Month: November 2017

Japan’s gender-bending history

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Genking, a male-born Japanese TV personality and ‘genderless’ pioneer.
_genking_/Instagram

Jennifer Robertson, University of Michigan

I’m an anthropologist who grew up in Japan and has lived there, off and on, for 22 years. Yet every visit to Tokyo’s Harajuku District still surprises me. In the eye-catching styles modeled by fashion-conscious young adults, there’s a kind of street theater, with crowded alleyways serving as catwalks for teenagers peacocking colorful, inventive outfits.

Boutiques are filled with cosmetics and beauty products intended for both males and females, and it’s often difficult to discern the gender of passersby. Since a gendered appearance (“feminine” or “masculine”) often (but not always) denotes the sex of a person, Japan’s recent “genderless” fashion styles might confuse some visitors – was that person who just walked by a woman or a man?

Although the gender-bending look appeals equally to young Japanese women and men, the media have tended to focus on the young men who wear makeup, color and coif their hair and model androgynous outfits. In interviews, these genderless males insist that they are neither trying to pass as women nor are they (necessarily) gay.

Some who document today’s genderless look in Japan tend to treat it as if it were a contemporary phenomenon. However, they conveniently ignore the long history in Japan of blurred sexualities and gender-bending practices.

Sex without sexuality

In premodern Japan, aristocrats often pursued male and female lovers; their sexual trysts were the stuff of classical literature. To them, the biological sex of their pursuits was often less important than the objective: transcendent beauty. And while many samurai and shoguns had a primary wife for the purposes of procreation and political alliances, they enjoyed numerous liaisons with younger male lovers.

Only after the formation of a modern army in the late-19th century were the sort of same-sex acts central to the samurai ethos discouraged. For a decade, from 1872 to 1882, sodomy among men was even criminalized. However, since then, there have been no laws in Japan banning homosexual relations.

It’s important to note that, until very recently, sexual acts in Japan were not linked to sexual identity. In other words, men who had sex with men and women who had sex with women did not consider themselves gay or lesbian. Sexual orientation was neither political nor politicized in Japan until recently, when a gay identity emerged in the context of HIV/AIDS activism in the 1990s. Today, there are annual gay pride parades in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

In Japan, same-sex relations among children and adolescents have long been thought of as a normal phase of development, even today. From a cultural standpoint, it’s frowned upon only when it interferes with marriage and preserving a family’s lineage. For this reason, many people will have same-sex relationships while they’re young, then get married and have kids. And some even later resume having same-sex relationships after fulfilling these social obligations.

Contentious cross-dressing

Like same-sex relationships, cross-dressing has a long history in Japan. The earliest written records date to the eighth century and include stories about women who dressed as warriors. In premodern Japan, there were also cases of women passing as men either to reject the prescribed confines of femininity or to find employment in trades dominated by men.

‘Modern girls’ (‘moga’) stroll along the Ginza, Japan’s Fifth Avenue, in 1928.
Wikimedia Commons

A century ago, “modern girls” (moga) were young women who sported short hair and trousers. They attracted media attention – mostly negative – although artists depicted them as fashion icons. Some hecklers called them “garçons” (garuson), an insult implying unfeminine and unattractive.

Gender, at that time, was thought of in zero-sum terms: If females were becoming more masculine, it meant that males were becoming feminized.

These concerns made their way into the theater. For example, the all-female Takarazuka Revue was an avant-garde theater founded in 1913 (and is still very popular today). Females play the parts of men, which, in the early 20th century, sparked heated debates (that continue today) about “masculinized” women on stage – and how this might influence women off the stage.

However, today’s genderless males aren’t simply weekend cross-dressers. Instead, they want to shatter the existing norms that say men must dress and present themselves a certain way.

They ask: Why should only girls and women be able to wear skirts and dresses? Why should only women be able to wear lipstick and eye shadow? If women can wear pants, why shouldn’t men be able to wear skirts?

Actually, the adjective “genderless” is misleading, since these young men aren’t genderless at all; rather, they’re claiming both femininity and masculinity as styles they wear in their daily lives.

In this regard, these so-called genderless men have historical counterparts: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cosmopolitan “high collar” men (haikara) wore facial powder and carried scented handkerchiefs, paying meticulous attention to their Westernized appearances. One critic – invoking the zero-sum gender attitudes of the era – complained that “some men toil over their makeup more than women.” Conservative pundits derided the haikara as “effeminate” by virtue of their “un-Japanese” style.

On the other end of the masculinity spectrum were the nationalistic “primitive” men (bankara) who wore wooden clogs (geta) to complement their military-style school uniforms. Ironically, like their samurai predecessors – and unlike the foppish haikara – the macho bankara would engage in same-sex acts.

Japan’s ‘beautiful youths’

Probably the biggest contemporary inspiration for today’s genderless males are a spate of popular androgynous boy bands. Cultivated and promoted by Johnny & Associates Entertainment Company, Japan’s largest male talent agency, they include boy bands like SMAP, Johnny’s West and Sexy Zone.

Johnny’s West performs their song ‘Summer Dreamer.’

There’s a term for the type of teenage boy that Johnny & Associates cultivates: “beautiful youths” (bishōnen), which was coined a century ago to describe a young man whose ambiguous gender and sexual orientation appealed to females and males of all ages.

Similarly, Visual Kei is a 1980s glam-rock and punk music genre that features bishōnen performers who don flamboyant, gender-bending costumes and hairdos. In its new, 21st-century incarnation as Neo-Visual Kei, the emphasis on androgyny is even more pronounced, as epitomized by the prolific career of the androgynous Neo-Visual Kei pop star Gackt, who enjoys an international fan following.

