Death Note: Whitewashing and Blackwashing Double Standard

Netflix’s Death Note is scheduled for a August 25th release, and online discussion of the film has increased with the release date drawing closer. When I voiced my thoughts on the casting of Nat Wolff as Light Turner (Yagami in the anime) on YouTube, one user asked for my thoughts on the casting of Keith Stanfield as L. At the time I did not realize L was being played by a black actor, and assumed L was another case of more whitewashing.

I have previously discussed the double standard in people’s reactions to whitewashing vs “blackwashing”. When a character of colour is played by a white person people are quick to argue that we shouldn’t focus on race etc. “Best actor for the part, it’s more marketable, it’s just a movie etc.” This is regardless of whether the film is based on a true story, like 21 or is simply a work of 100% fiction. Now, if a white character is changed to a person of colour people suddenly aren’t colour-blind. “Why does Hollywood keep changing the race of characters we love? Why are they pandering to minorities? This is so politically correct?”

I have previously discussed this double standard by using examples of whitewashing and blackwashing in different movies. Death Note offers the perfect case study of the double standard since we have a case of whitewashing and blackwashing in the same film.

1) Whitewashing is being defended for the most part, while the blackwashing is being criticized.

2) Race wasn’t a key part of either character’s identity in the story (e.g. not as important as Chiron’s race is in Moonlight)

3) Both characters are main characters

Firstly, Hollywood “panders” to white people when they whitewash. One of the most common defences of whitewashing by film executives and audiences is that white people are generally more marketable than people of colour. By using this excuse, audiences and film executives admit that they are guilty of their own “pandering”, yet no one has a problem with pandering as long as it benefits white people. This is despite the fact that white people are disproportionately represented in mainstream Hollywood films. Although minorities make up nearly 40% of America’s population, they only account for 1 in 10 lead roles according to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

The underrepresentation isn’t simply due to a lack of minorities who want to get into acting, or some sort of talent deficiency among minorities. Productions like The Get Down and Straight Outta Compton demonstrate that there is plenty of minority talent that can shine if it is given the opportunity. This is what makes it even more frustrating when a role is given to a white person only because their skin is viewed as more desirable. Now I imagine that whitewashing defenders are quick to jump back to the marketability argument, which offers the perfect segway to discussing Death Note.

Anyone who has seen Keith Stanfield in anything will know that he is undeniably talented. Stanfield is also arguably more marketable than Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff’s fanbase is limited to YA content such as Paper Towns, while Stanfield has already amassed a diverse repertoire ranging from Straight Outta Compton, Get Out and his role as fan favourite Darius of Atlanta. The success of these aforementioned projects also shows that the presence of blackness is not guaranteed to lead to box office damnation. In 2015, people of colour purchased 45% of all movie tickets. Diversity won’t scare this segment of the population away. There are those who think Stanfield’s casting is indicative of a cashgrab for minority money, or political correctness. Let’s analyze the double standard though. If changing the race of L, like changing the race of Light, is just good business, why do people have a problem with it? Don’t people always defend whitewashing as a perfectly ethical business move?

The Departed is often used as an example of another American adaptation, that changed the race of characters from Asian to white (adapted from Hong Kong’s Internal Affairs). Like The Departed, people argue that Death Note has no obligation to keep the characters Asian since it is an Americanized story. Of course, I don’t mind the American location. American does not have to equal white though. People use the American argument to defend the whitewashing of Light, but for some reason that argument doesn’t apply for Stanfield as L. Maybe people want to know where Stanfield is really from? Light and L are both meant to be Asian, so if one race change bothers you, another should as well. Maybe you’ll argue Light and L don’t look Asian.

If you draw a stick person in a country such as America or England, people will generally assume the stick person represents a white person unless you add racial markers e.g. brown skin. When you read a book where the character’s race is not implied or stated, what race do you assume? White is often the default for people in many countries. In Asia, they would assume the stick person represents an Asian person if you draw one and if they are reading a locally produced book they would assume the character is Asian. When they create their animation, they don’t feel the need to indicate a character is Asian by adding stereotypical markers like slanted eyes and yellow skin.  The confusion arises when anime gets exported to countries that are not used to seeing Asians drawn a certain way. Despite the country of origin and names in some cases e.g Light Yagami, people still assume the characters must be white due to their skin tone and the lack of slanted eyes. Point being, those people are wrong. There were people who also assumed that Rue of The Hunger Games was meant to be white, even though she was described as having dark brown skin in the books. Assumptions do not always equal reality. Light is meant to be Asian, so Wolff is not the intended race, the same way Stanfield isn’t the intended race. If people can accept this fact, support Wolff and criticize Stanfield, then it is clear they just have an issue with Stanfield’s skin tone.

One particular argument used for Stanfield is that L is meant to be pale, since he doesn’t go out much. Basically, people are arguing that Stanfield won’t look like the character in the source material. What about the fact that Light is white and not Asian (or Asian-American)? Aren’t double standards fun?

