Month: August 2017

All hail The Chief: A virtual roundtable on Wonder Woman’s Native American inclusion

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has been a revelation to many who love film. Not only did the film open up the box office to finally accepting a female superhero, but it also paved the way for one of DC’s longest-standing, but often misrepresented character, Apache Chief. In the film, the character is treated a lot more seriously and realistically, only going by “The Chief” to mere mortals, but is actually Napi, a Blackfoot demi-god hoping to protect his people and fight against evil.

The Chief got much of is backstory from actor Eugene Brave Rock, who integrated parts of his own background into the character to make an even richer experience for himself as an actor, for the film, and for the viewer, especially those who might not have ever seen a non-stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans. The role was even more special for Native American viewers, who rarely see themselves portrayed in full in the media.

I was able to catch up with three Wonder Woman fans who are also African-American and Native-American. From their points of view, the DCEU—and movies in general—can only get better with the inclusion of more Native American characters like the Chief.

Cherry Davis, pop culture and lifestyle blogger and Afterbuzz TV guest host, said she is 1/16 Blackfoot and that the Chief is a rare character in a landscape lacking in complex Native roles.

“…[It’s] likely the second time I’ve seen a Native/Indigenous character played by someone of that ethnic background. So big hurrah for that casting choice!” she said. “What stood out was that he didn’t speak in the ‘Entertainment Native Dialect’ and that he wasn’t subservient to the white characters.”

He was definitely the icing on an already delicious cake of a film. As soon as he appeared on the screen, I all but screamed Super Friends Reunion!” said Dennis R. Upkins, speculative fiction author and activist as well as part Cherokee. “He definitely had a mystique about and while we know little about this mysterious character, he was established enough that he could take the lead in his own narrative in the DCEU.”

Cherese Capadona, who is part Mississippi Choctaw, said what struck her the most about the Chief was his unapologetic approach to talking about “the Native American relationship with White Americans after colonization.” She said the Chief’s statement that men like Steve Trevor killed his people “was accurate.”

“It didn’t say they couldn’t have a good working relationship or couldn’t be friends, but that’s never been addressed in any television show, anything I’ve ever remembered seeing growing up like The Lone Ranger, which has my least favorite representation of a Native American character ever.”

Photo credit: Warner Bros./DC

Due to her Blackfoot heritage, the Chief hits even closer to home for Davis, who also minored in Native American Studies.

“This is dear to me,” she said. “…[I] am always excited to see diverse characters [and] characterizations. I applaud Patty Jenkins for allowing Eugene Brave Rock to truly make the character his own, imbuing the Chief with a backstory nod to his people. Also, a huge nod to Eugene for taking this opportunity as a platform for Native American Blackfoot mythology.  I’m hoping that people will be excited enough to read more and that DC Comics will have a ‘hmm’ moment. Expand on his mythology, cast him in some of the DC TV series to gather a fanbase and eventually comic book movie/series/cartoon around an entire mythology that people have little awareness of.”

She said seeing someone like the Chief on the big screen would be “incredible” to Native audience members who usually don’t see themselves represented. She said an audience member might feel “vindicated and excited to see not only someone who looks like them but is one of them and [is] a character treated with dignity in such a huge film.”

“I’m hoping that this will lead to seeing Chief in other films since as a demigod he’ll live for a long time,” she said.

“I can definitely speak for myself and say that…I felt relieved first of all that he wasn’t just coming in because his name was the Chief,” said Capadona. “You can almost imagine the eyerolling—what’s this character going to be like? But he isn’t what you would expect. Usually when there’s a character called the chief in a movie, there’s a stereotypical headdress, speaking broken English. There are just so many things that are stereotypical and none of that was there. Once I got over the relief portion, I was pretty happy.”

Capadona also hopes the Chief will make more people interested in learning more about the mythology of the nation’s first inhabitants.

“We spend so much time teaching kids Greek mythology and Roman mythology. Since we’ve come out with the Thor movies and The Avengers, there’s been an interest in Norse mythology. [There’s an interest in] Egyptian mythology. There’s never been characters from Native American mythology and every nation has their own creation stories and tales that follow in the realm of mythology,” she said. “I would hope that the chief being a demi-god would spark as much interest in those mythologies and kids don’t get exposed to any of things that are from this land, from this country. Whether you’re Native American or African American, we have our own stories [and] folklore. That was just really exciting for me.”

Upkins said he felt the inclusion of the Chief shows just how inclusive the movie-going experience can be.

“Being part Cherokee, I’m always excited to see this aspect of my culture reflected in the media, particularly in speculative fiction,” he said. “The film’s openness is a reflection of how inclusive Wonder Woman and for that matter the DCEU is. Diana herself is queer/bisexual protagonist which she all but states in the film when she references the fact that men are good for procreating but sexual gratification is best with other women. This is also the film that got to see queer black super heroines get some shine battling the German invaders. This inclusiveness has already paid off in dividends of $700 million worldwide.”