The ConversationSince the word “genderless” is misleading, a better term might be “gender-more,” in the sense that young men – especially in Tokyo – are insisting on the right to present and express themselves in ways that contradict and exceed traditional masculinity. In the long span of Japanese cultural history, there have been many things that were – and are – new under the sun. But genderless males aren’t among them.

Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and Art History, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The ‘inevitable sadness’ of Kazuo Ishiguro’s fiction

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British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro listens to a question during a press conference at his home in London on Oct. 5, 2017.
Alastair Grant/AP Photo

Cynthia F. Wong, University of Colorado Denver

On a damp October day in 2006, I followed Kazuo Ishiguro and my 10-year-old daughter Grace to a back table at a bustling cafe in London for an interview. As Ishiguro answered my questions, he explained how he “auditions” his characters’ voices and personalities in his head before they appear in his fiction. He spoke candidly about a writer’s messy work.

Now he is the laureate for the Nobel Prize in literature, for what the Swedish Academy praised as his unapologetic portrayals of “the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

It’s a nod to the self-delusion that many of Ishiguro’s characters possess. One, for example, rationalizes his service to a fascist loyalist. Others see their past through the cloudy lens of trauma. If we were to peel back the warped self-deception, we might find a bottomless pit of despair.

At that interview years ago, Ishiguro talked about his characters’ painful chasms, the way they protected themselves by concealing their mistakes. But when everything seems hopeless, his characters often courageously turn to their imagination to forge a connection to life and meaning.

In doing so, they beckon readers to imagine something better, too.

When I asked Ishiguro about his 2005 dystopic novel “Never Let Me Go,” his tone shifted. He lowered his voice when he told me about the students in that novel, and how they eventually perish. But he was surprised when I said that I found the novel sorrowful.

“There is an inevitable sadness,” he admitted. “On the other hand, it’s not a bleak view of human nature.”

I could sense Ishiguro’s concern for how my daughter might take his observations about death and despair.

He continued: “The question, ‘What are we useful for?’ is the question that your daughter Grace asks, and one Tommy and Kathy ask in ‘Never Let Me Go.’ Some cold system says to Tommy and Kathy that they will be useful [to the world], and it’s the same as another system saying to Grace that someday she will be useful to the world economy.”

Human systems figure in all of Ishiguro’s novels, whether these are governments, communities or families. Often, these systems are damaged, and humans still must move through them. They try to repair them or save themselves. Ishiguro has examined many facets of what it means to live among and within countless systems.

The first-person narrators of Ishiguro’s first three novels, “A Pale View of Hills,” “An Artist of the Floating World” and “The Remains of the Day,” reflect on personal losses in the context of world events: friends and families dead from atomic bombings in Japan, unrealized romances, wrong choices and lives founded on delusion. These characters long for clarity, retribution or forgiveness.

The narrators of his next three novels are, variously, a pianist (“The Unconsoled”), a London detective (“When We Were Orphans”) and a roving hospice-type worker (“Never Let Me Go”). Whether they’re situated in Japan, Great Britain, some unnamed European city or even a medieval village, Ishiguro’s characters beguile his readers with their disclosures. His eloquent prose expresses their anguish or their repressed longings. We sense time passing darkly for these characters. We see how they face disappointments and ache for dignity.

Ishiguro explained that to probe the emotional force of his novels, we must understand that the characters are set within “an internal world [and] it’s an emotional logic that is being played out.”

In narrating their sorrows and their fruitless optimism, Ishiguro gives his readers a way to empathize with his characters’ situations.

Ishiguro’s capacity for compassion was cultivated during his university gap year, when he worked with the homeless. He also studied piano and guitar and dreamed of a career in music before he detoured to the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia. He still writes musical lyrics and works with musicians as an avocation.

By his own admission, Ishiguro is a slow writer; he produces a novel every few years. In 2015, when he came to Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop to promote his latest novel, I was able to catch up with him. He remarked that he may have only a couple more books forthcoming.

“We’re not immortal,” he said. “We’re here for a limited time. There is a countdown.”

The Swedish Academy honors a laureate for a lifetime of achievement. To date, Ishiguro has published eight books as well as many short stories, television and film scripts. His career may seem disjointed when focusing on only the best-known novels, “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go.”

But few contemporary authors have dared to take as many risks as Ishiguro. The more complicated, Kafka-esque novel “The Unconsoled” is a book some critics called disappointing. A different sort of writer might have quit, but Ishiguro persisted.

Similarly, even though some readers responded coolly to “The Buried Giant,” Ishiguro had taken yet another literary leap: The highly metaphorical story is set in an early English era that predated historical records. Memory, repression of pain and the resolve to protect oneself and loved ones return as themes, but in unusual, allegorical ways.

Each novel is a singular achievement; each successive undertaking enriches a broader canvas of Ishiguro’s portraits of alienated lives.

During that 2006 London interview, I watched Ishiguro banter with my daughter during a break. They were laughing about what it means to “snarf” food, and they were picking up some biscuits and spooning melted ice cream to demonstrate. Ishiguro’s ease and humor when speaking with my child captivated me.

In spite of the sadness in his books, Ishiguro is a gracious guardian of humanity. He is a fine curator of emotions and a skilled storyteller.

The ConversationWe don’t know how many more books Ishiguro will publish. But we can be certain that in his literary explorations, he will remain undaunted.

Cynthia F. Wong, Professor of English, University of Colorado Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How media sexism demeans women and fuels abuse by men like Weinstein

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Advertising continues to portray women as charming keepers of the home, making it harder to succeed at work.
Andrea44/flickr, CC BY-SA

Virginia García Beaudoux, University of Buenos Aires

The sexual abuse scandal currently embroiling media mogul Harvey Weinstein has stunned the United States, with Hollywood and the fashion industry declaring that “this way of treating women ends now.”

