Search Results for: Rami Malek

The Academy’s 2017 Class is a Much-Needed Step in the Right Direction

The Academy has taken a huge step forward with rectifying their “white old man” look by adding a new freshman class of 774 actors and directors, including Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones, Jordan Peele, Nazanin Boniadi, Grace Lee (whom I’ve interviewed before), Zoë Kravitz, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Betty White (why hadn’t she been added yet???), B.D. Wong, Donnie Yen, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed and Dwayne Johnson.

(For the full list of new members from all branches, visit Oscars.org.)

According to the Oscars’ stats, the new members hail from 57 countries and are 39 percent female, with seven of the branches inviting more women than men. Thirty percent of the new members are also people of color.

This is a vast improvement for the Academy, especially taking in where the organization was about a year and a half ago, with threatened boycotts and outrage over the lack of minority-led Oscar nominated films. Fans had utilized April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to voice their anger, and the Academy has taken meaningful steps to respond, first by adding more members from various backgrounds last year, and now this new batch of members this year.

Of course, even though these numbers are huge steps in the right direction, there are some gaps that need to be filled. Such as there aren’t many listed who are also disabled. I say “many” because there could be people with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness, that are listed. As of my review, I only see one actor with a physical disability, Warwick Davis. The focus for the Academy right now is purely on gender and race demographics, but it’d be great to see the organization focus on disability demographics as well, since it might spur the organization to recognize films that feature actual disabled actors.

Also, there aren’t any Native actors listed and there’s very little Latinx and LGBT representation as well. Bigger gains could be made on these fronts. But on the whole, this fleshed-out Academy voting board will benefit both the Academy itself and movie goers, despite the opinion of one Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter.

Usually, I refrain from jumping on fellow movie critics and analysts, since oftentimes, we are getting paid for our opinion, and an opinion is something that you can either agree with and support or disagree with and turn the other way. However, for Feinberg’s analysis about the new batch of voters, I have to make an exception for.

Feinberg’s initial point—that jamming the voting board with more actors might seem more like a vapid political move to avoid bad PR—is rather innocuous by itself. You can either take it or leave (and even as an innocuous point, I would leave it because of the positive impact any move, including ones that could be seen as vapid and political, could have on the poor state of representation in Hollywood today). But what gets more intolerable is how aggressive Feinberg becomes in discrediting the actors who got the invite.

I hate to single anyone out, but I don’t even think the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy. Let’s start with this year’s invitees to the acting branch, whose names are the most familiar to the general public. Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really? Some have made only one big-screen contribution of any note, such as Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot. And many are predominately known for their work on the small screen: The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Underground‘s Aldis Hodge, Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, The Golden Girls‘ Betty White and Mr. Robot‘s B.D. Wong (I have similar reservations about several white male invitees, as well, such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and ex-bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.)

…None of this is intended to insult the talent and/or doubt the future potential of any of these individuals, but rather to examine and question what the Academy is trying to do here. I believe that the Academy’s intentions are admirable, but that its tactics are foolhardy. The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry’s diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog. This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered.

Feinberg might write that he’s not trying to insult these newly-minted Academy members by rejecting their entire body of work as a reason to be invited into the Academy, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. First of all, he’s acting like none of the people he’s listed have ever been in movies–they all have film credits to their name along with television credits. I mean, how many Jurassic Park films does B.D. Wong have to be in to be recognized as an actor in a film franchise, not to mention the voice of Mulan’s (bisexual) partner, Shang? Before Mr. Robot, Rami Malek was a film actor, having been part of the Night at the Museum and Twilight franchises. Heck, he just finished a movie, Buster’s Mal Heart. Doesn’t Rogue One count as a good reason for Riz Ahmed to be a part of the Academy? Also, are you really going to go as far as s**t on someone as respected and beloved as Betty White?

The bottom line is you can’t be invited to the Academy unless you’ve been in the movies or work in the film industry in some way (along with some other qualifiers such as sponsorship, etc.). For Feinberg to say that because these actors in particular have made their mark in TV as well is needlessly splitting hairs. Secondly, why not add them to the Academy?? What’s the big deal? With as long as these folks have been in the game, and with as many hours as they’ve dedicated to their craft, they deserve to give their say on what they feel are the best films of the year. It’s not like they don’t know what makes a good story, and that’s all a film is–a story. It would seem the only problem is that the Academy has proven that they aren’t just inviting people for good PR; they’re inviting people to double down on the promise it made to its members and audiences alike–to create an organization that actually reflects the movie-going public.

Feinberg is poking a bear by singling out majority POC actors whilst adding parenthetically that he has some gripes with two white male members, as if that makes his poking okay (and tell me why Hamm and Ferrigno can’t sound off on films?). This is not the hill to die on, especially if your argument is created from something as baseless as “they’ve been on TV, therefore the films they’ve been in don’t count towards Academy membership.”