Brave Rock’s portrayal is one of a small number of Indigenous characters or characters played by Indigenous actors to take part in the DCEU. In Suicide Squad, Adam Beach, a member of the Saulteaux First Nations, portrays anti-hero Slipknot, and in Aquaman and Justice League, Jason Momoa, who is of Native Hawaiian, Irish, German, and Native American descent, is portraying Aquaman himself.

Photo credit: Warner Bros./DC

Upkins said that the inclusion of the Chief and the addition of Brave Rock’s characterizations “debunks all excuses” for other films when it comes to a lack of proper representation.

“It shows that you can have Native characters in supporting and leading roles and still have a successful film,” he said. “Any claims to the contrary are dead on arrival.”

You don’t often see Native or people of color during that time period [of Wonder Woman] so it’s sad to say but it’s kind of groundbreaking which is positive but also sad that this type of portrayal is still rare in the 21st century,” he said.

Davis also hopes the film will lead to more casting that accurately portrays the character’s background instead of erasing it.

“…[A]sk [actors] how they can bring their life experience into the role,” she said. “People not only want to see themselves reflected but people both other ethnic/religious background are receptive and interested in seeing new talented faces.”

“I would hope that it would open up another door to not necessarily cast …It’s frustrating, and I know that several people have said this, not just Native Americans…[people] are getting frustrated by roles that are created and they want that character to have a specific look, they have to be Caucasian, this, that or the other,” said Capadona. “The most recent example of someone who is breaking down those barriers is Ava DuVernay’s casting in A Wrinkle in Time. When I was growing up and I read that book, I thought in my mind—because that’s the way everyone portrayed the character to me—that Meg Wallace was a character that should have been white, and here in the film she’s going to be biracial. It’s wonderful the way she’s done that. She’s cast a rainbow of other characters.”

With it being 2017, said Capadona, proper representation and staying away from the “Noble Native” stereotype shouldn’t be an issue. But she hopes accuracy in representation comes “sooner rather than later.”

“I’m just hoping other people will take the hint and do what Patty has done and create more roles and more opportunities for the actors and actresses to enrich these stories they want to tell,” she said.

The roles Capadona, Davis, and Upkins want to see the most involve Native characters living outside of the stereotype.

“I want to see them in the same type of roles that white counterparts have, from playing a bad guy to a hero, to love interest to just being a nuanced human with flaws in all genres,” said Davis.

Upkins said he’d love to see “[q]ueer male leads in speculative fiction.” Capadona said she’d love to have Native characters in all walks of life.

“I would love to see, because I love science-fiction, maybe some science-fiction elements added to a Native American story. I’d love to see a Native American actor or actress play a scientist, somebody who’s beyond the geologist or archeologist—somebody that’s actually doing astrophysics and going into space. We’ve had Native American astronauts; it’d be wonderful to see those kind of characters,” she said. “It’d be wonderful to see a Native American love story on the screen or even interracial, but not something that’s this tragic thing where it’s “My father doesn’t approve of you, I’m going to shame my family because I’m marrying you.” Just something beyond those typical things. Something off the reservation—there are middle class Native Americans in this country. Everybody isn’t on the reservation and dealing with reservation politics and poverty. Something that’s uplifting and showing people as multifaceted.”

“We’re starting to see more facets of Native American culture and I think the role of the chief is starting to turn the gemstone to see those different facets, but we still have a lot of turning to do and I’m really hoping this is the start.”♦

Wonder Woman comes to DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 19. 

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Misty Knight’s bionic arm makes its debut in “Luke Cage” Season 2 first look

Marvel is getting ready to bring us Luke Cage Season 2, and Misty Knight finally has her bionic arm!

The first look image was released exclusively via Entertainment Weekly, and it shows Luke (Mike Colter) and Misty (Simone Missick) on the case, as it were (maybe they’re walking to take down Shades and Mariah?). What’s clearly evident is Misty’s brand new arm, something fans have been waiting on since the first season.

According to Entertainment Weekly’s Shirley Li, Misty gets her new arm from Tony Stark and Stark Industries in the comic book lore. Also, the way Misty loses her arm in the comics is in a bombing. However, in the new Marvel cinematic universe, Misty loses her arm due to Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez), a member of the Hand. In the comics, Misty gained superheroic powers with her new arm, and we’ll see just what Misty can do with her arm once we see it in action when Luke Cage returns to Netflix in 2018.

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Ed Skrein shows how easy it is to stand against whitewashing

Ed Skrein has done what we’ve wanted other filthy rich movie stars who can afford to miss a whitewashing role to do—he turned down a whitewashing role, and offered a quick primer on whitewashing to the folks who might not get it.

Skrein was supposed to play Ben Daimio in Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. In the comics, Ben is a Japanese-American character. However, Skrein clearly isn’t and he was roundly criticized for accepting the role on social media. According to his explanation, he didn’t even know the role was whitewashed when he took it.

