Perhaps it doesn’t seem like the biggest of deals, but our willingness to accept the casting of anyone with a tan as a
generic ethnic/exotic look is what got us Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl (A Mighty Heart), Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin (Iron Man 3), and Janina Gavankar as Luna Garza (True Blood). People of color aren’t as interchangeable as Hollywood would like us to believe, but Infinitely Polar Bear‘s casting calls prove that that belief has yet to successfully challenged.
Beck reminds us that this systematic problem in casting doesn’t boil down to the idea that all directors, producers, and casting directors are evil racists that need to be stopped. Yeah, something needs to be stopped, but it goes beyond shaking up the people making decisions. We need to shake up our school of thought. We need to stop finding excuses and loopholes for monochromatic casting, even if that means that I crawl through breakdowns every day with the sole purpose of publicly shaming those who deserve it. We need to stop defaulting to white.
If your NYCC schedule wasn’t specifically tailored to be an experience where you were exposed to a diverse range of race, gender, and sexuality topics, then it was likely that you simply wouldn’t be. It’s not uncommon, but for the average NYCC attendee the Con was about as white and heteronormative as a CBS sitcom. Given that I was purposely attending varied panels I didn’t experience this as much as Sue of DC Women Kicking Ass, who tweeted that she’s considering calling her own Con writeup, “What room is the straight, white, male comic fan panel in?” She points out that to hear anything about diversity in comics (race, sexuality, gender, or otherwise) or see diverse panelists, she had to attend panels that were specifically about those subjects. Overwhelmingly, these issues weren’t addressed at the larger, company-based panels, meaning that many readers are allowed to escape and gloss over topics that should be spoken about among a wider (White) audience.
How do we fix this in the long run? Is the answer creating a PoC-focused con as Arturo once suggested? Is it a matter of more outlets like Racialicious pitching panels at large conventions? Or is it just a larger problem within the comic industry in general that remains out of our hands? While I would love to see more race- and sexuality-themed specific discussions at NYCC, the burden of exposure shouldn’t fall only onto the backs of the oppressed minorities. Nor should be we regulated to only our own hourlong panels.
In the end NYCC, and any Con, is the experience you want it to be. In choosing the panels and signings you want to go to, you’re tailoring a personal fandom experience. It’s unfortunate that we’re still at a point where it’s entirely possible to tailor an experience that doesn’t require you to think beyond the Straight White Male’s box of tricks. Or, as I like to call it, The Avengers.
“Everyone says I got a Golden Ticket,” says Lee, narrating the introduction. When he was nine, his father left the family, leaving his mother to raise both him and his sister; his intelligence and penchant for talking and reading rather than fighting or playing sports marked him as different from a young age. Though he would come to receive a free tuition at Germantown Friends, he says, ”there was still a great cost. As soon as I set foot in [Germantown Friends] I started to go in a different direction from my family.”
“The assimilation process is very, very difficult,” explains 1989 graduate Marcella Travagline. “No one tried to get to know me … I came and felt invisible, and still do, and that’s why no one even remembers I was here.” Lee admits that even with his popularity, he still felt lonely the entire time he attended the school. Despite receiving the same caliber of education and having access to the same resources as other students at the school, the “guest” mentality is still present, and becomes more obvious when you realize that the majority of people you were at school with for three or four years don’t even remember you were there.
Though, while they may not remember you individually, the whole–the splash of melanin in an otherwise white community–is enough to garner notice. The idea that, in some respects, students of color are clumped together in one large amorphous blob is one of the reasons I appreciated listening to the interviews Lee conducted for the film. I remember the feeling during my own prep-school experience, wondering whether or not anyone will remember if you, individually, were at the school. On the other, you know that as a group people certainly remember because the group stuck out. The group was often seen as homogenous: brown kids who all came from the same background and all sat at the same table in the dining hall for meals. However, as Lee shows us throughout Prep School, that isn’t ever the case.
Opening a casting call to any ethnicity (which poses its own challenges and doesn’t guarantee a diverse media environment) doesn’t earn you brownie points any more than being sure to develop your Black characters will make you an “issues show.” To show care, fairness, and equality towards your PoC characters does not make you an “issues show”–it makes you, at worst, close to being considerate and, at best, a show that fans of more backgrounds can enjoy without complaint.
The burn of Boyd’s lack of character development increases when you look at the other two black characters on the show. As mentioned, Magical Negro issues run deep within the show and on this week’s episode, Dr. Deaton cemented himself as the Bonnie Bennett of Teen Wolf–a character of color with supernatural abilities who exists to serve white characters–when, after a season and a half of popping up at opportune times with convenient advice, wisdom, and occasional magic, he revealed to Derek, “helping your family used to be a pretty important part of my life.” Ms. Morrell, the last hope for a well-developed Black character, has thus far turned out to be in some way related to Dr. Deaton, squashing most hope that she’s not another Bonnie in the making.
