Month: August 2016

How “Star Trek Beyond” Forgot About Black Men

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Star Trek Beyond is a good movie. Some might even say it’s a great movie. It’s certainly a sad movie, since it’s poor Anton Yelchin’s last film, not to mention that the film’s original intent was to honor the legacy of the late Leonard Nimoy. But for everything that’s great about it (“Night on the Yorktown”GET INTO IT, soundtrack lovers), there’s one part that is apt to tickle the brain in an unpleasant way, and you won’t realize it until after you’ve left the movie. You probably won’t even realize what it is that bothered you about certain scenes until weeks or months later.

Or until you read this post.

The thing that probably bothered you was the fact that Idris Elba wasn’t allowed to be Idris Elba. Another thing that probably bothered you was how Elba’s character was indicative of the overall treatment of black men in the Star Trek reboot films. All of this reflects how black men are treated in entertainment and society overall.

Want to figure out how all of this relates to each other? Let’s get into it.

Before you get any further, you should know that there are spoilers in this post, so beware.

Idris Elba vs. Krall

Paramount Pictures/YouTube screengrabs
Paramount Pictures/YouTube screengrabs

When we see a film starring Idris Elba, we’re typically going to see Idris Elba, not Idris Elba as some monster-alien. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Elba being an actor under prosthetics, but it’s really interesting that out of all of the characters and out of all of the non-existent black men we haven’t seen up until now, the one black guy we do see is covered up so we can’t see his moneymaker—his face. This isn’t even discussing the fact that even without the social commentary, the prosthetics just look cheesy. Sorry about it, but Krall, the villain Elba plays, looks like a Power Rangers character. So, so sorry, but it’s just not a breathable looking, moldable mask. Elba couldn’t act through it, so it just made the fact that he was wearing a full-face prosthetic even more apparent and unbearable.

As if the film knew that we as the audience would get tired of hearing Elba put all his acting in his voice to counteract the impossibility of acting through the mask, the film provided us and Elba a reprieve by allowing him to actually act to the camera as the human version of Krall, Balthazar Edison, a former United Earth Military Assault commander. After the U.E.M.A. was dissolved, Edison was grandfathered into the Starfleet program as a starship captain. We see him acting jovially with his crew in an old recording found on his old ship, the U.S.S. Franklin. But that’s the thing; it’s in a old recording. You never see Elba as a human in real time. You just see this in flashback. That’s a problem because it’s yet another way to remove Elba from the movie and Krall/Edison from his own humanity (and possible chance at redemption).

So what does this have to do with the treatment of black men in Star Trek? Well, looking solely at the reboot series, we have yet to see a prominent black male character. The only black speaking male character you have seen throughout this reboot series is doggone Tyler Perry, and that’s because he paid his way in. In Star Trek Beyond, we have one black redshirt and another black guy (another redshirt, but not security) walk onto the bridge. That’s it. In a universe as vast as the Star Trek one, the potential of the series to tell the story of inclusion and humanity in harmony is always limited by the storyteller(s)’ own biases, internal limitations or, maybe in some cases, fears. Even though the film thought it pertinent to show Sulu in a relationship, despite cutting out the actual scene of him kissing his husband, the series as a whole still hasn’t shown a black man in full capacity of himself.

Krall’s death vs. Khan’s redemption

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk and Idris Elba plays Crowl in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment
Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk and Idris Elba plays Crowl in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

How come Krall has to die, but Khan gets to live? In Star Trek Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan (aka John Harrison aka a whitewashed character) gets to go back into cyro sleep, even though he’s literally a weapon. Meanwhile, Krall, who is actually a sympathetic character (As you’ll read later), accidentally kills himself with his own space-age weapon after a series of fights in which Kirk is trying to stop him, if not kill him. Why, though? Why is Khan still alive in this world when Krall is the one who should be shown some sort of olive branch?