Here’s his statement in full:

Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and David Harbour, who is taking over the Hellboy role from Ron Perlman, have put forth their votes of approval:

What’s interesting is that Skrein notes that he himself has a family of mixed heritage. Skrein, who is of Jewish Austrian and English descent, states his own background has made him more aware of these representation issues, and this propelled him to take the right step and give up the role so the casting folks can rightfully cast an actor of Japanese heritage (or, as casting folks are wont to do, cast any East Asian person) for the role.

What Skrein’s done is basically show actors who have taken on whitewashed roles that there was no reason for them to accept those roles, especially (such as the case with Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, and Death Note) if the roles have already been clearly established in pop culture as Asian characters. Skrein—whether he knows it or not—has also laid down the gauntlet for other stars who take on whitewashed roles. They can’t use any excuses now—if they get wind of controversy and they stay in the role, then they have to make a choice to either stay in the role and actively deny visibility to a people, or to take the grander moral gesture of bowing out of a role and making way for someone who should have gotten cast in the first place.

While Skrein’s decision is something to clap for, remember that this is the only actor so far to do this in the entire whitewashing controversy that’s taken its toll on several films this year (and will continue to do so next year with Alita: Battle Angel, which Skrein is ironically a part of). It would be great if more actors could do this—instead of looking for their pocketbook, which is already lined to the hilt, it’d be nice if more actors used their high profile for good and give deference to underrepresented POC actors who are struggling to get the breaks white or white-passing actors get.

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Crank the A.C. and tune into the “Haikus With Hotties” livestream

Y’all know about Haikus With Hotties? You know—that calendar that features hot Asian dudes expressing themselves through concise Japanese poetry? Well, the hotties are back, and they’re doing a livestream TODAY!

This afternoon, between 1 pm PT to 4 pm PT, some of the Haikus With Hotties guys—Kenta Seki, Ilram Choi, Ronnie Woo, Mike Bow, Sunkrish Bala, Geo Lee, Chuck Maa, Desmond Chiam, D’Lo, Peter Sudarso, and Chris Pang—will hold a livestream. I’m assuming part of the reason for the livestream is to promote the 2018 calendar, Haikus For Hotties (this time around, the haikus will be written by fans).

But there will also be tons of talk with fans, who can send in your questions to @haikushotties.

This is bound to be a good time, so if you’re at work, or at on your lunch break, find a way to tune in to get some pep in your step. Also, make sure to visit haikuswithhotties.com to learn more about the calendar and the guys featured.

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Akai samurai: The Praetorian Guard’s Japanese influence in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve definitely seen the arresting image of the new enforcers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Praetorian Guard.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Praetorian Guards

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writer-director Rian Johnson revealed that the Guard, Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal protectors, is a more amped-up version of the Imperial Guard in The Return of the Jedi. 

While the guards get their name from the real life guards who protected ancient Roman emperors, the look and feel of the Praetorian Guard is clearly more samurai in nature. Star Wars fans are already intimately aware of the cyclical nature of the Star Wars lore–any theme that has come up in the past can (and probably will) come up again. The same can be said of the Japanese influence on Star Wars, which is embedded right in the DNA of the Praetorian Guard.

The Jedi, samurai with lightsabers

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” (Lucasfilm)

Johnson gave Entertainment Weekly the background on the Praetorian Guard, including the guard’s Japanese connection.

“The Emperor’s guards were very formal, and you always got the sense that they could fight, but they didn’t. They looked like they were more ceremonial, and you never really saw them in action,” he said. “The Praetorians, my brief to [costume designer] Michael Kaplan was that those guys have to be more like samurai. They have to be built to move, and you have to believe that they could step forward and engage if they have to. They have to seem dangerous.”

The Praetorian Guard are wearing a simplified, almost-blocky style of samurai armor with a touch of the 1980s digital aesthetic in the curved grate that makes up the Praetorian helmet visor. However, the idea of samurai is nothing new to Star Wars. The Jedi themselves are based on the idea of the samurai, including the unwritten code the Jedi live by, a type of space-bushido (without the ritualistic honor-bound suicide, seppuku, of course–these are “kids’ films” after all). Even Darth Vader’s iconic headgear and outfit are based on ornamental samurai armor.

As Samurai: The Last Warrior author John Man wrote for Salon:

…I looked at the inspiration behind the look of both the Jedi Knights and their opponent Darth Vader. So much of it derived from samurai traditions: the cloaks, the tunics, Vader’s helmet, the lightsaber.

…They are expert in the use of swords, despite their ability to call on the most fearsome and destructive of long-distance weapons…Both forgo armor to fight in loose tunics. That is how the Last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, went into battle against the Japanese Empire in 1877; that is how Toshiro Mifune appears in Kurasawa’s film “The Seven Samurai”; that is how young Skywalker, up and coming Jedi, faces up to Vader, the father hehs lost to the Dark Side of the Force.

