Search Results for: Lupita Nyong'o

When will other women of color have their Rose Tico moment in “Star Wars”?

I’ve seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and like the majority (save for a handful of fans, who I’ll have words about later on once spoiler fever has died down), I absolutely loved the film. The storyline and its more cerebral themes were amazing and refreshing–as SyFy Fangrrls/SyFyWire contributing editor Carly Lane wrote on Twitter, this is the most cerebral Star Wars film yet–and the introductions of new characters such as Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and DJ (Benecio Del Toro) were organic and fun. It’s as if these characters have been around since the beginning.

Rose is also one of the characters that reminded me how little women of color are shown in Star Wars and how I wish I, as a black woman, could have had the same kind of representational experience in this fictional galaxy.

Watching Rose

Lucasfilm/Disney

I was excited to see not Rose and her sister Paige, to see representation long overdue. It was gratifying to watch Rose challenge Finn on his planned desertion and to inspire hope in him and the rest of the Resistance. She’s a tremendous force in this film, and I think the film–and the franchise–is better for it.

I’m extremely happy that finally, after an entire two years of back-to-back whitewashing of Asian characters and stories, a big blockbuster film has put an Asian character at the center of its story. I’ve covered so many films that negate Asian characters or recast them as white actors, and there are even some projects I haven’t covered just because I couldn’t bring myself to write about yet another property that just didn’t get what it was doing. But seeing Rose was seeing what films can do when they are created by someone conscientious enough to tackle proper representation.

There was one thing that held me back a bit during my viewing of The Last JediStar Wars has yet to give an African-American female character the same treatment as Rose. To be fair, Star Wars has yet to give a character who looks like me more than five seconds on screen.

Watching Rose kick the film into high gear reminded me of a coping mechanism I’d developed as a child on the chance I was watching a TV show that had no black women as a part of its cast. As a kid, I’d gravitate towards the character who was a minority like me and live vicariously through that character. The first time I remember doing this was as a 5-year-old watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. There was a black man as part of the cast, but no black women. But, there was Thuy Trang’s character Trini Kwan, the Yellow Power Ranger. Trini was my way into Power Rangers, and during recess, when my friends and I would pretend to be the Power Rangers, I would always make sure I got the Yellow Ranger. She may not have been my same race, but to me, she represented me and other girls of color who weren’t represented on the show. As a child, seeing Trini kick butt and be cool helped me formulate my personal voice and worldview. Through Trini, I felt like I could have a place on a show that apparently wasn’t designed for me.

I felt the same way with Rose. Through her, I felt happiness because women of color were finally getting their overdue shot at being heroes. Young girls, Asian girls especially, will be able to see themselves included in a fantastical place like the Star Wars universe. That kind of feeling is one that is unmatched–I felt it somewhat when The Force Awakens introduced Finn (John Boyega) as one of our new Star Wars heroes.

But the black woman is still left out. Despite my love for Rose, what I can’t ignore is a deep, personal longing to see black girls (and grown women like me) represented on screen in a hero they can be proud of. The longing doesn’t stop at just my own race, though; when will all women of color get equal representation in Star Wars? Now that Rose is here, will the Star Wars powers that be realize they owe the members of Star Wars‘ WOC fanbase the heroes they deserve?

Star Wars’ WOC track record

Lucasfilm

Star Wars having a rough time with representing women of color is nothing new. In fact, I wrote about it last year during the Rogue One hype. As I wrote then, women of color are largely absent from the films despite having a larger presence in the books. One character, Imperial Naval Officer Rae Sloane and Han Solo’s former wife, Sana Starros, have important roles in the Star Wars saga. But not only is it unclear if Sana will be portrayed in the upcoming Han Solo prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story, but Rae has yet to make a film appearance in any of the new Star Wars films.

Combine that with the fact that there is a highly sought-after actress that is a part of the films, but is currently stuck playing behind CG and motion-capture. Lupita Nyong’o was a big get for the franchise–The Force Awakens was one of her first acting roles after winning the Oscar for her role in 12 Years A Slave. But she has been tasked with portraying Maz Kanata, a character who is lively and fun, but is fully computer-generated. All we hear of Nyong’o is her voice.

Before Rose, the most prominent Asian female character in Star Wars was Janina Gavankar’s Iden Versio in the video game Star Wars: Battlefront II. But, like Rae and Sana, it’s unclear if Iden will ever show up in any film or TV Star Wars properties. Ditto for Shara Bey, Poe Dameron’s mother, who does appear in the comic book series Star Wars: Shattered Empire. Women of other racial and ethnic groups, such as Native American women, have no representation at all.

Adding insult to injury is how Star Wars has typically used women of color as WOC-coded sex aliens. As I wrote back in 2016:

Another strike against Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe is how often black women and other women of color are often cast as Twi’leks, whose women are often enslaved as sex objects. To quote Wookipedia:

“Since female Twi’leks were regarded as graceful and beautiful beings, many of them were forced into a life of slavery at the hands of the galaxy’s wealthy and powerful.”

It’s more than a little disturbing that while women of color are all but absent in the Star Wars universe, they are readily cast as women who are sold into a sexual slavery.