Yes, Krall was trying to kill everyone in Yorktown and potentially, everyone in the Federation. But so was Khan. To be honest, the whole “big bad trying to kill everyone” tactic is becoming reductive and, once again, limited thinking as to what the scope of Star Trek can actually encompass. But if a big bad has to die each film, then let that be consistent. Don’t give one villain a reprieve from death and kill Elba and Eric Bana’s villains in the other two movies.

What’s the most annoying part of Krall’s demise is that there was probably somewhere still inside Krall who still wanted to return to the man he was. His main problem was that the Federation left him and his crew out to die. He did what he had to do to survive, and that included him reducing himself down to the lowest of levels to live. Krall as Edison also had another issue that Kirk primarily dealt with; the existentialism of life. Both Kirk and Krall wondered what more there was to their lives, and why they were even doing what they were doing. Both of them had dealt with existentialism even before they sat in the captain’s chair; Kirk was aimless for much of his life before Starfleet, and Edison was a commander in the world’s space army, a post he enjoyed, and then his definition of himself was taken away when Starfleet came. One area Simon Pegg and Doug Jung could have expounded on this shared issue is have Kirk actually try to talk him down during their fight. Kirk could have tried some version of “I’ve felt lost, too”  to appeal to Krall’s humanity (which is still there, since you see him begin to change back into a brown humanoid-type being). Instead, Kirk fails to use this knowledge and is instead focused primarily on stopping Krall by any means necessary.

Krall as the Black Lesson Giver

Chris Pine plays Kirk in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment
Chris Pine plays Kirk in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Ultimately, Krall is just another form of the black form used as a lesson giver for a white lead. Krall’s own humanity is never discussed; his humanity is treated in past tense even though you learn his motivations and reasoning behind his anger. Krall’s purpose isn’t to fulfill his own destiny; it’s to help Kirk complete his. Through Krall’s downfall, Kirk comes to the conclusion that his place is with the Enterprise after all. However, there was possibly another way Kirk could have learned this without Krall basically sacrificing himself for Kirk’s story to continue.

Krall’s entire story is something that could have been given 10 times more weight than it was. Krall being a black man who has had his sense of purpose stolen, his mental health denied (because Edison’s existentialism has given way to extreme depression), and his humanity stripped, forcing him to survive by any means necessary, only to be then denied a second chance to course-correct his life, is the black American man’s story in a nutshell. Krall wasn’t just “a monster.” He was a man who had everything taken from him and then was expected to be all right with it. He faced unimaginable things for over 100 years; what did anyone expect for him to become, a saint? After all of your crew dies and you can’t help them, you would also believe Starfleet doesn’t care about you. Starfleet brushing over their role in Krall’s creation sounds just like how America as a whole fails to understand how the country’s original sin still affects black America today. To appropriate a popular phrase, Krall’s life mattered.

What did you think of Star Trek Beyond? I invite you to give me your views on Krall and the film as a whole.

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“RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” Season 2: Did Michelle Visage Go Overboard?

Logo
Logo

The question of the day is this: Did Michelle Visage need to flay Adore Delano like that during the judging portion of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars? Couldn’t she have just said “Adore, this look isn’t working for me?”

To refresh everyone, let’s check out some video of the horrid proceedings:

First, I want to know what you think. Tell me your opinions in the comments section. Until then, I’ll go over what I’ve been mulling over and maybe we can reach a consensus.

The fact that Adore dresses grunge isn’t anything new. She’s been dressing like this for years now. If we go by what was said during the deliberation portion of RuPaul’s Drag Race All StarsAdore and Michelle have been arguing about it for years now, also. Which leads me to think that Michelle’s outburst shouldn’t have been all that warranted. I mean, Adore clearly isn’t going to change her aesthetic. Secondly, why have this kind of outburst on national television? That kind of a spat seemed like something that was just a cut above vicious. It almost seemed like a planned attack, particularly after Michelle saw Adore singing in that black sequined (or as Roxxxy Andrews would say, sequinced) boxy, oversized minidress.

