Tag Archives: stereotype

“Beauty and the Beast”: Let’s talk about LeFou – positive representation or token gay stereotype?

Is LeFou breaking new ground or is he just more of the same? (Disney/screengrab)

The big news coming out about Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is that the Gaston’s sidekick character is gay. Not “coded as gay“–he’s actually, up and down, openly gay. We’re finally in the future, everyone!

Or are we? The character being officially out is something we have been hoping a mainstream family project would actually do. Also, it seems like Disney is also going to give us, as director Bill Condon has been saying, “an exclusively gay moment” at the end of LeFou’s journey in the film, which I can only assume that he ends up with a loving guy to call his own (if Gaston actually still dies in this live-action version, which I’m assuming he will). According to Attitude Magazine, Condon says:

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

Attitude’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Cain praised the film’s scene, calling it a “landmark moment for LGBT representation”:

“It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney. By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay. It’s only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the one in which many of us are now proud to live. But it’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it – and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress.”

HOWEVER, the clip from the film featuring LeFou singing the classic Beauty and the Beast song “Gaston,” seems a little…stereotypical? Check it out for yourself.

Josh Gad, who portrays LeFou, plays the role a little too stereotypically “fabulous,” at least from my point of view. He could have toned it down a little bit–I mean, it’s a broad role, to be sure, but come on! It doesn’t have to be that broad. But I could be wrong; LeFou might be less stereotypical than I’m thinking it is.

Marissa Martinelli seems to share my sentiment about the stereotypical aspects of LeFou in the live-action film in her Slate article “The ‘Exclusively Gay’ Character in the Beauty and the Beast Remake Is Not As Revolutionary As Disney Thinks It Is.” Martinelli discusses Disney’s huge queer-coding past with its villain (because remember: LeFou is still a villain) and how LeFou is still not a shining light of gay positivity:

But since the film has chosen to do that by including a character who is literally gay, it’s worth examining their choice. LeFou is a sidekick and a relatively minor character who spends most of the original film groveling at the feet of Gaston, a living embodiment of toxic masculinity if ever there was one, and receiving only abuse in return. That “falling for a straight boy” narrative is not exactly a shining example of LGBT positivity—though it’s possible, of course, that in Condon’s version, LeFou will finally stand up for himself. (Is that the “payoff” Condon is referring to?)

As Martinelli said, LeFou as openly gay is a milestone, but it’s still not as if Disney is bringing us the first gay Disney princess or even the Star Wars Finn/Poe relationship folks have been clamoring for. Also, Josh Gad is pulling the same basic BS others have done when discussing LeFou’s sexuality, which, from a cynical point of view, could be taken to mean Disney’s trying to backtrack from the small Alabama town (that I’ve never heard of and I’m from Alabama) that decided they didn’t want to show the movie, as well as Russia debating as to whether they’ll ban the film or not.

As he said to ABC during the film’s premiere:

“Is he the first gay Disney character? I’ll leave that audiences to decide.”

Now, someone could read this statement as him baiting Disney about their own checkered history with using gay themes and tropes in their characters (such as The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula the Sea Witch, who’s based on drag queen legend Divine, or Pocahontas‘ Governor Ratcliffe and Wiggins, who are not only voiced by David Ogden Stiers, who came out in 2009, but are also clearly in some kind of relationship, whether that be a surprisingly loving one, given Ratcliffe’s self-centeredness, or some kind of kinky 50 Shades of Grey thing). But that’s being optimistic. He’s using the same tactic Paul Feig used for Ghostbusters when discussing Kate McKinnon’s Ghostbusters character Holtmann. SIGH.

So…there we have it. Everything’s changed, but everything’s still the same.

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

 

Disability in “Star Wars”: Comparing Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker & Finn

Star Wars is, of course, highly covetable science fiction. We’ve got “tales of daring-do” (as Stan Lee would say), awesome anti-heroes, a young person on a hero’s journey, and one of the biggest villains of all time, Darth Vader. But one constant that might escape the ableist point of view is that all of the Star Wars films involve a relationship between the main character(s) and disability. Specifically, one of the central themes of the the film series is how disability comes to define and/or change the character, either taking them further along their hero’s journey or down the path to the Dark Side. The paths Anakin/Darth Vader and Luke take inform how Finn, another character with a disability, will be treated as he develops in the films after The Force Awakens. 

Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

Anakin Skywalker’s change into Darth Vader is steeped in a classic film stereotype: defining a villain by their disability. Anakin starts his villain’s journey simply enough; emotionally, his ambitions toward greatness lead him to believe that his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is failing to teach him all there is to becoming a Jedi. Anakin’s distrust of Obi-Wan and the Jedi Order as a whole (which, in fairness, have their part to play in Anakin’s descent by doing nothing to solve the problem of Anakin’s dissatisfaction within the Order) leave Anakin to become easy prey to Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine’s knowledge of the Force allows him to see that Anakin has the potential to become something much greater than what he is, and he decides to use that potential to start the Empire. Not to mention that Anakin believes Palpatine will be able to save Padme from death in childbirth, something Anakin comes to believe the Jedi wouldn’t do (because it’d be an interference with the will of the Force). You’d think with the Jedi being powerful individuals themselves, they’d want to harness all of the power Anakin has for good instead of emotionally leaving him by the wayside, but that’s a topic for a different article, an article that could also compare Anakin to Kylo Ren, who also became a member of the Dark Side due to neglect (in his case, parental neglect).

That by itself has the makings of a great showcase for a hero’s descent into evil (and it would have been great, if the scripts and character development were actually fully realized).  But the prequel series decides to ape the original trilogy by having Anakin lose an arm to Count Dooku. Anakin’s first disability is something that defines him both as an able-bodied hero, by taking a sacrifice in order to stop the Evil Sith, and as a disabled villain, a man who will eventually defect from the Order and follow Palpatine.

The loss of his arm leads Anakin to take revenge on Dooku, an act that is taught against by the Order. Anakin cuts off Dooku’s hands and his head, which StarWars.com calls “one of the many turning points for Anakin.” Connecting disability to violence is something that defines the “Disabled Villain” stereotype; because a character isn’t fully able-bodied, the character then becomes angry at the world and decides to take out his or her aggression on others. (It’s also worth mentioning that before and after he loses his hand, Anakin kills the Tuskens and the entire crop of young Jedi trainees, so it’s as if his his inner discord becomes symbolized by his mechanized hand, the thing that takes him out of the “normalized” dynamic and into the space of the “Other.”)

Anakin goes deeper towards his destiny after leaving the Order and siding with Palpatine, who himself becomes disfigured by Mace Windu (after the Order finally put two and two together and realize that Palpatine has been the mastermind the entire time). During his fight with Palpatine, Windu becomes disabled as well—Anakin cuts his hand off, then Palpatine uses his Force electricity to shock Windu out of the window (which strangely has no glass at all). There is a casual quality to the way disability is conflated with evil; two individuals with disabilities are fighting against the “good guy,” who is able-bodied. The theme of inflicting pain on others because of the “evil” disability continues. As Palpatine tells Anakin at some point in the prequels, he must let his hate flow through him.

Media Smarts, ran by Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, backs up this reading of Anakin’s anger and Palpatine’s direction to embrace hate as a consequence of disability. “Throughout history physical disabilities have been used to suggest evil or depravity, such as the image of pirates as having missing hands, eyes and legs. More recently, characters have been portrayed as being driven to crime or revenge by resentment of their disability,” states the site. Media Smarts gives the example of the film Wild Wild West, in which Doctor Loveless has lost his legs. (The site also mentions that the TV version of Doctor Loveless uses another type of disability, dwarfism, to show villainy).

That hate Palpatine carries becomes shown as disfigurement; the hate Anakin carries becomes shown not only as a lost hand, but the loss of all four of his limbs as well as disfigurement. The final battle of the prequel trilogy features Anakin and his once-master Obi-Wan battling it out on an effects-heavy volcano. How they didn’t die just by the fumes and fire is a huge scientific and common-sensical oversight. But the ending of the fight once again conflates evil to disability. Anakin’s transformation into the Darth Vader we know comes after Obi-Wan leaves him for dead in the lava, leaving Palpatine’s droids to piece him back together inside a suit/breathing apparatus. The suit becomes the only thing keeping Anakin alive, but the suit—and Anakin’s disabilities—become symbolic of Anakin’s metamorphosis into a legendary villain. His use of the Force is one thing that struck fear into his underlings, but his classic muffled breathing through his apparatus is what audibly defines him throughout the original series and cements the erroneous relationship between disability and evil for the viewer.

What is interesting is that later on, Vader’s disability makes Vader become a different type of disability stereotype—the Victim.