It’s even more disturbing that Oola, the only sex slave coded as a black woman due to the actress, gets killed moments after we see her on screen in Return of the Jedi. There could have been a better outcome for her instead of just being used as disposable eye-candy.

To The Last Jedi co-writer/director Rian Johnson’s credit, he did make it a point to showcase more women of color, particularly African-American women, in scenes. One of the biggest cameos of the film is Chewing Gum‘s Michaela Coel as a Resistance tech. We see another black woman as a Resistance fighter pilot, and a South Asian woman is also featured as part of General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) ragtag team. Black women and other women of color also feature heavily in the luxurious Canto Bight scenes.

But the scenes that do feature women of color, black women especially, only feature them either in the background or in non-speaking cameos. We never get to intimately know other women are who are Latina, Native American, African-American or South Asian, etc. Much like the lone black woman in Rogue One, we know women of color do exist in this far away galaxy, but we never know them outside of being set dressing.

That’s what makes Tran as Rose even more powerful. Johnson said he cast regardless of ethnicity for Rose, and that opportunity–unencumbered by preconceived notions of what a “Rose Tico” should look like–led Johnson to finding the perfect person for the part.

“We saw a lot of talented actresses of a very broad range–but honestly, it was more about finding Kelly,” said Johnson to The Los Angeles Times‘ Jen Yamato. “There was something about Kelly that had that kind of genuine oddball nature and a real sweetness to her. She has the most open heart of anyone I’ve ever met and I knew that this was going to shine through onscreen. I knew that I was going to be rooting for her in the movie.”

As Yamato wrote, Johnson’s decision to create Rose as a main character and casting inclusively “led to the biggest leap forward for Asian representation Hollywood has ever dared to make on such a large scale.”

Watching Rose on screen provided me with both pride at seeing a woman of color finally take the reins of a Star Wars film, but it also made me a bit wistful that we have yet to see other women of color get the same opportunity.

But where Rose has paved the way, surely others will follow, right?

First Rose, now others

Let’s go back to Solo. This movie is the closest on the horizon, and it’s also the Star Wars can finally break the color barrier. Even though it’s unclear who Emilia Clarke is playing (reportedly, it was a role actresses like Tessa Thompson, Zoe Kravitz, and Adria Arjona tried for as well), Thandie Newton is also rumored to be part of the cast. We have virtually no substantial casting news on this front, so we have to wait until we get closer to the film’s 2018 release date. But, if Newton is a big part of the Solo cast, then she could very well be part of a new wave of diverse Star Wars leading ladies.

Regardless, Star Wars should come to grips with their startling avoidance of women of color. Now that inroads are being made thanks to Rose, writers and directors should continue to make giving women of color a voice in Star Wars a priority. Not as sex slaves and not as CG characters but as the heroes. Hopefully, Rose is the first of many more like her.

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2018 Fashion: How to walk into the “Black Panther” screening in style

Somewhere on Twitter, there’s someone saying how they’re going to show up to the movie theater once Black Panther is released. When the trailer dropped in June, everyone was talking about how they were going to be decked out in their finest threads to see Black Panther, as if the February 2018 release date will be Easter Sunday.

But what could go into the sartorial display folks might (and probably will) partake in once the film drops? How does one show up to the movie theater to watch the most anticipated, most-hyped, and most-loved history-making Marvel film of all time? Look no further than to the Black Panther trailer itself, which gives you looks and inspiration for days.

Mother Africa

Black Panther would be nothing without its adherence to pan-African tribal styles. Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter said to Elle that she looked to several cultures for the look seen in the film.

“I’m looking at the whole continent and a wide range of people, like the Masai and the Suri. It all becomes a part of the framework of Wakanda. Most people who read the comic books know Wakanda is a mountainous area; it’s a secret place that’s not necessarily trading and interacting with the rest of the world. They’re a little bit more advanced in technology than other civilizations. We are creating that world, and trying to create a culture and pride that feels authentic to the specific location.”

Check out these scenes from the trailer juxtaposed with actual pictures of the Suri and the Masai people.

(photos by Rod Waddington and Dylan Waters [Flickr Creative Commons] and Wikipedia)

Now, I’m not suggesting you go to the film heavily appropriating cultures by wearing facepaint and Masai warrior tunics, because even though we’re black, we’re not of any of these tribes from a cultural standpoint (from a DNA standpoint, who knows). If you are from an African nation and you’ve got some stuff you want to pull out to roll up at the theater in, be my guest. For the rest of us black Americans, perhaps the best we can do is Kente cloth, which has become a part of African-American life ever since it was introduced to us back in the 1950s. As James Padilioni, Jr., of the the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)-run site Black Perspectives, writes:

Kente appeared on the radar of most African-Americans in 1958 when Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of independent Ghana, wore the cloth to meet with President Eisenhower at the White House. Coinciding with the Civil Rights and African Decolonization Movements, Black Americans associated Kente cloth with Black politics and the dignity of the African heritage. By the early 1970s, the predominant garment featuring Kente in the United States was the dashiki, a long tunic-type shirt that grew increasingly popular and commodified by the fashion industry.  Kente’s appeal within Black Power waned, with Fred Hampton and other Panthers leadersderiding those who wore them. Nevertheless, Kente cloth and dashikis remained staples of urban Black life and received a new layer of significance when adopted by the Hip Hop community in the 1980s.

