I remember when people were up in arms about the fact that Black Lightning wasn’t going to be a part of the Berlanti-verse alongside The Flash and Arrow. Even though I don’t watch either of those shows, the news did sound like CW was making a negative “Whites Only” distinction between the Berlanti-verse and Black Lightning. However, after watching the Black Lightning premiere, I’m actually quite glad that Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) has his own universe to play in. With the salient themes the show wants to get across, it needs a specific, concentrated point of view, and getting bogged down in the more comic booky setup established by The Flash and Arrow would, in my opinion, get in the way.
The show, brought to us by Maria Brock-Akil and Salim Akil, has a pointed message: too often, black pain is ignored or stuffed down, either to keep the peace or just so to stay alive. But at some point, enough is enough, and black pain turns into black power. In this case, that power is taken from subtext to text, with Jefferson revisiting his ability to generate and control lightning.
Jefferson’s pain isn’t just hinted at; it’s shown to us in stark moments, like the opening sequence which shows Jefferson as a well-regarded principal in his town and a few minutes later, he’s the victim of a racist police pullover. The pain is both external and internal, when his oldest daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams) argues with him about his style of protesting–which could be critiqued as playing to respectability politics–versus her style of protesting, which is much more in line with today’s Black Lives Matter movement and other grassroots movements.
— Black Lightning (@blacklightning) January 17, 2018
This particular argument is something I feel will come up in the show over and over again, as it’s an argument that is happening in the real world all the time. It’s a discussion I often argue with myself over–technically I’m a “millennial,” but I’m of the older set; I’m much closer to Generation X than I am millennials, and on top of that, I’m someone who has always felt older than her age. I understand why Jefferson is more concerned with what looks like “keeping the peace” and focusing more on education and, to be blunt, status. For Jefferson, the way out of the existential predicament African Americans are in is through higher learning, and for many of us, including me, that’s what we were taught. I feel like I’m of the last generation when The United Negro College Fund was prominently on TV, drilling the catchphrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” in our heads. We were literally taught that the only path forward for us, the only path towards being treated with humanity and dignity, was through attending college, attaining that quintessential “good job with a 401K,” and getting that house in the suburbs.
However, there’s the other side of me that knows that protests are the only way we’ve been able to attain even that level of privileged thinking. The blood sacrificed for us to even establish a college fund means something, and to honor that, we have to continue putting ourselves on the front lines in whatever way we can. We have to fight for ourselves and our humanity, otherwise, the rights we have will be taken away from us. The Black Lives Matter movement and other movements like it are essential to the ongoing conversation our nation has had about race, privilege, power, and humanity.
But, as Jefferson pointedly said to Anissa, many young activists forget that the same older people they deride for playing “respectability politics” were fighting the good fight longer than they’ve been alive. The disconnect between the generations sometimes results in unnecessary animosity, with both sides not wanting to come together in the middle and recognize the similarities. The Black Lives Matter Movement, Movement for Black Lives, Dream Defenders, and others are just the ideological grandchildren of SNCC, CORE, the NAACP, the Black Panther Party, and others. Recognizing the history shared and coming together to develop solutions for going forward should be part of today’s activist movement instead of the isolation and chiding I’ve seen among some younger activists and some of the older generation.
It’s this combustible combination of a society gone rampant with fear and police brutality coupled with activism in the social media age that have put Jefferson between a rock and a hard place. At his core, he is an activist. A vigilante, even–Black Lightning is the scourge of the police, but beloved by many in his city. But as a father and a man who wants to reconcile with his wife Lynn (Christine Adams) after his do-gooding split them apart, Jefferson just wants to be able to work, come home, and have his family safe in America. He’s a hero who doesn’t want to be a hero, but is often called to be one. I think that’s one of the more interesting things about Jefferson as a character. It’s similar to how Marvel’s Luke Cage didn’t want to be a hero, but was called to be because the community needed him.
This calling is often the hallmark of black superheroes in both Marvel and DC Comics. Whereas some white or white-passing superheroes like Superman can think of heroism as a luxury, black superheroes arise because no one else will help them. A superhero has to be borne out of necessity. There was an episode of Superman: The Animated Series that shows the origins of Steel; in many ways, his story is the same; Superman wasn’t holding things down in Steel’s neck of the woods, and he had to rise up and take care of the crime in his community. What’s odd is that I don’t remember Superman ever getting called out on his oversight.
