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Three Signs of Hollywood’s Slow Lurch Forward to LGBT inclusiveness

Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.
Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Gay characters, gay women characters in particular, have had a tough time on television in recent months. From The 100 to The Walking Dead enacting the “Bury Your Gays” trope, the narrative that gay characters are only good and worthy if they are dead (for “dramatic effect”) has been run into the ground. But there are three examples of a possible shift in narratives about gay characters.

Vanity Fair recently interviewed real life couple Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, the creators behind the comedy series Take My Wife. The show, which is about a couple who run a small business, shows Esposito and Butcher’s characters existing outside the media’s obsession with dead gay characters. Even Butcher herself lamented about the state of television when it comes to showcasing gay characters only as being useful for drama. “Lesbians don’t really get to be on TV and not die,” she said. She also told Vanity Fair that she and Esposito wanted the show to represent something real and tangible. “I wanted to represent something that actually looked real to peole and feels like a real household, career, experience, show, audience. I just wanted everything to feel real, and I enjoy that challenge.”

A particularly quiet watershed moment for gay characters happened in the realm of animation, and I’m actually not talking about Steven Universe, which frequently details the lives of gay characters. This moment came from Nickelodeon’s newest cartoon, The Loud House, in which main character Lincoln Loud’s best friend Clyde McBride comes from an interracial same-sex household. Wayne Brady and Michael McDonald (not the singer) provide the voices for Clyde’s parents, Harold and Howard McBride.

Also, in superhero news, CW Seed is bringing the first out gay superhero to the screen. According to Deadline, The Ray (aka reporter Raymond “Ray” Terrill) will star in an upcoming animated series called Freedom Fighters: The Ray, much like how Vixen debuted. Also like Vixen, The Ray is expected to transition into live-action, making him the second gay superhero portrayed on screen (the first being Deadpool, as evidenced by Ryan Reynolds’ insistence that everything about Deadpool would stay true to the character, including his bisexuality). The voice actor who will portray The Ray (an actor who has yet to be cast) is also expected to portray him in live-action form.

While all of this is good news, there is unfortunately still the lingering doubt that audiences and/or studios won’t accept gay leads in their stories. Such is the case with Ghostbusters director Paul Feig oddly deflecting the question of if Kate McKinnon’s character Holtzmann is a lesbian. When asked by The Daily Beast about if Holtzman was a lesbian, Feig coyly said, “What do you think?” He then added, “I’d like to think yes, I say. …I hate to be coy about it. But when you’re dealing with the studios and that kind of thing…” He punctuated his statement with, as The Daily Beast describes it, an apologetic shrug.

What’s even stranger is that even though he didn’t answer the question about Holtzmann, McKinnon herself is gay; while that doesn’t mean Holtzmann is gay necessarily, McKinnon’s participation in the film and how she played her role (which, from where I’m sitting, was quite overtly flirty with Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert) would certainly seem to play against the idea that the studio or audience can’t handle a gay lead, whether it’s the actress or the character. In short, it shouldn’t matter in any scenario that Holtzmann is gay. Judging from a quick search of Ghostbusters fanfiction, much of which is about Erin and Hotlzmann, a large contingent of the audience is perfectly fine with a gay leading character.

Feig’s hesitance to confirm Holtzmann’s sexuality for fear of studio backlash (national, international, or otherwise) falls in line with the general studio practice of casually baiting audiences, either intentionally or unintentionally, with inclusion, only to later reverse or slyly not deny-not confirm key facts. This kind of baiting is annoying to say the least, particularly since LGBT characters are few and far between to begin with. The lack of representation forces fans to create their own narratives and theories, but lately, fans have been demanding that studios become more insistent on creating LGBT characters within their mainstream, blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and the Marvel franchise.

However, things are progressing in Hollywood, if at a snail’s pace. One way to increase the pace, though, is for Hollywood to become more inclusive of others both in the realm of talent and behind the scenes. Currently, disruptive television like online viewing (such as the case with Take My Wife, which is a streaming show on Seeso) allows audience members who aren’t usually represented in the mainstream to find characters that reflect them and their experiences. Also, it allows for creators who might not have a seat at the proverbial table to be in charge of the content they create and how it speaks to their audience. The old way of doing things in Hollywood is quickly becoming obsolete as more and more people become makers of their own destiny with other outlets. Eventually, the old guard will have to catch up and start employing the creators and talent that have captured large chunks of their market. For instance, Laverne Cox got her start in disruptive TV with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Now, this fall  you can see her on CBS’ Doubt starring opposite Dulé Hill. The disruptor becomes part of the new Hollywood order.

What do you think about the state of LGBT characters on television? What solutions would you give to Hollywood? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

#RepresentYourStory: A New Initiative By JUST ADD COLOR

JUST ADD COLOR is known as a place that discusses representation in entertainment. But let’s be honest; there are a lot of sites and online personalities that discuss representation in entertainment. And even though my biggest interest is in how entertainment highlights Americans of all backgrounds, I’m even more interested in how those of us that aren’t always represented still manage to find ourselves and our voices, despite society telling us we shouldn’t even bother.

If I may be a little transparent here, I have to say that I’m surprised other sites who do focus on representation, particularly race, in entertainment haven’t focused on cultivating self-worth just as fiercely. It’s one thing to talk about what’s wrong with representation, and it’s another to discuss that as well as give examples and tips on how to combat the depression and isolation that comes with being weighed down by stereotypes. I wish there was a site that helped me overcome my issues growing up, so with that in mind, I’d like to provide that kind of a site to others. Thus, the introduction to a new permanent part of my site, #RepresentYourStory.

I’ll start off the #RepresentYourStory initiative with myself. I am a black woman who has had to face her share of colorism, hair politics, and general odd treatment growing up. As I’ve told Shaun from the “No, Totally” podcast, I might not be the lightest person in the world, but I’ve still felt like I’ve been given “light-skinned privileges” for other reasons beyond my skin color.

The stereotypical image of a black girl is one that unfortunately still seems to relate back to the “pickaninny”, a stereotype that vilifies black children, especially those with darker skin and coarser hair. I, on the other hand, was born with long, thick, medium-grade hair, and I’ve had to field questions of “Is that your real hair?” to people literally praising me solely because of my hair. Some folks even thought I wasn’t black because I had long, loose (and at that time, permed straight) hair. People have wanted to separate me from my African-American heritage because of my hair, declaring me to be French, Caribbean, Indian and so forth. That kind of attention made me feel really strange growing up, like I was a freak. I don’t like being made to feel like I’m somehow better just because of how I look, since anyone, regardless of their skin color or hair texture, can be beautiful. Top it off with the fact that, apparently, I am a highly sensitive person, something I don’t think many teachers expected from a child in general, much less a black child. I have always dealt with being the odd person out in many different scenarios.

In short, I’ve grown up often feeling like a token, especially in my mostly-white high school (the first time I’d been in a mostly-white environment); because I didn’t act in accordance to people’s narrow definitions of black behavior, I was automatically given other privileges and allocations and, in many ways, placed closer to whiteness. Meanwhile, other black kids in high school would look at me strange, as if I’d done something wrong, when I’d never asked for the treatment I was given. The irony is that I’m one of the most black-focused people there are, with a love for my blackness instilled in me by my mother. You can listen to me talk about my life on Shaun’s podcast here:

I resented being thought of as a token then, and I especially resent it now, since social media is, in many ways, like another big high school. There are many gatekeepers to what it means to “be black” on the internet, and I often don’t fit the bill for what their version of “blackness” entails. Having come up against that type of thinking on the internet in a very personal way, I have little patience for black folks telling other black folks how they should or shouldn’t think in order to be accepted as “black.”