Get Out

Note: Spoilers Ahead

After much delay, I finally got around to seeing a film I’ve heard nothing but good things about. I must say, the film lives up to the hype for the most part. Since the film was released a while ago I didn’t really feel like doing a review of it, which is why I want to sum up my thoughts on the film itself and move on to the interesting questions/issues it raised.

Firstly, the performances are all amazing. The only other film I have seen Daniel Kaluuya in in Sicario, and he was alright in that. The role was smaller and didn’t allow him to demonstrate the range we see in Get Out. It looks like things are looking up for Kaluuya since he also has a role in 2018’s Black Panther.

The Armitages, the family that Chris is expecting to join, are all outstanding. Caleb Landry Jones was particularly interesting as Jeremy, Chris’s prospective brother-in law. Keith Stanfield, probably best known as Darius on Atlanta, isn’t in the film that much but stole the spotlight when he was present.

Get Out works well as a comedy when it is intended to be comedic, as expected from Jordan Peele. However, it is also masterful as a horror film. The horror isn’t the type you would expect from a franchise like The Conjuring. There are no jump scares to be found. Instead, Peele forces an air of unease upon us that permeates most of the film. I was reminded of an episode of The Twilight Zone, where its strength lies in its ability to unsettle you and get your mind and heart racing. More importantly, it also gets you thinking.

Peele has described Get Out as a “very personal” story“. A friend at work pointed out that Peele has a white wife, and it is very easy to see Get Out as a satirical, cathartic reenactment of encounters with his wife’s own family. I forget the exact wording, but I remember a tweet that said Get Out isn’t about ‘hang that nigger’ racism, it’s about ‘I’m not racist because I have black friends and voted for Obama’ racism. I think that tweet is a perfect distillation of what Get Out offers.

The Armitages’ are a rich, white family who are openly welcoming to Chris when they meet him. The dad is quick to mention he voted for Obama and that Obama was the best president in his time. With this statement, the film starts to delve more into the issue of the fetishization of the black body. Jeremy is the one to bring up the idea that black people’s genetics make them superior athletes, expressing his own quiet disdain and envy at this fact. This stereotype is also brought up by the extended family, and the comments all bring back memories of comments I’ve head all through my life as well. I was recently involved in a Twitter conversation where @adamant919 had the audacity to call our supposed natural gifts “black privilege”. Funny enough, it looks like the user has since deleted his account.

This fetishization reduces the black body to something that is either a threat, a conquest or a toy. Get Out is one of the first films in a while that generally surprised me with a third act reveal. Initially I thought that Chris would simply be brainwashed into submission, becoming another Andre Hayworth via Missy Armitage’s hypnosis. It was genuinely chilling to hear the breakdown of the surgery that would be performed to turn the black body into a vehicle for someone else, reducing Chris to a passenger within his own body. The Armitages’s could easily do the same process with white bodies, but it is clear that they are appealing to a desire specifically for black ones. In Chris’s case, Jim Hudson only wants his eyes so that he can capture the kinds of pictures he envies Chris for. However, the groundskeeper (Walter), is being controlled by Rose’s grandfather. Walter’s role on the estate becomes more chilling when we realize it is an old white man reveling in what his new body can do. The infamous Walter sprint, which grandpa calls his “exercise”, becomes a man testing out stereotypes for himself.

Peele is currently being considered to direct The DC Extended Universe’s Flash film and I was hesitant when I heard this, since the role seems far removed from his skillset. After seeing Get Out and how it manages to combine satire, horror and comedy, I am sure Peele can find a way to handle any project that comes his way.

Ex-Machina and Race

I remember watching Ex Machina back in 2015 and falling in love with the film within the first half hour. The film follows a programmer, Caleb Smith, who is invited to test an AI being developed by his  CEO, Nathan Bateman.

By the time it was done, Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of all time. Aside from the great performances, especially by Oscar Isaac, the film asked a lot of interesting questions. There was one question, and one specific line, that still sticks with me. It comes to the forefront of my mind every time the topic of interracial dating ever comes up, with the most recent occurrence being Get Out.

“Accumulated external stimuli” (AES).

Whether it is in person, online or in entertainment, there are a plethora of reasons offered for dating exclusively in one’s race.

“It’s not natural”

Neither are cars and retirement homes. In the good old days humans used horses to travel and the old and sick would perish to make way for the fittest. Some scholars even argue monogamy is unnatural. How many of these things do proponents of this argument which to cut out of society? Of course, these people probably don’t realize how faulty their reasoning is. After all, I am sure many of the people who use the argument have no attraction to other races, and therefore assume that it is natural for them to feel that way.

This also brings up the question of why they view it as unnatural. I grew up with interracial couples in my family, among my cousins, aunts etc. By the time I was ten I viewed interracial coupling as natural. However, I realize my experience is not an objective truth. People who grow up with racially or ethnically homogenous families will be more likely to see an interracial coupling as unnatural if they have rarely experienced it themselves. Especially if their family also actively discourages or criticizes such relationships.

“It’s not racist. It’s just a natural preference.”