If just one of the show’s Black characters were allowed to progress into being a fully realized person it would be far easier to overlook the faults of the others. Not being able to develop all of your supporting Black characters is understandable, but when you score 0 out of 3, it’s time to step back, take a look, and maybe stop making excuses.
The film was shot over a period of two years, but the way it depicts the central relationship is well in line with many current female comedies. The duo’s frank comfort with each other’s bodies and ease of conversation is more reminiscent of what one might see on Girls or Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23. For Lisa and Ashley friendship is initially tactile and without filter. In one scene Lisa jokingly begs Ashley to climb into bed with her, saying that they could spoon and she could be the little spoon. They touch, cuddle, and hug, and comfort each other sporadically and unprompted like any pair of friends would. Allowing this to be shown, and doing it without the filter of a sexual gaze, creates a very natural feel to their own dimension, which gives more power to the scenes where their friendship strains against their new pastime.
Duva doesn’t reference any television shows in the film; instead Fever owes much to films like Celine and Julie Go Boating, Daisies, and the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat. In the visuals used to show Lisa and Ashley’s lives in alternate dimensions, though, there are several touches of other inspirations–particularly within the life Lisa finds herself embedded in as a mother, an attachment that plays out diastrously in this reality.
Between the natural light (the film has little, if any, staged lighting), the drums accompanying much of her fantasy, and the focus on the connection between Lisa and her (technically) unborn child, Fever is also reminiscent of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, a Black independent film that deals with different subject matter but also dabbles in elements of the supernatural and fantastic and female relationships.
Cosplaying in and of itself can be stressful enough; I’ve definitely had convention days when I did not feel confident enough for tight spandex. But for non-white fans, the additional pressure felt when not playing a character of the same ethnicity can add an unspoken anxiety to the experience. It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way without comment. But when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines in the same way, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because—instead of seeing the costume—no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?
Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?” Or, my personal favorite, “Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.
It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.
An article in the April issue of Wired Magazine confirmed and put into words a theory I’ve always secretly harbored: young people who engage in paracosmic play are developing creative skills that pay off later in “real life.” The examples are numerous (is the upcoming novel-turned-movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter anything but a historical AU fanfic?), though the article cites the Brontë Sisters (best known for Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre) as a prime example of those who began writing early through creating and building upon imaginary worlds as children.
"It now appears that, like the Brontës, kids who engage in paracosmic play are more likely to be creative as adults. In 2002 researchers Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein conducted an elegant study. They polled recipients of MacArthur "genius grants"—which reward those who’ve been particularly creative in areas as diverse as law, chemistry, and architecture—to see if they’d created paracosms as children. Amazingly, the MacArthur fellows were twice as likely as "normal" nongeniuses to have done so. Some fields were particularly rife with worldplayers: Fully 46 percent of the recipients polled in the social sciences had created paracosms in their youth."
When I started in online fandom in 1999, mostly writing fanfiction, I was always looking for relatable figures to participate with. Often I had to create them out of thin air, or widely embellish the often slim back-stories that side minority characters were given in my favorite fandoms. I was willing to do the legwork that Joss Whedon wasn’t for characters like Kendra (and, fortunate enough to even have a personal computer to engage with the fanfic communities) and, thanks to years of not being recognised in Halloween costumes, I’ve grown used to having to explain that I’m dressing as non-white characters and why I’m doing it. But what happens to the kid who isn’t encouraged to participate because the white default removes the impetus from the start?
Paracosmic play isn’t the only childhood activity that nurtures the development of creative skills, but for me the benefits are too great to ignore. Fandom turned me into a writer, taught me Photoshop, forced me to learn how to code by the age of 13, showed me the basics of web design, and helped set my course of study in college. All of these elements helped me score my first job after college. Spending years making the singer Monica look like Max from Batman Beyond for online role-playing paid off when I was asked to design ads for a Tony Award winner’s concert series. I can’t imagine what my own life would be like if fandom hadn’t shaped it the way it did, and I’m going to guess that there’re several white fans who would say the same. Luckily, they have a framework to participate in that’s constructed specifically to cater to their needs.
Scandal was renewed last week, and thank God, because their ex-CIA torture specialist needs at least two seasons to experience a full mental break, it’s going to take more than seven episodes for the president’s marriage to completely fall apart, and— wait, did someone just get stabbed in the back of the neck with a pair of scissors? The show has successfully combined the elements necessary for a semi-decent and well-received political drama: White House intrigue, lawyer, a broad ensemble cast, and the unabashed promotion of Democratic policies delivered via epic monologues that don’t actually reflect the way anyone speaks. Renewed, Kerry Washington automatically becomes the longest African-American female lead on network television since 1974.