[With regard to Darth Vader’s armor]: …[A]fter Japanese unification in 1600, the samurai became redundant, but instead of vanishing they reinvented themselves as vital members of society, adopting ever more extreme armor designs, with overlapping plates, masks with bristling mustaches and helmets with horns, or crab-like extensions (symbols of protection), or rabbits’ ears to suggest longevity. Vader’s headgear is a simplified version of a samurai face-mask and helmet, with neck protection and ear-flaps. Unlike a samurai, though, he does not need a hole in the top of his helmet through which to poke an elaborate top knot.

Side-by-side comparisons really show the connective thread between the samurai, the Jedi, and fallen Jedi like Darth Vader and his Imperial Guard.

Lucasfilm, Felice Beato/Public Domain

Even after we move away from the original Star Wars films, the idea of samurai-esque robes remains throughout the Star Wars universe, including the latest in the Star Wars main storyline, The Force Awakens. 

Star Wars “samurai-in-space” focus comes from George Lucas himself. As Ollie Barder wrote for Forbes:

It’s widely known that George Lucas was a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s work and famously used inspiration from films like The Hidden Fortress for many of the film’s plot and characters as well as whole scenes.

Barder goes on to write that even the word “Jedi” stems from a Japanese connotation.

…[T]he term “jidaigeki is Japanese for “period drama.” Films like The Hidden Fortress and other aspects of Kurosawa’s oeuvre were often period pieces. Featuring the trials and tribulations of samurai and peasants caught in-between petulant warlords.

The word itself also gave birth to the Jedi and it’s no surprise that they too borrowed many elements from the samurai as well.

Lucas borrowing for the real world is nothing new; Lucas has used the name of Tunisian city Tataouine as the basis for the name of the desert planet Tatooine and in the Star Wars prequels, the costume design for Padme/Queen Amidala feature motifs from several world cultures. In Rogue One, the idea of a space Mecca, Middle Eastern stereotypes and all, is apparent in the spiritual planet Jedha. There are even more examples of Lucas borrowing from other Japanese properties. But despite all of the other disparate elements Lucas brings into his world, including 1950s diners (looking at you, Clone Wars), the biggest throughline in Star Wars is that this is a space opera featuring space samurai protecting the innocent against the space ronin, masterless samurai who are only thirsty for power.

A Shinto color for protection used for evil

Torii at Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture (Rdsmith4/Creative Commons)

The Praetorian Guard’s relationship with Japan doesn’t end with just Lucas and Johnson’s affinity for samurai. The bright red color that forms the Praetorian Guard’s formidable look also has ties to Japanese culture. In this case, it’s more than just mere borrowing–it’s borrowing with irony.

There are several meanings for the color red in Japan (as is anywhere else), but there is a particular meaning for red in the traditional Shinto religion: protection. However, unlike with the Praetorian Guard, who’s charged with protecting an evil leader, red is charged with protecting Shinto worshippers from evil and disease.

According to Mark Schumacher, who wrote about the history of red in Shinto, the meaning of red might have come from “demon quelling and disease (e.g., smallpox, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles).”

According to Japanese folk belief, RED is the color for “expelling demons and illness.” The rituals of spirit quelling were regularly undertaken by the Yamato court during the Asuka Period (522-645 AD). Centered on a fire god (a red deity), these purification rites were designed to purify the land by sending evil spirits to the Ne no Kuni [“The Land of Roots,” an underworld]. This association with evil easily segues into other links with child mortality, protection against evil forces (sickness), fertility, the caul (embryonic membrane covering the head at birth), and other child-birth imagery. The red bibs, red robes, red scarfs, and red caps found frequently on certain Japanese deities…lend strong support to his interpretation.”

Schumacher wrote that for a small amount of time, the Japanese god of smallpox, Hōsō Kami, was closely linked to the color red. This association came at some point between smallpox’s initial introduction to Japan in 550 AD and the first recording of smallpox in 720 AD. It was believed that if the skin of a person afflicted with smallpox turned purple, they would die, but if the skin turned red, they would live. Eventually red came to mean protection against ailments.

This early association between demons of disease and the color red was gradually turned upside down–proper worship of the disease deity would bring life, but improper worship or neglect would result in death. In later centuries, the Japanese recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red…The Red-Equals-Sickness symbolism quickly gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, between death and life, between hell and heaven, with red embodying both life-creating and life-sustaining powers. As a result, the color red was dedicated not only to deities of sickness and demon quelling, but also to deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth.