As an Argentinean woman who studies gender in the media, I find it hard to be surprised by Weinstein’s misdeeds. Machismo remains deeply ingrained in Latin American society, yes, but even female political leaders in supposedly gender-equal paradises like Holland and Sweden have told me that they are criticized more in the press and held to a higher standard than their male counterparts.

How could they not be? Across the world, the film and TV industry – Weinstein’s domain – continues to foist outdated gender roles upon viewers.

Women’s work

Television commercials are particularly guilty, frequently casting women in subservient domestic roles.

Take this 2015 ad for the Argentine cleaning product Cif, which is still running today. It explains how its concentrated cleaning capsules “made Sleeping Beauty shine.”

The prince could help clean up, but why bother when women can do it all?

In it, a princess eager to receive her prince remembers that – gasp – the floors in her castle tower are a total mess. Thanks to Cif’s magic scouring fluid, she has time not only to clean but also to get dolled up for the prince – who, in case you were wondering, has no physical challenges preventing him from helping her tidy up.

But why should he, when it’s a woman’s job to be both housekeeper and pretty princess?

Somewhat paradoxically, advertisements may also cast men as domestic superheroes. Often, characters like Mr. Muscle will mansplain to women about the best product and how to use it – though they don’t actually do any cleaning themselves.

Mansplaining domestic chores.

More recently, there’s been a shift – perhaps an awkward attempt at political correctness – in which women are still the masters of the home, but their partners are shown “helping out” with the chores. In exchange, the men earn sex object status.

Thanks for ‘helping out,’ hubby.

We’ve come a little way, baby

Various studies on gender stereotypes in commercials indicate that although the advertising industry is slowly changing for the better, marketing continues to target specific products to certain customers based on traditional gender roles.

Women are pitched hygiene and cleaning products, whereas men get ads for banks, credit cards, housing, cars and other significant financial investments.

This year, U.N. Women teamed up with Unilever and other industry leaders like Facebook, Google, Mars and Microsoft to launch the Unstereotype Alliance. The aim of this global campaign is to end stereotypical and sexist portrayals of gender in advertising.

As part of the #Unstereotype campaign, Unilever also undertook research on gender in advertising. It found that only 3 percent of advertising shows women as leaders and just 2 percent conveys them as intelligent. In ads, women come off as interesting people just 1 percent of the time.

Britain paves a path

Even before it was forced to reckon with allegations that Harvey Weinstein had also harassed women in London, the United Kingdom was making political progress on the issue of women’s portrayal in the media.

In July, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority announced that the U.K. will soon prohibit commercials that promote gender stereotypes.

“While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes,” its press release stated, “tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

As of 2018, the agency says, advertisements in which women are shown as solely responsible for household cleaning or men appear useless around kitchen appliances and unable to handle taking care of their children and dependents will not pass muster in the U.K. Commercials that differentiate between girls’ and boys’ toys based on gender stereotypes will be banned as well.

Sticky floors

The U.K.‘s move is a heartening public recognition that gender stereotypes in the media both reflect and further the very real inequalities women face at home and at work.

Worldwide, the International Labor Organization reports, women still bear the burden of household chores and caretaking responsibilities, which often either excludes them from pay work or leaves them relegated to ill-paid part-time jobs.

In the U.K., men spend on average 16 hours per week on domestic tasks, while women spend 26. The European Union average is worse, with women dedicating an average of 26 weekly hours to men’s nine hours on caretaking and household tasks.

In Argentina, my home country, fully 40 percent of men report doing no household work at all, even if they’re unemployed. Among those who do pitch in, it’s 24 hours a week on caretaking and domestic chores for men. Argentinean women put in 45 hours.

You can do the math: On average, Argentinean women use up two days of their week and some 100 days annually – nearly one-third of their year – on unpaid household labor.

Real-world consequences

These inequalities, combined with advertising that reinforces them, generate what’s called the “sticky floors” problem. Women – whether would-be investment bankers or, I dare say, aspiring Hollywood stars – don’t just face glass ceilings to advancement, they also are also “stuck” to domestic life by endless chores.

The cultural powers that be produce content that represents private spaces as “naturally” imbued with female qualities, gluing women to traditional caregiving roles.

This hampers their professional development and helps keep them at the bottom of the economy pyramid because women must pull off a balancing act between their jobs inside and outside of the domestic sphere. And they must excel at both, all while competing against male colleagues who likely confront no such challenges.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama once pointed out this double standard in homage to his then-competitor Hillary Clinton. She, he reminded an audience in 2008, “was doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards in heels.”

The ConversationThe sticky floor problem puts women in a position to be exploited by men like Weinstein, who tout their ability to help female aspirants to get unstuck. Until society – and, with it, the media we create – comprehend that neither professional success nor domesticity has a gender, these pernicious powerful dynamics will endure.

Virginia García Beaudoux, Professor of Political Communication and Public Opinion, University of Buenos Aires

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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“Magic: The Gathering” celebrates WOC players with these 5 characters

Disclosure: These are my opinions as a free agent and separate entity from Magic: The Gathering. 

As you might know, I acted as as consultant for Magic: The Gathering for the development of their first black Planeswalker character, Kaya, Ghost Assassin. (For info on what a Planeswalker is and what Kaya does, check this post.) Recently, I was able to recount my experiences with Magic: The Gathering in my first post for SyFy Wire, a year after Kaya made her big debut.