It was only until a few years ago, particularly when I started my journey into owning a website, that I began to find myself and my voice. I realized that I didn’t have to feel weird because of my sensitivity, my hair, or how people viewed me. The baggage folks were placing on me wasn’t a reflection of me; it was a reflection of their own insecurities with themselves as well as their own narrow view of what blackness can be. I’ve always been a person who didn’t follow the crowd, but now I know there is a true strength in not being part of the flock of society. Being different is not a weakness. Being different is a strength if you can value the insight there is in being different, and if you have the internal fortitude it takes to own that difference. I admit that I didn’t always have that kind of fortitude. To be honest, there are days when I’m still not up to snuff 100 percent. But I’d rather be myself, be different, and own my self-worth than try to portray everything to everyone else.

So now that I’ve given my story, I want to read yours. How do you represent your story? What affected you growing up or later in life? What advice do you have for others who might need the same advice you needed years ago? Tell me about it! You can either submit a short article to me at monique@colorwebmag.com, or if you need help getting started, you can fill out my #RepresentYourStory questionnaire, and I’ll write an article based on your responses. If you love the #RepresentYourStory initiative, share it with everyone you know!

Either way, we can all help each other heal our wounds society has given us if we have the courage to be transparent, honest, and empathetic. Regardless of how we portray ourselves on social media, we all aren’t perfect; we’ve all had hills to climb in life. But we can all show each other the way by saying, “I’ve been there, too.”

Twitter Urges Disney Junior to Renew “Doc McStuffins”

Disney Junior’s hit show Doc McStuffins has, mysteriously, not been renewed for a fifth season, and fans want to know why that is!

The show, featuring a young black girl who is the doctor in residence for her stuffed toys, have inspired many girls and boys, and just as important, it helped viewers of color see themselves represented in a positive and uplifting light.

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But, despite the good the show has done, many are concerned and outraged at Disney’s lack of a renewal. Comedian and host of CNN’s United Shades of America W. Kamau Bell launched a Twitter call for Disney to #RenewDocMcStuffins, and the momentum started from there. Check out the Twitter Moment it spawned:

What are your feelings about Doc McStuffins? What do you love about the show and the character? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Underground”: Dish Network Removes WGN America, Provokes Jesse Jackson’s Ire

WGN America has hit gold with its newest drama, Underground. But for whatever reason, Dish Network decided to take WGN America out of its lineup of stations.

Jesse Jackson has released a statement through his Rainbow Push Coalition, condemning Dish’s removal of the station. In part, the statement reads:

In the letter, Reverend Jackson states that DISH has undervalued the series’ record-setting ratings and African American viewers in much the same way “the old south counted African Americans as three-fifths of a man.”

DISH’s decision to force WGN America off its distribution system is especially troubling since high-quality programs like “Underground”—in which the African-American characters are heroic, their struggle inspirational, and the audience diverse—don’t make it to air very often. When they do, they should be celebrated, not put at risk as DISH has recklessly done.

The negotiations between Dish and Tribune, the parent company of WGN America, have deteriorated, which led to Dish taking WGN America off. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dish stated that “Tribune rejected its offers for an extension during negotiations.” Dish also stated that Charlie Ergen, the head of Dish, “invited Jackson and Tribune CEO Peter Liguori for a meeting on Thursday for what ‘could be a sharing of ideas that would have allowed Dish and Tribune to reach an agreement that was fair to our subscribers and to Tribune.'” However, Dish asserts that Jackson and Liguori didn’t respond. “Having passed on an opportunity to get all the facts and having issued a press release after that meeting was scheduled to occur, we are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for DISH consumers,” states the company.

It also appears tensions appeared between Dish and Tribune originally because of Dish feeling like WGN America ran an ad that was against Dish. Dish has now filed suit against Tribune Broadcasting, the branch of Tribune that’s directly over WGN America, stating a breach of contract as the reason. According to the suit (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter), Dish claims that WGN America aired commercials that “cast DISH in an extremely negative light…that Dish has not acted in good faith, that it’s performance and services are the worst in the indutry, and even that DISH is a ‘disgusting’ company.”

From an outsider’s perspective, this all seems childish. And frankly, this childish stuff is robbing too many people of the lessons Underground can teach.

Maryland Senator Catherine Pugh reflected this sentiment in her article for The Huffington Post, “Dish Network and WGN America’s Underground,” writing:

“Shows like ‘Underground’ have value far beyond the ratings and advertising revenue they generate for the companies that produce, air and distribute them. Make no mistake, however, “Underground” is very, very popular–often the No. 1 show on cable Wednesday nights.”

Underground shouldn’t be caught in the middle of this money-laden fracas. Let WGN America stay on the air, Dish Network! Let its fans see it unencumbered.

Here’s Jackson’s statement in full:

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2016 – This week, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. sent a letter to DISH Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen, firmly supporting Tribune Broadcasting’s request to put its stations and WGN America back on the air by reaching a fair-market deal between the two companies. Reverend Jackson underscored that “WGN America is deeply committed to sharing positive portrayals of African Americans” as illustrated by their critically acclaimed hit series “Underground,” which tells the unflinching story of some of America’s most heroic freedom fighters—the slaves who risked their lives to reach freedom and claim their civil rights.

In the letter, Reverend Jackson states that DISH has undervalued the series’ record-setting ratings and African American viewers in much the same way “the old south counted African Americans as three-fifths of a man.”

DISH’s decision to force WGN America off its distribution system is especially troubling since high-quality programs like “Underground”—in which the African-American characters are heroic, their struggle inspirational, and the audience diverse—don’t make it to air very often. When they do, they should be celebrated, not put at risk as DISH has recklessly done.

Reverend Jackson is looking forward to discussing this issue in greater detail with Mr. Ergen.

“Tyrant”: Adam Rayner on Bassam Al-Fayeed in Cigar Aficionado

I’ve talked a lot about Tyrant on this site, as well as on my slice of the Entertainment Weekly Community. One of the biggest points of contention I’ve had is that the main character, Bassam/Barry, is played by a white British actor, Adam Rayner. Tyrant is a show completely about the Middle East and Middle Eastern characters. Seeing how actors of Middle Eastern descent have to face tons of stereotyping and marginalization in Hollywood to get meaningful roles (roles that aren’t terrorists), and how young Bassam is actually played by young actors of Middle Eastern descent despite Rayner playing adult Bassam, I’ve not only called the show out on its casting of the main character, but have personally wondered how Rayner felt about it. Well, he’s spoken about this and more in his interview with Cigar Aficionado.

“My main research was reading about the region…I’m not playing someone who was fully culturally an Arab man—to him, this world has become alien,” he told the magazine. “Still, I was learning about Bedouin and Arab culture, the history and politics, as well as the current political climate, trying to gain an understanding and knowledge that Bassam would have grown up with.”

Howard Gordon, the executive producer of Tyrant (along with other Middle Eastern-based—and contentious—shows 24 and Homeland), said of Rayner, “Obviously it’s a challenge for someone with no experience of the Middle East to play someone from there. Adam has been up to it.”