While this is still a little bit of appropriation, the Kente cloth has taken on a very American-specific identity along with its traditional identity. At some point, many a black person has owned an item of clothing made from Kente cloth. Even I, as a kindergartner, made a cardboard doll wearing a Kente cloth dashiki and hat. I’m no sartorial police, but if you happen to have a Kente cloth shirt, hat, or even a scrunchie, wearing it to the Black Panther screening might be one of the best times you could put that item to some use.

Coming to America

The film referred to the most when writing about Black Panther on Twitter is Coming to America. The comparisons are coming even heavier now that there’s official news there will be a Coming to America sequel. It makes sense–both films are about fictional African nations, both films act as uplifting and positive portrayals of Africa, and both films have become cultural touchtones to black American pop culture (even though Black Panther hasn’t even come out yet).

Fashion-wise, does it make sense to connect Black Panther to Coming to America? Sort of. The two films have different tones they’re trying to accomplish with their costuming. However, the common thread is the goal of making an African nation look like the ultimate African nation–regal, luxurious, sophisticated, and welcoming.

Upon taking apart each film’s costumes, it becomes surprisingly apparent that there are some similar elements in the costuming for Coming to America and Black Panther, such as the Dora Milaje wearing red, which is similar to how the royal handmaidens wear red. There’s also a certain use of furs, bright colors, and headdresses that convey the idea that these nations are not to be trifled with because they will outspend you and out-culture you.

Granted, the connective tissue between these two films is small–the main reason people are drawing parallels to the film is because Coming to America is the only film black Americans have that depict an African nation as thriving, rich, culturally-independent, and on-par with (or exceeding beyond) the European status quo. This gets into a representation issue–if there were more films about Africa that didn’t depict the continent as poor and backwards, then we’d have more films to choose from when discussing the place Black Panther has in Hollywood’s film legacy.

It also doesn’t hurt that Lupita Nyong’o had a Coming to America-themed birthday party, officially crossing the streams between Black Panther and Coming to America.

Queen-To-Be & The Lady-In-Waiting. #WakandansInZamunda @danaigurira

A post shared by Lupita Nyong’o (@lupitanyongo) on

#WakandansInZamunda birthday partay! Fet. @chadwickboseman as Rev. Brown

A post shared by Lupita Nyong’o (@lupitanyongo) on

“Let them WAIT!” #WakandansInZamunda @michaelbjordan @janellemonae @mykalmonroe @carlulysses #latergram

A post shared by Lupita Nyong’o (@lupitanyongo) on

Me and my director. #RyanCoogler #WakandansInZamunda #latergram

A post shared by Lupita Nyong’o (@lupitanyongo) on

I would love to see folks at the theater in Coming to America cosplay. Usually, I hate seeing cosplay when I’m at the movie theater, but for this, I would pull out my phone for to take some pictures. Especially if someone decided to show up wearing a fake lion stole.

Ikire Jones

If you’re planning on going to the Black Panther premiere in supreme style, then you need to get yourself some Ikire Jones. The brand, led by creative director Walé Oyéjidé and head tailor Sam Hubler, weaves together African textiles and modern, urbane chicness into some of the most fabulous scarves and garments I’ve seen in a while. To quote the brand’s website:

We use design as a vehicle to tell stories that illuminate the nuanced lives of marginalized people. We do so without reproach or pity. But instead, by showing that elegance is not exclusive to any particular culture, hue, or country.

It seems natural, then, for Ikire Jones to be showcased in Black Panther as part of T’Challa’s regal wardrobe. As Oyéjidé said to OkayAfrica, the film will give audience members a gateway into thinking about Africa in a new way.

“I think the beauty of Black Panther, is that even though it’s fantastical, it at least opens people’s minds to the idea that people of African descent can be villains, they can be superheroes, they can be rich they can be poor. They can be whole, complicated humans and nuanced, just as people are from other heritages. So, it really is just about cracking open the door and seeing us as equal to everybody else. I think that’s what a lot of us are trying to do with our art in different ways. It happens to be a film, I happen to be a person who makes clothes, but uses clothes as a vehicle to talk about these things. We’re all basically working on the same issue, just in different ways.”

Screencap/Marvel Studios

Here’s more Ikire Jones to whet your whistle:

“Awake & At Home In America” 📸 @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

Squad. 📸 @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

“Awake & At Home In America” 📸 @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

Now available at IkireJones.com

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

“Awake & At Home In America” 📸 @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

“After Migration” FW16.

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

Jidenna and Black Dandyism

It’s not really in the trailer much, but there is one moment where black dandyism comes to play. That’s when the elder wearing the green suit shows up.

Screencap/Marvel Studios

This moment made me think of one of the foremost people in black dandyism in pop culture, Jidenna.

The power of black dandyism comes from taking the colonizers’ clothes and culture and turning it into yet another tool to subvert white control and re-establish black humanity.