Overall, I feel Black Lightning is setting up to be, like Luke Cage was when it premiered in 2016, the superhero we need for these complicated and excruciating times. Black Lighting, like its Marvel counterpart, shows how these “feats of daring-do” can speak to our current fears and hopes. These characters might be fictional, but the carry a very real weight. They can also, when put in the right hands, carry messages to help us learn and grow and, hopefully, become better, more compassionate human beings towards each other.
A key moment of this is when we see how Anissa is affected by almost every black male villain in this episode calling her a bitch or pulling a gun out on her. Black men take a lot of abuse, no doubt, but black women take a very different and very specific kind of abuse, one that’s leveled by men outside and within the race. This type of abuse leveled against black women by black men can be intellectualized and understood–as shown on the last season of Underground, abuse within the black family can be traced back to slavery, when some black men would take out their aggression for their white slavemasters onto their black wives, who had no recourse for help or understanding outside of their home or in the nation at large. It’s shown in The Color Purple, in which Whoopi Goldberg’s character Celie is a constant victim and Oprah Winfrey’s character Sofia talks about the sexual and physical abuse she’s faced from every man in her life, including her own husband. But that doesn’t make the lasting effects of it in today’s society any less painful. After being jerked around, called ou of her name, kidnapped, almost forced into prostitution, and nearly killed, Anissa has had enough. Now, like her father, her own powers bubble up from black pain and become transmuted into strength.
— Black Lightning (@blacklightning) January 17, 2018
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on CW.
Each week, Monique will sound off on the current episode of Star Trek: Discovery. For more, read Monique’s Star Trek: Discovery recaps at SlashFilm. These mini-rants will contain SPOILERS–You’re warned.
I think this week’s episode, “The Wolf Inside,” goes up there as one of the best-written episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery. There was so much packed into this episode, from the continuation of the Stamets-Culber relationship, to the introduction of some bada$$ Andorians and Tellarites, to Jason Isaacs losing his American accent through parts of his Lorca lines (which was amusing if you caught it, because it was hard to tell if he was legit forgetting to sound American or still trying to use Lorca’s fake Scottish–“Scotty”, if you will–accent from before). Of course, with a title like “The Wolf Inside,” Tyler was the central character. Well, Tyler and Voq. And of course, where Tyler’s concerned, Michael’s not far behind.
So what do I have to say about this episode when it comes to Michael and Tyler’s relationship? Simply that I’m intrigued by everything that’s happened. I feel like it sounds clinical for me to say “intrigued” when Michael was nearly killed by Tyler-turned-Voq and Michael then did turnabout and nearly killed Tyler!Voq by sending him out into space, just so Discovery Prime could beam him aboard for detention (and to acquire the crucial files Michael hid in Tyler’s pocket). But from a writer’s perspective and from a fan of exciting television, I am highly invested to see where this goes. I also feel like regardless of what happens between Michael and Tyler, I won’t be let down.
I’m sure some are reading this trying to figure out how I can say this, when I’m one of the main people saying black women should have prominent love lives on television without the risk of something detrimental happening. If we go by the bare bones of what’s happening–Michael’s relationship is now put in jeopardy, with all signs pointing to a sacrifice of some sort needing to be made–then it looks like we’re getting the same script, different cast. But honestly, I feel like there’s so much more that’s happening here, and the fact that the writers are pushing each character beyond archetypal boundaries makes this story highly fascinating.
Let me break down exactly what I’m talking about:
This romance is less about Michael’s development and more about Tyler’s
It only occurred to me in this episode that the importance of Michael and Tyler’s relationship doesn’t rely on how this romance affects Michael. This romance is all about how it informs Tyler and forces him to mature.
As I wrote in my SlashFilm recap this week, Tyler is a man whose life is informed by those around him, particularly by women.