Let me analyze these points for just a second. These are my thoughts, not the thoughts of Cigar Aficionado. First, let me say the comments in the article are very enlightening. But I do have some stuff to say after watching two seasons of Tyrant.

I’ve always felt that a person of Middle Eastern background should have been awarded this role and a person such as that would kill this role. Why? Because they’d have a lot more tacit knowledge to work with and they wouldn’t have to do the research, as it were, to play another culture and another race. Or, let me look at it from the point of view of a Bassam; why not cast an American of Middle Eastern descent (or a Brit of Middle Eastern descent, or anyone else), someone who is removed from the day-to-day life of the Middle East, but, like Bassam, has a link to their culture and a curiosity to learn more. Either way, whether you go with an actor from the Middle East or an actor of Middle Eastern descent, you have a much more realistic portrayal of Bassam.

However, I’ll give Rayner credit for finding his way into Bassam’s point of view. To me, Rayner’s Bassam hints at something unsavory that seems to be true to the character; Bassam has a large level of self-hate. Not just for his own actions, but for his culture. Sure, he comes from a line of despots. But he can’t separate the actions of his family from the overall culture of his home and the citizens that make up his home. He strikes me just as what he looks like; a Middle Eastern man who passes for white so he can get the benefits of living in America, and who lives in America so long that he removes himself from his home, his former identity, and his former actions. But, with Rayner’s Bassam taking this tone, there are new questions. Is this the tone the creator(s) wanted for Bassam in the first place? Does this tone make him less sympathetic? Would critics like me even see this side of Bassam if he was cast using an actual Middle Eastern actor (because Middle Eastern people come in all shades)? I don’t know. Such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.

The only thing I can say is that at least the production and Rayner himself seem to be aware of the issues involved. But, if the production was aware of this to begin with, why go with a non-Middle Eastern actor? An actor, I must also point out, who is someone no one in the U.S. had heard of before?

I bring this up because production teams always like say that they’re looking for “star power.” That argument has been made over and over for choosing white actors over Asian actors, and it was just used again when discussing who could play Rumi. The erroneous thought process is that they want someone with star wattage attached to their name, so they pick a white actor. However, Rayner was not a star here in the U.S.; British folks would have to fill me in on if he was a star in in the U.K. The same can be said for someone like Tom Mison, who I’m sure would be the first to say (and has said in so many words) that he’s not the sole star of Sleepy Hollow despite him having the caché of being a white Briton; Nicole Beharie, who has acted in high caliber films such as 42 and Shame, and has more star wattage because of it, is the star, and therefore the leader (or should have been if there didn’t seem to be a conspiracy to make Sleepy Hollow another iteration of Dr. Who).

The point is this: if a white actor who is looking for his big break can be given his chance by playing a Middle Eastern character, why couldn’t a Middle Eastern actor (or actor of Middle Eastern descent) who is looking for his big break be afforded the same, especially in a role reflective of his ethnicity? Again, there are a lot of questions that could have been nullified if the complications from casting were taking care of from the beginning. Again, such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.

Make no mistake; I’m not faulting Rayner or saying he’s a bad actor. In fact, most of the actors who get cast as roles outside of their ethnicity/race aren’t bad actors. It’s just there’s a can of worms Hollywood always has to open when it comes to who gets cast as whom.

All right, now that that’s out of the way, check out some of the other tidbits from the article (which is, in all fairness, a really good article):

Eric Schrier, FX Networks president of original programming, on filming in a war zone: “We try to take big swings. A show set in the Middle East? That’s a big swing…Let’s say this show had its challenges, production-wise, that first season. I mean, they were shooting rockets.”

Gwyneth Horder-Payton, co-executive producer, on the challenges of shooting scenes set in a mosque: “We built the set and hired extras of Arab descent. When Barry [Rayner’s character] walked into the middle of the service, they were upset because they said this would never happen in a mosque—it would never be allowed. Plus, here I am, a woman, in the mosque. Also not allowed. And I’m wearing shoes, because I’m going back and forth outside…Also not allowed. And they were serious, even though it was a set we’d built and not a real mosque.”

On the similarities between Rayner’s character and Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad: “The parallels to Assad are obvious. The old-style dictator father, the son who’s been trained in the West.  Still, it’s important to say that this isn’t a show about one country. That would prevent us from dealing with issues that are more common region-wide.”

On the dethroning of dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi: “How do you rule over a democracy when you’ve got a gun to your head? One easy way to solve the problem is to get a gun to the other guy’s head.  It solves the problem—but it’s not democracy…How do you create security for the country without compromising those democratic principles? Democracy requires a lot of preparation, with elections after you’ve educated the people. But how long will that take? And who’s in charge in the meantime?  It’s not as simple as, well, we got rid of Hussein or Qaddafi and now we’ll have democracy.”

On being compared to Abraham Lincoln: “When you’re playing a president or a dictator, it’s a time-honored cliché that a beard bestows authority on a man- or that’s my hope, anyway. People on the show have started calling me Abe Lincoln, which is an interesting comparison.  I’m not quite sure if it’s a compliment or not.”

On the significance of cigars in Tyrant:They’re considered quite a Western symbol, associated with the power and wealth, smoked by the Tony Sopranos of the world.”

On authoritarianism and building democracy: “Because to build the democratic process, first you have to delay the democratic process—and that’s an authoritarian government.”

Read the entirety of the Tyrant interview with Cigar Aficionado (including quotes from Moran Atias, who plays Leila Al-Fayeed) in this month’s issue, on sale now (the full cover is below). Tyrant, in its third season, comes back at 10/9c July 6 on FX.

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JUST ADD COLOR’s Rumi Online Roundtable with Mihrimah Irena, Rana Tahir, Imran Siddiquee, Nora Rahimian and Evadney Petgrave

Jalal al-Din Mohammad Balkhi, the Sufi mystic and popular 13th century Persian poet better known as Rumi, is going to become a Hollywood superstar. Great; we’re getting diversity in storytelling, right? It would appear that it’s only a mirage. Despite the film focusing on a popular Middle Eastern historical figure, and despite screenwriter David Franzoni stating that he’s working on a script that will “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema by charting the life of the great Sufi scholar,” Franzoni still gave the suggestion that a white actor would play Rumi, such as Leonardo DiCaprio. Franzoni also suggested that someone like Robert Downey, Jr. would be great to play Shams of Tabriz, who was Rumi’s spiritual teacher.

To be fair, producer Stephen Joel Brown said that it’s too early to discuss casting, saying that the star caliber of a DiCaprio and Downey is what they’re looking for in their prospective leads. But the mere suggestion of DiCaprio and Downey, white actors, and conflating that with star power seems to suggest that once again, Hollywood has the potential to go the whitewashing route. That fear and anger resulted in the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite.

However, despite the backlash, there was another point of view voiced on Twitter. One thread in particular suggested that even though some Americans might be up in arms about the Rumi film, people overseas in Turkey, where Rumi was buried, wouldn’t be offended by DiCaprio playing Rumi; instead, they’d see it as a compliment that Hollywood wanted to give Rumi the Hollywood star treatment. However, the Afghan government is now aware of the film and are monitoring its development. Haoon Hakimi, the spokesperon for the country’s ministry of Information and Culture, told DW.com that the government is “still collecting informatoin on this issue” and that “[a]s soon as we have something, the ministry will share its views with the film makers.”