Media Smarts cites Jenny Morris’ article “A Feminist Perspective” (part of the collection Framed Interrogating Disability in the Media), which examines how disability is used to make the viewer feel pathos with the character. Morris describes it as “…a metaphor…for the message that the non-disabled writer wishes to get across, in the same way that ‘beauty’ is used. In doing this, the writer draws on the prejudice, ignorance and fear that generally exist towards disabled people, knowing that to portray a character with a humped back, with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain feelings in the reader or audience.” Media Centre cites A Christmas Carol‘s Tiny Tim and The Elephant Man‘s John Merrick as characters whose disabilities are used to garner sympathy, and the moment Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask during his death scene is also using disability to create sympathy in the viewer. His burned and disfigured face makes him pitiable when Luke finally sees him. Now, he’s not a villain; he’s a man who has finally been redeemed and must be forgiven by Luke and the audience.

Luke Skywalker

Luke’s journey involves disability too, but his tale is laced with yet another stereotype; the “Hero.” Media Centre calls the “Hero” stereotype one involving the character overcoming their disability in order to prove their worth. Stirling Media Research Institute’s Lynne Roper wrote in her article “Disability in Media” that this stereotype is a way for characters to conform to “normal” standards “in a heroic way.” Media Centre uses superheroes like Daredevil (who is blind), Silhouette (who is partially paralyzed) and Oracle (who is a wheelchair user) as examples of the “Hero” stereotype, and Luke adheres to this stereotype as well. Luke is deep into his Jedi training by the time he comes into direct contact with Darth Vader, and his fight with Vader becomes a lynchpin moment for Luke. Vader cuts off his hand and reveals to him that he’s Luke’s father.

There are two choices Luke can make; either he gives into the Dark Side—aka become a disabled villain stereotype—like his father, or he can rise above his father’s expectations of him. Luke chooses the latter, but it’s fascinating how disability is used as means to set up a choice between good and evil in the original series, and how the prequels decide to continue this train of thought.

Finn

The theme of disability defining good and evil still endures in The Force Awakens. Towards the end of the film, Finn gets sliced up his spine by Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.

Medically speaking, Finn should have a severe spinal cord injury, most likely rendering him unable to walk or even use his arms. It’s already predestined, by evidence from the other films, that Finn’s disability will propel him even further on the good path (which could include the Jedi path, since the jury is still out on whether he’s Force sensitive).

It’s also clear by all the training John Boyega’s been doing that Finn will be walking in the film. This also ties into another theme of Star Wars: If there is a disability, it must be “normalized.” Anakin goes through excruciating pain as his fake limbs become fused to his body. Luke has a mechanical hand that seems to be linked to his nervous system, just like his father’s. It’s expected that Finn will have a mechanical spine that also has fused to his nervous system, allowing Finn to walk, run, and do other able-bodied functions. In a way, the new appendages not only “normalize” these characters post-injury, but it also suggests to the audience that they are now superhuman to a degree. They can now defy regular expectations and either become a powerful villain or The Chosen One.

Parting Thoughts

Star Wars is a fascinating film series that manages to encompass several themes that are at the root of great science fiction, the main one being that the future features those that accept others regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or disability. But, despite that ideal, the film series still showcases disability in a binary way. Either you’re a once-in-a-lifetime hero or an all-powerful villain if you’re missing a limb. You can probably assume that at some point, Kylo Ren, who wants to live up to his grandfather Darth Vader, will have a missing limb as well at some point in Episode 8. Remember: he still has to complete his training.

CW’s “Riverdale” Takes Archie Comics Out of the 1940s

As you will see in a few days on JUST ADD COLOR, I am a huge Archie Comics aficionado. Back in the mid ’90s, when I was still in middle school, I happened to pick up an Archie Comics digest from the grocery store, and fell in love with these kids’ hijinks and the art style. The more into Archie Comics I became, the more I loved it. The more I loved it, the more I started to dissect and analyze, and the more I hoped the company would grow into something beyond just reliving its glory days of the ’60s.

Since then, Archie Comics has really come into not just the 21st century, but into its own new identity as the comic book for humorous, slice-of-life teenage comedy. In many ways, the company went back to its core tenet of being about teens, for teens by becoming what it was when it first debuted in the 1940s—fresh and relevant. Archie Comics has exploded now with the new Archie and Jughead series, both of which are amazing in terms of writing and illustration, and the upcoming CW teen drama, Riverdale.