Feinberg does write in an earlier post about the new members that “there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list” and that many among the new members, particularly the new members of the directing branch, should have been invited long ago. However, he takes such a disturbing tone in his later analysis, with the excuse for it being the argument that adding more people of color to the Academy won’t stop racism from happening in Hollywood at large. But you can’t be both for and against more representation in Hollywood, unless you’re a champion at doublethink. Besides, arguing that the Academy can’t solve racism is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The gag is that everyone knows the Academy can’t solve industry racism by itself. The Academy, and its viewpoints up until the past year or so, is a product of a society that is still grappling with the realities of race, the sexual spectrum, mental illness, and how to deal with all of it in a respectful manner. There’s a lot more that has to happen inside of Hollywood to truly change the industry culture, sure. There’s also a lot that has to happen outside of Hollywood before it begins to trickle into Hollywood en masse. Like the Academy, Hollywood’s ills are only a product of America’s ills.

But that’s not to say the trickle isn’t already happening. We’ve seen more filmmakers bolstered by the many avenues now available to producing their visions, and we’ve seen more and more actors of color and marginalized communities speak out against terrible treatment in the industry. We’ve also seen the online community of movie fans—the audience members themselves—voice their frustration with the industry on social media, their message finding a place where it can be amplified and heard by The Powers That Be.

All of this led up to many watershed moments of representation in the past year, but none that inhabit the whole purpose of expanding the Academy more than Moonlight, an indie film showcasing a story about black gay men, winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Only two years ago, a film like that wouldn’t have made it to the nomination rounds. But, because of an Academy that had more minority members, Moonlight got the organization’s attention and became the Best Picture Winner, beating out a movie that couldn’t be more Status Quo if it tried, La La Land.

Also, the fact that more people from underrepresented communities will now have a chance to give other creators from underrepresented communities Oscar nods, it’ll give those creators the same clout and marketability their white counterparts have been enjoying for years. It’ll also give films featuring minority casts the same monetary and critical opportunities white films have never been without. In short, it’ll open up more possibilities in Hollywood for directors and actors, which will lead to more films being made, more awards given, and so on and so forth. The expansion of the Academy has the potential to have a snowball effect in Hollywood, and it can only be for the positive.

So, I, as a fellow entertainment analyst and critic myself, can’t abide the rhetoric that moves like these don’t change anything. It’s like telling the members of SNCC back in the ‘60s that their sit-ins at lunch counters wouldn’t amount to anything. Since we can now take for granted the concept of sitting at a booth in a restaurant, it would seem their sit-ins did make a world of difference. You can’t throw out progress just because it is slow and not immediately all-encompassing. That’s ridiculous.

I suggest for readers to take a look at Flavorwire’s article “THR Doesn’t Think All Those Women and POC ‘Merit’ Academy Inclusion'” by Jason Bailey, since he goes more in on Feinberg’s hitpiece-as-analysis way more than I did. But what Bailey writes at the end is particularly important:

It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter‘s loathsome annual tradition of ‘Anonymous Oscar ballots’). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.

To end this on a positive note, I’m excited that so many actors, many of whom should have been a part of the Academy in the first place, have now been added to this illustrious roster. I’m sure they’ll serve the organization well, and I can’t wait to see what films they nominate for 2018.

 

What the New Study on Ancient Egypt Says About Media Representation

Science and the fight for representation in the media has intertwined in a brand new study coming from Germany. The study focuses specifically on ancient Egypt. What the scientists have to say about their findings could give Hollywood food for thought, if they decide to dissect the scientists’ results.

What the DNA discovery actually is

As CNN reports, researchers from Germany’s University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena have finally been able to do what scientists invested in studying Egypt have been trying to do for years–learn more about the genetic history of ancient Egyptians, a people who have been fought over by the Western World. That fight has played out in our modern media, with white actors playing the parts of historical ancient Egyptian characters, most notably the sheer number of actresses who have played Cleopatra.

The scientists used 151 mummies from Abusir el-Meleq, Middle Egypt. “The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period,” states the study, which was published in Nature Communications. The scientists found that ancient Egyptians from that area were more closely related to “Neolithic Anatolian and European populations.” Modern Egyptians, however, have more of a a genetic relationship with sub-Saharan Africans.

The reason behind the genetic surprise isn’t much of a surprise when you take into account the historical context the ancient folks of Abusir el-Meleq lived in. According to the study, Abusir el-Meleq was inhabited from around 3250BCE to about 700CE and was an attractive burial site because of its active cult to the god of the dead, Osiris. The site was part of a wider region during the third century BCE, a region that included the northern part of the Harakleopolites province and the Fayum and Memphite provinces, the latter two of which Abusir el-Meleq had close relations with. The Fayum province saw a huge influx in its population, more than likely from Greek immigration. During the Roman Period, many Roman veterans, described by the study as being people who weren’t “initially at least…Egyptian but people from disparate cultural backgrounds,” settled in the Fayum province after their time with the Roman army was done. After settling, they became a part of the local society and intermarried among the locals. Immigrants also influenced culture in Abusir el-Meleq, where coffins featuring Greek, Latin, and Hebrew names and Greek art remain.

However, the rate of intermarriage in the Fayum and surrounding areas was localized because of the high population of Greek and Roman immigrants. Intermarraige also seemed to serve political and social gains, since Roman citizenship was at stake and while Egyptians were granted citizenship under Roman rule, no doubt one could gain more rights of a Roman citizen if they married up, as it were.