AES is the only reason for racial preferences that I agree with. Firstly, it doesn’t view attraction to a specific skin colour or ethnicity as being an ingrained development, where we are born programmed only to date white people, or Chinese people etc.  People who grow up genuinely believing their preferences were pre-programmed (so to speak) often disregard the impact of years of subtle coaching from family and/or friends to stick to their own or “preserve the culture”.  If your parents are guiding you to seek out your own kind once you have your first crush at age seven, it is easy for you to reach thirty and think that the choice was a natural one.

Of course, people don’t always have a preference for their own. Some people will reject their own kind and only seek out others. I know plenty of black people who don’t want to date other black people, or at least not dark-skinned black people. I know people who are neither white or black, but still have a preference for white mates, or lighter-skinned mates that can produce lighter-skinned children. It is a mark of beauty and progress. They see their family moving on up in the world as the generations become lighter. Is this sort of self-hate natural? Or is it a result of what they were taught to value by their own family? Or maybe a result of the dominant images of beauty available in the media they consume? As Nathan says, these stimuli form a sphere of influence that “you probably didn’t even register, as they registered with you.”

The Great Wall

The Great Wall was never on my radar since the trailer failed to interest me, and because the inclusion of a white main character came across as a blatant example of whitewashing. Matt Damon’s character is a European mercenary, but it begs the question of why this character had to be introduced instead of focusing on an Asian one.

I have repeatedly discussed whitewashing on this blog and on YouTube, which is why I grow tired of repeating the same arguments, to defend the same arguments in support of whitewashing.

I came across a tweet from a user who I have previously had respectful disagreement with.

I didn’t bother getting into an argument with this user.

Firstly, there is a huge double standard in terms of race-change in comics. People will defend The Great Wall, Ghost in the Shell and Death Note blindly since white actors are more “relatable” or “marketable”. Or people will simply say that they are colour-blind and that we shouldn’t focus on race so much.

If a person of colour plays a white character there is a firestorm of criticism, ranging from Rue in The Hunger Games (2012), to Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four (2015).  People suddenly aren’t colour blind. They want actors who look like the characters, who fit the demographics etc. If people complained about non-speaking black extras who were in The Hobbit (2012) for ten minutes, they are obviously not colour-blind. They just don’t care as long as more white people are on screen.

The Great Wall isn’t an adaptation. The source material for this historical fantasy is the setting. It makes sense for the main character to be an Asian one, and now we have some people arguing that Chinese people don’t want to see themselves on screen. Don’t get me wrong, Chinese audiences shell out a lot of money for white American and European actors. I just don’t think they would be repelled by a Chinese actor. How are minority actors ever supposed to get bigger roles if they are always denied because they are not a big enough star?

Death Note cast Nat Wolff, an actor best known for YA flicks, as Light Yagami. Wolff is not a highly marketable actor but is a fact that Hollywood is willing to take bigger risks with unknown white actors.

Let’s also debunk the marketability argument by looking at two recent Hercules films. Kellan Lutz, best known for a supporting role in the Twilight series, starred in The Legend of Hercules (2014). Meanwhile, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson starred in The Hercules (2014). If all people cared about were how marketable the actors are, no one should have complained about The Rock’s race with the casting. The Rock is arguably the most marketable actor in Hollywood and people’s complaints about his skin colour on sites like YouTube and IMDB are not the comments of colour-blind people.

Likewise, I have always ignored the argument about people of colour not being “relatable” enough. Of course, being able to relate to a character can be crucial to enjoying a film. However, there are many great characters that are not necessarily relatable. How relatable is Optimus Prime? There is the assumption that a main character has to be relatable in order for people to see a film. If people will pay to see aliens and robots, why is seeing a a person of colour such a stretch?

Additionally, looks should not dictate how relatable someone is. I can relate to white Peter Parker, for his struggles with money and girls. Even when I can’t relate to a character, I can still enjoy a film. I can’t relate to Batman, with his level of personal loss, wealth, fitness etc. Yet I love watching (some versions) of him on screen.

Now let’s move on the crux of this twitter user’s argument. Free-market economics. Like many people, he argues people simply wouldn’t pay to watch the film without big American stars. He also conflates American with white, which many people continue to do.

I am sure that many people probably thought that a film like Straight Outta Comptom (2015) would never be a box-office success, even with a relatively modest budget of $50 million. Many people pointed to Red Tails (2012) as the definitive example of what would happen if enough white people weren’t involved. “All the white viewers in America and worldwide won’t pay to see a film with so many black people”. Yet Straight Outta Compton was a success and introduced audiences to new, talented and non-white actors. Straight Outta Compton marketed it’s story well, making people acknowledge the race of the actors but also put aside any prejudice or hesitance in order to see the story. If you are interested in a film’s story, setting etc, but decide not to watch it because   the main character isn’t white, there is something wrong with your head and Hollywood needs to stop pandering to this mentality.

How are minorities ever supposed to get bigger roles and become “marketable” leading men if they are never given the opportunity? Do they all have to settle for supporting roles with white leads and hope that is enough to someday make a name for themselves? Even if a film takes place in China, Hollywood makes sure a white man is there to lead the way.

David Harbour and Stranger Things

Stranger Things was one of my favourite shows of 2016 and I was happy to hear that it received a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for “Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble Cast”. Of course, the award was overshadowed online by memes targeting Winona Ryder’s facial expressions.