The fact that the ordeal obviously embarrassed Adore on the national scale is one thing; that by itself is something to tsk-tsk Michelle about. It’s also something everyone can identify with; who wants to be embarrassed in front of your peers by someone you respect? It’s another issue that the spat hit right at Adore’s personal battles revolving around confidence. At the time, I don’t think Michelle realized just how deep she had cut at Adore. Getting your point across  when you’re mad is something that no one really knows how to do well, but sometimes even our worse attempts are better than just going for the jugular. That’s really the thing about it: Michelle went straight for the jugular. Did she think doing that would finally get Adore to wear a corset? Maybe the other question should be is if a corset is really worth all of that hand-wringing and nastiness. I mean, doggonit; it’s just a corset. If actual grungy women don’t wear corsets, then why should Adore have to wear a corset to dress like a grungy woman? I mean, IT’S GRUNGE.

There’s the argument that Michelle wanted Adore to step up her game if she’s on All Stars. I get it. The black dress and gloves didn’t help matters. But what I personally think Michelle has been trying to say (despite never using the right words for this) is that she just wants Adore to be a little more thoughtful and purposeful with her aesthetic. The main reason why Adore keeps getting the critique of being sloppy or lazy from other queens outside of the show is that the aesthetic, while making sense, doesn’t always look like Adore is in on the joke. Sometimes, it just looks like she’s just wearing a shirt and jean shorts. The whole concept isn’t always brought together into a cohesive look. Despite Adore being a part of the grunge, Riot Grrrl look, some tailoring might be needed to really take the look from “real girl” to “drag queen Riot Grrrl realness.” I think for Michelle, the element of drama and eleganza is gone because Adore doesn’t play to that. If Adore could meld just a sense of that eleganza magic with her aesthetic, then Michelle would probably leave her alone.

Maybe she’s already left Adore alone; after Michelle started receiving tons of hate from RPDR and Adore fans alike, Adore tweeted for folks to leave Michelle alone, that they had filmed that well over a year ago and that she loves Michelle. Clearly, some tough talks were had at some point for the two to get where they are now, because what we’re seeing now is Adore at a rough spot with Michelle and, if rumors are true, Adore walks out by the second episode. I’d be interested in knowing how they patched things up, and how Michelle is taking the backlash now (because while what Michelle did was questionable, it’s not as if she should be subjected to hate either).

Overall, I think Michelle just had a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment, but it seems odd that it would happen during filming. I’m not saying anything, I’m just sayin’ drama makes for good TV.

What did you think, though? I want to hear what you’ve got to say; I’ve been discussing this all day and I want to know other folks’ opinions on this wildly divisive moment so early in the All Stars season.

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The VMAs: We came from Beyoncé, but stayed for Drake and Rihanna

MTV/YouTube Screengrab
MTV/YouTube Screengrab

If I can be honest, I didn’t understand much of the MTV VMAs. I’ve never seen most of the people in attendance ever in life, so count me among the “I’m officially old” club. But I’ll tell you what the two highlights of the night were. No, it wasn’t Kanye’s rambling speech; I read it, and while I’m always here for a clapback directed at Taylor Swift, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what Kanye was talking about, which is typical Kanye. The two highlights were, clearly, Beyoncé’s epic set and Drake giving Rihanna the introduction only a loving, attentive boyfriend could give.

First, Beyoncé.

I don’t even need words to describe what you just saw, but I’ll still put in my two cents. I admit that I’ve had my own issues with Beyoncé in the past. No, I’m not a BeyHiver now; I’d break out in hives if I ever found myself even considering such a thing. No; I simply like Beyoncé now. I am here for what she is finally doing, which is making music that has a message and is music that is firmly entrenched in black womanhood and power. I found myself calling her performance on “Michael Jackson level,” and that is not a title to throw around lightly. Not everyone can perform basically five music videos live and sing at full-throat and dance and destroy cameras and have a gazillion costume changes and make it all look easy. That ish is hard! And she just did the impossible.

(Yes, I know I just gushed over Beyoncé; NO, I’M NOT IN NO DOGGONE BEYHIVE.)