I’ve been excited by what Magic: The Gathering is doing, especially with regard to the sensitivity being shown players of color, specifically women of color. Women of color don’t get much thought put towards them in gaming overall, so it’s nice to see a company put their best foot forward in an attempt to get it right. What’s also great is that they admit when they’ve had shortcomings. That shows a willingness to learn that other gaming companies should adopt.

The big question on every fan’s lips is when will Kaya pop back up on the scene. I’ll quote what Magic writer (and my Kaya partner) Kelly Digges said in my SyFy interview with him:

Well, I can’t answer questions about the future, but I can tell you that she is on our very short-list of characters to bring back in the immediate future. You haven’t seen the last of Kaya and I’m very excited for people to see her again as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I’ve wanted to turn Magic newbies and folks who are old hat at Magic to five of the company’s  women of color. Whilst I’m sure there are more characters coming down the line, these five are a solid starting lineup for anyone’s WOC-centric deck.

Kaya, Ghost Assassin

Illustration by Chris Rallis

Kaya’s official bio, via Magic:

A confident, roguish duelist with a mysterious past, Kaya has the ability to become partially incorporeal—allowing her to slip through solid items and physically interact with ghosts and the spirit world.

Kaya is a firm believer that life is for the living. The living should make the most of their lives and pursue what they want while they’ve still got time, and find their own peace before death. If you die with unfinished business, well, that’s probably your fault. And if it’s not…perhaps she could help you…for a price.

In Paliano, she accepted a contract from Marchesa to assassinate the city’s previous sovereign, King Brago. Her actions catapulted Marchesa to power and caused the current chaos in the city—but also opened the way for others to make their claims to their throne and shake up the Paliano’s ancient political order.

How much more do I need to say about my character? If you’ve been here before, you read a lot of words on her already, so y’all already know she’s awesome. However, if you’re new to Kaya, here’s the short of it–she’s a mysterious gun-for-hire who exterminates ghosts who remain on this living plane with her own ghostly powers. As Kelly said in the interview, she was originally nicknamed “Hanna Solo” by the development team, which gives you a good indication as to her personality and how she carries herself in battle and in everyday life. She’s just cool, and she’s only made cooler by the fact that I helped develop her. Believe me when I say there are a lot of tricks up this character’s sleeve. Have you seen all of them? Well…

Huatli

Illustration by Anna Steinbauer

Huatli’s bio, via Magic:

Huatli was raised in the Sun Empire. Thanks to her martial skill and talent as an orator, she rose to a station just short of nobility. The course of her life changed during one such raid, when she confronted a terrifying beast—the minotaur pirate Angrath the Flame-Chained. An incredibly powerful foe, he pressed her to the limit of her abilities. At the moment of her greatest desperation her planeswalker spark ignited. She saw a glimpse of a faraway place, but was suddenly yanked back to where she began. Inexplicably, Angrath failed to press his advantage and instead withdrew, leaving her to contemplate her experience. Under instruction from her Emperor, Huatli adventures to locate the Golden City and secure her title as Warrior-Poet of the Sun Empire.

The Meso-American plane of Ixalan is where we meet Huatli, and I’m really excited for her addition into the Magic: The Gathering world. I believe she’s the first Latinx/Indigenous character for Magic, and it’s great to see them expanding into more realms of representation. What I think is so cool about Huatli, representation nods aside, is that she’s a Planeswalker who rose up the ranks on her plane due to her poetry. There aren’t a lot of characters nowadays, in gaming or other modes of media, that become lauded because of their artistic skill. Showing younger players that there is merit in expressing yourself through your talents can only result in more positivity and higher self-esteem in these kids’ lives, particularly since it’s all too common for folks to think that there aren’t any reasons to pursue a talent to its highest height. Also, she’s riding a dinosaur as her steed. You can’t get cooler than that.

She’s a massive hit with the fans–as are all of these characters in this article. I’m thrilled that there are so many fans who have rallied around Huatli and her world; their interest in her and her culture shows what inclusion can do–through Huatli, some young kid (or adult) might decide they want to learn more about the Mayans and other indigenous cultures to Mexico and Latin America. Who knows; Huatli could spark the next wave of historians, archaeologists, and cultural experts. The ability to positively shape and enrich someone’s life is really where the power and responsibility in storytelling lies. 

Samut

Illustration by Aleksi Briclot

Samut’s bio, via Magic:

Samut was a renowned initiate, a master of the double khopesh, and adept at channeling her speed and strength into her attacks. She was a leader among her crop, and was highly dependable during battle. Fellow crop members reported that it seemed she was always everywhere at once; she had everyone’s back, and never let a fellow fall. Her speed seemed inhuman, as did her ability to strike down opponents to protect her crop. She and her close friend Djeru were unstoppable among the initiates.

But Samut had a secret. As a child, she ventured outside of the magical barrier that protected her city, and discovered evidence of a not-so-distant past. She found hieroglyphs of long-forgotten dances and rituals on the walls of ancient buildings, and determined that something had altered her world to its core. Samut studied the dances and learned as much as she could about Amonkhet’s past, and vowed to reveal the truth about what had happened to Amonkhet. She grew up to be a persistent and determined adult, but was uncertain how she alone could make the change she needs. For that reason, she prevented the death of her friend Djeru and resolved to convince him to help her rally their people and their beloved gods against the God-Pharaoh.

Samut comes from the ancient Egypt-adjacent plane called Amonkhet. Again, like with Huatli and Ixalan, Samut and Amonkhet could propel a Magic-loving kid to want to study ancient Egypt, leading them to a journey of discovery, cultural acceptance, and love of learning.