“Our genetic time transect suggests genetic continuity between the Pre-Ptolemaic, Ptolemaic and Roman populations of Abusir el-Meleq, indicating that foreign rule impacted the town’s population only to a very limited degree at a genetic level. It is possible that the genetic impact of Greek and Roman immigration was more pronounced in the north-western Delta and the Fayum, where most Greek and Roman settlement concentrated, or among the higher classes of Egyptian society,” states the study. “Under Ptolemaic and Roman rule, ethnic descent was crucial to belonging to an elite group and afforded a privileged position in society. Especially in the Roman Period there may have been significant legal and social incentives to marry within one’s ethnic group, as individuals with Roman citizenship had to marry other Roman citizens to pass on their citizenship. Such policies are likely to have affected the intermarriage of Romans and non-Romans to a degree.”

The amount of sub-Saharan ancestry in modern Egyptians possibly comes from greater trade between the two regions. That trade also includes transporting slaves.

“Possible causal factors include increased mobility down the Nile and increased long-distance commerce between sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt,” states the study. “Trans-Saharan slave trade may have been particularly important as it moved between 6 and 7 million sub-Saharan slaves to Northern Africa over a span of some 1,250 years, reaching its high point in the nineteenth century.”

Despite the genetic breakthrough of tracing the genetic lineage of Abusir el-Meleq, the scientists stress that this one study probably (and more than likely isn’t) indicative of the lineage of the entirety of ancient Egypt.

“It is possible that populations in the south of Egypt were more closely related to those of Nubia and had a higher sub-Saharan genetic component, in which case the argument for an influx of sub-Saharan ancestries after the Roman Period might only be partially valid and have to be nuanced,” the study states. “Throughout Pharonic history that was intense interaction between Egypt and Nubia, ranging from trade to conquest and colonialism, and there is compelling evidence for ethnic complexity within households with Egyptian men marrying Nubian women and vice versa.”

In closing, the scientists stress that more studies need to be made of the ancient peoples of southern Egypt and Sudan in order to give a much more complete (or near-complete) picture of the vastness of the Egyptian genetic story.

Portrait of a woman from the Fayum province with a ringlet hairstyle, an orange chiton with black bands and rod-shaped earrings. Royal Museum of Scotland. (Public Domain)

How this affects the always-raging argument about how to portray ancient Egyptians in film and television? Does that mean Gods of Egypt is actually accurate??

Reading the original CNN article on this post, I knew there would be people, scholars who believe in the “Egypt-is-Anglo-Saxon” model in particular, who would take this study to mean that they are right and everyone who believes in a much more POC model of Egypt are wrong. While the study shows that there are European ties to ancient Egypt, some of these ties are what we’ve already learned from the history books–indeed, the Romans and the Greeks did come to Egypt due to its geological location as well as for political reasons (i.e. the Ptolemaic Dynasty–a Greek ruling family with origins in Macedonia–and the Roman Period), and Cleopatra herself, as the last Ptolemaic ruler, is of Egyptian and Greek-Macedonian background.

What is semi-new is the direct connection to Anatolia, otherwise known as Asia Minor or the Near East. Today, much of Anatolia is known as Turkey. While it’s always made sense that ancient Egyptians would share genetic connections to the Middle East simply because of Egypt’s geological location to many of the countries in the Middle East, the direct connection to Turkey has never been known.

In regard to this new knowledge, what does that mean for Hollywood when it comes to casting actors for films about ancient Egypt? Regarding this information about the citizens of Abusir el-Meleq, it would still be incorrect for a director to lazily cast characters since, going by old and new genetic information, ancient Egyptians were never “white” in the Western sense. For example, Gods of Egypt, which included actors hailing from Denmark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Australia (Brenton Thwaites), Scotland (Gerard Butler), and France (Elodie Yung, who is of French and Cambodian descent), is still historically incorrect and, just on a base level, visually upsetting. Even Chadwick Boseman, who is part of the African Diaspora, more than likely doesn’t share any strong genetic ties to Egypt. Most of the actors who would at least, visually, present a better vision of ancient Egypt were actors or crew who either had bit parts or went uncredited–Josh Farah, Wassim Hawat, Julian Maroun, Ishak Issa, and Rhavin Banda, to be specific. Of course, having these guys might not make the film any more or less accurate either, since this casting would be based solely on skin color and not on historical accuracy.

Hollywood actors who would have been perfectly suited for these roles would have been actors who are of Egyptian or Turkish background, such as Numan Acar (Homeland, of German and Turkish heritage), Deniz Akdeniz (I, Frankenstein, Once Upon a Time), Osman Soykut, also known as Ozman Sirgood (The Hot Chick, Alias, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, of Eastern European and Turkish heritage), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Night at the Museum series, of Egyptian heritage), Amr Waked (Lucy, Egyptian heritage), Khaled Nabawy (Kingdom of Heaven, Egyptian heritage), Sammy Sheik (American Sniper, Egyptian heritage), Ahmed Ahmed (Iron Man, Egyptian heritage), Kal Naga (Tyrant, Egyptian heritage) and plenty of other undiscovered Turkish and Egyptian actors in America looking to make their mark in Hollywood, as well as established Turkish and Egyptian actors who are looking to break into the American market. Ditto this list for a more accurate portrayal of biblical characters in Exodus: Gods and Kings.

However, that’s also not to say that the European ancestry of some ancient Egyptians shouldn’t be expressed in films. This needs to be done with care, since too often, the casting practice for Hollywood is, as we’ve seen with Gods of Egypt, to whitewash with abandon. Some of the actors I mentioned are biracial, which goes right into the picture that the study itself painted about the ancient Egyptians of Abusir el-Meleq. Overall, casting history should be done with care, not with Hollywood stereotyping and tropes.