Second, Drake’s speech about Rihanna and how much he’s loved her even before they were together. (Also: Rihanna’s speech upon accepting the Vanguard Award)

Okay, in order to make this not all about the guy, let me state that Rihanna had the daunting task of performing four times that night. FOUR TIMES. She basically had her own Beyoncé performance, but at least hers was scattered throughout. Still that’s a wild feat to undertake, and she definitely showed why she was getting the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award. She’s put out more hits than I even knew; I’d even forgotten about some of her hits. She’s been the soundtrack to these years of the aughts, and she’s changed and grown in such a positive way that you can’t help but root for her. As Drake said, she did it all while staying true to herself, and not everyone in the industry can say that. To quote Drake, “no one” can say that. I wonder who he was throwing shots at, since everyone who was anyone was performing or presenting that night.

Now, to get back to that speech: nearly everyone online expressed sentiment that they wished they had someone in their lives who were so in love with them as Drake is with Rihanna. People were so bowled over by his love and admiration for her that they thought he was going to propose to her. My sister thought so. I thought so. It would have only been too much to handle at one time. Unfortunately (or thankfully) he didn’t, but let’s not be so surprised that Drake could be so sensitive with or without a proposal; did we forget that Aubrey Drake Graham was once a regular cast member of the ultra-feely show Degrassi: The Next Generation? When that show said, “It goes there,” they weren’t kidding, and Drake’s character Jimmy went through it. Plus, the music video for Hotline Bling is delightful in its corniness. Corny people are usually sensitive souls.

Anyways, I hope a proposal is somewhere in the future for Drake and Rihanna.  I’d love to see the photos from that wedding.

What did you think of the MTV VMAs? Are you officially old like me? Who did you just not understand? (There was that one performance with that guy and that girl with the booby half-shirt and that dude on that…instrument? It was a terrible performance.) Sound off below!

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Now that Nate Parker’s apologized, will you see “The Birth of a Nation”?

Image.net/Getty Images
Image.net/Getty Images

I’ve belabored the idea of writing this post because, honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out for myself exactly where I fall on the issue of Nate Parker. To be more specific, I’d been waiting to see if he’d ever issue a fuller apology after the various non-apologies he gave after the news of his 1999 rape case blew up in the media (a part of his past he’s apparently always kept in the limelight, although, if you ask many Twitter denizens including myself, we didn’t know about it). Thankfully(?) he did. But the question mark I write here is for a reason: does the apology actually help matters, or does it just make us more jaded about him? Also, does the apology help the case for whether or not we individually decide to see what has been called the most important film of 2016, his passion project The Birth of a Nation?

Parker has been on radio silence for a while since his Facebook admission a few weeks ago, once he found out the woman who accused him of rape and lived with her own trauma from that day (and the subsequent harassment by Parker and his friend/co-writer and the other half of the 1999 rape case Jean Celestin) killed herself. This seemed to be when Parker’s eyes were finally opened to the fact that yes, someone other than him had feelings associated with the case. Somehow, it took this woman’s death for Parker to actually realize that maybe he should have considered this woman as a human being, not as an object out to target him. If anyone was playing target practice, it was Parker himself.

To Parker’s credit, he owns up to this in his most recent and most candid interview with Ebony‘s Britni Danielle.

“I called a couple of sisters that [I] know are in the space that talk about the feminist movement and toxic masculinity, and just asked questions. What did I do wrong? Because I was thinking of myself. And what I realized is that I never took a moment to think about the woman. I didn’t think about her then, and I didn’t think about her when I was saying those statements, which was wrong and insensitive.”

He admits that he never grew up with a clear outline of what consent actually consisted of: according to him, all he knew of consent was if a woman said no, that meant no. But in his mind as a 19-year-old, according to him, if there was no verbal consent given, then he figured it was then all about seeing how far he could go.

“Put it this way, when you’re 19, a threesome is normal. It’s fun. When you’re 19, getting a girl to say yes, or being a dog, or being a player, cheating. Consent is all about—for me, back then—if you can get a girl to say yes, you win. …I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid. I knew that no meant no, but that’s it. But if she’s down, if she’s not saying no, if she’s engaged–and I’m not talking about, just being clear, any specific situation, I’m just talking about in general.”