I wanted to see what potential audience members felt about this movie. So for this online roundtable (via email and Twitter direct message), we have Twitter user Mihrimah Irena, poetry writer, freelance editor and blogger Rana Tahir (rana-tahir.com), film and media critic, filmmaker, speaker and consultant Imran Siddiquee (imransiddiquee.com), music festival organizer and co-founder of global arts and culture collaborative network #CultureFix Nora Rahimian, and writer and Citrine Magazine founder/editor Evadney Petgrave.

JUST ADD COLOR: What were your immediate reactions to the news that Rumi could be played by Leonardo DiCaprio?

Mihrimah Irena : My immediate reaction was, pardon the French, WTF. literally. I was and am furious.

Rana Tahir: Honestly, I just had to roll my eyes. I love DiCaprio, I’ve been a fan since Titanic (screw everyone, that movie is a masterpiece), and I’m a fan of Rumi too. I’m not blaming either of them for this (well, I can’t blame Rumi, he’s been dead for a long time). I sincerely hope Leo turns this down. If not for us, then at least for himself: You can get other roles, Leo! Don’t taint yourself with racism!

Imran Siddiquee: I was actually surprised by how surprised I was at the news, only because you would think at this point we’d all be accustomed to such ridiculousness from Hollywood (since there have been way too many examples of this kind of whitewashing in the past year alone). But honestly, I feel like it only becomes more ridiculous the more it happens, because at some point you’re like – wait, are people really not paying attention at all? (They really aren’t).

Nora Rahimian: I was so excited for a Rumi film, in part because I was excited to see a representation of my culture that celebrated some of the parts of us I love the most: celebrations of poetry and love and beauty. That they want Leo to play the role is a symbol of the deeper whitewashing that inevitably will happen—that they’ll do—to Rumi’s story. It felt like an erasure of my people, of a denial of our cultural legacy.

Evadney Petgrave: Mainstream Hollywood’s nonsense has been getting so much attention since April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite was created, so I wasn’t too surprised when this announcement was made. Sadly, people of color are always on alert for how white people are going to try us next- this was just another one of those times. I feel like they just won’t ever get it, which is why I’m advocating for hitting them where it hurts – their pockets.

The director claims to want to affect people’s perceptions of the Middle East. What do you think of the irony that he’d choose non-Middle Eastern actors? In other words, would casting a non-Middle Eastern actor prevent the film from achieving what it aspires to?

Irena: The Middle East is rife with people of ALL skin colors – there are red haired Palestinians, blue eyed Lebanese, the list goes on. But to me, it’s the issue that he picked someone who is clearly European, who does not originate from that place and therefore doesn’t understand our history or our issues or our heritage… that to me is an issue. Look at Kingdom of Heaven– casting was right for that film and audiences in the Middle East greatly appreciated the portrayal of Saladdin by a middle eastern actor. I think the casting will cause and causes such an issue it will prevent the aspiration of this film.

Tahir: First of all, I think his premise is wrong. Making a movie about Rumi is probably not going to affect how people see the Middle East. Rumi was co-opted by white poets since Robert Bly introduced his poetry to the US in the 70’s. Often, Rumi’s poetry is divorced from his life, and more specifically, his faith. Rumi’s been whitewashed long before the idea of this movie, so to [white people] he might as well be European now.

Also, ancient depictions of the Middle East aren’t necessarily at issue when we talk about representation. Yes, it would be cool if the world knew a little more about how much Middle Eastern and Muslim societies have contributed to the world, but it’s more about the modern day representation. Highly developed games like “Call of Duty” can’t even bother to get the language right (Pakistanis speak Urdu, not Arabic!), and after all these years people still don’t get that turbans are usually worn by Sikhs not Muslims. If the director wants to help: recruit us to tell our stories as they are today, give us the platform! Want to help? Make a movie about the debacle that was Sykes-Picot. That shit has repercussions today, and he can even cast white people!

Siddiquee: I think casting a white man like DiCaprio to play this part actually would have an affect on people’s perceptions of the Middle East, in that it would further confirm/perpetuate an idea which white supremacy is always teaching us: that white men are more interesting than men of color. That white men are the heroes of history, and that people of color are only worth seeing as criminals and enemies of peace. This may not be what the creators overtly aspire to do, but I do get the sense that they aspire to make a film about Rumi for white people. That seems pretty clear to me given their comments – “He’s like Shakespeare” – and the fact that they reference Lawrence of Arabia as an inspiration. They have a particular audience in mind already and in that sense – which is a harmful, dismissive, and oppressive sense – casting Leonardo DiCaprio would help them achieve an unspoken goal.

But to your actual question, to make this casting decision would prevent the film from truly challenging stereotypes about Muslims or people from the Middle East.

Rahimian: Hollywood is very comfortable casting Middle Eastern actors as terrorists, villains, and monsters, but the fact that any positive portrayal of the region has to be done by a white actor is proof of how deeply white supremacy is embedded in our culture. The director can’t even imagine a “positive Middle East” with actual Middle Eastern people in. But what they can do is take a story that they find lucrative- Rumi is the best-selling poet in the US- and co-opt it for commercial gain. So the message is that the potential financial earnings are good enough for Hollywood, but the people, the cultural legacy, the history itself is not.

Petgrave: Almost everyone has heard or read a poem of Rumi’s, even if they don’t know his name. Yes, we do have to acknowledge people like Coleman Barks for anthologizing his work and helping bring it to the masses, but white-washing Rumi in a movie is a totally different animal. It just affirms that some white Americans think that something is not important unless they say it is. Writers, poets, and other people who love Rumi’s work would see the movie regardless of who is starring in it. In fact, this would be a Rumi movie that I will never support.

How do you think a whitewashed Rumi film would affect the fight for diversity in Hollywood?

Irena: The casting of a white actor for Rumi further exacerbates the issue of the CLEAR lack of diversity in Hollywood and shows that other people of color don’t matter and their stories and their struggles don’t matter.

Tahir: I think, and this may be the pessimist in me, that it won’t do much. There have been countless numbers of movies that were whitewashed. I mean look at what they are doing to Ghost in the Shell. Producers will continue to do this until there are real consequences. In order to have real consequences we need solidarity among a majority of moviegoers. This means that the burden (just demographically speaking) falls on white people. They are the majority of moviegoers in the U.S. according to the MPAA, and they are the ones Hollywood caters to more than anyone else. They’ve got to put their hat in the ring, so to speak.

The problem is white supremacy, the solution is white people. Ironic.

Rahimian: Rumi is one example in a long line stories that Hollywood has appropriated and whitewashed. What concerns me with this story in particular is that not much is actually known about Rumi’s life. So whatever Hollywood portrays will become fact for most people. They’re not just whitewashing history; they’re rewriting it.

Is it going to change Hollywood? No. But I think the backlash against Leo-as-Rumi reflects a shift where audiences are not just no longer accepting whitewashed films but also are demanding diversity in stories, characters, actors, and decision-makers.

Petgrave: There’s been a lot of people of all colors speaking out against this, so I think it will help to spread more light on Hollywood’s whitewashing. We are making our voices heard (and that is good), but we must do more than tweet and leave comments. Creating and sharing our own stories is the only way I believe we can have real diversity in Hollywood.