It appears that Ryder actually stole attention away from David Harbour’s speech, which is also one of the most discussed events from the SAG Awards. Firstly, the speech is generally about fighting injustice and accepting “outcasts and freaks”. The speech can refer to the events of Stranger Things but is of course a parallel to Trump and his presidency.

Like any political comment, it has attracted a wave of support and plenty of criticism. I previously discussed how people forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword in my Patton Oswalt article.

“I also find that people often forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. For example, President Trump said the Hamilton cast was out of line for criticizing Vice President Pence, but he also supported the unfounded allegations that Obama is a foreign-born Muslim. Trump had no problem using his freedom of speech to assert that a President’s birth certificate isn’t valid, but he was also insulted that the Hamilton cast would have go off-script to address his VP. People invoke freedom of speech as an excuse when people express views they do not agree with.”

I’m not bringing this up again as shameless self-promotion. I bring it up again because I believe that it captures an issue that is central to the criticism directed towards Harbour and Stranger Things as a whole. I first came across the criticism of Harbour’s speech due to an announcement about season 2. While I was just excited to see some new pictures, a few of the users (who use Facebook to comment) were quick to comment on how much Harbour’s speech turned them off the show.

Bill Michael writes: “I love the first season but after the SAG award political rant/meltdown on stage by the cast I doubt my family or I will watch season 2 now”

And Jim Culver follows up with: “I was right in the middle of binge-watching season one when they did that, and it totally soured the experience for me. All I could think about was what a pretentious jerk the guy who played Hopper is, and what a ditz Winona Ryder is.”

So maybe Culver has a point about Ryder, but what bothered me was the animosity generated about Harbour daring to express an opinion.

I have come across some people who believe that celebrities shouldn’t make political statements of any kind, since they have so much influence and can sway people negatively. However, we have to remember that celebrities are human beings. They have a stake in the world just as much as we do.

If an actor or actress I respect makes political statements I disagree with, I don’t chastise them for having an opinion, I criticize them for the views themselves. I like my bigots out in the open, and I want to know what is going on in the minds of people who I am indirectly giving money to. The people criticizing Harbour, for criticizing Trump, come across as Trump supporters who don’t want to hear their hero denigrated by what they view as “libtards,” or “commies” judging by the comments on the Youtube video. I have to wonder if they would be as upset if Harbour made a speech talking about the need to support Trump.

As expected, plenty of the comments criticize the left for being intolerant. After all, Harbour does advise that people should be punched in the face. When Trump said he wanted to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and establish a Muslim ban, people said it was only a metaphor. I’ll use the same excuse here, Harbour was just referring to what his character would do, not what he is seriously condoning others to do.

So, the same right-wing that is convinced most Muslims are terrorists, that Obama is a foreign born Muslim etc. are now upset that the left dares to make a speech about accepting outsiders. Does anyone else see the problem with this mindset? While one side continues to defend whatever they say as the politically incorrect truth, or  “telling it like is”, any comment that does not support Trump is viewed as proof that liberals aren’t tolerant. Liberals don’t tolerate bigots, it’s as simple as that.

 

 

Imperium’s Portrayal of White Supremacists

Imperium (2016) follows Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) as he infiltrates a white supremacist group in order to prevent an act of domestic terrorism. I was originally intending to do a review of the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Radcliffe is amazing as Foster, and Toni Collette is masterful as his supervising officer, Angela Zamparo.

I decided to forgo a review and focus on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. I tried to go to IMDB to discuss the film itself, its acting, its ending etc. However, most posters are still hung up on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. In many ways, they come across as people offended or amused by how white supremacists are represented. Or they are simply annoyed that a film on white supremacy was made.

Imperium interested me when I first heard about the film, due to its exploration of white supremacy through the eyes of an undercover agent. I have previously discussed Imperium on this blog, since the backlash the film received was highly indicative of racism. IMDB was filled with one thread after another criticizing Hollywood for creating more “left wing propaganda” that was attacking white men and making them “feel guilty”.

White supremacists exist, and we shouldn’t be banned from showing them on screen because some insecure people might see it as a personal attack. Of course, these same people will argue that anyone who complains about negative portrayals of minorities in films are “politically correct” or “social justice warriors”. To them, it only matters if American society’s dominant group, straight white men, are depicted negatively. Imperium does not depict all white men in the film as bad guys. After all, Radcliffe’s character and his supervising officer are both white people, but the alt-right doesn’t want to see any white people portrayed negatively. Meanwhile, minorities must simply disregard every single negative portrayal of themselves since it is “just a movie”. These negative portrayals don’t make us “feel guilty” but they do bother us since we see them so often.

One of the alt-right’s most popular arguments is that Imperium should focus on more pressing issues, like Islamic extremism. Firstly, most terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslim Americans. Even if Muslims were the most deadly terrorists in the US, is a film only allowed to show a fictionalized version of society’s most pressing issues? Would these same people criticize films about serial killers because most murders aren’t caused by serial killers?