Shantrelle P. Lewis, the artistic curator behind Dandy Lion, an international exhibition and platform showcasing the world of contemporary black dandyism, wrote for How To Get Next about the relationship blackness has with fashion, both as a cultural artifact and as a political weapon.

Black people’s relationship to the sartorial, or sewing and tailoring, actualy predates contact with Europeans. We were some of the first, if not the first group of humans, to sew…So, when African tailors came into contact with European fashions, the blending of styles and culture gave way to a new look.
…Over the past couple hundred years, this art of mixing and matching is a skill that many Black men have manipulated to their own advantage to subvert mainstream racist images. Defiant dressing and oppositional fashion, or using fashion and style to subvert social-political norms, have a long history among Black people in the West–we’ve been using it as an instrument of resistance for 400 years.”

That power can certainly be seen in the elder’s sartorial choices–mixing brightly-colored, tailored pieces with a traditional, yet matching, lip plate. The same type of suiting can be seen on Jidenna, carrying the tradition of black dandyism into a new generation of “Classic Men.”

Jidenna’s black dandyism also makes sure to weave in African textiles and patterns, reflecting Jidenna’s Nigerian background. If you want to arrive in style at the Black Panther screening, try the dandy route and wear classic cuts mixed with traditional prints and statement colors.

More examples of contemporary black dandyism:

How do you plan on dressing to attend once Black Panther premieres?

How “Star Wars” forgot about black women

I love the new direction Star Wars is taking with The Force Awakens and now Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I even support the fact that Rogue One is rumored to be the first Star Wars film to not begin with the classic Star Wars preamble crawl. Rogue One is also running with the diverse platform The Force Awakens started, featuring a woman as the main character (Felicity Jones) and a main ensemble cast featuring Forrest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Fares Fares, Jimmy Smits, James Earl Jones (as the voice of Darth Vader, of course), and Genevieve O’Reilly.

But for the most part, Star Wars has only been killing it when it comes to white women and men of color. Once again, it’s time to ask the age-old question: What about the black women?

In the latest Rogue One trailer, this lovely lady makes an appearance:

star-wars-rogue-one-black-woman
Lucasfilm/screengrab

But do we get to learn more about her? I’m already wanting to know the rest of her story and who she is in the resistance.

What’s the worst part of this erasure is that it’s not like Star Wars hasn’t prominently featured black women before. It’s just that the women are usually in the written tales of the franchise. For instance, Imperial naval officer Rae Sloane, who appears in various Star Wars books, her first appearance being A New Dawn.

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

And Sana Starros, Han Solo’s self-proclaimed former wife, is featured in the Marvel’s Star Wars comics, first appearing in Star Wars 4: Skywalker Strikes, Part IV.

But Disney and Lucasfilm might have not taken a prime opportunity to actually cast Sana or any other woman of color as Han Solo’s opposite in the upcoming Han Solo spinoff film. Emilia Clarke is set to play a prominent role in the Han Solo film, a role that Tessa Thompson, Zoe Kravitz, and Adria Arjona (Guatemalan/Puerto Rican) might have auditioned for. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it’s currently unclear if Clarke’s role is the same role the other actresses tried out for, if the film will feature multiple women. As it stands right now, though, Clarke’s is the only name we’ve heard since the news of Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover landing the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian roles, respectively. That doesn’t bode well for black female Star Wars fans who have been waiting to see themselves represented in a big way in what’s supposed to be a highly diverse intergalactic universe.

Also something that’s annoyed many a black woman fan—the fact that the one black woman we do have in the new Star Wars universe, Lupita Nyong’o, is playing Maz Kanata, a character that is completely CGI. (A similar annoyance with black men in sci-fi can be read about in this companion article concerning Idris Elba’s role in Star Trek Beyond.)

lupita-nyongo-maz-kanata
A.M.P.A.S./Lucasfilm

Another strike against Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe is how often black women and other women of color are often cast as Twi’leks, whose women are often enslaved as sex objects. To quote Wookipedia:

“Since female Twi’leks were regarded as graceful and beautiful beings, many of them were forced into a life of slavery at the hands of the galaxy’s wealthy and powerful.”

It’s more than a little disturbing that while women of color are all but absent in the Star Wars universe, they are readily cast as women who are sold into a sexual slavery.

twileks-lyn-me-oola
Lucasfilm

It’s even more disturbing that Oola, the only sex slave coded as a black woman due to the actress, gets killed moments after we see her on screen in Return of the Jedi. There could have been a better outcome for her instead of just being used as disposable eye-candy.

oola-main-image
Lucasfilm

Meanwhile, the Star Wars universe is proliferated with brunette white female protagonists:

star-wars-brunettes
Lucasfilm

This isn’t to disparage against these actresses, since I like all of them. But I’m trying to prove a point. Star Wars has a predilection, a tradition, in fact, of casting brunettes, when brunettes don’t signify all of woman-kind. If Star Wars is really going to be the franchise that puts women first, it’s got to put all women first. Black women and women of color in general have been historically forced to identify with women who do not look like us or experience life like us. You’d think that in a galaxy far far away, it’d be all too easy to find women of color, and not just women of color who happen to be sex slaves. In a way, Star Wars reiterates a fact of life that has been apparent to many women of color; we’re usually more palatable heard and not seen, and if we are seen, then we have to be as vampy and erotic as possible in order to matter. That’s not the kind of message Star Wars needs to bring into something as uplifting and inspiring as a sci-fi space opera that preaches equality for all people.