“…[W]hile Michael is a tether for Tyler, L’Rell is a tether for Voq. As we know, Voq only started waking up after he was in L’Rell’s presence. What’s interesting is that both Tyler and Voq are both the passive parties in their relationships. I’m not saying either one is less “manly,” as it were; in fact, I find it more endearing that they have the capacity to defer to the women in their lives for guidance. But I will say this: whoever Tyler is at the moment, he’ll have to choose who he wants to be in the future. One future has L’Rell and Klingon domination, the other has Michael and a peaceful Federation of Planets. L’Rell and Michael can’t make this decision for him — he’s going to have to choose.”
This is not to say that there’s something wrong with a man who relies on or defers to women as counsel. On the contrary–a man who can recognize the importance of women has more going for him positively than not. As an uncommon point of comparison, look at how Black Panther‘s T’Challa seems both supported and emboldened by the women in his life. Just looking at the trailers, you can see how T’Challa is empowered by the women in his life.
On the flip side, though Tyler seems unhealthily dependent on those he views are stronger than him to define how he should live and what he should do. It just so happens that many of the people he views as being stronger than him are women. Again, seeing a male character recognize the importance of women is cool and very much-needed in these #MeToo times. But Tyler and Voq also manage to subvert their relationships with women; instead of gaining empowerment from them, they wrongly cast them as personal caretakers; L’Rell and Michael don’t just provide Voq and Tyler with love and support; oftentimes they have to do the emotional and tactical heavy lifting.
To be clear, my point of view doesn’t include how Tyler handles his PTSD; Tyler and Voq’s habit of leeching onto stronger counterparts can be seen in earlier episodes. Looking back on Voq’s interactions with L’Rell, L’Rell would always take charge of Voq’s plans, instructing him on how to get his goals achieved. Voq came to rely on L’Rell not just as a right hand and not just even as a significant other, but as a conduit for his own feelings of independence. Without L’Rell, he’s just a Klingon riddled with self-doubt. To some extent, Voq even latched onto T’Kuvma, and in a way, he’s still takes from T’Kuvma in terms of developing an outward, acceptable identity.
Tyler has done the same thing with Michael. Whereas Michael needed him to tell her the truth about his mental situation, he lied. Instead, he continued his pattern of dependence, mining her for her strength and confidence, just like how Voq did with L’Rell. During the times we see the intimate moments between Michael and Tyler, the emotional interplay exists on two different levels. For Michael, she’s viewing the relationship as a mutually supportive one. On the whole, Tyler views their relationship like this, too. But what Tyler isn’t cognizant of is that he’s also running on a different wavelength than Michael. It’s more evident the more Tyler becomes mentally unstable, but it’s becoming clearer that Tyler doesn’t just rely on Michael as, in his words, a “tether.” He also relies on her to do his emotional dirty work for him. He wants her to determine who he should be. Even in regular, real life relationships, that’s too much for one person to handle.
There is a term for someone who sucks up someone else’s emotional energy: psychic vampire. I don’t think Tyler or even Voq latch onto others in their circle maliciously. Yeah, I know Voq is an actual villain, but when it comes to how he engages in relationships, I don’t think he realizes he leeches onto people.
In real life, most psychic vampires don’t realize they do it. More than likely, most of us have been a psychic vampire at some point in time. It’s surprisingly not that hard. But from my own experience, I’ve found that what drives people (including myself at one point) to psychic vampirism is severe self-doubt and low-to-no self-confidence. That lack of confidence can come from a myriad of things, but what can get people out of that vampiric mindset is to 1) become aware of what they do and who they latch onto when they feel self-doubt, anger and/or fear and how they might selfishly twist relationships to meet their ends and 2) develop new habits that foster more self-confidence and less self-doubt.
Both Tyler and Voq are people who have no self-confidence. They’re people who rely on others to fill the holes where their self-confidence and self-reliance should be. Voq was struggling before because of his state as an outcast within Klingon society, but now, after his transformation and his alter-ego’s PTSD and sexual trauma, Voq/Tyler’s mind is more confused than ever before. But somehow, Tyler has to figure out how to come out of this a whole person. This test that Tyler is now under is one that will not only decide the fate of the Federation, but is also one that will call on Tyler to find that confident place within himself to make his own choices. No one else can save Tyler from this but himself–it’s going to come down to him forcing himself to be defiant in the direction he wants his life to go. He has to realize that his life relies solely on what he wants for himself, not what L’Rell or Michael want for him.