Of course, there were also IMDB users who openly defend groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation since there is nothing wrong with having white pride. Even groups that are openly racist reject the label of “racist”, which is why phrases like “I’m not racist but…” are so popular nowadays. I won’t spend anytime trying to enlighten such people.

I read American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate for a university assignment and was interested to see if this film would reflect any of the case studies explored in the book.

One key theme of the book is that white supremacists are no longer just uneducated rednecks. It is comforting to think that white supremacists all live in the back woods, but that is not fact. American Swastika explored white supremacists of varying education levels, classes and careers. Off the top of my head, one of them was a manager at a technical support company. Many of the ones studied were middle-class or upper-middle class, just like the white supremacists we see in the film. Many of the white supremacists in American Swastika were typical suburban families in many ways, which only makes them more unsettling. The whole point of the book is that someone in your neighbourhood, or maybe even your neighbour, could be a white supremacist.

There was one post on IMDB where a user criticized the film for showing a white supremacist barbecue where one of the wives was serving cupcakes decorated with swastikas.

The cupcakes might seem over the top but American Swastika describes birthday parties where parents would decorate their children’s cakes with white supremacist symbols. Homes are a “safe space” where people can invite other like-minded individuals and unabashedly embrace their views. However, it is easier to see the cupcakes and dismiss it as the work of liberals instead of realizing that such gatherings happen every year in the US. This poster obviously didn’t do his own research either. He saw the cupcakes, and assumed that they were a ridiculous Hollywood creation. Since he calls out “liberals” for their supposed mistake, we can assume he is a conservative and probably someone who was watching the movie feeling like he was personally being attacked. Therefore, he was eager to pick apart the film’s premise and portrayal of white supremacists.

White supremacists aren’t such a fanatical “lunatic fringe” any longer. They realize the importance of blending in from day to day, whether it is in the suburbs, or in a diverse urban environment. Imperium portrays them accurately and if this accurate portrayal scares you, good. It’s supposed to.

 

There Is No Racism Problem Here

I have always taken an interest in what people post on online comment sections, whether it is on newspaper articles or YouTube videos. A lot of people think that racist comments on these forums are all the work of “trolls”- people who deliberately make inflammatory comments for the sake of starting arguments. If we can pass off all racist online comments as the work of trolls, then we can imagine that there isn’t a single racist person online and that the internet is the idyllic bastion of tolerance and democracy.

However, plenty of research suggests that the anonymity of online forums just makes it more likely for people to embrace their prejudice. The book I linked to is just one source I used in a paper concerning this phenomena. A lot of online forums accept pseudonyms, and even if they link to social media, some people may still be bold enough to post racist comments since they can customize their privacy settings on these platforms. Unlike a face-to-face interaction, it is unlikely that there will be consequences for racist statements. I was reading an article in the Howard Journal of Communications that also studied how racists can become emboldened online,specifically on newspaper comment sections, since their racist comments or rants are often supported online. This then creates an echo-chamber where racists dominate discussion and silence more civilized conversations. There is no democratic debate.

This is to say that I don’t think I am over-analyzing when I pay attention to the comments people make online.  One common narrative that I have found on IMDB and YouTube is the idea that some countries don’t have the same racism that America does. I have seen such comments on videos or boards for films like 12 Years A Slave and Selma. The basic gist is that “my country has no problem with black people, either historically or now”, and typically comes from European users. Historically I would beg to differ. America’s history of slavery may be the most prominent but numerous European countries participated in the slave trade.

12-years-a-slave

Present day, my biggest issue with this argument is that it ignores one of the unfortunate realities of racism. Racism can be generated from a complete lack of interaction with a group, but it can also be generated from a certain level of sustained interaction. It is easy to say that your country has no problem with black people when there are very little or when they have very little impact on your city or country. When people feel like their culture is threatened, that is when they begin to lash out.  I am not empathizing with this view, or making excuses for racists. I am a minority as well and want to emphasize that people can become more intolerant when they “feel” threatened, even if facts do not line up with their view of the world.

Let’s see how tolerant people remain when they start competing with minorities for jobs. I came across a post on the IMDB board for American History X, which helped to crystallize how job competition can contribute to racism as well . The film follows Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a former Neo-Nazi who tries to save his younger brother from the life of racism he once had. As Derek reflects on what led him on the path to white supremacy, he remembers his dad being killed by black gang members after responding to a 9/11 call in a drug den. However, Derek also remembers an earlier incident; a conversation with his father.

american-history-free

Years earlier, Derek tells his dad that they started reading Native Son in school, which is about a young black man in poverty. Derek’s dad makes it clear that he thinks “black books” are being used at the expense of good books. Derek’s dad, a firefighter, then shared a story of black firefighters being hired even though they weren’t qualified. We do not know how Derek’s dad knows they weren’t qualified. Derek’s dad also refers to the need for diversity as “nigger bullshit”.

An IMDB forum discussion titled “I agree with Derek’s dad on most point…” argues that Derek’s dad was undoubtedly racist but he had a good point about diversity trumping talent. A link is included but you may not be able to access it if you do not have an IMDB account. I have included screenshots below as evidence.