There’s a thread on Twitter about how some overseas wouldn’t see Leo-as-Rumi offensive because they might not see themselves as POC. What are your opinions on this?

Irena: I know from Pakistan and the Middle East there is a likeness and desire to have white skin and look lighter and look like those of European descent. But to me, I don’t agree with the opinion that people see themselves as white and stuff. The point is he doesn’t represent us, our heritage, our struggles, probably never even read Rumi or Hafez or any other poet from the Middle East when people from there read and learn it as soon as they are born.

Tahir:  I understand this point [in the thread] all too well. I grew up in the Middle East, in Kuwait specifically. When I lived there, I didn’t really have a problem with brown face, mostly because I never had to think about it. Two of my favorite movies are Jinnah and The Message where Christopher Lee and Anthony Quinn play brown people. What did it matter if one white guy played an Arab or Desi, when I could switch the channel and watch tons of people in the media who looked like me, or go outside and see the majority of people looked like me? I had daily representation. PoC in places where they are underrepresented don’t have that, so of course they think about representation in different ways.

But ultimately this is a cop-out. A Pakistani-American has as much right to Jinnah as a Pakistani does. Those of Arab/Turkish descent in the U.S. have as much right to think about how Rumi is represented as Turkish people. The politics change in the so-called melting pot we live in. The director is American, and he’s making an American movie which he will probably market and sell in the U.S. primarily. Dude can shove it with his excuses.

Another aside on this: do you really think Turkish people won’t be happy if someone of Turkish descent (or even an actor from Turkey) plays Rumi in a major Hollywood picture? People abroad are always noting with pride when someone like Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai Bachan, or even Omar Sharif breaks that barrier and gets into Hollywood. If the director is so concerned about people abroad, he could really give them something to root for by casting one of their own as Rumi.

Rahimian:  Race is a social construct. Ethnicity is about culture, history, etc. Color really doesn’t have to do with either. But the legacies of colonialism and imperialism that many of our countries suffered have left behind these ideas that “white is better” and set up the U.S./the West as standards to be compared to. So to say that Leo-as-Rumi is an honor is a symbol of deeply embedded internalized racism and the on-going colonial mentality.

Petgrave: Fair enough [re: the thread’s opinion]. I certainly can’t tell people what they should be offended at, but there are plenty of Middle-Eastern people who do agree that the filmmakers already have the wrong idea. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to see someone who shares Rumi’s nationality, play Rumi. It’s elementary thinking. It’s not “an honor” to have your culture mimicked by whiteness and erased. There are plenty of Middle Eastern actors that can play this role and it’s a slap in the face to them to not even be able to be involved because they’re not white American. It’s more than being the same color.

America doesn’t have a great track record with proper Middle Eastern representation. What positive impact could an American-made film about Rumi (starring a Middle Eastern actor) have on America?

Irena: If Rumi starred a Middle Eastern, it would be a start towards better portrayal of middle easterners instead of having them as always terrorists. With a major film like this, it can catalyze having better portrayals of middle eastern and Muslims and thus work towards bridging the communities together and have better inclusiveness.

Tahir: I think, again, the issue is still about modern representation. Rumi is one of the top-selling poets in the U.S. right now, but misrepresentation about Islam and Middle Eastern people in general is rampant. A movie about Rumi done well, that incorporates his culture and faith properly, could have a good impact. It might make people think more about our contributions to the world over human history, but it does little to combat stereotypes today.

Rahimian:  If done well, the film would add a counter-narrative to all the negative portrayals of Middle Easterners. It would be another representation of us. At its best, it would be an invitation for people to further explore parts of Middle Eastern culture, history, and poetry that they perhaps hadn’t thought about it before. But do I trust that this film is being created to challenge stereotypes or actually pay homage to Rumi and his culture? Not at all.

Petgrave: Rumi is well-known here. People who care about his work, will support it. People who care about accurate representation will support it. I’m not sure how the filmmakers plan to tell his story since so little is known about him, but if the film is of good quality, it will do well in the box office. Accurate representation in media will finally show us that America might just be starting to get “great.”

How do you hope Hollywood addresses the Rumi film controversy and prevent potential erasure?

Irena: I hope they address the controversy OPPOSITE of how they handled Gods of Egypt. Like at least say “Oh, we will cast this Middle Eastern person instead and apologize.”…My overall message is this—Hollywood’s casting has, since it’s very inception, is dismissive of POC and if they have POC, most of the time, they cast them for “diversity sake” or as a filler or to fulfill a negative stereotypes. Which is wrong considering the world we live in.

Tahir: I think the best thing it can do is make a lot of money and prove to filmmakers that movies featuring Middle Eastern actors as the protagonist can succeed in the market. I hope the director just realizes his mistake and casts a PoC. If not, I hope DiCaprio publicly turns this role down and uses his platform to talk about representation like he does climate change. If that doesn’t happen either, I hope people boycott and send a message with their dollar.

Siddiquee: I think it’s a plus that this call out happened now, rather than later, since the film hasn’t completed casting. Too often we find about these things after production has begun – or sometimes even when we’re sitting in the theatre watching a film (which is the worst). There’s really a simple solution for these men in power, if they’d like this conversation to go away: don’t cast Leo or Robert Downey Jr. in these roles. And then, make the effort to cast someone who isn’t white.

But, if I’m being completely honest? I’m not really confident, at this point, that people who would suggest Leo in the lead role are then going to be able to make a film about Rumi which truly works against the dominance of whiteness in Hollywood—regardless of who they ultimately cast. And so, if they haven’t already, I think the most significant thing they can do at this point is bring on a co-writer or director who is a person of color, and preferably someone from somewhere close to where Rumi was born. (I know this is a slim possibility, but one can dream).

Rahimian: Bring in Middle Eastern filmmakers, consultants, actors, directors… Let us tell our own story.

Petgrave: I hope they do the right thing and put profits aside and focus on telling and showing an accurate representation. I have no hopes that will actually happen.

Who would you cast as Rumi?

Irena: I would cast as Rumi Halit Ergenç who is a prominent Turkish Actor and who starred in a Turkish Show called Magnificent Century ( a show about Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent) that is an international sensation. Or perhaps Remi Malik from [Mr.] Robot. Or Alexander Siddig.

Tahir: Mihrimah mentioned Alexander Siddig, I second that! I thought he was the perfect person to play Doran Martell on Game of Thrones, but then they gutted the Dorne storyline. Needless to say, I’m heartbroken. Turkey’s TV game has been amazing lately. Their shows are popular all over the [Middle East]. I would be interested in seeing Halit Ergenç from the show Harem Al-Sultan play Rumi. (Also, just to clarify, I know Rumi is Persian, I’m just using Turkey because that is where he is buried and where a lot of westerners go to learn about Rumi.)

Siddiquee:  Someone like Shahab Hosseini, who just won Best Actor at Cannes, or two other men who’ve recently starred in Asghar Farhadi films, Peyman Moaadi and Ali Mosaffa, would be more than capable.

Rahimian: Honestly, couldn’t name names. But what something Imran tweeted earlier about the idea that Leo being the best possible person in the world to play this character is a symbol of white supremacy stands out. Even if the argument is, “But Leo and RDJ would draw box office crowds,” we only have to look at Bollywood and Nollywood to point out the market value of people of color in leading roles (made by and for people of color).