None of that matters in Scandal’s DC though, where Washington’s Olivia Pope’s race has so far been a non-issue. Given her affair with the sitting (white) president it could very well have been an issue tackled by Shonda Rhimes (and still might be— the show is only six episodes in). Some reviewers question the fact that it hasn’t been mentioned, but it is ‘refreshing’ to be introduced to a leading black character in the modern world through the lense of their personality, profession, and actions rather than their race—you know, the way every other character on television is viewed. Furthermore, it’s proof for certain people that writing a character of color doesn’t need necessarily need to be any more complicated than writing a white one.
Scandal might not be the deepest or best written show on television right now, but it’s an entertaining distraction and certainly deserves more than seven episodes. Besides, after cancelling my other guilty pleasure, GCBs, ABC owes me one.
There’s something to be said about Girls and the state of diversity in education. Dunham is a recent college graduate; one of the first in a new generation of young writer/directors who will—whether we like it or not—be helping to shape the pop culture we’re going to consume over the next decade. If these course requirements represent the average college graduate requirements, then pop culture might be in trouble. I don’t claim to know what Dunham’s course schedule was while she attended Oberlin, but the fact that there’s a chance that she—and the other writers and directors who will come after her—has never had to read a Langston Hughes play, watch anything by Chen Kaige or Oscar Micheaux, or study any type of non-white/European media narrative is troubling, and it’s unsurprising that it would lead to the creation of a show that highlights (I would even go so far as to say rehashes) the lives of four white girls in New York City.
Despite our similarities in background, our views of life in New York city seem to be radically different. An article in The New Yorker tells me that our circles of friends come from the same pools: Oberlin Students and high school friends that more often than not come from the same group of New York City day schools and New England boarding schools. Not only do I work with a WOC who attended high school with her, I have friends who went to high school with both her and her younger sister and, because my friends consist of Latin@s, Asians, Blacks, and whites, I know her life couldn’t possibly have looked as white as the posters for Girls (which is semi-true to life; she calls her character Hannah “another version of herself”) would have you believe.
Yet Girls, set in Brooklyn, where only one-third of the population is white, somehow exists in a New York where minorities are only called to cast for one liners and nanny roles. “Pleasantly plump” Latinas may also inquire within.
These are casting calls from April and May of 2011—when the show was still filming its first season—pulled from Breakdowns Express. There may have been (and probably were) more that have since disappeared from the site.
When asked about the lack of diversity, The Voice of Our Generation didn’t have much of an answer.
"When I get a tweet from a girl who’s like, ‘I’d love to watch the show, but I wish there were more women of color,’" Dunham told the Huffington Post. "You know what? I do, too, and if we have the opportunity to do a second season, I’ll address that."
But Dunham is the showrunner, writer, director, and star of Girls. I have the feeling that if she’d honestly wished for some diversity she’d have gotten some diversity.
It was a rough few days last month for The Vampire Diaries executive producer Julie Plec and actor Matt Davis, and probably rougher still for actress Kat Graham, who plays Bonnie Bennett. Starting with Davis’ dismissive response concerning a recently deceased fan after her battle with cancer, the day only got worse when Plec got into it with a fan after being asked why the writers can’t give Bonnie a love interest who isn’t her step-brother.
Adressing her comments to “certain Bonnie fans,” Plec responded on Twitter…
Fandom never takes well to being talked down to by creators and, while this was bad enough, Davis insisted on having the last word, via his own Twitter. Picture Plec as Elena, and Davis as, well, Alaric … or any of the other men who consistently come rushing to her aid short of reason and with half a plan. The result was just about as successful as anything that would have played out on the show.
If you’re a regular R reader, you’ve been noticing that quite a bit of the stuff on TV–and by “stuff,” I mean “how characters of color have been treated”– has given us the blues while we’re not giving side-eye to what’s on the tiny screen. It’s hard to be optimistic given everything, but dare I say that network television might be listening? It’s pilot season, and if you’ve been out of the loop and hadn’t heard about some of the more diverse bits of new casting, I’ve got you covered.
The news of Lucy Liu as Watson on CBS’ Elementary was the first of a few announcements that piqued my interest this spring. BBC’s Sherlock fandom went predictably ballistic over: first, the news of an American Sherlock Holmes story (forgetting en masse, I suppose, that House has existed for eight years now); then the casting of a female in the Watson role; finally. that the wardrobe department would dare put Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) in a scarf “so similar” to the BBC’s version’s. (you think I’m joking?)
Weird, as the first thing I thought about was how she’d be the singular leading lady of Asian descent on network television.
Funny how priorities can flip like that.