Riverdale continues Archie Comics’ obsession with relevance by rejiggering the concepts of the “America’s Favorite Teenager” and what life in the picturesque Riverdale is really about. To quote Archie Comics:

The live-action series offers a bold, subversive take on Archie, Betty, Veronica, and their friends, exploring small-town life and the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome facade. The show will focus on the eternal love triangle of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, and rich socialite Veronica Lodge, and will include the entire cast of characters from the comic books–including Archie’s rival, Reggie Mantle, and his slacker best friend, Jughead Jones.

Popular gay character Kevin Keller will also play a pivotal role. In addition to the core cast, “Riverdale” will introduce other characters from Archie Comics’ expansive library, including Josie and the Pussycats.

Let’s take a look at our group of Riverdalians (with character descriptions quoted from Archie Comics’ Riverdale posts):

Archie Andrews (played by K.J. Apa)

In an exclusive announcement, Deadline described Apa’s Archie as “an intense, conflicted teen, a boyish high school sophomore who got pumped up over the summer working construction and is now juggling the interest of several girls, as well as trying to balance his passion for writing and performing music–against the wishes of his father and his football coach.”

Josie McCoy (played by Ashleigh Murray)

Murray’s Josie is described as “a gorgeous, snooty and ambitious girl who is the lead singer for popular band Josie and the Pussycats. She has zero interest in recording any songs written by fellow teen Archie.”

Jughead Jones (played by Cole Sprouse)

Sprouse’s Jughead is described as “a heartthrob with a philosophical bent and former best friend of Archie Andrews.”

Veronica (played by Camilla Mendes)

In the exclusive announcement, Deadline described Mendes’s Vernoica as a silver-tongued high school sophomore who returns to Riverdale from New York, eager to reinvent herself after a scandal involving her father.

Betty (played by Lili Reinhart)

In an exclusive announcement, Deadline described Reinhart’s Betty as “sweet, studious, eager-to-please and wholesome, with a huge crush on her longtime best friend, Archie.”

Cheryl Blossom (played by Madelaine Petsch)

In the exclusive announcement, Deadline described Petsch’s Cheryl as rich, entitled, and never accountable. A manipulative mean girl who kills with kindness, she recently lost her twin brother in a mysterious accident.

Reggie Mantle (played by Ross Butler)

No official Archie Comics/Deadline character description, but we know already from the comics that Reggie is Archie’s rival in all things, including the dating department.

Dilton (played by Daniel Yang)

Again,  no official description for Dilton, but in the comics, he’s the nerdy, brilliant friend to the core Riverdale gang. He also dated Cheryl Blossom at one point in time, so don’t sleep on Dilton’s hidden mack game.

Moose Mason (played by Cody Kearsley)

Once again, no official description, but Moose is Midge Klump’s long-time boyfriend. Moose is also on the school’s wrestling team, and is often depicted as being, to use one of Wendy Williams’ favorite phrases, “less than smart.” It was only relatively recently that Moose’s depiction was scaled back and taken a bit more sensitively; he was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explains why the character often has trouble with schoolwork. Maybe his dyslexia will become a feature of his characterization in Riverdale.

Tina Patel (Olivia Ryan Stern)

No official description, but Tina is from the later wave of old-style Archie comics. Tina was introduced as the younger sister of Raj Patel, the town’s resident aspiring filmmaker. Unlike Raj, Tina was following in her parents’ footsteps of becoming a doctor, making Raj the black sheep of the family. If memory serves, she also was bumped up a grade, so she’s actually in the same grade as Raj despite being younger than him.

The adults cast so far include:

Yes, ’90s friends; that’s Mr. 90210 himself! With him as a part of the cast, this already feels like the baton of stellar teen dramas has been handed down to the next generation. Riverdale has the Luke Perry Seal of Approval.

What can we expect?: Already, we can see some ways in which Riverdale is distancing itself from the Archie stories of old while bringing the Archie Comics company further into the now. We have a multiracial, multicultural cast, with several characters cast as non-white actors, including Apa, who is Samoan-Kiwi.

But a Rainbow Coalition cast isn’t the only reason this show has my radar. As I wrote above, the show is setting up a subversive take on the Riverdale we’ve come to know and love, and if Season Zero is to be believed, the Riverdale pilot is something that must be seen to be believed. There’s murder, sleeping with a teacher, intrigue, and all sorts of soapy turns. Also, Jughead’s the narrator, which seems like a cool, Jughead-ish thing to do (he is, after all, divorced from all the drama of his friends and acts as the observer of their lives).