Most of the replies in this discussion echo the misconception that affirmative action results in unqualified candidates. There is a misconception about affirmative action flooding workplaces with black C students instead of white A students. However, such hiring is illegal and affirmative action mostly involves selecting a minority from a pool of qualified candidates. Affirmative action in the US also does not instil quotas, which is another prevalent misconception.

One response in particular got my attention:

imdb

In case you can’t read it: “I agree 100%, my uncle and his friend years ago both tried out to be police officers in Philadelphia and despite having higher test scores than two black aspiring police officers, they didn’t get the job, it instead went to the other candidates. That shows how messed up the US is, employers should higher the most qualified candidates instead of trying to up their diverse employee stats. It’s simply stupid.”

I have heard similar stories before, and I have yet to hear such a story where there is proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I thought I would give the poster the benefit of the doubt and ask him how his uncle knew the black candidates got lower test scores.

His response:

imdb

“This happened a little bit before I was born so this is what I was told (I was told the others were unqualified, I assume this was observed during physical training). I love how you automatically assumed I was racist, triggered much?”

So basically, this poster’s uncle actually has no proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I respect this poster for actually being honest; he could have just lied about his uncle seeing their test scores himself. Yet I also detest that he heard this story, doesn’t know the details and is now using it to fuel his attack on minorities. The next time a black person gets a job instead of him, he’ll likely assume they were unqualified. Then he’ll tell his kids this story, and they’ll tell their kids….

First we get this ignorance, disguised as an argument for merit. Next people might complain about having to accommodate new languages or religions.

Let’s see how tolerant your country is when immigrants and minorities are blamed for a poor economy, crime, changing culture etc. This is already happening more and more in Europe with the refugee crisis. No country lacks a racism problem. That is either a lie or the country has very few minorities.

 

Zootopia and Race

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Zootopia.

I remember watching the Zootopia sloth trailer in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and laughing just as hard as everyone else in the theater. However, when the release date came around I was preoccupied with the hype for BatmanvSuperman and the film slipped by my radar. Zootopia returned to my radar after hearing about its box office success, and especially after a friend gave it a glowing review.

zootopiasloth

One of the things that my friend liked the most was how the film tackled the issue of race. He said it wasn’t preachy or overly sentimental, but worked in allegories that were easily identifiable. I remember the one he told me about was the use of the word “cute”. In the film, it is okay for bunnies to call one another cute, but it is offensive if another species uses the word. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the similarity to the word “nigga”.

Another light-hearted allegory that got my attention was a scene where Nicholas “Nick” Wilde (Jason Bateman) touches a sheep’s hair, remarking on how fluffy it is. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) then whispers that he can’t just touch a sheep’s wool. I can remember grade eight at Southbank International School in London, England. I was one of two black kids, out of a student body of at least 100, and my classmates often touched my hair. I am sure a lot of other black people, and women especially, can relate to someone treating them like an animal in a petting zoo and touching their hair without permission. I remember that a Buzzfeed article on Zootopia was filled with people arguing that this happens to anyone with curly hair. Black people, on average, are more likely to have curly or “kinky” hair so I think it is fair to say that the sheep wool can be interpreted as kinky hair.

tumblr_o4gqydb42e1voiqufo1_1280

Aside from these smaller vignettes, Zootopia is loaded with messages of discrimination. What I like most about the film is that most of these messages or lessons don’t come from the depiction of highly vocal bigots. I have no sympathy for ignorant people but most of the discrimination in the film is presented as ingrained biases from otherwise decent people who do not seem to know any better. I have no problem with the depiction of more staunch bigotry (such as Imperium or American History X) but in this age of supposed “colour-blindness” it is important to see how people who claim to be tolerant can adopt stereotypes of other races.

Within the city of Zootopia, mammals (predator and prey) now live in harmony. The film revolves around the disappearance of fourteen mammals in Zootopia.  Their disappearance is revealed to be a move by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K Simmons) to hide the fact that predators are going “savage”- reverting to their desire to attack and consume prey. Co-screenwriter Jared Bush has explained that predators in Zootopia only eat plant-based proteins and insects. Going “savage” causes the animals to lose the capacity for speech and return to the predator-prey mindset. Hopps, aided by Wilde, must uncover why the animals are going savage.

Wilde’s identify as a fox gives us one of our first insights into discrimination in this fictional world. In the film foxes have a reputation for being sly and deceitful. Hopps’s parents are wary of her living among them when she leaves their farm and goes to Zootopia. They make sure to give her fox-repellent, similar to pepper spray. Although Judy criticizes their bigotry she still brings the fox-repellent with her on her first day of work. Like real-life, someone who is outwardly accepting can still be affected by stereotypes that they have picked up from the media, friends, parents etc. I have had well-meaning friends tell me I speak well for a black guy, and Hopps also applauds Nick for how articulate he is. Nick has heard the compliment before, and thanks Hopps for not being patronizing (although his tone implies that he is not truly happy to hear the compliment again).