An argument could be made that, if the Star Wars crew were conscious of the fact that red has such a huge meaning in Shinto, maybe they were using red to align the Guard and Snoke even more with the evil and danger they represent. However, with what red has come to mean in Shinto over time, the all-red Praetorian Guard is more of an unintentional ironic statement; just like the red torii gates that signify a protection of the spiritual realm and a cleansing of the worshippers that stand near, the Guards are protectors who signify that entering Snoke’s realm is a rarefied experience. However, unlike those that visit torii, there’s no holiness or goodness to come from the Guard and especially not from Snoke. Instead of healing, there’s only spiritual disease.

Aniline Red 

From “Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection” at the Phoenix Art Museum 2017 exhibition.

The history of red gets even more complicated when you add westernization into the mix. If you notice, the color of the Praetorian Guard is not just red, but it’s a shocking red. It’s a red that makes you sit up and stand at attention. It’s an unnatural red, to be sure.

This unnatural red looks like it could be aniline red, a synthetic color that owes part of its origins to British scientist William Henry Perkin trying to find a cure for malaria. You can read more about aniline red’s road towards becoming a marketable color at Prints of Japan, but just keep in mind that it was the Europeans who brought this synthetic color to Japan. I would say it’s become one of its more iconic colors, too; as a synthetic, it’s able to keep its vibrancy over hundreds of years, compared to Japanese prints that utilize natural red dyes.

Woodblock print depicting dignitaries of early Meiji Japan. ( National Diet Library Achives, Tokyo)
Part of a Kunichika triptych. (The British Museum)

These two prints are saturated in aniline red; see how pop-arty they make these 19th century pieces?

I don’t know if the folks behind Star Wars recognized they were playing deep into the Japanese color history by making the Praetorian Guard shockingly red. Of course, the Imperial Guard are also red, and the real Praetorian Guard were also associated with red. But with so much Japanese influence making its way into the Praetorian Guard, it’s funny that even this small element of Japanese history snuck its way in.

Final thoughts

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Ikeda Nagaoki in 1864 (Lucasfilm/Topps, Public domain)

So what does all of this mean in the end? It seems like there’s a conversation to be had about where the line stops when it comes to “appropriation” versus “inspiration.” It’s very easy to say that Lucas was inspired by samurai films he saw growing up, much like how Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the blaxploitation and grindhouse films he saw as a kid. While it’s certainly clear that Lucas found a more elegant way to showcase his inspirations by way of a space opera, is there much difference between Lucas’ insistence on direct Japanese ties to his work and Tarantino’s insistence on directly imitating and reworking major themes from blaxploitation? To a certain degree, both Lucas and Tarantino straddle the line between appreciation and flat-out lifting (or, to be nicer about it, “paying homage.”)

If you’re being really nitpicky, you could say that many directors out there steal from their favorite films. No doubt–every director has put in a scene that mimics a scene they’ve loved from their childhood films. But where it gets interesting for Lucas and Tarantino is that there’s a certain amount of damage attributed to how they represent (or don’t represent) the cultures they’re drawing from.

For instance, how can Lucas draw inspiration from Japanese films just to give a set of bumbling aliens stereotypical Asian accents in the Star Wars prequels? How can it be that Lucas has only rarely featured Asian faces in general–much less specifically Japanese faces–on screen? The Force Awakens, the upcoming Last Jedi and Rogue One have featured more Asian characters than the prequels and the originals combined, and all three of those movies have been under the inclusionary focus of J.J. Abrams, not Lucas. This article isn’t about Tarantino, but since I’ve brought him up (and since I’m black) it’s time to start talking about how Tarantino only views blackness through a limited scope, not through how actual black people behave. (Yeah, I know he marched against police brutality, but that’s the least he could do–that’s something we all should be doing, to be honest.)

With all of this said, where does this put the Praetorian Guard? It would seem, regardless of the arguments made for or against “paying homage,” the mysterious samurai and Japan’s relationships with spirituality and color are imports to Western culture that still fascinate us and keep us fascinated with the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Guard are only one more block that cements that fascination.

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2018 Film Forecast: Looking Into the Abyss

It’s time to look to the near future of film. Just like how the fashion industry has become an industry that relies on trend forecasting, let’s utilize the same concept when discussing what kind of mood the country will be in when we decide to sit in the theaters next year. From where I’m sitting, 2018 is going to be a year of contemplation, a year of gathering one’s bearings after a tumultuous 2017, and overall, a year of figuring out where we in the U.S. and, indeed, the world, are going if we keep on our path towards destruction.

COLOR STORY

The color story that seems to be going on in 2018 is muted blues and black disrupted by explosive, fiery colors–dark red, orange, and gold. My using the word “explosive” is meant in both a descriptive and literal sense; there is a very real sense of literal explosions in our daily life at this point in 2017, what with the threat of North Korea, the growing Cold War-esque tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and the country’s own political explosions with mounting evidence that showcases President Trump and the administration under the sway of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s power.

The end of 2017 will see dark red come into play as we transition from this year into the next. Check out these Star Wars: The Last Jedi posters from this year:

 

Dark red is the dominant color, painting each of the characters to show that no matter what side you’re on, everyone’s going to be affected politically, socially, and personally by the upheaval that will happen in this next part of the saga.