Throughout the interview, he discusses how he’s just now waking up to toxic masculinity culture and how he’s profited from it. He even apologized to the women who have felt offended and hurt by his remarks, and he went one step further and apologized for homophobic remarks he made years earlier. But while he’s realized how much he needs to grow, there’s still the question of if we should actually go see The Birth of a Nation and put money in his pocket. He’s still the face of the film, so should the movie and its message get stuck in the crosshairs or is the message now invalid because of the messenger? (Related: If we’re rightly holding Parker’s feet to the fire, when will Hollywood do the same for other so-called “imperfect messengers” like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen? They are also happy recipients of toxic masculinity as well as white male privilege. When will people rise up and declare they won’t see their films? I know I’m not the only one who is filled with disgust whenever a new Woody Allen project is all the buzz, with stars tripping over themselves to be in it.)

Parker wants us to believe he’s turning a new page in his life. There’s ample reason in his statements for those inclined to believe him to do so. There’s also ample reason for those who don’t believe him to not trust a single thing he said.

Parker is asked to address the idea that many folks will have, which is that he’s suddenly come to this fantastic realization about toxic male privilege now that 1) his movie’s success hangs in the balance (he’s already had one screening/Q&A session cancelled) and most importantly 2) he’s realized the woman he wronged died because of her trauma. On one hand, it’s a sad state of affairs when someone else’s death has to be a wake-up call that you royally messed up. The fact that he couldn’t even think outside of himself when it came to the victim’s feelings is, to be blunt, disturbing. Just because he felt like he didn’t do anything wrong because of his poor definition of consent clearly doesn’t mean he was right. He states in the interview that it was wrong of him to think of himself as the victim because to do so, after you’ve severely damaged someone else because of your actions, takes a lot of ignorance, ego, and a lack of self-awareness.

On the other hand, if Parker really has seen the light, so to speak, then doesn’t he deserve a chance to grow into his newfound awareness?

Parker says he wants to be a leader. I think “leader” is a bridge too far; you can’t lead when you don’t know what you’re talking about, and Parker clearly still needs help not centering the act and its aftermath around him and his feelings. Parker says he’s taking this all with humility, and I suggest he take even higher doses of humility because it shouldn’t take having a wife and daughter yourself to realize that women deserve respect whether they say yes, no, or nothing at all. No one is supposed to take what isn’t given, and Parker still seems to rest his conscience on the idea that because he didn’t know what true consent meant as a 19-year-old, everyone must have thought the same thing. Parker’s going to have a rude awakening when he realizes that no, not every teenager grows up thinking threesomes are cool, or that being a dog is awesome, or that a girl not giving a clear yes means that consent is there. Somewhere along the way, Parker missed some key life lessons, and masculinity culture allowed him to believe that he’d never need those lessons.

What I do think, though, is that perhaps Parker could try to parlay his newfound awakening into becoming a self-appointed example of What Not To Do. When it comes to being a leader in the battle against gender discrimination, he’s going to have to tell boys and men like him to change. Those are the only people can he speak to on that front.

His very first lesson to that select group should be to become aware of what traumas and experiences the women in their lives have had to deal with. Keep in mind, he states in the interview that h didn’t even know that some of the women who worked on The Birth of a Nation were rape survivors. I can only assume he’s referencing Gabrielle Union in that group, who has spoken about her trauma before. If he didn’t know that, especially since she plays a sexual assault victim in the movie, then that speaks volumes to the lack of awareness he had about how deeply rooted women’s pain is tied to violent masculinity.

If he plans on doing some good and make a difference, he must speak to the young Nate Parkers of America and tell them to become acquainted with their own role in toxic masculinity, just as he had to. He must tell them to learn the histories of their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends. He must tell them to know of the smallest slight a woman can face to the greatest injustice they have to silently bear. In short, he must tell them to quit thinking of women as conquests, objects and toys, and to them of them as human beings worthy of respect, both in words and actions.