As much as Riverdale promises, there’s still some more that it could have done. At one point, Jughead was supposed to be played by a deaf actor. TV Line (as reported by The Mary Sue) had the official casting calls, which asked for a “hearing-impaired” actor. As far as I know, Sprouse isn’t hearing-impaired, so I wonder why the change in Jughead’s character was made. If it was made—maybe the narration we hear are Jughead’s thoughts, and perhaps Sprouse signs on screen. But still, it could have been a great opportunity for a hearing-impaired actor to get his moment. I’m not poo-pooing Sprouse’s acting ability before we’ve even seen him in the role; I wish him goodwill. I’m just sayin’, from an observer’s perspective, some could find an issue with a non-deaf person playing a deaf role, especially since there are deaf actors and actresses out there (such as Freeform’s Switched at Birth stars Marlee Matlin (also an Oscar winner), Katie Leclerc, and Sean Berdy, late night host Stephen Colbert, There Will Be Blood‘s Russell Harvard, and many others in stage theater).

Other observations: Jughead is canonically asexual in the new Jughead books. In the show, Jughead is described as a heartthrob, and that’s actually in keeping with his character, since Jughead gained a kinda heartthrob status through later runs of the old Archie books. Part of Jughead becoming attractive to girls was because he never wanted a relationship anyways, and some girl characters took at as a challenge (like Ethel, who hasn’t been cast as of yet). But parts of the fandom had also decided that Jughead was gay, which may or may not have led to issues featuring Jughead in an ill-fated love triangle of his own. Stories of Jughead in one-off relationships would then become peppered throughout the old Archie canon for whatever reason there was at the time, but Jughead had already been linked to someone in the old ’40s comics—Betty. Back then, it seemed like there was less of a love triangle between Betty, Archie, and Veronica, and more of Betty trying to disrupt Veronica and Archie’s relationship and, being desperate for any male attention, would try to seduce Jughead, who just went along with it because of his friendship with Betty.

However, with all of that said, will Jughead actively engage in relationships on Riverdale because he is a heartthrob? Or is he a heartthrob because he’s unattainable? Will Jughead become the second out asexual character on television (the first being Voodoo from USA’s Sirens)? Or, if Jughead’s asexuality doesn’t extend to the show’s canon (which it might not, since the show’s not adhering to old or new Archie stories, anyways), then will Jughead’s sexuality once again become the hot button issue of the day? One of the enduring parts of Jughead’s character is that, because he’s removes himself from the heteronormative discussion, everyone can see some element of themselves in him. You can believe he’s straight, gay, asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and any other type of sexuality, and you’d be justified in your theory. Jughead is one of those characters in entertainment who become a sexuality litmus test, and it’s fascinating to see just how everyone interprets him differently and why.

Last, Riverdale is breaking new ground by casting two actors from the AAPI spectrum as part of “the beautiful people.” Like I’ve written several times before, Asian men rarely get the heartthrob treatment, and to have Archie and Reggie played by Apa and Butler is awesome. Of course, we’ve got some caveats to discuss. Apa can easily code as “white,” which will surely help him land more leading roles than someone like Butler, who might still have to work against racist casting calls. But both Apa and Butler might face less discrimination than Yang, who is playing a character that now has a very complicated situation. Dilton is white in the comics, so having someone else represent Dilton plays into the movement to have more inclusion on screen. But, Dilton is also a nerd, so what does it mean that an Asian guy was cast as the nerd? Again, like with Sprouse, I’m not ragging on Yang getting a job, but I am an entertainment/cultural critic. I wonder what Yang will do to take the character out of the easy stereotype and into a nuanced, layered performance.

With all of that said, I’m excited to see what Riverdale holds for us. What do you think? 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.

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

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

The Hollywood Reporter has described Scalped as such:

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

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

Scalped will boast an all-Indian cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Reasons Why #Richonne is a Black History Month Gift

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

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

1. Finally, the truth is acknowledged

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

2. Richonne made racists mad

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Rick himself, Andrew Lincoln, told TV Line:

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

So there you have it.