(And Rana, I love your point about the timeline of this film. There is a trope around the old or ancient Middle East as exotic that comes from an orientalist lens. I can easily see this film building off that, where the Middle East, and its people, would still be this exotic “other”. How does this challenge stereotypes? How does this touch on the continuity of history, of geopolitical nuances, etc? So it would completely be possible to make this film and devoid of all nuance and context.)

Petgrave: I’m not too keen on Persian and Middle-Eastern actors, but I have seen names thrown around like: Shahab Hosseini, who has won the Best Actor award at Cannes this year. The talent is out there.

Other articles to check out:

“The Hollywood bull enters Rumi’s china shop” | Aljazeera.com

“Leonardo DiCaprio as Persian poet Rumi: Gladiator screenwriter faces cries of Hollywood whitewashing” | The Telegraph

Celebrate Father’s Day and Fatherhood with “Daddy Don’t Go”

Father’s Day is coming up, and if you and your dad are looking for something meaningful to watch together, try Daddy, Don’t Go, coming to Vimeo On Demand June 19.

The film, executive produced by Malik Yoba and Omar Epps and directed by Emily Abt, follows fathers as they journey through the experience of fatherhood amid social and financial pressures. Here’s more about the film.

In New York City more than half of African-American children and over 40 percent of Latino children are growing up without fathers.

Fatherlessness is one of the most urgent social issues currently facing American families and is linked to alarming rates of child poverty and incarceration.

Fatherless children are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school and nine times more likely to break the law than their peers raised in two-parent homes.

DADDY DON’T GO follows the lives of four young fathers – Alex, Nelson, Roy and Omar – as they struggle to navigate parenthood. For disadvantaged men, parenting is a daily decision. Filmed over the course of two years by acclaimed filmmaker Emily Abt, DADDY DON’T GO illuminates the various socioeconomic pressures low-income fathers face and provides compelling portraits of men who persevere. Epic in scale but intimate in focus, the film shows viewers how men can still be present fathers despite having limited means and facing certain obstacles. By allowing the viewer extraordinary access into the daily lives of its subjects, DADDY DON’T GO removes the negative lens through which underprivileged fathers are currently viewed and offer audiences a new image of the American family.

Filmmaker Emily Abt was one of Variety Magazine’s “Top 10 Directors to Watch,” and has produced and directed documentaries for PBS, OWN, MTV, Showtime and the Sundance Channel. Abt earned her MFA from Columbia University, receiving a Fulbright fellowship for her thesis film. Her documentary features include TAKE IT FROM ME (2001 POV) and ALL OF US (Showtime’s 2008 World AIDS Day film). Abt’s first narrative feature, TOE TO TOE, premiered at Sundance 2009 and was released in 2010 by Strand Releasing. AUDREY’S RUN, Abt’s most recent narrative feature which she wrote and will direct, is currently in development with Paula Patton (Duncan Jones’ WARCRAFT), Mike Epps (Lee Daniels’ RICHARD PRIOR: IS IT SOMETHING I SAID?) and Pablo Schreiber (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) starring. Abt’s latest documentary DADDY DON’T GO will have its world premiere at the 2015 DOC NYC.

Take a look at the trailer below. It looks like it’s going to be a tearjerker. You can pre-order your digital viewing of Daddy, Don’t Go for $6.99 on Vimeo.

Daddy Don’t Go from Pureland Pictures on Vimeo.

Exclusive Interview: #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend Creator Jessica Salerno

The voices are getting louder and stronger for Hollywood, Disney in particular, to include LGBT characters in their properties.

A few weeks ago, the hashtags and  trended on Twitter, showing not only how vast the audience is for mainstream LGBT content (unlike what Hollywood studios think), but also the urgency with which this type of content is needed. Around the same time #GiveElsaAGirlfriend trended, GLAAD released its annual Studio Responsibility Index, which found that out of Disney’s 11 properties released in 2015, none of them featured LGBT characters. (Paramount also featured no LGBT characters in its 2015 output.)

GLAAD stated in the report how Disney could rectify their issue, using Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I think must be a slightly veiled reference to the online movement for Finn and Poe to be in a relationship). To quote GLAAD:

As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth Star Wars film. 2015’s The Force Awakens has introduced a  new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written in to the story.

Elsa and Captain America are two other characters that have become part of Disney fans’ stable of coded characters. Many have said that Elsa’s self-acceptance and “coming out” moment regarding her ice powers relates to kids wrestling with their self-identity and the courage it takes to reveal that truth to family and friends. The song “Let It Go”, as the Guardian states, has been adopted as an anthem for LGBT fans. On the Marvel end of Disney, Captain America‘s close friendship with Bucky Barnes has been seen as having gay overtones by many fans, as well as Cap’s immediately close relationship with the Falcon; in fact, Falcon and Cap’s relationship in the comics inspired one fan to write Marvel, moved by how the two characters expressed emotions that, as the comic panel itself explained away, were emotions that were “left unsaid.”

With the tide turning higher and heavier towards Disney finally making a move and acquiescing to marginalized fans’ concerns and wants, I decided to reach out to the hashtag creators who were helping give renewed hope to fans wanting to see LGBT relationships on screen. Below is my email interview with Jessica Salerno, #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend*, who gives more insight into the creation of the hashtag as well as why it’s so important.

JUST ADD COLOR: Why did you create #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend?

Jessica Salerno: When I created the tag #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, it was something I definitely wanted to see be translated into the movies because of what it would do for the LGBTQ+ community, and because I myself love the Captain America movies and know many others do too! I had no idea people would actually catch on and help me trend it, but I couldn’t have been happier when they did.

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend has also been making the rounds. What do you think about these two hashtags and the message they represent? In other words, why have the hashtags hit a cord?

Both of these hashtags call for everyone to voice their support for two huge characters in the film industry, on a platform where they can be heard. These tags, once they get trending, show film studios everywhere that people want this representation of the LGBTQ+ community. these tags are both so important because when this many people speak up, they’re going to be heard. Having characters like Elsa and Captain America date the [same] sex would be revolutionary. People want superheroes and princesses to be able to be just like them—to show everyone that you can be a superhero and be bisexual, etc. It normalizes these sexualities and concepts that most of the world still shies away from, and these characters specifically speak out to the youth who view them—teaching them that no matter who they choose to be, they can still be a princess or a hero.

Why do you think Hollywood hasn’t made a prominent, out LGBT superhero or princess?

I think Hollywood hasn’t embraced the idea of a leasing LGBTQ+ character in films like these because they are worried about money. Frankly put, there is a huge amount of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc…worldwide that threaten the net worth of these corporations like Disney. The amount of backlash received from #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend just showed how many people still wrongly deny the LGBTQ+ community. But that’s why Hollywood needs to take these steps to normalize it with the platforms that they have.

How do you think the lack of LGBT characters has affected movie-going audiences?

I think the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in movies has affected the audiences, dwindling the amount of viewers who attend a movie if they know its another movie with an unnecessary heterosexual relationship forced into the mix just to make sure nobody tries shipping the male characters together. People want more representation, and they’re not going to be as willing to see a movie full of heterosexual stuff because that’s what we’ve been seeing for decades and its just not normal or realistic anymore. it hasn’t been for a while, and it needs to be realized.

What message do you hope people take away from your hashtag?