Am I still going to see Rogue One? Of course. Supporting it means I’m supporting the actors of color who are prominently featured. But my dollars will hopefully act as a means for Star Wars to increase their focus on diversity. Hopefully, this will mean that someday soon, we’ll finally have a sistah in space.

GUEST POST: How Far Will Marvel’s Diversity Play Go?

Guest post by Lauren Davis

As Marvel continues to expand its cinematic universe, it’s becoming clear that the studio has an eye on more characters and a somewhat-more inclusive casting philosophy.

In particular, fans who have been calling for a more diverse range of characters have been pleased with the news coming out about 2018’s Black Panther. We reported a few years ago that Chadwick Boseman was taking up the role, and the rising actor had a wonderful debut in this past spring’s Captain America: Civil War. It was also revealed that Ryan Coogler (responsible for Fruitvale Station and Creed) was co-writing and directing the project. And more recently, we learned that Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o will have roles as well. There’s not too much known about their parts at this point, though it’s being speculated that they’ll both be villains. Regardless, Marvel is clearly attempting to correct its past issue of racial diversity (or a lack thereof).

The studio is also taking steps to include more women in prominent roles moving forward. There’s increasing talk about Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) being the subject of a solo film, and other leading roles for women have already come out or been confirmed. Krysten Ritter starred as Jessica Jones in her own Netflix show, and just recently it was confirmed by reliable sources that Brie Larson (who just won an Oscar for her performance in Room) will be playing Captain Marvel. These developments have largely silenced critics of Marvel’s gender equality for now, even if DC more or less prodded them into it by introducing Wonder Woman.

What may be most interesting for those hoping to see a deeper embrace of different genders and ethnicities is the fact that Marvel has also shown a desire to rope in more major characters. In addition to Black Panther, they brought Spider-Man into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, and there are those who believe Wolverine could be next. That may seem unlikely given that 20th Century Fox owns the character, but Hugh Jackman himself has encouraged the idea. There’s also the little fact that Wolverine and Spider-Man both appeared alongside the Avengers in a roulette game featured amongst similar options online. It’s just one game, and ultimately a themed roulette table with superhero icons “helping you win big money,” but games have in the past hinted at cinematic activity. And if nothing else, it’s a sign that Marvel still very much considers Wolverine to be part of its own entertainment empire, and not Fox’s. Meanwhile, there have also been whispers about everyone from Moon Knight to Adam Warlock being injected into the MCU.

Naturally, when you consider the slow but sure movement toward more inclusive casting in conjunction with the idea of adding more comic book characters, the question becomes clear: will Marvel look to add even more non-white and female characters? Or will Black Panther prove to be a lone indulgence and Captain Marvel an aberration?

There’s no shortage of options. Characters like Doctor Voodoo (a sorcerer who really should appear in this summer’s Doctor Strange) and Bishop could command solo films as strong African-American leading parts; and the likes of Falcon (Sam Wilson) or Luke Cage (Mike Colter) could be given larger roles in the MCU. For women, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) could assume her “Rescue” identity, or someone like Tigra or She-Hulk could be introduced. And these are only a few of the possibilities.

For now, it starts with Black Panther and Captain Marvel. We’ll just have to see if films like these signify a new trend or exist to quiet down the criticism.

Lauren Davis is a pop culture and entertainment writer. She contributes in a freelance capacity to numerous sites and blogs, and hopes to become a TV writer one day.

The Inside Scoop on #BlackPantherSoLIT + What Marvel Can Learn From It

If you’ve been on the internet and haven’t heard of #BlackPantherSoLIT, then you are clearly doing something wrong. The hashtag went viral once news of Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o joining the film adpation of Black Panther spread. As countless articles have already said, the fact that the hashtag went viral two years–two years–before the film hits theaters shows how much of a need there is Marvel (and for film in general) to showcase non-white superheroes. To be even more precise, the hashtag shows how large (and how under-served) the audience is for non-white superheroes and non-white leads in general.

Take a look at moments from the hashtag for yourself:

I reached out to the creator of #BlackPantherSoLIT, @ChadwickandChill, and got their take on the creation of the hashtag and what impact it’s had. Here’s what they had to say in a statement:

I would always chatter with other fans about Chadwick and decided on December 5, 2015 to start a new page. I’ve held dedicated to engaging fans more. Starting this page was not met with the applause I expected from other core fans. I do it first to show lots of love to a cinematic light and talented Black man, Chadwick Boseman, and secondly for the fans. I don’t cheer and swoon for followers and it’s really just to engage the fandom! I’ve started other pages/campaigns as well – , ,  – and supported numerous others like . It’s all to unite fans and particularly those of us part of the African Diaspora, to edify work within our own collective versus waiting for an outside group to do so.