Tyler’s arc is tailor-made for today
With all of that said, I want to make it exceptionally clear that I don’t think Tyler is “weak” or somehow less of a man, especially where women are concerned. Tyler subverts the kind of Captain Kirk bravado we’re accustomed to, and his passivity is something we rarely see in male characters on screen. I do think, though, that he inadvertently misuses the women in his life, and his fallacies make Tyler’s arc extremely important in this #MeToo time, in which we’re all rethinking how we view masculinity, femininity, and the interactions between the two. If we take Voq out of this, Tyler is, for me, the kind of leading man we should see more often. It would do us some good to see a leading man who isn’t always guns blazing, but is one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, and even the very human fear of weakness. At the same time, we also see a man who doesn’t realize that he doesn’t do the greatest job of taking care of he women in his life emotionally. All of this culminates into a layered story of personal growth.
As Shazad Latif told SyFy’s Swapna Krishna:
“Me and Sonequa, we always wanted to push it. Because you meet Tyler and he’s this guy who’s going through this trauma and we’ve seen that story many times. It’s amazing to explore, but we wanted to see him … With him and Michael Burnham, she’s always very strong. She’s the strong one and she’s the one looking after him, and he’s weak around her and he’s vulnerable around her, in the bedroom, in the hallway.
I wanted to make sure that that was clear because, to show a man’s vulnerability and weakness and show that you can still be a man and vice versa, that Sonequa is a very strong female character — it was very important to us in the scenes that we played that and we showed that. It’s nice to play the inner turmoil and suffering and weakness of the man as well, rather than being this classic sort of rogue action hero. There’s more to it than that.
Because when you first see him, he is playing that, we’re playing that sort of archetype. He’s this guy coming from the ship, he’s getting his job and ‘Aha! He’s a classic American hero,’ but really he’s crumbling, and it’s very beautiful to watch.”
I think Tyler’s current problem of fighting the Klingon within is highly salient to our current discussions about what manhood means and what it should look like. Like Tyler, each man is going to have to figure out what type of man they want to be. They can’t rely on others to convince them to be one way or the other; they’ll have to search within themselves and assess their values and then live by them.
That’s basically all Tyler is doing, but in a much more cosmic way–he’s never had to think about what truly matters to him until now. When he was Klingon, he wanted power to force his kind to bow to him. He wanted to rule the entire universe all so he could be accepted by others. All the while, he’s never accepted himself. Meanwhile, Tyler wants to be human and live by the Federation for Michael–it’s not clear if he, at this point in time, cares about the Federation for any other reason. Seeing Tyler’s journey towards self-acceptance, clarity, and peace is going to be turbulent, for sure, but I also feel it’s going to be highly rewarding.
Michael always rises up above trope
As I’ve written last week, I’ve had some misgivings about where the series is headed after Culber’s death. But after seeing the continuation of the Culber-Stamets storyline, plus Wilson Cruz’s own promise that we haven’t seen the last of their love story, has put me tentatively at ease. Interestingly enough, how the writers are handling Michael’s characterization has also put me at ease with where the series is headed, since I now feel that all of the characters, especially Michael, will get deserving ends to their arcs.
Yes, Michael could be at risk for having a relationship go down the tubes. But at this point, it’s way more fruitful to talk about how the characters are organically evolving rather than keep a tally. As I wrote in my Season 2 finale recap of Into the Badlands for Black Girl Nerds, I discuss how Veil’s death doesn’t preclude that black women can’t die in their shows; what matters is how their characters have organically arrived at such a devastating conclusion. If it isn’t earned, then that’s when the characters fall into trope.
“Let’s take out the racial component for a second because the devil’s advocate rebuttal to Veil’s death would be that Black women characters have just as much of a chance to die as white women characters do. In a democratically-written show, this is very true. However, if we take out the racial component, we’re still left with another woman who had to die for there to be “emotional depth.” Couldn’t there have been emotional depth built with her still living? I understand that the writing team probably wanted this season to be one where Sunny comes face to face with the types of horrors his life of clipping can bring, but there could have been other ways for him to deal with those demons other than Veil dying, right?