From #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend and from #GiveElsaAGirlfriend I hope people start to realize we can make a difference in the industry through just tweeting support from our phones or computers. I hope people start to realize the lack of LGBTQ+ representation, and I hope they start to support it and this cause. I hope people start to feel hopeful again that change is possible and happening for the LGBTQ+ community and that they see how many people are here to support that. It’s not just those in the community that want this change, and it’s empowering to those in it to see that again. from this tag I really hope people just continue to push for more representation and take a stand, because we can make this happen.

If Captain America was given a boyfriend, who would you choose?

I would love for Captain America’s boyfriend to be his long time friend Bucky Barnes! ♦

*JUST ADD COLOR reached out to Alexis Isabel, the creator of #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. She couldn’t be reached for comment. 

“Me Before You” Sparks Outrage with Disabled Audiences

Me Before You looks, at first glance from the poster, like a typical, probably shlocky romantic movie. But that innocuous poster hides what many have stated is a sinister message.

Like me, you probably didn’t read the book (or ever hear of the book until the movie came out), but Me Before You is the adaptation of the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes. The story revolves around a woman named Louisa who falls in love with a man named Will, a guy who felt like he was on top of the world before his spinal cord injury. Louis has been hired as Will’s caretaker, and instead of still having a zest for life, Will, now needing the use of a wheelchair, wants to kill himself. Louisa asks him to hold off on his plans for a couple of months so she can show him how great life can be. The weirdest part of the plot is that Louisa succeeds at showing how great life can be, yet the man still wants to die. And does.

The story is supposed to be uplifting (which is what its promotional hashtag #LiveBoldly is supposed to represent), but for whom? And to whom is the film and book’s message for? Exactly what is the film’s message? For many disabled people, the message is clear: that life is only worth being lived boldly if you’re able-bodied. Non-able bodied people need not apply for their happy ending, because even if you do get your happiness (which the man does receive throughout the film), you can’t really appreciate it due to your disability. This is what has made so many people so angry. For further proof, check out the Storify collection created by Disability Visibility Project’s Alice Wong:

David Bekhour wrote about the film in his Medium article “People Who Use Wheelchairs Don’t Actually Want to Kill Themselves.” Bekhour writes about his own usage of a wheelchair and how his disability hasn’t ruined his desire to live.

I was born with a rare neuromuscular disease, and I’ve used a wheelchair my entire life. My condition affects the muscles throughout the body, slowly creating greater and greater paralysis. I went from an adolescent boy who double-fisted most meals to a man approaching middle age who has eaten through a feeding tube for the past twenty-two years. Most recently, I had a tracheostomy placed and began using a ventilator to support my respiratory muscles.

And life still goes on.

It actually goes on in quite a busy and fulfilling way. After being mainstreamed into public school in the fourth grade, I went on to earn two degrees from a major California university, rushing a fraternity and participating in the honors program. Then I graduated from law school. And then I became a member of the State Bar of California. Today, I work with people from around the world as a freelance writer. I make some people laugh, I piss others off and I worry about the grey hair in my goatee. I have wonderful friendships and an awesome family. And from personal experience, I can assure you that Helen Hunt does not portray the only woman in the world who has ever made love with a man who uses a wheelchair.

Bekhour states that films like Me Before You are allowed to flourish because not everyone has someone in their life who has a disability, and that such films make people who do have disabilities feel like they are left out of the collective conversation.

Popular films help shape the public psyche, reinforcing perceptions, influencing opinions and contributing to the notion that lives like mine are somehow less valuable, less capable. Though less dramatic, the reality is that people who use wheelchairs contribute to society in meaningful ways–and they don’t actually want to kill themselves.

The film also seems like it could be spreading another harmful message. Despite casting heartthrob Sam Claflin, Will’s suicide suggests that he himself doesn’t see himself as desirable and, by extension, that other people with disabilities shouldn’t see themselves as desirable as well.

Nik Moreno wrote about the intersection between disability and desirability in her Wear Your Voice piece, “If You Think All Disabled People are Undesirable, Check Your Ableism.” She writes about how she internalized harmful views of herself from the outside world.

I learned that I wasn’t lovable. I was always their secret–or their fetish. They only wanted to sleep with me because they were that desperate. They would only give me the time of day out of pity. Even now, folks rarely find me desirable, usually because they see my wheelchair first and think of everything involed in being with someone who has a disability. We aren’t viewed in the same light that able-bodied folks are. We’re either seen as disgusting or unattractive—and people try to pass it off as a “preference” as if it isn’t rooted in ableism.

Will seems to view himself from an ableist perspective (probably because the author viewed him from an ableist perspective) and therefore pities himself and sees himself how a severely ableist person might see him; undesirable and unworthy of life. Moreno also tackles the subject of pity in her essay, stating that pity is just another way of erasing the human experience from a person with disabilities.

Pity is such a prominent experience for people with disabilities. Able-bodied people pity us because they think we’re helpless. Folks see us and think that we lead awful, sad lives. Pitying us definitely plays into desirability and dating. Able-bodied people often date us because they feel sorry for us. Even younger, high-school-aged folks will ask a disabled person to a dance or prom out of pity. But when you pity us and make us into a sad story, you almost don’t even see us as a person; you just see our disability. It’s dehumanized.

It seems like Will has dehumanized himself simply because of his injury. It’s like he doesn’t realize he’s the same person he was before his injury. He now sees himself as someone that’s not worth Louisa’s love.

The creative team behind Me Before You have chided activists and potential audience-goers for disapproving of the film. As reported by Metro UK, the film’s director Thea Sharrocke the outlet that she found the story “life-affirming,” saying:

Within that is one man who has a choice to make, and he makes his own individual choice, and that’s another thing that I think is incredibly important to remember—that we all have earned the right to have our own choice. People are so quick to judge and make judgments about other people and maybe that’s something to be reminded of, and take a breath, and not necessarily know, or think that you have the right to judge somebody else until you’ve been in their shoes.

It’s a little rich that she says this, since this is precisely what those against the movie are saying. Sharrocke wants to advise those who don’t like the movie’s message not to judge the character by his actions, but the people against the film are also advocating that the film’s cast, crew, and those who watch the film not to judge people with disabilities and believe that they all feel so undesirable that they want to kill themselves.

More importantly, maybe the author didn’t do enough due dilligence when writing the book and screenplay. Bekhour writes in his article that Moyes “describes her motivation for writing this novel as being related to family members with disabilities and a news account of a paralyzed rugby player who sought out assisted suicide.”But, as Bekhour states, that explanation rings hollow. “At its core, it’s a story that embraces an idea that people with disabilities (and their families, friends, teachers, colleagues and lovers) have been pushing back against for decades; the idea that our lives are somehow less worth living,” he wrote.

IsaJennie of the site Journey of IsaJennie wrote about the film in the article “#LiveBoldly…Unless You’re Disabled?”, and at the very beginning of the article, she states that the story isn’t Moyes’ to tell.

First and foremost let me say that the author of this book turned screenplay is abled-bodied and healthy by her own admission. She has never met a paralyzed person. My absolute biggest criticism of this book and the movie is that this was not her story to tell. This topic requires in-depth knowledge of the community, it requires some level of lived experience, and it requires a sensitivity to the far-reaching implications of the work and the people harmed. Jojo Moyes lacked all of these attributes.