Portrait of a man with sword belt from the Fayum province with British Museum. (Public Domain)

The Takeaways

If there’s been any production that made an effort to be at least visually appealing in regards to showcasing ancient Egypt is Spike’s TUT, which starred Avan Jogia and a mostly brown and black cast in an attempt to show how ancient Egypt and neighboring regimes in Sudan actually interacted with each other. Sure, it’s not historically accurate, but as far as Hollywood standards go, this was a knock out of the park. If Hollywood went in this direction more often, there might be less gripes from audience members.

In short, the new study doesn’t go against what folks who are vying for better represented Egyptian-themed movies have been preaching. If anything, it clarifies things even more. It showcases that there is not only a need to show ancient Egyptians as they actually looked, but there is also a need to remember that ancient Egyptians, just like us, existed in a multiracial, multicultural world, that included intermarriage and biracial/multiethnic offspring. It would be great if the people behind the films we loved showed an interest and curiosity in creating a film that not only had a great story, but also paid respect to the people whose stories they are telling.

Portrait of a man from the Fayum province, Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public Domain)

Emmys 1, Oscars 0: How TV’s Biggest Night Celebrated Diverse Storytelling

Rami Malek after winning his Emmy for "Mr. Robot." (ABC/Image Group LA)
Rami Malek after winning his Emmy for “Mr. Robot.”
(ABC/Image Group LA)

“Please tell me you’re seeing this too,” said Rami Malek as he accepted his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. His work on Mr. Robot is awe-inspiring, but it’s also absolutely necessary. While Malek’s character Elliot succinctly sums up the post-tech malaise and loneliness due to not fitting into society’s herd mentality, Malek also, quietly led a revolution just by being himself. Malek is of Egyptian descent, and as such, he’s become the first actor of color in 18 years to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. 

18 yearsThat means a lot.

That means for as long as a non-white kid, let’s say a Middle Eastern kid, someone like Ahmed Mohamed, aka “Clock Boy,” has been alive, there hasn’t been an actor of Middle Eastern/North African descent who the Emmys have deemed “worthy enough” to win, despite the fact that tons of Middle Eastern and other non-white actors are out there, ready and willing to show off their gifts. A kid like Mohamed hasn’t been able to see himself portrayed positively on television, and this means that others watching TV haven’t been able to see positive representations of Middle Eastern characters either; all they and Mohamed see are their people as terrorists.

When all you’re seen as is a terrorist, then it’s no wonder why someone with a vivid imagination, hopped up on discriminatory and xenophobia from the TV screen, would paint a smart, innocent kid like Mohamed, a kid who could have potentially been a bright light pushing America towards a more industrial-sound, innovative future, gets labeled as a terrorist for bringing his model of a clock to school to show his science teacher.

Related: America Backs Wrongly-Accused Teen Ahmed Mohamed With #IStandwithAhmed

Before you say, “There are clearly more factors into why that kid was mistreated,” let me be the first to say, yes, there are many more factors. The adults in that situation could have been adults and realized that this intelligent kid was hoping those he viewed as mentors would see, acknowledge, and encourage his gifts. The adults in this situation already had their own fears that they put upon this boy. But let’s also acknowledge how our perceptions of the world and each other filter their way through our televisions every day. When you see others as terrorists, thugs, nerdy comic relief, submissive and/or hypersexualized objects, and other dehumanizing stereotypes on TV day in and day out, society as a whole begins to view the real life counterparts as those stereotypes, despite the fact that stereotypes are lies.

Malek’s win should be an uplifting moment for every brown kid looking at the screen, daring to hope that they can be seen as mysterious and heroic, that they can be viewed as a well-rounded, deeply layered individual. The same goes for Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari’s wins for Outstanding for a Comedy Series. Their work on Master of None has, despite criticisms about the cookie-cutter sameness of the woman cast as Ansari’s girlfriend, helped create a platform for Asian American voices to finally tell their stories. With Ansari as the lead and Ansari and Yang’s writing propelling immigrant stories in the much-lauded episode “Parents,” the two were able to smash the Model Minority myth as well as the myth that Asian Americans can’t be mainstream leading men.

While Master of None directly spoke to the immigrant experience, Malek himself spoke to his own experience as the child of immigrants.

Related: The Next Omar Sharif: Why Finding the Next Middle Eastern Hollywood Star is Easier Than We Think

The Emmys also celebrated the stories of layered women, including the performances of Regina King in American Crime, to Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in Veep, to Sarah Paulson in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, to Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black (who literally has to play multiple characters in the same scene), and many more. Jill Soloway, writer/director of Transparent and the star of Jeffrey Tambor were awarded for their work on the groundbreaking show featuring the journey of a family as they loved the main character through her transition. But while the show has been part of overarching criticism about Hollywood refusing to cast trans actors and actresses for roles, Tambor took his opportunity on stage to demand for Hollywood to cast trans actors and actresses, making it clear that he recognizes the privilege that allowed him to play his Emmy-winning role.

Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, and Keith David all won Emmys too; Vance for his leading role in limited series The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Brown for his supporting role in The People vs O.J. Simpson, and Keith David for his narration for documentary Jackie Robinson. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele won for their hilariously creepy work on Key & Peele. RuPaul finally won for the stellar RuPaul’s Drag Race and the stories of those with Down’s syndrome were recognized with a win for reality show Born This Way.

Overall, the Emmys shamed the Oscars. Even though there’s still more work to be done when it comes to portraying a much wider array of stories on both the big and little screen, it’s clear TV has a better handle on the battle than the movie industry does. In a year when we experienced the zenith of #OscarsSoWhite, the Emmys has given the Oscars a masterclass on how to respect and award stories different than than the “white male lead” vehicle. The actors and actresses awarded Sunday night have given voice to so many of the voiceless, and the Emmys has not only bolstered their platforms; it’s bolstered those who believed no one would listen to them. Now that there’s a clearer path towards recognition, perhaps we’ll see less terrorists on TV, hapless nerdy stereotypes, one-dimensional women, LGBT stereotypes, and offensive stereotypes of people with disabilities. We’re nearing the day when everyone will be given their just due to tell their stories the way they see fit. Hopefully, we’re nearing an age where we can see everyone’s humanity first.

When he won his Emmy, Malek said to the audience, “Please tell me you’re seeing this too.” We’re definitely seeing it, this change happening in television, and hopefully it sticks around.

Mr. Robot & the Highly Sensitive: Elliot’s Complicated HSP Life

Elliot Anderson is a fidgety, nervous, highly intelligent, strange, closed-off individual, yet he’s also the hero in the fight against debilitating capitalism. I’ve written for Entertainment Weekly how Mr. Robot‘s Elliot  (Rami Malek) is the Superman of the post-post-modern age, but in that article, I wrote about his superheroism from a costume history point of view. This time around, I’m writing about his heroism from a very personal point of view. Like all superheroes, Elliot has a superpower, and even though he’s a hacker, his superpower isn’t his hacking skill. It’s his high sensitivity, the innate thing that allows him to see what others can’t see about his environment and society.

High sensitivity is something that was (and to some degree, still is) seen as a character flaw in a person. If you were someone who was easily disturbed by loud external disturbances, the emotions of others, and even your own emotions, you’ve probably come into contact with some who have either said you were making up stuff or blowing things out of proportion. You might have even been told you were weak and needed to toughen up. I was told that at five years old by a elementary school nurse. Thankfully, the school counselor was there to reprimand the nurse. “She’s sensitive!” she yelled, angry in my defense. I was appreciative, but the label “sensitive” was still something I didn’t understand, and since I didn’t understand what she meant, I took at is meaning that I had a fatal flaw. In mind, that fatal flaw kept representing itself every time I was moved to tears to by something, or failed to do something “quick enough,” or failed to react like a lot of the other kids around me, or when I felt scared and tense when the class would act up (leading to tons of noise from the kids and the teachers). In short, school was never my favorite, even though I excelled.

I didn’t grow up going to church every Sunday, but I came to dread the times we did go to church. Not because of the long wait time until church let out, but because the pastors would scream excitedly. Then everyone would start screaming excitedly. It was too much for me to deal with, so because of that, I could care less about going to church. (Well, there are other reasons I could care less about going to church, but that’s another article).

All throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I was certain something was wrong with me. I was certain I was too sensitive and needed to toughen up and hide my emotions so I could be perceived as “normal.” Personally, I think my deep satisfaction led to a lot of mental strife, like OCD, particularly Pure O symptoms, in which you think there’s always something wrong with you and worry that you might have missed some horrible thing about yourself that others could find out about. I was so worried about hiding myself and becoming “normal” that I caused more mental damage than I realized at the time. But once I read about high sensitivity, things started clicking into place a lot faster.

A quick overview of high sensitivity is that highly sensitive people (HSPs) are quick to be affected by small and large external and/or emotional disturbances.

Dr. Elaine Aron, the leading expert on the mindset of the highly sensitive person (HSP), states that about 20 percent of Americans are hypersensitive, which, despite still being a minority percentage, is still a surprising lot, given how Americans are often stereotyped by the rest of the world (and sometimes other Americans) as being loud and obnoxious. Aron lists some of these traits common to highly sensitive people on her site, hsperson.com: 

• Being overwhelmed by bright lights, coarse fabrics, sirens, loud noises, or strong smells

• Getting rattled and flustered when tasked with doing a lot in a short amount of time

• Needing to withdraw to yourself to ease overstimulation to the environment

• Arranging your life “to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations”

• Having a “rich and complex inner life”

The site Highly Sensitive People states that HSPs  are”mainly seen as shy, introverted and socially inhibited (or can be socially extroverted). They are often acutely aware of others’ emotions. Sensitive people learn early in life to mask their wonderful attributes of sensitivity, intuition and creativity. Highly Sensitive People also defines HSPs as having “low tolerance to noise, glaring, strong odors, clutter and or/chaos,” as having more body awareness than others and instinctively knowing when their environment isn’t helping them. HSPs are also described as probably feeling like “misfits,” as people who enjoy time alone and need time by themselves to recover from social interaction. “HSPs compensate for their sensitivity by either protecting themselves by being alone too much, or, by trying to be ‘normal’ or sociable which then over-stimulates them into stress,” states the site. The culture HSPs might grow up in could exacerbate their feelings of not belonging. “Culturally, HSPs do not fit the tough, stoic and outgoing ideals of modern society and what is portrayed in the entertainment media,” it states. “Spiritually, sensitive people have a greater capacity for inner searching. This is one of their greatest blessings.”