Wilde has long been the victim of prejudice, with the most pivotal moment being an incident of childhood bullying. Wilde had hopes of being the first fox scout, but was pranked and muzzled during his supposed induction ceremony. Zootopia is founded on the idea that anyone who arrives can be anything they want to be, similar to the American Dream. However, Wilde believes that all you can really be is what’s on the outside.  He knows other people only see a fox when they look at him, so he stopped trying to be different and became a con-artist. Obviously, I am not trying to say every criminal is simply misunderstood, and I don’t think the film is either. Wilde is simply an example of someone who is disillusioned with the world’s supposed equality, which he has yet to experience.

Meanwhile, Hopps is the first bunny cop, who is enlisted as part of a Mammalian inclusion initiative. Although she is accepted, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) has little faith in her ability and assigns her to parking duty.

04-zootopia-w750-h560-2x

 

Hopps and Wilde are able to form a bond over their treatment, but the bond is tested after they find the missing mammals. Hopps’s takes the stage for her first press conference, with Wilde watching close by, and is quick to reveal that all of the savage animals were predators. When probed, Hopps remarks that the predators might be returning to their old instincts. Wilde doesn’t approve of the comments, and Hopps initially dismisses him. She argues that Wilde should know she wasn’t talking about him, just “them”.

“I remember a mom of a friend of mine in the suburbs made some comment about a black person and – I had to be 12, about 60 pounds – and I said something and she said: ‘Oh no, not you. You are not black. You are great.’- Jesse Williams

That quote leapt into my mind during this scene. We end up being a “credit to our kind”, differentiated from “them”, the masses that deserve hate or mistrust.

It is later revealed that a serum, derived from a poisonous plant, is responsible for the mammals going savage. Mayor Dawn Bellwether (promoted after Lionheart is imprisoned) reveals herself as the mastermind behind the plot, aiming to use the public’s fear to eliminate the predator minority from Zootopia. Using a hitman of sorts, she was able to target predators all over the city and create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. This scheme isn’t just fiction; Donald Trump probably read an early draft of the screenplay and used it as a manual on running a Presidential campaign. As Bellwether says “Fear always works!”

I remember thinking about Zootopia unapologetically explored issues that many people are too afraid to nowadays. In many ways, this Disney film had more guts than most of the Disney produced Marvel films. There is a childhood scene where Hopps is attacked by a child fox, and when he moves to scratch her I was sure that she would be saved at the last minute somehow. Instead, we see Hopps sporting a scar on her left cheek. Life isn’t a fairy tale, and this movie isn’t afraid to let us know that. No pretty princesses, no flowery songs.  Zootopia has a great motto of equality but Hopps acknowledges it is only a motto and that the dream is a work in progress.

officer_nick_wilde

 

The Unwhitewashing of Geek Culture

“The title of this post is in reference to this blog post I came across a few days ago. The post examines recent and upcoming instances of white comic book characters, such as Iris West on The Flash, being cast with people of colour (poc).

iriswest

The blog post has a very optimistic mindset, arguing that those who focus on instances of whitewashing are ignoring the progress being made. I disagree with the writer, but unlike some of my other posts, I don’t aim to vilify her. The idea for this blog post actually came out of our pleasant exchanges in the comment section.

Some successes do not overweigh failures in Hollywood’s casting decisions. Of course, I am happy for these successes but I believe that we can’t rely on the mindset that “things are so much better” to avoid pushing for things to be right. Of course, some progress is being made in terms of diversity in Hollywood and I am happy to see it. The author is right to say that we have come a long way but I don’t think complaints of whitewashing overshadow the positives, I think the positives overshadow the continuing legacy of whitewashing. The 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report showed that 17% of lead roles in Hollywood films go to a minority. This is despite the fact that minorities nearly make up 40% of the US population. Some may be quick to argue that there must be a shortage of actors from people of other races, but I don’t think I even have to dignify that argument with precise statistics. If there was a severe shortage of aspiring poc actors, we wouldn’t be able to make productions like The Get Down, Luke Cage and Straight Outta Compton. Not to mention a slew of diverse or minority dominated indie films like Dope. These indie films have numerous poc who wish to be on the big screen someday.

the-get-down

Some may also argue that poc just aren’t as talented, but doesn’t their talent become a moot point if they are denied a role because their race isn’t viewed as marketable enough? Let’s use Ridley Scott’s Mohammad so-and-so comment to illustrate. Ridley Scott originally argued that Exodus featured a white cast since Ancient Egypt was a “confluence of cultures”. He later admitted he just couldn’t cast Mohammad so-and-so to get a film financed.  Very few people will deny that Hollywood favours white people for roles. They just find ways to defend it: “best actor for the part, race doesn’t matter” “It’s not about race, it’s about being relatable and marketable”. Yet if a character that is supposed to white is played by a poc then it is “reverse racism” “political correctness” or a “liberal agenda”. I have already discussed this blatant double standard in depth in two articles.