This particular plane, including Nicol Bolas’ effect on the plane, could also lead players to study more about Afrofuturism, an art and literary movement that seeks to put black characters and pan-African cultures at the center of their own destiny–in this case, it’s argued that race and the concept of “blackness” will cease to be seen as a negative factor once blackness is taken out of its American, Westernized, white supremacist-laced meaning. The genre offers a chance for black characters to represent the humanity of the black diaspora. I get into that a little in my little segment in Mike Linnemann’s Gathering Magic article about Amonkhet. 

To speak to her character, Samut can teach players, particularly those of the younger set, to stay inquisitive and follow your gut instinct; if you feel something’s not right, don’t let others tell you you’re wrong. Find out why you feel a certain way–investigate and never take “no” for an answer. Samut’s story might be even more salient during this current political time, where 1984′s double-think and double-speak are now real modes of policy. Almost everyone in Amonkhet is bewitched to think that Nicol Bolas is the supreme god, and anyone who objects goes missing. Samut is one of the few who can see beneath the illusion, and she’s risking her life to save her people. Sometimes telling the truth–and fighting for it–can seem dangerous. But the lesson Samut teaches is that it’s always best to fight for what’s right.

Saheeli Rai

Illustration by Jeremy Jarvis

Saheeli’s bio via Magic:

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

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

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

As I wrote in my post last year about Saheeli, she is (from what I know) the first Planeswalker from South Asian heritage. From what I’ve seen and researched, there hasn’t been another Planeswalker that has focused on South Asian representation. Here’s what Magic had to say about their design process.

To help us treat our cultural references with respect and care, we enlisted help from a team of Indian colleagues at Wizards, including Jisi Kottakuzhiyil, Sandeep Kedlaya, Narayanan Raghunathan, Sathish Ramamurthy, Basha Mohideen, and Trinadh Nemaniat. With their guidance throughout multiple phases of our process, we honed aspects of the world—from the look of a field in a basic Plains to the visuals for the races on the plane to the phonemes in names—to try to reflect Indian inspirations in Kaladesh. They oversaw our progress throughout the concept push all the way through to reviewing art that appears in the card set. They let us know what they found exciting and what were points to avoid. They guided us toward what they felt was an interesting mixture of elements from Northern and Western India in the patterned rhinoceros mount of Armorcraft Judge, and cautioned us against the use of colors or shapes with strong religious connotations, including saffron-colored robes or green domes in architecture.

What’s also empowering is that she’s a creator who lives on innovation. From women in STEM to women who make a living as artists, innovation is key, and a love for innovation is something that should be fostered in the young, especially girls, who are often taught that being different–in looks, mannerisms, behavior and interests–is unacceptable. With Saheeli as an inventor herself, she could become a role model to other girls who see themselves as inventors, too. Who knows? Our next big tech mogul could have well-worn Saheeli card in her pocket.

 

Narset

Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Narset’s bio, via Magic:

In a world where history unfolded differently, Narset was the khan of the Jeskai, a clan of warrior monks. She seemed on the cusp of enlightenment, but her true potential remained latent, untapped. In this timeline, she is one of the foremost scholars of Tarkir’s history-and a Planeswalker.

At a young age, Narset gained the personal notice of one of Ojutai’s skywise. She attracted the dragon’s attention as she would often mimic the exercises performed by both the dragons and her elders, mastering them after no more than a casual glance. The skywise recognized hers as a mind with the potential for nearly limitless growth, so she was taken on as a student. Narset quickly mastered not only the exercises but the Draconic language itself, and over the following years she became one of the youngest of the clan to learn directly from Ojutai. But as Narset grew older she began to feel restless. She harbored a longing, although she was unable to identify what for, and she started to question whether or not the skywise dragons truly knew all the answers to the questions of life.

When, in relatively short order, Narset achieved the status of master, she cared more for the autonomy that the position granted than the highly sought-after honor. She spent many a day alone, exploring the deepest and dustiest cavities in the Ojutai strongholds, slowly piecing together clues that illuminated the forbidden past. Her peer, Taigam, warned her of the danger in seeking out knowledge without the dragonlord’s permission, but Narset saw no harm in research.

She discovered the truth of the past of Tarkir. It was not always a world ruled by dragons as the teachings of Ojutai claimed; at one time humanoid khans led mighty clans that dominated the land. Narset also learned of a powerful spirit dragon from whom all dragons were formed. It was this being that most interested her. She could feel something more in the histories that described him, something similar to her own wanderlust. She took to meditating in these secret chambers, spending hours that crept into days and even weeks without making an appearance above.

Now that her Planeswalker spark has ignited, she has the ability to walk the Blind Eternities, the space between planes, and discover new worlds, but her devotion is to her home plane of Tarkir. Narset knows that the mysterious past might hold the key to long-lost magic, power that might not just benefit her clan, but the whole of Tarkir. So she carefully and painstakingly continues her research. She will wait, ever patient, for her time.

Narset’s world clearly harkens back to ancient China and Mongolia, a time that extends through so many leaders and Imperial eras that, as a kid, I had to learn more about it. Since I was so big into Indian and Chinese history as a kid, a character like Narset would have been my gateway to learning more (if she was around when I was a kid, that is).

What I also love is that she’s drawn to her Planeswalker abilities through her endless pursuit of knowledge and her quest to find the truth of life. Questioning is something we should all make a practice of–questioning why the status quo is what it is, and what we can do to enrich ourselves and others. The ability to learn is something we all have, but the willingness to learn–the willingness to upset our own internal equilibrium in order to become more complete versions of ourselves–is something that takes a specific type of bravery. Narset’s ever-long quest to find out more about the universe is reflective of her unique spirit.