MR. ROBOT -- "br4ve-trave1er.asf" Episode 106 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)
MR. ROBOT — “br4ve-trave1er.asf” Episode 106 — Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson — (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)

So what does my personal testimony and all of this information have to do with Elliot? For one, I’ve never identified with a character as much as I do Elliot. Second, I think a character like Elliot is a character we should see more often on television. We all can’t be overconfident, exuberant extroverts like Beaumont Rosewood from FOX’s Rosewood, for example, who is the epitome of the “Confident, yet Complicated, Virile Male” trope. Or the Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes, all of which are now bleeding into each other by how similar their personalities and character quirks are. How can everyone on that team compartmentalize their emotions and have the energy to provide witty banter? Does no one have a mental breakdown from all of that stress? Even Ichabod Crane from FOX’s Sleepy Hollow is too strong to be real at times. If anyone should be deep in their feelings, it should be him, since he’s a man out of time and he’s someone who never got to properly say goodbye to his family.

Women are generally characterized worse than men. We’re only just now getting complex female characters, thanks to Orange is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, Orphan Black, House of Cards, and others. But still, women’s emotions are often second fiddle to the fashion or makeup she’s sporting (or the lack thereof). Too many times, the fashion makes the character instead of the character’s emotional landscape being the prime informer of character decisions. Or, even worse, the character falls into trope. She’s “complicated” because she’s a sexy assassin, or because she’s a doctor who doesn’t play by the rules, or because she’s an undercover operative who uses her sexuality to gain information (too often, a woman’s “complicated” characterization revolves around how much they allow themselves to be a sex object for the male viewership). “The complicated relationship between women characters, beauty, fashion, and worthiness can be another article by itself, but the point is that a woman’s characterization still needs work, and most characterizations don’t portray a woman who faces depression, OCD (real OCD, not the cutsey, stereotyped stuff usually shown on TV), high sensitivity, and society’s mischaracterization of both, but still manages to get the job done despite everything thrown her way.

What the character Elliot gets right about people facing high sensitivity is that they are not only misunderstood by the world, but they are misunderstood by themselves as well. Because no one really teaches about high sensitivity as being a normal way of thinking and interpreting the world, people often come down hard on highly sensitive people for “not being tough.” This is paramount in those scenes featuring young Elliot facing his berating mother, who tells him he’s not worth anything, that he’s weak. She abuses him into “toughening up,” but she can’t see the form of toughness Elliot already possesses. Because of this, Elliot grew up seeing himself as weak when he’s always been the complete opposite. Because of his mother’s abuse (and maybe because of something we don’t know with his dad’s death), Elliot has rejected himself and strives to find his “true,” “acceptable” self by self-medicating with cocaine, becoming a loner, and by taking on the mantle of a hacking vigilante. One thing that’s really interesting about Elliot is that despite his loneliness, he refuses to let many people, including his psychiatrist, inside to understand his world. This point is made clear in what I feel is probably the best scene of television, hands down:

The scene says a lot about the HSP, their perceptiveness, their rich inner world (to paraphrase Aron), and the disappointment many HSPs experience when it comes to the rest of society. Elliot, like a lot of HSPs, can interpret certain subtleties about life that others might miss. Elliot knows his environment—American society—is wrong on many levels, particularly when it comes to letting money, apathy, and hardness rule instead of allowing sensitivity its day in the sun. But the fact that he knows his environment doesn’t suit him pales in comparison to how much his inability to fit in makes him feel like a huge mismatch with his world. Everyone else around him is able to belong, but his depth of feeling, his ability to feel and see a lot that most people miss or want to ignore, has him feeling out of place to the point of nihilism.

MR. ROBOT -- "br4ve-trave1er.asf" Episode 106 -- Pictured: (l-r) Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)
MR. ROBOT — “br4ve-trave1er.asf” Episode 106 — Pictured: (l-r) Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson — (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)

However, despite Elliot feeling like a failure and a weak person, Elliot is constantly demonstrating his power and inner strength. He kicked his cocaine habit by himself, for one thing (which is actually quite dangerous). He has sent people to jail from his hacking skills (which means he’s not afraid of the risks involved, including getting caught). He (and/or Mr. Robot) formed the hacking group that took down Evil Corp. Meanwhile, Elliot calls himself “just a tech.”

Elliot’s actions are a huge reminder to other HSPs out there, that no matter who says we can’t do something or that we’re too weak, we aren’t too weak to do whatever we want to do. We, like Elliot, just have a different form of strength. Our strength is to take in the subtle and sometimes unspoken messages the world sends to us in the form of the emotional output and come to conclusions about how to provide help and healing. What Elliot is doing is dangerous, no doubt, but in his own way, he’s trying to heal his world using his superpower of high sensitivity. A highly sensitive person’s superpower is to protect the emotional self and the emotional selves of others; to me, that’s why we’re so connected to emotions in the first place. Elliot can sense that the emotional state of the world is in danger, and he’s going to great means to fix it, because fixing it means that he’ll finally have a place he can call home.