The goal is to not only make history with any effort, it’s to retell our own regal history and sustain it so that generations from now everyone will know that we are more than slaves and disenfranchised and we are not animals nor are we uncivilized. We are black, we are full of vitality, we are beautiful, we are supremely intelligent, innovative, creative, alive, well,  human, and thriving! Most importantly, We are kings, queens, regal through and through!

I also asked them two other questions about the hashtag, and here’s how they replied via Twitter:

So far, we’ve got Ryan Coogler writing and directing, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan as a possible villain, and Lupita Nyong’o as the love interest. Who else would you like to see join the cast?

Casting wise: I would love Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Denzel [Washington], Taraji [P. Henson],… So many to name.

What other POC Marvel superheroes/superheroines would you like to see brought to the big screen?

As far as another POC comic book hero: I’m not as versed in the comics at this stage today. As I learn, I’m sure I’ll have an opinion on that. Black Panther is stealing the show for me at this moment, it’s too historic for cinema history & Black Regality. I’m in Formation…

There are a couple of lessons Marvel, and Hollywood in general, can take from the popularity of #BlackPantherSoLit:

• Social media has its pulse on what people want: 

As I’ve said on the Sleepy Hollow episode of the Black Girl Nerds podcast, showrunners and show creators should know that their industry is just like any other industry that’s catering to others; your audience is your customer base, and it only makes sense to know what they want. Knowing what the audience wants is too easy nowadays; all you have to do is go on Twitter to see what the latest hashtags are discussing. Everyone’s discussing what they want from television and movies, so for creators of media to ignore that doesn’t make good business sense. Usually, ignoring the audience comes back to bite shows in the butt nowadays. See The 100 and, of course, Sleepy Hollow.

• People of all backgrounds want diversity in their stories, so actually give it to them:

It doesn’t make sense to have white superheroes and white characters in general stand in as the “default” American or the default human being. Entertainment, for me, is at its best when it provides a look at an idealized world that embraces all people. It’s through imagery that we know what is possible, similar to how some use religion to realize what they are actually capable of. If we never see what we could be as a society, we won’t strive for better.

Let’s remember that the biggest factor in the ’60s Civil Rights Movement was the usage of television and newspapers. There was a reason the revolution was televised; it was because without images, it would be easy for people to pretend that inequities didn’t exist. But with the eyes of the world focused on the members of the movement, they were able to hold the narrative in their own hands. The same goes for something as seemingly trivial as a superhero film. The person who holds the power can tell the story, and Hollywood’s been telling the same discriminatory story for decades. It’s time for Hollywood to give many other people the reins to tell their own stories and finally help the industry create the idealized version of America the real America can aspire to become.

• A black superhero (or a superhero of any other minority) doesn’t cater to a niche audience:

Once again, the idea that white equals “default” is at play with this thinking. How can someone not identify with someone else simply because of their skin color or culture? Hollywood has always been reticent to put a non-white face as its leading hero or heroine because of their tired “money” argument (which will be addressed in the next bullet point).

But the real reason non-white actors aren’t thought of for leading roles is because of a tribalism-rooted fear. When most of the people in Hollywood are of one color (or all straight), they will generally make entertainment that suits them and treat other voices as threats to their tribe and their perceived superiority. The majority will then believe that others won’t identify with the “minority” because they don’t. But Hollywood is out of touch, and it’s only just beginning to wake up to what the rest of the world is becoming, which is multicultural, more accepting, and tired of the “good ‘ol boy” way of doing things.

People want to see their friends, spouses, siblings, and children represented in entertainment, and it’s past time for Hollywood to do this. Black Panther doesn’t just speak to black America in a monolithic way; Black Panther speaks to the family who has adopted a black child and is searching for entertainment that reflects that child. Black Panther speaks to the woman who can finally go to a Marvel film with her black boyfriend or husband and see someone who looks like him as the superhero, not just “the best friend” to the superhero. Black Panther speaks to the son of African immigrants who can finally see portions of pan-African culture in mainstream entertainment. Black Panther speaks to more people than just the stereotyped idea of “black America.” Black Panther speaks to America, period.

• Practicing celluloid segregation isn’t where the money is:

As The Atlantic writes, Hollywood’s constant excuse for using white actors over non-white actors, that audiences want to see white faces, is a lie. University of North Carolina’s Venkat Kuppuswamy and MgGill University’s Peter Younkin studied data from Hollwyood films and their grosses, and found that more diverse casts generally fared better at the box office. It makes sense: under-served markets are desperate to see themselves on screen and will eagerly support films that showcase reflections of themselves.

Marvel is probably already realizing this in a big way with both the immediate viral success of Black Panther and the backlash against Doctor Strange with #whitewashedOUT. If you want to address more of your audience, show them in films. They’ll practically do the marketing for you, that is if the movie is actually good and is racially and culturally respectful, not just a “diversity” cash grab.

What do you think of #BlackPantherSoLIT? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Diversity Alert: “Star Wars: Episode VIII”, Ava DuVernay, “Roots” and “Underground” TV Trailers+ More

There’s a couple of big ticket items to discuss! Topping the list is Star Wars: Episode VIII, Ava DuVernay’s projects, and some trailers from Roots and Underground.