Overall, it makes sense that people would be up-in-arms over the reckless ramifications presented in this film. Let’s hope Hollywood hears the outcry and understands why it’s happened instead of what it has done in the past, which is ignore it.

Another article to check out: Weekly Reading List: “Me Before You” Edition | Disability Thinking

Exclusive Interview: #NoIWontJustMoveOn Co-creator Vincent Schilling

Twitter has become the place to get a crash course education on all the stuff not covered on television or in the history books. Hashtags like #whitewashedOUT and #OscarsSoWhite have opened people’s minds up to the discrimination in Hollywood, and one of the latest hashtags on Twitter, #NoIWontJustMoveOn, is opening Twitter denizens up to atrocities leveled against Native Americans, both in the past and today.

Vincent Schilling, author, photojournalist and editor of Indian Country Today Media Network’s Arts and Entertainment section is one of the co-creators of #NoIWontJustMoveOn, and I was excited to converse with him via email interview. In the interview, we discuss the hashtag and its impact, as well as if America will ever come to terms with its horrible past.

Why did you create the hashtag #NoIWontJustMoveOn?

I created it along with my wife Delores who actually said it first, I said, “That would be a great and appropriate hashtag.” We both tweeted it and it just trended.

As I said in my Indian Country Today Media Network article which now has nearly 10,000 likes on Facebook, as a Native American/First Nations man, (Akwesasne Mohawk,) I have been asked on too many occasions why I am still talking about the atrocities that have befallen Native American and First Nations people and told, “Why don’t you just get over it” or “Why don’t you just move on?” Because my history, no matter how far away it seems, still affects me and my fellow indigenous brothers and sisters.

You have written about how the past still affects Native Americans today. For those who don’t know (and still ask the insensitive question of “Why don’t you just get over it?”) what would you say to them?

I would say to them, ‘If a loved one had died in your family and you are explaining how much of an impact they had on your life, in the midst of your tears and sadness, I won’t tell you to just get over it. Even if their death happened 20 years ago.” This is where the confusion, I believe comes in. People believe that Native people are supposed to follow a regimented timeclock in terms of cultural suffering.

The thing so many people do not realize is that we as Native people still genuinely feel the suffering of our ancestors in our DNA. Their pain, their tears of genocide, rape, torture and having children stolen from families is still felt in our blood. Our blood is mixed with the tears of our ancestors they were never cried from their eyes. This is what runs through us. We feel the sadness, the loss, the mourning and we are not just going to get over it because someone tells us to.

I’d like to add, many times people that tell us to get over it cannot stand to feel even a small percentage of our suffering; to fully realize the intrinsic value of our suffering is simply too much for some people to bear.

People tell us to get over it, but you can’t move on from something that is still happening today. Our Native kids are being told they can’t wear sacred cultural items to their high school graduations today. Our Native women are still sexually assaulted at higher rates than any other ethnicity (by non-native offenders) today. They are going missing (#MMIW) today. People still ask me if we exist today. We are fighting Native mascots today.

There are many ways America has tried to erase Native American history, and there are so many ways that erasure is still active today, from Halloween costumes to lack of coverage of missing Native American women and police brutality against Native Americans, to lack of presence in the media, lack of large-scale federal government support/advocacy (aside from Native representatives in Congress), etc. With so much going on, how do you feel all these issues could be best addressed by The Powers That Be (the government, the media, etc.)? 

“The Powers That Be” are no longer the only ones in charge. No matter how hard they try to silence the voices with policy, government regulation of even private interest lawmaking, there is just too much to gain by creating platform to give the public a voice.

“The meek shall inherit the earth” is happening. No longer can a world leader, a corporate entity or even a country can any longer make a move without the massive collective voices on social media coming to the call. News organizations are now reporting on the response to public figures making bad moves on social media as opposed to just reporting on the act itself.

Yes, even institutions of learning are now being held up to the light and are having to answer questions posed by the public. They are finding out about how Christopher Columbus never landed in the upper 48 states – ever – and how he committed horrible atrocities against Taino people and supplied nine-year-old native girls to his men.

People are learning how Black Indians are one of the most successful societies in history that were targeted and hated by other less successful communities who out of jealousy, burned the Black Indian communities to the ground. People are now unlearning.

#NoIWontJustMoveOn has helped educate many who aren’t aware of these issues. In fact, someone tweeted, “There are things that are being revealed to me in #NoIWontJustMoveOn that I’m learning for the first time ever in my life…” How does it feel to have that kind of an impact?

It feels wonderful and sad. I am glad that people are learning about the tough things faced in Indian Country, but it is a reminder of how desperately the hashtag is needed.

What do you hope people who weren’t aware of these issues do with that knowledge now that they have it?

I hope they realize that everything, and I mean everything, has the right to be questioned. But I’d like to offer them to question things with kindness. I am not suggesting they lay on the floor if someone is kicking them; I just mean to question things in a way that solicit information. As a journalist, I have questioned people I was so horribly furious at it was hard to think straight. They assumed I was going to attack them – but I did not.

What happens in a situation like this is that people are caught off-guard and because they feel as though they are not in the line of fire will offer much more insight into their thought process. This is important to remember. It is not without struggle and I am not perfect as I am more than certain my frustrations have taken a precedent, but for the most part, there is a lot more empowerment when you are coming from a place of being kind as well as constructive.

The advent of the internet has helped many marginalized groups, including Native Americans and Canada’s First Nations, reach people on a global scale in a way they probably couldn’t before. How do you feel social media has helped Native voices get heard? Similarly, how do you think social media has helped the activism community within Native nations?

As I said previously, social media is a massive factor in allowing the Native community as well as all communities across the world, connect in a way that was never possible before. Yes and unequivocally, without any doubt these types of efforts could not have gained the momentum without social media. It has empowered all of us and gives us more and more to look forward to.

One example is when I attended the White House tribal youth Gathering last year when Lady [Michelle] Obama spoke to Native youth who had traveled to DC from all over Turtle Island (Native reference to the US and Canadian continent). All of the reporters – including myself – were positioned at the very back of the room, with limited access to the youth and Michelle Obama. Our coverage was sufficient, but lackluster because we could really only see the backs of kids heads and Lady Obama from a distance. The talk of the town was not anyone’s coverage, but the beautiful coverage and moments on Snapchat, people were watching the Native youth’s personal coverage of lady Obama – not us. Their perspective was the major issue, not a news organization.

Ultimately, what do you hope becomes of #NoIWontJustMoveOn in the long run? What kind of long-term impact do you hope it has?

I hope this hashtag stays going forever. I want people to always realize the devastation faced by Indian Country, but how we are also becoming more and more empowered every day.

What do you hope for America when it comes to addressing the years of abuse Native Americans have faced? Do you think America will ever come to terms with what it’s done to its first people, or do you think that realization (along with the realizations of other horrors leveled against other groups) is just too much for the collective consciousness of America to bear?

No matter how much I would like this sentiment to change, sadly it will always be too much for the collective consciousness of America to bear. That is just human nature. Overprotective moms will always cover the ears of
their children when sometime speaks about something the mom, not necessarily the child, is uncomfortable with. But within this collective, are a plethora of voices and minds that simply had no idea, or were never told. And when
they hear things for the first time are changed forever, those are the ones I am always trying to reach. I sincerely don’t want to waste my energy on those people who only want to argue, but are never willing to change.♦