All of this goes back to the central question: Should we forgive Parker and see The Birth of a Nation, a film we were all pumped for before this news broke? I can’t answer that for you. It will have to be a personal decision you make for yourself.

As for me: I originally stated at the start of this scandal that I couldn’t see myself going to the film. My thought now though is that I’m conflicted, quite honestly. The Birth of a Nation is a film we probably won’t get to see again for some time, sadly. The story of Nat Turner is one too important to American history, and it’s truly a shame it hasn’t been made into a film until now. But what happens if we miss The Birth of a Nation and are never presented with another opportunity to see Nat Turner’s story on screen until another 100 years from now? What also happens to honoring the work made by Union and Aja Naomi King, who both star in this film? Should their contributions to the film be ignored because Parker is at the helm? It is easy to dismiss Parker, but unfortunately, is dismissing the film also forcing us to dismiss Union and King?

I’ve asked myself these questions, and I still don’t have an answer as to what I’m going to do once the film opens in theaters. We’ll see when the time comes. Now I turn it over to you: What are you going to do? Let me know in the comments section!

EDIT: One of the comments got me to thinking about my own answer to my own question: would I go see this movie? And the answer has to be no. A woman did die, after all.

As the commenter intimated, the hangup over the film shouldn’t really exist, so I had been thinking about why the hangup was there to begin with. I had attempted to address that in this article the first time around, but I think Elahe Izadi sums up what I was trying to get at even better with her Washington Post article about the situation. She writes, in part:

For other artists embroiled in controversy, it can be easier for audiences to dismiss their work if it’s more trivial in nature. Take Woody Allen, who was investigated years ago amid accusations that he molested the daughter he adopted with Mia Farrow. He hasn’t faced criminal charges and has denied the allegations, while many prominent Hollywood figures, as well as the daughter, have said they believe he’s guilty. Allen’s films may be creatively groundbreaking, funny or critically acclaimed, but he’s not telling a story Hollywood has never told before or paving the way for a much needed national conversation.

Then there’s R. Kelly, who was acquitted of child pornography charges and has faced numerous allegations of sexually assaulting underage girls. People like R. Kelly’s music simply because it’s entertaining, aesthetically good or ironically funny — not because it’s profound. But the content of his work can make it difficult to ignore the allegations — his music is about sex. Some refuse to listen to it because they think he’s guilty.

Interacting with “The Birth of a Nation” feels different. Parker has called the project “a healing mechanism for America.” That’s a tall order.

Maybe if there were more films like it out there already, the stakes wouldn’t seem so high.

I’ve bolded the last sentence since that’s really the part I’d been struggling with and annoyed by, to understate it; because of Hollywood’s initial lack of interest in these stories, it’s left the moviegoing public and Oscar voters tho choose between a film in which the stakes are very high for itself (and others like it) and their own morality, to be blunt. However, a film shouldn’t have to have such high stakes, and this film wouldn’t if there were other films of its kind out there. If Hollywood had always invested in diverse and inclusive filmmaking, the choice to see or not see this film would be easier for some. However, I personally shouldn’t have to seriously weigh my conscience before seeing a film. So the final answer is no, I can’t see this film and think I could live in alignment with myself.

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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!

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#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!

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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!

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My Journey with AncestryDNA, Part 1: Why I’m Taking the Test

AncestryDNA/screengrab
AncestryDNA/screengrab

“Are you Indian?” “Are you French?” “Are you Filipina?” “Are you from the islands? You’re from the islands, right?” How many of you out there have come up against questions like these? I have, and it’s annoying. However, this aggravation is also the start of a journey that I have wanted to take for years. I’m getting the AncestryDNA test.

Why am I doing the test? Well, I’m tired of not knowing my history. More importantly, I’m tired of carrying around the baggage of being seen as an “exotic” object, something that’s affected me since childhood. I want to officially arm myself with the knowledge of my cultural heritage so I can feel a lot more confident in my own identity.