All of this year’s colors are featured in The Justice League, which is coming out late 2017. The Zack Snyder-led DCU has been consistently moody, with blues, reds, oranges, and blacks making up the color palette. Perhaps it’s because of this big tentpole that we’ll see a lot more films take on a more Snyder-esque palette for their promotional material. What’s funny is that as much as people have derided Snyder for his bleak palette, 2018 will be the year that we as a culture actually feel it reflected in our collective mood. Maybe Snyder was onto something the whole time.

Red, gold, orange, neon blue and muted blues make their way into several of next year’s movies, both in their posters and in the trailers themselves. The throughline seems to be that humanity wants to find the balance between war and peace, technology and human experiences, existentialism and optimism. The importance of neon blue definitely shows itself in the more futuristic films; in these films, humanity on the precipice of extinction–or at the very least, fighting for some kind of co-existence with a more dominant species– is the main plot point.

ORANGE: Power, the unknown, disturbance

(featured: Proud Mary, Alpha, A Wrinkle in Time, Blade Runner: 2049)

NEON BLUE: Technology, mechanical coldness, human advancement (not always for the better)

(featured: Pacific Rim: Uprising, Ready Player One, Black Panther, Blade Runner: 2049)

RED AND BLACK: Ominous threat, fright, fight for survival

(featured: The Predator, Early Man, Blade Runner: 2049, Pacific Rim: Uprising)

NAVY AND MUTED BLUES: Contemplation, the dark side of technology, lurking threat, existentialism

(featured: Pacific Rim: Uprising, Blade Runner 2049, A Wrinkle in Time, Ready Player One)

GOLD AND BLACK: Personal strength, inner power, intelligence, new beginnings

(featured: Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Blade Runner 2049, Alpha)

2018 MAJOR THEMES

Movie studios will still be making reboots, remakes, and sequels. However there seems to be an even clearer note of nostalgia with some of these films in 2018 aside from Hollywood trying their luck with any book or older film property.

Nostalgia, particularly nostalgia for the ’80s and ’90s (a time when a big chunk of the most catered to media demographic, young people 18-40, were kids or teenagers) will be apparent in 2018. Of course, Blade Runner: 2049 is a big send-up to the ’80s, but there’s also Ready Player One, which will have properties that span the ’80s and ’90s making cameo appearances (such as The Iron Giant, featured above). Other films such as Goosebumps: Horrorland, The Predator, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom keep up the nostalgic ’80s and ’90s trend. Even horror is getting on the bandwagon with the resurgence of killer doll Chucky and Halloween‘s Mike Myers.

Other films, like Barbie, Peter Rabbit, S.C.O.O.B. (a new live-action iteration of Scooby-Doo) and Mary Poppins Returns show that childhood memories from any era are back in play. Overall, the nostalgic trend showcases the longing everyone has to go back to a time when they didn’t have to worry about the fate of the world every. single. day.

A big example of the ’80s trend in mainstream tentpoles is Thor Ragnarok. 

via GIPHY

Thor isn’t a legacy property the same way Barbie, Peter Rabbit, and Mary Poppins are. But, as was apparent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the late ’70s and ’80s are a big influence on Marvel’s intergalactic adventures. I mean, it’s not accident that Bruce Banner shows up wearing a shirt featuring Duran Duran’s RIO album cover, or that ’80s genre it boy Jeff Goldblum is part of the main cast. The bright colors, bombastic feel, and Valkyrie showing up with a fleet of warriors on winged horses smacks of 1970s and 1980s heavy metal, Philip Castle airbrush art, as well as 1980s candy-coated cartoons, which also delved into their share of metal inspiration via He-ManShe-Ra, and ThunderCats. Even the ship that is felled by the fireworks display behind Valkyrie (below) seems to pay homage to the spaceship iconography apparent with the band Electronic Light Orchestra, aka ELO.

(featured: scenes from Thor: Ragnaork, Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, Philip Castle airbrush artwork, ELO spaceship artwork)

In short, film studios want those of us in our 20s and 30s to feel like we did when we’d stay up to watch TGIF or when woke up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons. That feeling of nostalgia is going to be used as a buffer and distraction from the scary times we have yet to enter come 2018.

While we’re all pining for our worry-free childhoods, we’ll also be taking stock of our place in the universe and whether we can keep our planet going for another couple thousand years. Quite a few films will focus on the world at its bleakest and most depleted as well as the world when it was fresh and new. Alpha, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, is set during the last part of the Ice Age, and Aardman’s Early Man will have its protagonist, a Bronze Age man (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), on a journey to save his beloved city.

