Hollywood’s usage of actors and actresses of mixed heritage as social and political wedges. More representations would also help build the self-esteem of many kids who don’t see characters who represent all of their heritage on screen. According to this article by Astrea Greig, MA for the American Psychological Association:

“Despite large growth, the multiracial population still comprises a very small fraction of the U.S. population (Humes, Jones, & Ramirez, 2011). Moreover, multiracial people in the media are often depicted as monoracial (CNPAAEMI, 2009; Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). As a result of the small population and lack of media representation, multiracial youth may feel that they do not have a multiracial community and lack role models to help them understand their mixed identity (Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Multiracial role models are thus extremely helpful for mixed children and teens (Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Moreover, having a community of others with a mixed racial and/or ethnic background has shown to help improve psychological well-being (Iijima Hall, 2004; Sanchez & Garcia, 2009).”

If Marvel allowed it, Mary Jane Watson could be one such role model for biracial children. Her story, which as many have said is independent of race, would go a long way to represent biracial and multiracial people not as an ideal or as a tragedy, but as an ordinary person who faces personal and social issues big and small. A biracial Mary Jane would be yet a further stepping stone towards true identity equality in Hollywood and in society.

What do you think about a biracial Mary Jane? Write about it in the comments section below!

Olympic-sized “Rogue One,” “Luke Cage,” “Hidden Figures” trailers promise awesomeness

The Olympics is like the Super Bowl in that lots of big properties reveal their big trailers. Three such trailers were released during the Rio Olympics: Luke CageRogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Hidden Figures. Let’s take a look at each.

Luke Cage

First of all, it looks incredible. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never tuned into a Marvel Netflix production, either because I didn’t know the lore or, quite frankly, I just didn’t care. But the updated ’70s blaxploitation take on Luke Cage is both reminiscent of past awesome crime fighters like Shaft and extremely timely to what’s going on today.

Everyone has mentioned the imagery of the unkillable black man in a shot-up hoodie providing both commentary and relief from the constant deluge of black men and boys being killed by police or overzealous, racist men. But seeing that imagery in motion, just in the trailer, says so much without Luke Cage every saying a word. Also, the story itself seems to be told in such a way that someone like me, who has a hot-cold relationship with keeping up with all comics except for Archie Comics, can come into it fresh. It engages the audience whether you know about Luke Cage from the comics or not. That kind of treatment of comic book lore is gold, since you can’t always assume your audience knows everything about every character, especially if that character hasn’t become part of the collective consciousness in the same way Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have.

Overall, this is a WIN for me. I’ll check out the series once it drops, despite my own squeamishness of hearing/seeing broken bones.

Rogue One

As Marv Albert would say, “Yes!”—this is ticking all of the boxes for me. I think from now on, I’ll lessen my usage of “diversity” and starting using the word “inclusion” more, because the rebooted Star Wars series (yes, rebooted—let’s just admit that the prequels are out of canon now) is showing other movie franchises how inclusion is done. You don’t just hire actors of color to be sidekicks, MARVEL MOVIES. You hire actors of color for substantial roles and treat them just like any white actor. You create characters that actually represent and empower your audience, not just appease them with some paltry offerings. Somehow, Marvel seems to do better at inclusion with their television shows and Netflix series than they do with the actual movies. Even stranger is that Marvel and Lucasfilm are now under the same Disney umbrella, so you’d think some cross-pollination with casting tactics would have happened already. Marvel needs to take some notes from J. J. Abrams, stat.

Anyways, we’ve got talented actors doing talented things in this film. Even cooler is that the central character is a woman. Also cool is that Darth Vader finally looks cool again (once again, proof that this is a completely rebooted series). We also have some disability representation with Donnie Yen’s blind Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character. But will Yen’s character dip too far into the “mystical Asian kung-fu master” trope? Because if there’s one potential issue I see, it’s that. We just have to wait until the movie comes out. The other potential issue: Forrest Whitaker’s odd accent. But on the whole, Rogue One looks like it’ll proudly carry on the awesome legacy that began with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Hidden Figures

The film looks like it’s going to be one along the lines of 42 and Race in the sense that it’s going to be a feel-good film that also manages to teach the audience a historical lesson about overcoming discrimination to achieve excellence. But this film is also a reversal in practice for Hollywood, an industry that has ignored a story like this until now.

This role is something Taraji P. Henson should have played long before now, and its these types of roles Hollywood should have cast her in. What I’m saying is that usually, this type of “feel-good” role featuring a female character from the 1960s usually goes to a white woman, because in the ’60s as in today’s time, whiteness allows a certain privilege, meaning the character won’t have to deal with any sticky issues like race.

However, turning attention away from the history makers and achievers of the time only keeps black movie narratives stuck to the Civil Rights Movement. While that part of the ’60s is wildly important, there is more to the black experience than just misery. We didn’t exist just in the south; we existed all over the country, doing all kinds of things, including sending a man to the moon. Stories like this should have been lauded decades before now, not just now that Hollywood is slowly waking up to what many call in jaded tones the “diversity trend.”

On a much more shallower note: much like Whitaker, I’m unsure of Janelle Monaé’s accent in this film. I’m assuming she’s portraying a southerner; as a southerner, I’m always…disturbed by bad southern accents in films. There is an art to the southern accent not many non-southern actors have mastered. They always want to take it to that Scarlett O’Hara level, and not all southern accents are remotely like that. (I hated writing this paragraph, because I’m a loyal member of Electro Phi Beta…but I can’t lie about the accent.)

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