I’ve already talked about my personal difficulties coming to terms with identity, which you can hear on the No, Totally podcast. But just to be brief: I have often been made to feel like I’m in the middle of blackness and…something else.   Dealing with that is tiring, especially when you don’t have knowledge of your own background apart from what your skin can tell you. In short, I’ve let other people control my identity; because I’ve practiced not being in total control of knowing my own identity, I’ve basically become a mystery to myself. That’s a problem, and it’s a problem I intend to fix.

Keep in mind: none of this is about escaping blackness. As I’ve said in my podcast episode, I love being black, and I strongly identify with my blackness. With that said, it would be nice to have some closure about my complete identity. Throughout my childhood, especially when I was wearing chemically relaxed hair, people would always assume I was something else other than a black girl from the south, which is what I have always been. However, I don’t want to have my identity decided for me by some random people who feel like I can’t be black just because I don’t look like how they think blackness should look. On the flip side, I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to learn more about myself, including what’s in my bloodline.  It’d be nice to be able to feel in control of my own identity, regardless of what that identity entails. I want to be able to celebrate all of me and defend all of me from persecution and ignorant “exotic” comments. If I have a varied ancestral background, I want to feel whole in that knowledge and honor all of those parts of myself. That’s what’s really at the root of this: this is a getting-to-know-me process on my own terms, not terms set by other people. I no longer want to carry shame for looking some way that others view as “acceptable blackness” or “exoticized blackness”. I want to be proud of myself and the group (or groups) I represent.

Regardless of that issue, though, I’ve often personally been curious about tracing my ancestry, and I feel a DNA test is the start of that, since I’ll know what ballpark I should be looking in for my ancestors. Tracing my ancestry has been a project that I’ve never fully had the time or money to engage in. I have always imagined myself to one day be like Alex Haley, having full knowledge of my lineage and the people who have shaped my history. I’ve always wanted to know how my experiences reflect those whose blood run through my veins. Knowing my personal history is something I’ve always felt needed to be done.

As a late birthday present to myself, I decided it was time to take the first step towards tracking my ancestry and ordered the AncestryDNA kit. The kit itself is simple; according to the instructions, you just provide a saliva sample and send it back. In six to eight weeks, you are sent an email linking you to your results page. Also, it’s $99, which is far cheaper than my first choice 23andMe. It also doesn’t check for stuff you don’t want, unlike 23andMe, which provides you with information on what health factors and health risks you could have. That information is useful in another setting, but it’s not particularly useful to me, who just wants to know what ethnic makeup is in my DNA.

The thing that sold me on AncestryDNA was this testimony from their site:

ancestrydna-who are you

Look, this is not a sponsored article for AncestryDNA, so I have full rights to say that I don’t know if this woman is a real case study and if her testimony wasn’t just something made up by Ancestry’s PR to attract people like me, who are tired of being told they look like “something.” But regardless, it worked. I saw myself in that woman, and thought to myself that if she could find some answers, I sure could too.

For now, this post will act as the first in a series of posts about my identity journey. We’ll see what I find together! If you’ve been thinking about taking the AncestryDNA test or some other heritage DNA test, discuss in the comments section. If you’ve felt like you’ve been labeled “exotic” by others and are sick of that title, talk about that too. I’d like to read what you have to say about your own experiences with identity, identity questions, etc.

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Three Signs of Hollywood’s Slow Lurch Forward to LGBT inclusiveness

Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.
Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Gay characters, gay women characters in particular, have had a tough time on television in recent months. From The 100 to The Walking Dead enacting the “Bury Your Gays” trope, the narrative that gay characters are only good and worthy if they are dead (for “dramatic effect”) has been run into the ground. But there are three examples of a possible shift in narratives about gay characters.