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

#OscarsSoWhite Dominates Oscar Nomination Talk

The Oscar nominations have been released, and the talk isn’t about who people want to win, but about why the list of nominees aren’t more diverse. This makes the second year that #OscarsSoWhite has dominated the social media and real world discussions about the highest honor in film, but this year is just one of many in which white stories and white actors and directors have been chosen over equally-as-talented minority actors and directors. Personally speaking, some of the domestic projects I’m rooting for are SpotlightSanjay’s Super Team, What Happened, Miss Simone?, CarolThe Danish Girl, and The Revenant, since they are the only stories featuring diversity of any sort and/or tell stories that need more in-depth coverage. (By the term “domestic,” I’m not including foreign films.)

The big question lots of people are having is why the nominations are still just as homogeneous in the acting categories as they were last year? At the very least, Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for Best Director. Some people are probably feeling like no one is listening to their cries for more diversity in films, especially since 2015 itself wasn’t that diverse of a film year to begin with; the biggest films featuring racial diversity were indie films, like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and Dope, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the end of 2015 so hard, to the point that it seemed like 2015 was more diverse than it actually was. Also, films like Carol, Tangerine, and The Danish Girl were about the only films of the year featuring LGBT stories. Yet, Tangerine, which featured transgender characters of color, was overlooked for Carol and The Danish Girl, which feature white lesbian or transgender characters.

The answer about the nominations issue comes in the form of time. There simply hasn’t been enough time for the changes the current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, have implemented to really be effective. The Hollywood Reporter called the Academy’s recruitment of more members from diverse backgrounds as “Phase one,” stating that “phase two” needs to be in effect, if it’s not already. “Now campaigners must ask: Do these freshman members change the nature of the game? The answer is yes, though the full effects of change won’t be felt for a few more years, as even more new members replace the old,” wrote Stephen Galloway for the site. “…Some insiders argue that the apparent diversity isn’t as widespread as it seems, and that the bulk of new members are entrenched in the Hollywood establishment. They’re right—this is still a relatively small contingent. Diversity is starting to happen, but it’s slow and its effects may not be felt fully for several years to come, or until the industry itself is more diverse.”

CHRIS ROCK

The old guard in the Academy could be considered part of the problem; the nominations list includes nominations for the screenwriting team of Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus; however, the screenwriting team is white, while the rest of the Straight Outta Compton crew, including director F. Gary Gray, weren’t nominated for the same movie. In case you haven’t guessed, F. Gary Gray is black, as are the actors in the film. Also, the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation wasn’t nominated at all, despite the star talent of Idris Elba, young actor Abraham Attah, and the direction of Cary Fukunaga. Ditto for Concussion, starring Will Smith, whose role in the film is tailor-made for Oscar nominations. Ditto again for Creed, which starred Micahel B. Jordan and was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, but only Sylvester Stallone was nominated for an award.

The other part of the problem is, of course, that it’s an industry-wide problem. Tambay A. Obenson wrote for Shadow and Act that people’s anger shouldn’t be with the Academy at all. “I continue to argue that our ire should not be with the Academy, but instead with the studio heads and financiers who decide what films are made. Until the playing field is leveled, this disparity between the volume, variety and quality of films made by/about white people and those made by/about people of color, will extend its run, uninterrupted.” One way he illustrated his point earlier in the article is when he discussed the Straight Outta Compton snub and wondering if Gray, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Will Packer, producers of the film, had any say over who would get to write the film.

Want to read more about diversity in film and television? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

However, one observation is the Academy’s old guard and the perpetrators of industry-wide problems are hand-in-hand, since quite a few of the perpetrators are a part of the Academy. Right now, the Academy—and the Hollywood industry itself–are in a vicious circle, feeding each other BS while the the public demands something new. However, there’s something to be said when the Academy president herself is speaking out against the nominations. “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated],” Isaacs told Yahoo’s Pete Hammond. “This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it.” When discussing the problems with a lack of diverse nominations, Isaacs said, “We have got to speed it up,” saying that the Academy’s efforts to recruit and focus on diverse films is happening at too slow a pace.

The changes are happening, but at a glacial pace. But as Obenson wrote, it would behoove us to support indie films that do showcase diversity as well studios and companies focusing primarily on diverse filmmaking like Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and Charles D. King’s MACRO Ventures, both of which put out statements today:

Here’s what I had to say about the Oscar nominations on Twitter:

The irony of all of this is that Chris Rock is going to host the Oscars this year. I wonder what his jokes will be like.

What did you think about the nominations? Give your opinions in the comments section below!