Star Wars: Episode VIII

The biggest news of this week is the beginning of filming for Star Wars: Episode VIII! John Boyega, who just won a Rising Star BAFTA the night before filming, tweeted out this declaration Monday.

 

Other big news surrounding Episode VIII is the additional casting. Coming to the already diverse cast list are Benecio Del Toro, Laura Dern and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who has worked with Sarah Hyland in XOXO and has various TV credits, including TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and NBC’s About a Boy.  

Star Wars released this official production announcement, which is also marks the start of the Star Wars hype machine once again. 

Ava DuVernay’s film and TV projects

Ava DuVernay is doing major things right now! First, she’s working with Oprah on the OWN adaptation of Queen Sugar. The first table read happened Sunday, and DuVernay chronicled it on Twitter:

Also, DuVernay is in contention to direct two films: the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (a very creepy book, if you ask me), and Intelligent Life, a sci-fi thriller potentially starring Lupita Nyong’o. The latter film is what’s exciting me the most, since black women in sci-fi is still a revolutionary thing to see (Nyong’o also’s got her sci-fi scorecard filled up thanks to Star Wars, but even in that, she’s simply voicing a character, not appearing as herself on screen, something a lot of viewers took issue with). But all of this directorial news is encouraging, given the #OscarsSoWhite climate we’re in. DuVernay’s upcoming jobs are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to Hollywood fixing its diversity-behind-the-camera problems, but her opportunities do show that 1) Hollywood can act responsibly when it feels like it; it’s ineffectiveness is just mostly due to laziness and status-quo thinking over anything and 2) that the talent of people of color (in this case, women of color) can and will be recognized, despite the fractured systems that were created to keep them out and on the sidelines.

Roots and Underground

The trailers for History’s Roots remake and WGN’s upcoming slave series Underground have left me impressed, and I’m sure you’ll be just as impressed by them as well. Below are the trailers as well as the Underground first look. On a shallow note: Kunta Kinte’s turbans are my favorite things ever. Roots premieres Memorial Day; Underground premieres March 9.

(Read about my EW Community articles about the original Roots and the upcoming Underground here and here!)

The Danish Girl

If you loved The Danish Girl, it’s coming to DVD/Blu-ray March 1. If you want to rewatch it even earlier than that, the digital download will be available Feb. 16.

Here are the pertinent deets via Universal Pictures’ press release:

With love comes the courage to be yourself in The Danish Girl, coming to Digital HD onFebruary 16, 2016, and Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on March 1, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Inspired by the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, the remarkable love story is “a cinematic landmark,” according to Variety’s Peter Debruge. The Danish Girl on Blu-rayand DVD comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. The Focus Features release is nominated for four Academy Awards® including Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado), and Best Production Design (Production Designer, Eve Stewart; Set Decorator, Michael Standish).

Academy Award® winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Academy Award® nominee Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) star for Academy Award®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables). In the 1920s, a strong and loving marriage evolves as Gerda Wegener (Vikander) supports Lili Elbe (Redmayne) during her journey as a transgender woman. Through the other, each of them finds the courage to be who they are at heart. “Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are sensational!” declares Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz, while Debruge of Variety raves, “Redmayne gives the greatest performance of his career.”

Also starring Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Sebastian Koch (Homeland), Amber Heard (Zombieland), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd), The Danish Girl is a moving and sensitive portrait that Lou Lumenick of The New York Post calls “a remarkable and timely story.”

BLU-RAYTM AND DVD BONUS FEATURE:

  • The Making of The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hooper, and others on the filmmaking team share some of the creative processes that enhanced the beauty of the movie.

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

Casting News:

Zhang Ziyi to Star in ‘East/West’ Comedy for Universal

American Gods Author Neil Gaiman on Why Casting The 100s Ricky Whittle as Shadow Is So Vital 

Idris Elba in Talks for the Lead in The Mountain Between Us

John Ridley’s ABC Pilot ‘Presence’ Casts Marcus Anderson

Archie Panjabi to Star in ABC Anthology Drama ‘The Jury’

Other News:

How a Bruce Lee Origin Tale Is Taking Flight With Chinese Money and Abundant Diplomacy

Sundance Fights Tide With Films Like ‘The Birth of a Nation’

The Magicians’ Arjun Gupta on Hollywood Diversity and Penny’s Portrayal in the 4th Episode

What do you think of these stories? Give your comments below!

#OscarsSoWhite: More Discussion, New Open Letters Published

TONS of Oscar news, I tell ya! Tons of it! The battle for diversity in the Oscar nominations has gotten bigger than anyone thought it would get (including me, which might surprise you—I vacillate between cynicism and optimism) . Here’s what’s been happening so far.

Will Smith will not attend the Oscars after all. You can read more about his comments at Entertainment Weekly, but just know that during his Good Morning America exclusive he said these points: 1) he didn’t know about his wife’s plan to release a video, 2) he feels his wife would have made a video whether or not he was nominated (despite his concession that perhaps the lack of a Concussion nomination was the catalyst for Pinkett Smith’s feelings), and 3) this issue is about more than him and Concussion; it’s about the whole industry.