…The fridging of Veil reiterates how much of a misstep this is for a show that has been praised for its commitment to telling stories a different way. Throughout two seasons, there hadn’t been an egregious fridging of any woman. If anything, we’ve seen the fridging of a man—Ryder—at the expense of Jade’s emotional growth, a remarkable gender role reversal. But Veil is the first woman to receive this extensive treatment, all to further Sunny’s hero’s journey as well as the building anticipation of reaching Azra. And again, she’s also a woman of color, whereas all of the other women who have been able to survive are white (or, in the case of Baroness Chau, Asian). If we’re going to fridge women, did the only fridged woman have to also be a woman of color? Let’s be equal in our annihilation of female characterization, at the very least.”
The same can be said for black women who end up alone on screen. It all comes down to how they’ve organically arrived to that new chapter in their lives, regardless of any racial or social politics that surround the character. If this were just a case of Voq waking up and saying, “I’m bouncing for L’Rell, bye,” and there was no more exploration of anything, that’d be one thing. But it’s another when 1) Tyler/Voq is in a state of mental and physical duress–he’s a man trapped inside another’s body, and the minds of both Tyler and Voq are at war, with Tyler feeling the effects of PTSD and sexual trauma and 2) both sides of Tyler and Voq love two different people. While Voq relies on L’Rell as his reminder of his Klingon self, Tyler relies on Michael to keep him human. There’s a lot going on here, and the complexities of it save the entire exercise from stereotype.
Overall, I feel like Star Trek: Discovery just might have one of the most explosive episodes ever, and I’m not just talking about space battles. I’ll admit that dramatic changes, such as Culber’s death last week, are scary. They can make viewers and critics like me doubt a show’s direction. Some of that doubt is earned–too often, we’ve seen when big gambles don’t pay off. But it seems like with Discovery, the gambles just might do more than merely “pay off”–they might propel the show towards even greater heights. We’ll have to see how true this prediction is once the season is over.
(Photo credit: Disney, who needs to treat my boy Aladdin right.)
For the amount of times Disney’s live-action Aladdin has been in the news for the right (and hot) reasons, there’s just as many times the company has put its film in the limelight for highly controversial reasons. It seems like Disney still hasn’t gotten enough of being controversial with this film; they managed to find a way to inject brownface into the proceedings
According to Deadline, The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times both reported that the film had been tanning up white actors needed for background roles, stunt positions, “camel handlers” and dancers during filming at Longcross Studios near London. The Times went further by quoting Kaushal Odedra, an extra hired for filming, who said he saw at least 20 “very fair skinned” actors waiting in line at make-up tents “waiting to have their skin darkened.”
“Disney are sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can be powered on and washed off,” he told the newspaper (beware: you need an account to read the rest of the article on the Times’ website).
Disney has since put out a statement via a spokesperson that doesn’t help matters. If anything, it makes things worse.
“Great care was taken to put together one of the largest most diverse casts ever seen on screen. Diversity of our cast and background performers was a requirement and only in a handful of instances when it was a matter of specialty skills, safety and control (special effects rigs, stunt performers and handling of animals) were crew made up to blend in.”
On the one hand, it’s bold for the company to not deny the fact that brownface was used. The fact that they didn’t shy away from it isn’t why I hate this statement. I hate the statement because it acts like brownface was a necessary evil for this movie, when in fact brownface can be avoided at all costs all the time.
If Agrabah is being positioned as a multicultural place—according to Deadline, a reported 400 of 500 of the background actors and performers are Middle Eastern, Indian, African, Asian and Mediterranean, then why can’t the white dancers, animal handlers, stunt people, etc., just be left as they are? Why was it necessary that they “blend in” if there’s already a white person cast as part of the main cast of the movie? In 2017, Billy Magnussen was cast in a brand-new role made exclusively for this film. So why the need for brownface? Color me confused.
Disney, can you please just make this film without any further complications and scandals? I just want Aladdin and Jasmine, two of my favorite Disney prince and princess combos, to be presented right and with some dignity. Please. Thanks.
(Photo credit: laskinsfest.com)
Native American TV writers—take heed of this post! You could be a part of this year’s Native American TV Writers Lab!
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the third annual writers lab, presented by LA Skins Fest, is currently accepting applications through the first week and a half of March.
The five-week workshop, modeled after the workshop created by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, is sponsored by CBS Entertainment Diversity, Netflix, HBO, and Comcast NBCUniversal.