Vanity Fair recently interviewed real life couple Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, the creators behind the comedy series Take My Wife. The show, which is about a couple who run a small business, shows Esposito and Butcher’s characters existing outside the media’s obsession with dead gay characters. Even Butcher herself lamented about the state of television when it comes to showcasing gay characters only as being useful for drama. “Lesbians don’t really get to be on TV and not die,” she said. She also told Vanity Fair that she and Esposito wanted the show to represent something real and tangible. “I wanted to represent something that actually looked real to peole and feels like a real household, career, experience, show, audience. I just wanted everything to feel real, and I enjoy that challenge.”

A particularly quiet watershed moment for gay characters happened in the realm of animation, and I’m actually not talking about Steven Universe, which frequently details the lives of gay characters. This moment came from Nickelodeon’s newest cartoon, The Loud House, in which main character Lincoln Loud’s best friend Clyde McBride comes from an interracial same-sex household. Wayne Brady and Michael McDonald (not the singer) provide the voices for Clyde’s parents, Harold and Howard McBride.

Also, in superhero news, CW Seed is bringing the first out gay superhero to the screen. According to Deadline, The Ray (aka reporter Raymond “Ray” Terrill) will star in an upcoming animated series called Freedom Fighters: The Ray, much like how Vixen debuted. Also like Vixen, The Ray is expected to transition into live-action, making him the second gay superhero portrayed on screen (the first being Deadpool, as evidenced by Ryan Reynolds’ insistence that everything about Deadpool would stay true to the character, including his bisexuality). The voice actor who will portray The Ray (an actor who has yet to be cast) is also expected to portray him in live-action form.

While all of this is good news, there is unfortunately still the lingering doubt that audiences and/or studios won’t accept gay leads in their stories. Such is the case with Ghostbusters director Paul Feig oddly deflecting the question of if Kate McKinnon’s character Holtzmann is a lesbian. When asked by The Daily Beast about if Holtzman was a lesbian, Feig coyly said, “What do you think?” He then added, “I’d like to think yes, I say. …I hate to be coy about it. But when you’re dealing with the studios and that kind of thing…” He punctuated his statement with, as The Daily Beast describes it, an apologetic shrug.

What’s even stranger is that even though he didn’t answer the question about Holtzmann, McKinnon herself is gay; while that doesn’t mean Holtzmann is gay necessarily, McKinnon’s participation in the film and how she played her role (which, from where I’m sitting, was quite overtly flirty with Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert) would certainly seem to play against the idea that the studio or audience can’t handle a gay lead, whether it’s the actress or the character. In short, it shouldn’t matter in any scenario that Holtzmann is gay. Judging from a quick search of Ghostbusters fanfiction, much of which is about Erin and Hotlzmann, a large contingent of the audience is perfectly fine with a gay leading character.

Feig’s hesitance to confirm Holtzmann’s sexuality for fear of studio backlash (national, international, or otherwise) falls in line with the general studio practice of casually baiting audiences, either intentionally or unintentionally, with inclusion, only to later reverse or slyly not deny-not confirm key facts. This kind of baiting is annoying to say the least, particularly since LGBT characters are few and far between to begin with. The lack of representation forces fans to create their own narratives and theories, but lately, fans have been demanding that studios become more insistent on creating LGBT characters within their mainstream, blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and the Marvel franchise.

However, things are progressing in Hollywood, if at a snail’s pace. One way to increase the pace, though, is for Hollywood to become more inclusive of others both in the realm of talent and behind the scenes. Currently, disruptive television like online viewing (such as the case with Take My Wife, which is a streaming show on Seeso) allows audience members who aren’t usually represented in the mainstream to find characters that reflect them and their experiences. Also, it allows for creators who might not have a seat at the proverbial table to be in charge of the content they create and how it speaks to their audience. The old way of doing things in Hollywood is quickly becoming obsolete as more and more people become makers of their own destiny with other outlets. Eventually, the old guard will have to catch up and start employing the creators and talent that have captured large chunks of their market. For instance, Laverne Cox got her start in disruptive TV with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Now, this fall  you can see her on CBS’ Doubt starring opposite Dulé Hill. The disruptor becomes part of the new Hollywood order.

What do you think about the state of LGBT characters on television? What solutions would you give to Hollywood? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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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!

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