Mark Ruffalo heavily weighed not going to the Oscars over the course of Thursday. First, he said to BBC News that he was considering joining the boycott, saying, “I woke up in the morning thinking, what is the right way to do this? Because if you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was, the good people who don’t act are much worse than the people, the wrongdoers that are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.” Later on Twitter, Ruffalo gave his final decision and his reasoning:

50 Cent and Tyrese Gibson want Chris Rock to boycott the Oscars, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. But personally, I want Chris Rock to host and slay the game. Embarrassing the Academy on live television is the type of righteous pettiness I can get behind.

• Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Quincy Jones are among other actors who are calling for more diversity in the Oscar voting pool. Davis, who was nominated for her role in The Help (a role indicative of the kind of roles the Oscars nominate for black people), said that the Oscar issue is indicative of a much larger societal problem. To quote The Hollywood Reporter:

“It’s not the Oscars. The Oscars are a symptom of a much greater issue and that’s the issue of the Hollywood movie-making system. How many more movies are being made that have this in it,” she asks as she points to the color of her skin. “More films need to be made wher we can shine. That’s the bottom line. The opportunity does not match the talent. There needs to be more opportunity, that’s just it. And you have to invest in it.”

Nyong’o, who won for her role in 12 Years a Slave (a slave role, another type the Oscars love for black people), posted this on Instagram:

Jones, who is the first black person to be added to the Academy board of governors, said to the National Association of Television Program Executives conference Wednesday that said he intends to address the diversity issue with the AMPAS board next week. “I’m going to ask the board to let me speak for five minutes on this lack of diversity. We’ve got to find a solution. It’s been going on for too long,” he said, according to Variety.

Brie Larson threw her support behind #OscarsSoWhite with this Instagram post:

Reese Witherspoon also called for more attention to the nominations outrage, writing on Facebook (and lauding TIME Magazine):

I really appreciated this article in TIME on the lack of racial and gender diversity in this year’s Oscar…

Posted by Reese Witherspoon on Thursday, January 21, 2016

• Other actors are furthering the diversity discussion by talking more about the industry at large. Idris Elba recently spoke to British Parliament about the lack of roles for black British actors, saying “Talent is there, opportunity isn’t, [a]nd talent can’t reach opportunity”(you can read the transcript here). On Twitter, Elba called the speech “the mot important speech I ever made.”

Nate Parker, who is playing slave rebel leader Nat Turner in the upcoming film Birth of a Nation (a film he wrote, produced and directed), said that too many of the roles for black men lack “integrity.” “As a black man, you leave auditions not hoping you get the job but wondering how you explain it to your family if you do,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter. “Historically, and this is truly my feeling, generally speaking we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings, or being in the center [of] our own narrative driving it forward.”

Dustin Hoffman told BBC News (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter) that that lack of inclusion with Oscar noms is indicative of America’s racist history, calling it “subliminal racism.”

“In our country, there’s a subliminal racism, and it’s been there…the end of the Civil War didn’t change that,” he said on the red carpet of the National TV Awards. “It’s only been 200 years, this is just an example of it.” He also said, “Other than black entertaiiners being nominated, there’s a bigger problem with young black individuals being killed on our streets by police. That’s a bigger problem.”

• The Los Angeles Times has also addressed that it’s not just black people denigrated by the lack of Oscar nominations and the industry; the Times‘ Susan King points out that it’s been 54 years since a Latina won an Oscar, and an Asian actress hasn’t won in 58 years. Ben Johnson, of Cherokee and Irish descent won an Oscar in 1971, and no other indigenous person  who was nominated for an Oscar has won since.

• Some of the Oscar voters themselves have come out to The Hollywood Reporter on the defensive, with some saying that they feel it’s unfair to imply that they are racist (even though no one applied the word “racist” and the consensus doesn’t account for a more nuanced reading of the outrage fans and other Oscar voters have). Others have also said that the battle should be with the industry, not with them.

• Despite what some of the offended Oscar voters are saying, many of the current and former Academy brass are working on getting their members in check. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson had an op-ed published in The Hollywood Reporter, stating that this moment in time is an “inflection point.” To quote a piece:

“There’s not one part of the industry that doesn’t need to be addressed, and it’s been this way for 25 years. The needle has hardly moved. It’s cultural, it’s institutional, it’s our society at large, it’s our education system–all of it–before you get to an industry that’s supposed to reflect this beautiful world. And the indstury has been building up over a very log time, starting with white men running the studios who hire other people who look like them. It hasn’t changed that much, and it won’t until there’s a concerted effort on every single front: talent, the executives in the studios, the people we mentor.”

The former Academy president, Hawk Koch, wrote in a passionate open letter to the Hollywood industry (published in The Hollywood Reporter) that a boycott won’t solve anything, but changing the industry will. Quoting the letter:

“…[C]learly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled an all under represented gropus. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.”

All of this and more will probably be discussed this Tuesday when AMPAS will meet for a routine meeting next Tuesday. One of the governors told Entertainment Weekly that “[i]t promises to be a long and adventuresome night.”

News about #OscarsSoWhite is still developing as we speak, so we’ll see what happens in the coming days.