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What Mexican and American critics are saying about Disney/Pixar’s groundbreaking film “Coco”

Coco has premiered to great fanfare at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico, and so far, the buzz is positive! Hearing about good buzz is different than actually reading it, so here are seven reviews from both American and Mexican critics, all of which have something positive to say about the film that finally breaks through Pixar’s color and non-Western cultural barrier.

“A walk among the Mexicans”

The general impression is one of admiration and even respect [;].although it does not give us one of the biggest Pixar movies, at least it gives the world the possibility of dreaming of a walk among the Mexicans.—Alonso Díaz de la Vega, El Universal [translation]

Disney/Pixar

Coco [points] toward a less-homogenized…future”

“There’s no getting around that Disney/Pixar hope “Coco” absolves them of past ethnic-representation sins in forging popular movie fare. But the honest feeling coursing through “Coco” is its own marigold bridge in a way, pointing toward a less-homogenized, but no less universal-in-theme future for creators of animated movies.”–Robert Abele, The Wrap

Disney/Pixar

“[Coco speaks] of a real knowledge of the world that it wants to portray.”

“[T]here is a series of data, winks, images, phrases and faces that speak of a real knowledge of the world that it wants to portray, fruit undoubtedly of a deep investigation and without hurries. Coco gets it not without stumbling, but with a kindness that will leave you open-mouthed more than once.”–Erick Estrada, CineGarage [translation]

Disney/Pixar

“[Coco is] free of the watering down or whitewashing [in] Americanized appropriations.”

“Delivering a universal message about family bonds while adhering to folkloric traditions free of the watering down or whitewashing that have often typified Americanized appropriations of cultural heritage, the gorgeous production also boasts vibrant visuals and a peerless voice cast populated almost entirely by Mexican and Latino actors.”–Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter

Disney/Pixar

“Unkrich and his team [demonstrate] an essential understanding of the Mexican tradition.”

“Unkrich and his team avoid reductionism by demonstrating an essential understanding of the Mexican tradition through a respectful and caring approach, and seeking the opportune moment to pay tribute to iconic Mexican cultural icons such as El Santo, Frida Kahlo, Cantinflas, Pedro Infante and, Of course, José Guadalupe Posada, whose engravings immortalized the figure of La Catrina. Although the film abuses the somewhat naive and childish physical gags – almost all linked to the ease with which the dead manipulate or lose their own bones – Coco is a film about the celebration of the family, the importance of memories and the connection through the generations[.]–Luis Fernando Galván, En Filme [translation, links added]

Disney/Pixar

“Unkrich…embraces and incorporates the customs and folklore of Día de Muertos into the very fabric of the film.”

“For Mexican audiences — or those who live in California, Texas, or any place with a visible Latino presence — the cultural iconography of the Land of the Dead ought to look quite familiar, as Unkrich (who previously oversaw “Toy Story 3”) embraces and incorporates the customs and folklore of Día de Muertos into the very fabric of the film.”–Peter Debruge, Variety

Disney/Pixar

“The most risky Pixar film and, therefore, the most fruitful.”

“One thing is for sure: the creators of Coco did the homework.The various research trips they made to the country are evident in what could be the most risky Pixar film and, therefore, the most fruitful and even hopeful[.]”–Jessica Oliva, Cine Premiere [translation]

Coco comes to theaters Nov. 22.

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It’s here! Entertainment Weekly debuts “Crazy Rich Asians” as November cover story

Crazy Rich Asians is one of the mos anticipated films of 2018, and fans have been eagerly collecting any and all news about the film, the first mainstream film featuring an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. Now, fans have got the biggest scoop yet, and it’s all in the exclusive Entertainment Weekly Nov. 10 issue!

JUST ADD COLOR is excited to be able to showcase the exclusive Entertainment Weekly cover and key moments from the article, written by Entertainment Weekly’s Shirley Li.

Here’s a sneak peek at the article:

The film version of the bedazzling best-seller Crazy Rich Asians blazes onto the big screen next year, starring Henry Golding and Constance Wu. EW Correspondent Shirley Li goes behind the scenes of the ridiculously glam romance that’s about to sweep the Far East—and the Near West—off its feet.

This cinematic love story focuses on Rachel, an American-born Chinese, who has difficulty understanding the customs Nick’s family has followed for generations. “This is about a girl going somewhere that’s foreign to her, to really find out who she is,” explains Wu, who plays Rachel. “It’s just such a beautiful story, to show an Asian-American immigrant going back to Asia and finding the things that overlap and connect us all, things like family, things like love.”

Few Hollywood films have featured exclusively Asian principal casts since The Joy Luck Club pulled it off more than two decades ago. As the director behind the first one in many years, Jon M. Chu feels the importance of delivering a hit, “There’s the feeling that if you don’t make a great movie, then all of this is for nothing.” This is not Crazy Rich Asians Who Will Solve All of Hollywood’s Representation Problems, though. Chu says, “We needmany stories. We need another rom-com that’s totally different from Crazy Rich Asians. There just needs to be more.” Chu scrutinized audition tape after audition tape to ensure an exclusively Asian cast, combing nearly a thousand submissions resulting in a giant spreadsheet that looked something like an Asian IMDB. “I think we now have the deepest database of Asian actors that speak English in the world. It was worth it. The best thing we ever did on this movie was cast this cast.”

And while campaigns against the industry’s habit of “whitewashing”—i.e., casting white actors in ethnically Asian roles—have grown in recent years, the practice itself hasn’t ended. During one early meeting with one potential producer who wanted to adapt the novel, Kwan says he was even asked to reimagine his protagonist as a white woman. “I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely,’ ” he recalls. “I said, ‘No, thank you.’ ”

Crazy Rich Asians comes to theaters August 17, 2018.