On the extinction side of things, Ready Player One takes place in a near future in which Detroit is inundated with trailer-home skyscrapers called The Stacks and Mortal Engines, based on the popular book series by Philip Reeve, shows an earth that is desolate after the “Sixty Minute War,” with cities roaming Laputa-style, attacking and eating smaller cities in its path to replenish supplies. Extinction, which will feature Michael Peña, Mike Colter, and Lizzy Caplan, will see our current world invaded by aliens.

Sci-fi in 2018 will be almost exclusively about the world’s dire straits and how we humans can protect ourselves and the world from becoming extinct. One of Dwayne Johnson’s many projects next year, Rampage, is based on an ’80s video game (yes, nostalgia again), but it’ll be a more serious take on the game, which involved monsters wreaking havoc on cities. In the film, the monsters are animals (endangered or vulnerable animals, no less) that have been mutated by a mad scientist to destroy humanity. Pacific Rim: Uprising continues the story of a world that is constantly at war with underwater aliens, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes the dinosaurs out of the park and into the metropolis, creating yet another version of Godzilla. (Also, don’t forget about the sequel to Godzilla, coming in 2019, which will continue the environmentally-conscious trend in sci-fi films).

So why do sci-fi films seem to have a lot of power when it comes to this environmental message? Well, one of the cornerstones of sci-fi film is to discuss our culpability in our own demise and whether we’ll have the smarts to right our wrongs. And while we’ve been fantasizing about aliens wiping us out, the real threat has been us all along–we’ve mutated as many animals and destroyed as much wildlife as any alien in sci-fi has. So the alien threat in most of these films has become nature itself. When there is actual science to back up your sci-fi–yes, the earth is heating up and we’re destroying the ecosystem at all levels and perhaps we’re making our own grave if we don’t invest in sustainable methods of living–then sci-fi’s environmental message becomes that much stronger.

(featured: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Rampage)

It’s a little early, but I’ve been looking at the 2019 slate as it stands right now, and it would seem that some more optimistic films are on the horizon after 2018. Perhaps the film industry is banking on us getting out of our present political and social state (we will be getting closer to Trump’s end of his first–and hopefully final–term) and we’ll finally have reason to celebrate. Let’s hope so. But in 2018, we’ll be in the existentialist thick of figuring out how we’re going to keep this world spinning.

We’re at odds with Russia, and more and more people believe that the Russian government has injected itself into our politics and in the country’s presidency. More insidious is the probability that Trump is willingly under Putin’s thumb. We haven’t faced such times as these since President Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the Cold War, which lasted from the lasted from the late ’40s to the ’80s (again, there’s a hint of ’80s nostalgia there). So naturally, 2018 will see an increased focus on ’70s and ’80s politics, the Cold War, Nixon and Watergate, and new interpretations of those themes in present-day stories. Films such as Red Sparrow and Finding Steve McQueen are directly related to Russian/American politics, both in the 1970s and today. The interest in Russia has already in TV, with Channing Tatum’s Comrade Detective and HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 (I’ll get to TV in another post, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the TV trends too). That trend is also already coming to film with this September’s The Death of Stalin, chronicling the days after the Joseph Stalin’s death.

(featured: Red Sparrow book cover, The Death of Stalin, Finding Steve McQueen, The papers set photo)

The Papers is another film that’s about the 1970s (and late 1960s), but it’s handling public distrust of another kind. The Papers is all about the discovery of The Pentagon Papers, which showed that President Johnson lied to the public about the nature of the Vietnam War. While this isn’t directly about Nixon or Watergate, it’s still showing that the film tide is turning towards investigating a lack of trust in authority, particularly in a “post-truth” society.

Eventually, the focus that is beginning to be applied to Russia and the Cold War of the ’80s will also rope in North Korea as well. With North Korea becoming more and more of a nuclear threat each day, screenwriters will no doubt want to turn their attention towards the Hermit Kingdom, and studios will also probably want to capitalize on some of the properties that are already out that focus on nuclear threat. (A possible resurgence of Watchmen, perhaps? Just spit-balling here).

As you can see in this Oceans Eight first look image, women are going to be in power in all kinds of ways. From robbing folks to executing hits to owning stardom, women in unconventional and/or powerful roles will be all over 2018. Some of the films we’ll see next year are Battle Angel AlitaA Wrinkle in Time, Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, The Nightingale, Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider, Crazy Rich Asians, Proud Mary, Widows, Ant Man and the Wasp, Life of the Party, The Papers, Winchester, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Annihilation, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, to name a few.

(featured: Rosa Salazar cast in Alita: Battle Angel, Meryl Streep in The Papers, Taraji P. Henson in Proud Mary, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon in A Wrinkle in Time, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation, Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider)

Several of the films mentioned have women of color at the forefront, and two such films, like Widows and Proud Mary have black women (Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson, respectively) taking on roles that require their characters to exact deadly revenge, a micro-trend by itself. Alita: Battle Angel, based on a popular anime and manga about a cyborg brought back to life, stars Rosa Salazar amid a multicultural cast, and Crazy Rich Asians finally ends the drought of a lack of a pan-Asian presence on screen. Zazie Beetz (seen below) will become the first lady of Fox’s Deadpool franchise and, of course, all of that is rounded out by the introduction of Storm Reid in A Wrinkle in Time and the big screen debut of ballerina (or as I like to think of her, my ballerina Barbie come to life) Misty Copeland in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. (As a huge Nutcracker fan, I can’t wait to see the film’s costumes. Here’s hoping they live up to my expectations.)