Most of us aren’t going to hack our way to a new world order though, so what we in the real world can do is protect our own emotional selves first. If us HSPs can reject what we’ve been told about “toughness,” honor our own unique gifts, and become excited about how we view the world, then we’ll be able to provide our talents more freely and without fear of rejection. One thing we can take away from Elliot’s quest to erase capitalism is that we have the ability to give power back to ourselves. Just like no corporation should hold power over people, no single person should be able to rob you of your personal power. You don’t have to hack society to say you belong. All you have to do is say “I belong,” and believe it.

The NAACP Image Awards Does What the Oscars Couldn’t

The NAACP Image Awards was what non-white Hollywood needed to release pent-up aggression and, to paraphrase NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, to honor themselves. Even though the Oscars is seen as the highest form of award in the film world, it technically functions like what Chris Rock called it—a white BET Awards. The NAACP Image Awards was created to counteract the Oscars from the beginning, and once again, it’s purpose has been revisited and reinvigorated again.

Personally speaking, I’ve long thought that the NAACP Image Awards and the BET Awards don’t get the credit they deserve, the NAACP Image Awards moreso. The prestigious quality of the NAACP should have had every person of color flocking to the theater to be a part of the Image Awards, even if it meant to just sit in the audience. Michael B. Jordan said that he would sneak in before he became a big star; everyone should have been doing that. To be fair, many in Hollywood do support the NAACP Image Awards, but you know you’ve seen the Image Awards in year’s past, and you’d see that half of the winners actually decided not to show up, as if they didn’t care to be honored by folks who look like them as the gun for the Oscar.

The current climate surrounding the Oscars is serving a purpose, and it’s garnered the change that has been sorely needed in the American media, but it’s also unfortunate that some of the non-white Hollywood elite needed this shakeup to wake them up to what has been in front of their faces for so long. The NAACP Image Awards has always been there; it’s just some of those that were in the audience hadn’t ever showed up. They’d let someone get their award on their behalf for whatever reason. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the reason was; they should have shown up because the NAACP is part of the reason they’re even able to work in Hollywood in the first place. They needed to have paid their respects long ago.

The theme of the NAACP Image Awards was to rightly diss the Oscars and to be the antidote to the Oscars’ and Hollywood’s problems. Anderson’s Straight Outta Compton rap was unleashed with pinpoint accuracy. Tons of speeches showcased the need to celebrate unrecognized talent. Stacy Dash was roasted by Anderson’s jokes. And, in comparison to what the Oscars didn’t do, the NAACP Image Awards actually nominated and gave awards to some of the biggest movies of the year, movies that were FULL of people of color. Creed, Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation, Dope, Infinitely Polar Bear, Lila and Eve, The Perfect Guy, etc., etc….all were honored in some way, and it was fantastic.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
colorblock-february-2016
 

 

Also honored were the year’s crop of television shows, including Being Mary Jane, black-ish, Rosewood, Sleepy Hollow, Fresh off the Boat, Jane the Virgin, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Empire, and more were given their due. But I have some bones to pick, which I picked at a little on Twitter.

There were snubs that I feel up-in-arms about. First, why were Rami Malek and Daniel Wu not given nominations for their dramatic work in Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands? Malek has been honored tons this awards season; it seems remiss that he wouldn’t be honored by the NAACP for the work he’s done on Mr. Robot. Ditto for Wu. Into the Badlands is a masterpiece of a slow-build action show, and Wu’s work is extraordinary and groundbreaking. In fact, both men have turned in some groundbreaking work. (Read why it’s groundbreaking here.)

Second snub: No comedy noms for Fresh off the Boat or Jane the Virgin or Master of None? Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang had a screenwriting nom, but the show didn’t get one for overall comedy, and Hudson Yang was nominated for his role, but the show itself wasn’t recognized. What was with these snubs? Also snubbed: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, despite Andre Braugher getting nominated for his Brooklyn Nine-Nine role. I love black-ish, and I do think it deserves its nominations, but how dangerous is it to have Anthony Anderson host (by the way, he should remain the host for all time) and then give black-ish all of the comedy awards? It’s probably not favoritism, but it looks like it. I think Anderson’s hosted it without having won for his category, so I’m putting a pin in this. We’ll see what happens next year.

Overall, though, the NAACP Image Awards was everything the Oscars couldn’t be in its current state. It addressed the current climate, and it also awarded those who have flexed their activist muscle to help the community, such as Bree Newsome, the woman who took down South Carolina’s confederate flag. These honorees embody what the NAACP has been at its core and, despite the organization’s growing pains, strives to continue to be. It’s this level of activism and awareness that has always set the NAACP Image Awards apart from other award shows. It knows its history, and it knows how it wants to steer us in the right direction for the future. All we need to do is support it and help its vision flourish.

Related articles:

NAACP Image Awards: The Complete Winners List (The Hollywood Reporter)

Anthony Anderson Talks #OscarsSoWhite at Image Awards: “This Is What Diversity Is Supposed to Look Like” (The Hollywood Reporter)

The Breakout Actress of 2015: Yasmine Al Massri

JUST ADD COLOR has discussed the majesty of Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands and the talents of the shows’ leading men, Rami Malek and Daniel Wu. But don’t think we’ve forgotten another breakout star from 2015. Today’s salute goes to Yasmine Al Massri, who plays Nimah and Raina Amin on ABC’s Quantico. 