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At the beauty salon, Dominican-American women conflicted over quest for straight hair

File 20170905 13783 vgjfdt.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A Dominican immigrant cuts the hair of a customer at her New York City salon.
Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Melissa Godin, New York University

When Chabelly Pacheco – a Dominican-American who moved to Long Island when she was five years old – walks into her favorite Dominican salon on Brooklyn’s Graham Avenue, it’s more like entering a home than a business.

The salon is filled with smoke, hair spray and women of all ages. Everyone in the room greets her: The hairdressers kiss her on both cheeks, while the other customers say hello. Daughters sit alongside their mothers with curlers in their hair, feet dangling from their chairs.

For first-generation Dominican women like Pacheco, these salons can serve as a place to bond with fellow Dominicans.

“I don’t really feel connected to my culture,” said Yoeli Collado, a friend of Pacheco’s who moved to Long Island from the Dominican Republic when she was three years old. “When I speak Spanish, I feel powerful… But other than that I don’t have much I can connect to. So going to a Dominican salon is part of my culture. For me, it’s one of the only ways I can identify.”

Other diasporas have a wide range of cultural public spaces. There are Chinese community centers and Indian music venues, Russian tea rooms and Ghanaian restaurants.

For Dominicans, the salon plays an outsized cultural role.

Fascinated by these spaces – and as a scholar studying women’s issues – I wanted to see how salons and Dominican beauty regimens influence female Dominican-American identity.

I found that although Dominican-American women I interviewed spoke warmly of the salons they frequent, Dominican hair culture is far from glamorous. In many ways, it’s a pricey, burdensome ritual steeped in a colonial beauty standards – a contradiction that young Dominican women are grappling with today.

‘The hair carries the woman’

As in many cultures, Dominican female beauty standards can be burdensome. Though most Dominicans tend to have curly, textured hair, the culture favors long, straight hair. Curly, frizzy or kinky hair is called “pelo malo,” which translates to “bad hair,” and many women feel pressured to treat it.

“I hear my mom say it all the time,” Pacheco said. “‘The hair carries the woman’ – that’s the mantra in my family. If your hair is fine, you’re fine.”

Despite the lively atmosphere of the salon, it’s not all fun. It can be costly, painful and time-consuming.

Sociologist Ginetta Candelario has found that Dominican women visit salons far more frequently than any other female population in the U.S., spending up to 30 percent of their salaries on beauty regimens.

Many Dominican kids don’t have any say over how to style their hair; their parents force them to get it straightened. This was evident in Pacheco’s salon, where young girls tugged at the tight curlers in their hair, complaining that the dryers were burning their scalps.

“You’re taught from a young age that your hair has to be straight to be pretty, to get a job, to get a boyfriend, to be called pretty by your mother,” Pacheco told me.

It all stems from a strict hair culture in the Dominican Republic, where young women can actually be sent home from school or work if their hair isn’t worn in the “preferred way.” Women with untreated, natural hair can even be barred from some public and private spaces.

Though discrimination against curly hair isn’t as pronounced in New York, many Dominican-American women told me that they nevertheless feel the same sort of pressure.

No such thing as black

The Dominican tradition of straight hair has it roots in colonial rule under Spain; it eventually became a way to imitate the higher classes and to separate themselves from their Haitian neighbors, who once occupied their country and championed the négritude movement, which was started by black writers to defend and celebrate a black cultural identity.

Dominicans believe that Haitians are “black,” while Dominicans – even those who clearly descend from African heritage – fall into other nonblack categories.

The process of differentiation is referred to as “blanqueamiento,” which translates to “whitening,” and hair straightening is simply one of many ways Dominicans try to distinguish themselves from Haitians. In fact, even though the Dominican Republic ranks fifth in countries outside of Africa that have the largest black populations, many black Dominicans don’t consider themselves black.

“[Blackness] is a taboo in the DR,” Stephanie Lorenzo, a 25-year-old Dominican-American from the Bronx, explained. “You don’t want to be black.”

According to Yesilernis Peña, a researcher at the Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo who studies race in the Latin Caribbean, there are six established racial categories in the Dominican Republic, and they tend to correlate with one’s economic class: white, mixed race, olive, Indian, dark and black.

Meanwhile, a light-skinned elite has consolidated most of the political power, while many of the country’s black people – who make up the majority of the population – live in extreme poverty. So straightening one’s hair can be seen as an attempt to climb the social ladder – or at least imitate those with money and power.

“When people relax their hair or bleach it, they do it because they want to be closer to the people who hold the power,” Dominican salon owner Carolina Contreras told the magazine Remezcla in 2015.

‘But I like it straight’

Given the fraught history of hair, it’s clear that Dominican salons, with the beauty regimens they perpetuate, are complex, contradictory places.

Pacheco – who grew up in America and loves spending time at the salon – is aware that she’s also tacitly succumbing to beauty norms steeped in racism.

“Obviously it’s a construct, and it puts pressure on women and sometimes I feel conflicted about getting my hair straightened,” she said. “That deeply rooted colonial oppression is still there. But then I’m like, ‘I like it straight.’”

In sociologist Ginetta Candelario’s study “Hair-Race-ing: Dominican Beauty Culture and Identity Production,” she wonders if beauty can be a source of empowerment, even if it means using time and resources, while suppressing one’s “blackness.”

Through her extensive research in Dominican salons in New York, Candelario did find that women can, in fact, empower themselves through these beauty norms. By physically altering their appearance, they could get better jobs and use their beauty as “symbolic and economic capital.”