The tide has been turning for women in film, what with the outcry of several actresses about the lack of meaningful roles for women, the financial gain studios have seen from hiring women for action and bawdy comedy roles (such as Girls Trip, which became the highest-grossing live-action comedy in 2017), and movie-goers’ own demand for actresses getting equal treatment next to their male counterparts. This has led to the portrayal of women who aren’t just boobs and butts with mouths for male pleasure; Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider isn’t the busty woman of the past (who still kicked butt, by the way); she’s now a slimmed-down, more athletic-built woman who is on an existential search for herself as well as she finds out the truth about her father. Meryl Streep plays a newspaper titan who is out to get those Pentagon Papers. Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson are scientists studying another world, with no men in sight.

But, as you can probably infer from the high gross from Girls Trip, that there’s also a racial element at play, too. It’s not just that women as a whole are getting more roles, it’s that there’s slowly more equity for women of color to be seated at the table as well. While women in general don’t have as much play as actors, white women still had the lion’s share of the roles. Technically, they still do, but thankfully, with directors of color like Ava DuVernay and actresses of color-turned-producers like Queen Latifah taking the reins, we’re finally beginning to see films starring actresses of color play in roles that were strictly relegated only to white actresses. Would we have seen Mindy Kaling and Oprah play interdimensional beings if it weren’t for another woman of color like DuVernay? I’m sure someone would have done it, but it wouldn’t have happened so soon, I’d think, and it might not have been done with the same intention of equity. Ditto for A Wrinkle in Time featuring an interracial relationship and what looks like a blended family (from the trailers, it’s seems like Storm’s character has a white brother, leading me to think that it’s her stepbrother).

Is Hollywood really “woke” by including more people of color and more of an LGBT focus in its movies? Let’s just say this is Hollywood’s first dip of its big toe in the water of being “woke.” However, this is still a huge push forward in 2018, with a bigger number of films showcasing either all-POC or mostly POC casts.

Of course, there’s Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and A Wrinkle in Time, but there’s also, Triple Threat, starring Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Tiger Chen and Uko Uwais, and The Predator, which stars Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn and Edward James Olmos.

As mentioned before, Annihilation stars Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, and several movies, including Deadpool 2, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Skyscraper, Gringo, Creed 2, Mary Poppins Returns, the currently-untitled Han Solo Star Wars filmThe Alchemist, Aladdin and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom will prominently feature POC characters. Just take a look at this compilation of actors:

(Featured: Lin-Manuel Miranda in Mary Poppins Returns, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok, the cast of RampageJurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘s B.D. Wong, Star Wars Han Solo film’s Donald Glover, J.A. Bayona in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, the cast of The Predator, the cast of Aquaman and director James Wan, Crazy Rich Asians‘ Henry Golding, Aladdin‘s Mena Massoud)

It also doesn’t hurt that there will be some big films directed by directors of color. DuVernay has been mentioned, and James Wan is in charge of Aquaman. Taika Waititi is behind Thor: Ragnarok and Steve McQueen is behind Widows. Jon M. Chu is bringing his directorial vision to Crazy Rich Asians.

There’s also Simon vs. the Homo-Sapien Agenda, which will be the live-action adaptation of a novel focusing on a high schooler taking coming out to his classmates in his own hands.

With all of this progress, there are still some indications Hollywood isn’t as woke as it’d like to be: at least two of the movies on the current slate feature Asian themes (specifically Japanese storytelling) without Japanese characters. As mentioned already, the Alita film adaptation will feature a multicultural cast with a non-Japanese POC lead, and Isle of Dogs will feature a mostly-white, if not all-white, cast (including Scarlett Johansson, whom people still haven’t forgiven for her role in Ghost in the Shell). We’ll see how these films are handled as we get closer to their releases. Also, Simon vs. the Homo-Sapien Agenda is currently the only high-profile film focusing on a gay character. We’ll see exactly how many LGBT characters and stories are a part of 2018, but it looks like Hollywood is, once again, lacking in this area. There’s also no clear word on how disabled people will be represented either. Seeing how disabled people have been represented this year, there’s no reason to think that 2018 will showcase anything different. But we can hope.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned every film coming out in 2018 (partially because not every film has released its promotional info) and, like with anything, there will be outliers that are hard to put into any category. But these are my general thoughts on 2018–an overview, if you will. What do you think 2018 holds for us? Give your thoughts below!

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