Why you should focus on Al Massri: Quantico is a groundbreaking show already because it has the first South Asian lead of an American drama, Bollywood/international star Priyanka Chopra. But the show also breaks ground in having a Muslim, Middle Eastern character who isn’t a stereotype. She’s her own person, and her religion is something that is a part of her (like how Christianity is a part of a lot of people in America), but doesn’t define her.

Al Massri portrays two characters that are challenging mainstream viewers how they view Middle Easterners and Muslims. The rhetoric America has been battling for years, but this year in particular, is that Muslims and Middle Easterners are terrorists bent on destroying American values. But Nimah and Raina are characters that fly in the face of that stereotype. They are Muslim, Middle Eastern women who not only love America, but were (spoilers) actively working to stop a terrorist cell from hurting innocents. Of course, because they are hijab-wearing Muslim women, the Quantico recruits (including Chopra’s character Alex Parrish) wrongly believe they are the terrorists (until they’re proven wrong, of course.)

YASMINE AL MASSRI

Al Massri discusses the double-standard with TV Guide. “[The twins] think of Alex as one of their own. To have Alex doubt us, it’s out of line. How can you doubt us? We are in this together,” said Al Massri about having Alex, one of the three brown women in the recruit class, doubt Nimah and Raina. “That’s the challlenge of the twins being suspects. I get so may messages from fans now saying, “Yeah, we know the Muslims are gonna be the terrorists like usual.” I’m so happy that people will now see that Nimah and Raina were on an underocver mission that actually serves and protects the United States of America.”

By having Nimah and Raina on television, hopefully audience members start to better humanize Americans of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims within their minds, because scapegoating leads to dire consequences, such as the murders of three North Carolinian students who happened to be Muslim. This event happened three days after Al Massri received her script, according to the New York Times. “And suddenly where I came from made sense,” she told the Times. “To be a veiled Muslim woman on screen is a very scary minefield for me.” But a role like this was a challenge Al Massri was ready to take. “I am a contradiction myself,” she said. “I’m always looking for something that scares me, because when I’m not scared I’m not stimulated.”

What do you think about Al Massri and her roles on Quantico? Give your opinions below!

Want to read more about Into the Badlands and Mr. Robot? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

The Breakout Shows of 2015: “Mr. Robot” and “Into the Badlands”

2015 saw a ton of explosive shows vie for our attention, from the new seasons of How to Get Away with MurderScandal, and Empire, to the new faces on rookie shows like RosewoodQuantico, and The Grinder (or, in The Grinder‘s case, familiar faces we haven’t seen in a while). But if there were two new shows that captured the imagination more in 2015, they would have to be Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands. 

The Next Omar Sharif: Why Finding the Next Middle Eastern Hollywood Star is Easier Than We Think

Omar Sharif in "Doctor Zhivago." (Screengrab)
Omar Sharif in “Doctor Zhivago.” (Screengrab)

This article has been a long time in the making, mostly because it’s hard for one person who has several jobs out outside of maintaining a site to keep with and write articles about prominent news stories. But I do my best, and this particular issue has been on my radar for a while thanks to my constant reading of The Hollywood Reporter.

"Mr. Robot": A Shining Example of 21st Century Existential Anger

The life of the 21st century young adult has become one of the main themes in a lot of today’s programming. Those of us who have grown up in the late ’80s and early ’90s now make up the demographic show creators and networks want to appeal to. Some of us might even be show creators.

Interestingly enough, a lot of the post-post modern shows on television, like Steven Universe, Adventure Time and Regular Show are cartoons. An entire post could be made about why many of the shows created by Gen Yers are cartoons. My theory is that the creators are recreating their past experiences with Saturday morning cartoons (and Cartoon Network) and melding them with their current experiences as adults trying to make it in an America that’s just now coming out of its Man in the Gray Flannel Suit ideology, in which jobs aren’t as stable as they used to be, marriage is no longer considered a requirement, and having children is an act that can now be put off for later.

Some of the live-action shows about Gen Y also go revert back to the creator’s childhood. Shows like The Goldbergs, Fresh Off the Boat and Surviving Jack all have The Wonder Years method of going back to a time gone by. The only strange thing about these shows is that “a time gone by” is the ’80s or ’90s, two time periods that still seem like yesterday to a lot of us. Again, with these shows, viewers can look back to their childhoods while figuring out how to reconcile their former lives with their current adult ones.

But while these shows capture the confusion and wonderment of coming into one’s own as an adult in these times, USA’s Mr. Robot, starring Rami Malek, provides a point of view that quite a lot of shows, cartoon and otherwise, lack. Mr. Robot shows the brutality of 21st century existentialism and how, with even more conglomerates vying for our attention and with the internet as integral to life as it has been, it’s become even harder to realize what it is you are supposed to contribute to the world. 

"Tyrant" Season Two Quick Thoughts: Bassam's Sundial Moment, No Emma + Shoutouts

Another week, another Tyrant episode, and even though this one didn’t have as much of the Abudinnian politics as we’ve come to expect, the extreme focus on Bassam’s storyline wasn’t as boring as I expected it was going to be. In fact, it was quite fast-paced and, as I wrote in this week’s EW Community Blog recap, filled with surprisingly delightful character development for Bassam.