Only six to seven writers will be chosen for the workshop, which will take place between mid-May to late June in Los Angeles. The chosen writers will be able to learn from writers in the business through group workshops, panels, and one-on-one meetings. At the end of the workshop, the writers are expected to have at least a 30-minute comedy or one-hour drama script ready for network executives to read. And by “network executives,” that means the biggest of the big wigs; past iterations of the program have featured executives from Lionsgate, ABC, NBCUniversal, CBS, Bad Robot Productions, Echolake Entertainment, Amazon Studios, Fox, and others.
Here’s more about the workshop from the official website:
The NATIVE AMERICAN TV WRITERS LAB was created in accordance with the LA Skins Fest’s mission to improve media portrayals of Native Americans and to increase the number of Native Americans employed in all facets of the media industry.
The NATIVE AMERICAN TV WRITERS LAB is designed to familiarize participants with the format, characters and storyline structure of television. The five week, total immersion workshop will be mentored and guided by an experienced writer with industry credits. The lab will be conducted in Los Angeles, CA with a maximum of 7 writers accepted.
The five-week lab will consist of group discussions, one on one meetings and workshops. One of the main components to be introduced is the writers room. This is an opportunity to have each participant’s script offered up in a professional capacity as a new television script. All of the writers will participate in offering ideas, suggestions, and thoughts on making each script a strong piece. The goal is that the writers garner the skills necessary to obtain employment in the industry.
The regular deadline for applications is March 2, the late deadline is March 9. Dust off your spec scripts and send your stuff in as soon as possible to laskinsfest.com, where you can find more instructions and information. Good luck to all who enter!
There’s a plethora of international shows to keep an eye on in 2018, but after reading Deadline Hollywood’s roundup of international TV premieres, two that I hope I’ll have the chance of watching involve women cracking cases and being awesome.
Miss Sherlock (HBO Asia/Hulu Japan)
This Japanese interpretation of the classic Sherlock Holmes character and stories gets a genderbent twist with two women playing Sherlock and Watson. Yugo Takeguchi takes on the title character, while Shihori Kanjiya plays Dr. Wato Tachibana, this universe’s Watson.
The series seems to be heavily influenced by the BBC’s Sherlock, even down to certain parts of Sherlock’s flat and Benedict Cumberbatch’s flair for entering crime scenes. However, don’t think I’m shading this version at all; in fact, I think Miss Sherlock could give us what a lot of us BBC Sherlock fans were hoping for, which is direct confirmation of (and confrontation with) the homoromantic/homoerotic themes between Sherlock and Watson’s relationship. Judging from the trailer, it seems like same-sex attraction is a big part of this series. But I write this with my fingers crossed all the while; if you’re used to the media’s bait-and-switch when it come to LGBT representation, then I’d suggest just girding your loins and watching this with hope and skepticism. But the trailer does seem to promise a lot that would definitely make fans happy.
Hopefully the style is all Miss Sherlock will take from Sherlock; I don’t need a repeat of the awful plot with Sherlock’s sister.
Miss Sherlock’s first eight-episode season will debut this April on HBO in almost 20 markets in the region on HBO’s streaming platforms. Perhaps HBO and Hulu will also provide a way for its American subscribers to watch the drama at a later date.
Justice: Qalb Al Adala (Image Nation Abu Dhabi/Beelink Productions/IM Global Television/OSN)
This Middle Eastern drama will hopefully give a new take on how we Americans view the Middle East and its cultural and political diversity. The drama, filmed in Abu Dhabi, stars Fatima Al Taei as Farah, a lawyer who has graduated from a U.S. university and has returned home to succeed on her own, despite her father being one of the most prestigious lawyers in the United Arab Emirates.
The show was created by William Finklestein of L.A. Law and NYPD Blue as well as He Named Me Malala producer Walter Parkes. Similar to Law and Order, Justice: Qalb Al Adala has cases based on real cases from the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. Hearing more about real legal cases something that excites me about this show, aside from learning more about the region in general. No word on if this show will make it to U.S. markets or on what network/streaming service it will be shown on.
More international shows are profiled in the Deadline article; which shows are you excited about viewing? Which shows do you hope make it to America? Give your opinions in the comments section below!