But she points out that in order for this beauty regimen to exist in the first place, it requires “ugliness to reside somewhere, and that somewhere is in other women, usually women defined as black.”

Reimagining beauty, reinventing space

In 2014, Carolina Contreras opened up Miss Rizos, a natural hair salon located in the colonial city center of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital.

The 29-year-old Dominican-American wanted her salon to champion “pajón love” (Afro love), and to reimagine what a Dominican salon and a Dominican beauty regimen might look like. The salon, which caters to Dominican-Americans, encourages women to wear their Afro-textured hair with pride.

It was at Contreras’s salon where Stephanie Lorenzo decided to do “the big chop” in 2015: She cut off her chemically altered hair, leaving her with a small Afro.

“Around the same time, I was becoming more in touch with my African roots as an American woman,” she said. “[Cutting my hair] was part of acknowledging that we are also black.”

Back in Brooklyn, Chabelly Pacheco’s hairdresser said that during her 30 years working in salons in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and New York, she’s noticed more women asking for natural hair treatments. In fact, many older Dominican women are now starting to change the way they see their own hair. Carolina Contreras’ mother told me that she decided to go natural to be closer to the way God imagined her.

Contreras, however, is quick to note that the natural hair movement isn’t meant to shame women who do choose to straighten their hair. Instead, it’s simply about making textured hair accepted, appreciated and celebrated.

The ConversationPerhaps by embracing all different kinds of hair, salons – which bring Dominican women closer to their culture and to each other – can also bring Dominican women closer to their natural selves.

Melissa Godin, Rhodes Scholar Studying Development, New York University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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42nd Annual American Indian Film Festival Will Run Nov. 3-11 in San Francisco

Native Americans continue to look forward despite the barriers they face, embracing medicine, language, the fortitude to be a distinct nation within a nation, and of course, our history and culture.
We celebrate the challenges our people have overcome, and the unity we feel as a people.

SAN FRANCISCO For thousands of years, Indigenous persons have inhabited North America, before there were borders between the United States and Canada. There are shared histories, reserves, treaties, boarding schools, assimilation, and current issues that they face in the modern world, no matter where they live in the continent. Battling social welfare issues, impoverished urban conditions, homelessness, mineral exploration and exploitation, media apathy, missing and exploited women, and more, the Native people continue to face an unprecedented number of challenges. It is the relationship between tribes in the United States and Canada that thrives. Native Americans continue to look forward despite the barriers they face, embracing medicine, language, the fortitude to be a distinct nation within a nation, and of course, our history and culture. That is what the American Indian Film Festival celebrates every year. We celebrate the challenges our people have overcome, and the unity we feel as a people. And we will continue to do this at the 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco from Nov. 3-11, 2017.

The public is invited to enjoy film screenings, appearances by filmmakers, actors and directors, Q&A sessions, and memorable entertainment during the nine-day event, capped by the American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show.

“AIFI is proud to launch its 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival. This assembly of new film works of the USA American Indian and Canada First Nations is presented to foster public truth and understanding to the social and economic culture and ways of life of contemporary Indian peoples. Despite a history of genocide and exploitation of our nation’s people and land base, we have persevered… We have maintained and rebuilt our nation’s infrastructure, spirit, culture and language. This is our truth, and we look forward to sharing it with our audiences in the coming days,” said AIFI founder and president, Michael Smith (Sioux). “Film is an important tool that we can use to educate and entertain our audiences, and this is the best of Native cinema in the world.”

The festival will be held at the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco (2781 24th Street). The full program can be found online at http://www.aifisf.com/film-schedule-2017. Tickets can also be purchased on the website, with an intricate look at the captivating and emotional films that will be featured. The awards ceremony will be held on the evening of Nov. 11.

The festival kicks off on Nov. 4 with the film The Road Forward, a musical documentary by Marie Clements, which connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history, the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s, with the powerful momentum of First Nations activism today. The Road Forward‘s stunningly shot musical sequences, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians, seamlessly connect past and present with soaring vocals, blues, rock, and traditional beats. A rousing tribute to the fighters for First Nations rights, a soul-resounding historical experience, and a visceral call to action. The show begins at 7 p.m.

American Indian Film Institute/Facebook

Other notable moments of AIFF 42 include: Dynamic Women’s Series on Sunday, Nov. 5 from 12-10 p.m., featuring six powerful documentaries displaying the Native American women’s fight for justice.

Nov. 7: Bainbridge’s documentary feature, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a 103-minute feature film, which dives into Native American influences on music history.

Nov. 9: Wind RiverTaylor Sheridan’s 111-minute feature. The film follows a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who teams up with a local game tracker with deep community ties and a haunted past (Jeremy Renner) to investigate the murder of a local girl on a remote Native American reservation in the hopes of solving her mysterious death. The film also stars Gil BirminghamGraham GreeneJon BernthalJulia Jones, and Kelsey Asbille.

November 10Directed by Jeremy Torrie and starring Adam BeachEmma Tremblay, and Roseanne Supernault, the film Juliana & The Medicine Fish tells the story of 12-year-old Juliana. The 110-minute feature film looks into a complicated relationship between a father and a daughter, and the power of believing in oneself.

The festival’s formidable artwork was done by Crow Indian artist Del Curfman. The poster “Standing for Justice” is an inspiring piece of art, and perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the festival.

The 42nd annual American Indian Film Festival® is sponsored by: San Francisco Grants for the Arts, The Hewlett Foundation, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Chickasaw Nation, Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, The George Lucas Family Foundation, and CBS.

The American Indian Film Festival® is open to the general public-at-large and invites all communities to celebrate November American Indian Heritage Month.

Advance tickets for the film festival and awards show are available through aifisf.com.

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