With those two arguments out of the way, I wanted to discuss the part of my conversation with the blogger that interested me most. I do enjoy my ongoing discussion with the blogger so yet again, this isn’t meant to vilify her. However, our discussion brought up a very important misconception about America that fuels Hollywood’s casting decisions, and is also created by them. The blogger used the oft-cited argument that whitewashing is about “relatability”- creating characters people can identify with. Firstly, this argument assumes that someone must be of the same race for you to relate to them. It is possible to relate to someone’s motivations, upbringing, struggles etc. if you are not of the same race. Why does Hollywood and members of its audience think that people can care about robots and talking animals, but not care about poc? Next, you don’t have to be able to relate to a character to care about them. Also, poc are meant to care about characters that are a different race and would likely be considered racist if they skipped out on a movie because it had too many white people. Main point: Hollywood creates the idea that whiteness is universal. Everyone will go to see white people, but only blacks will see blacks, Asians will see Asians etc.

untitled

If someone needs to look like you to be “relatable” or marketable why was this movie so successful?

Once I responded with these facts, the blogger then brought up the misconception. When I referred to movies with mostly poc casts, she assumed I meant foreign ones; arguing that their lack of popularity is more related to the influence of their respective industries, which will likely pale in comparison to Hollywood. I was talking about American productions, like the ones I mentioned above. Hollywood has, for the most part, presented a very white America. Obviously there are prominent poc actors, but compare their numbers to the prominent white ones. Although people always deny the societal impact of films, films are shown to have a significant impact on how people view a certain city, region, country etc.

https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/portrayal.htm

“Considerable public concern has arisen over the issue of media diversity, as it is generally accepted that mass media has strong social and psychological effects on viewers. Film and television, for example, provide many children with their first exposure to people of other races, ethnicities, religions and cultures. What they see onscreen, therefore, can impact their attitudes about the treatment of others. One study found, for instance, that two years of viewing Sesame Street by European-American preschoolers was associated with more positive attitudes toward African and Latino Americans. Another study found that white children exposed to a negative television portrayal of African-Americans had a negative change in attitude toward blacks. (Diversity in film and television: MediaScope)”

People may be quick to argue that they are much less impressionable than children but ask yourself honestly: Has the depiction of a certain area on tv or in a movie, ever affected your perception of the area, whether it be the demographics or crime of that region? I have heard plenty of friends complain of a region being depicted as too diverse, too crime-ridden and so on. People do notice these things and I don’t believe it is a stretch to say that someone who is unfamiliar with an area can form an impression of it from films. This blogger is likely American and also is not white, so she likely knows what America looks like. Yet years of Hollywood films disproportionately dominated by white people still creates the assumption that a mostly poc cast is the work of foreigners. Such a thing does not exist in America. The blogger has not responded to my most recent post where I pointed this assumption out, so we will see what other insights come from this. Either way, I thought it was a great example of how the impact of films.

 

Update: My last comment to the poster appears to have been deleted. I am assuming that the blogger is the only one who is allowed to do this, so it appears she didn’t take kindly to me calling her out on her assumption.

Jesse Williams -Black Gold

Jesse Williams may be best known as Dr. Jackson on Grey’s Anatomy to many fans, or maybe Holden in The Cabin in The Woods or Reverend James Lawson in The Butler.

I first saw Jesse Williams as Holden and never paid much attention to his career until I was completing my Master’s. I decided that I wanted to do my major research paper on whitewashing in Hollywood, although I had yet to narrow down a specific topic. A classmate sent me this video of Jesse Williams discussing racism in America, as well as discriminatory casting in Hollywood.

 

From that point on, I followed his social media more ravenously than his fangirls. Williams embraced humour on his feed, but he isn’t afraid to tackle issues of race and racism, which are now taboo topics in this era of supposed colour-blindness. People will use the excuse of colour-blindness to defend everything from whitewashing, to hate crimes to police brutality that disproportionately affects minorities. To them, racism is dead. Therefore, higher rates of poverty, unemployment etc. can all be blamed on minority laziness. Of course, some minorities are lazy, just like some white people are. To say that this laziness explains all discrepancies in success is a grave oversimplification that ignores the impact that racist institutions have on minorities.

Williams is a former teacher and one of his initial aspirations was to be a civil rights lawyer. He says he may still write the bar exam someday and he is still heavily involved in activism. I heard about the speech he gave at the BET Awards, after receiving the humanitarian award, but didn’t get around to seeing it until yesterday. The speech was short, but poetic and powerful.

jessewilliamsmain1

The full Jesse Williams speech:

Thank you Debra, thank you BET. Thank you Nate Parker and Debbie Allen for participating in that. Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career — they made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also I thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now — this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics.

The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also in particular for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can, and will, do better for you.

Now: What we’ve been doing is looking at the data. And we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s gonna happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our country, or we will restructure their function, and ours.

Now I got more, y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice‘s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

The thing is, though. All of us in here getting money? That alone isn’t gonna stop this. Dedicating our lives — dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back, for someone’s brand on our body. When we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies. And now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so … free.

Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance — for our resistance — then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest … If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment, like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

The thing is though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

Thank you.

Of course, it is already being criticized all over the internet for being racist, race-baiting etc.

It is exhausting watching people get defensive when these issues are brought up: Resorting to arguments that are meant to derail the conversation instead of truly engaging in it. In order to get this off my chest, I wanted to attack the main arguments that have arisen since William’s speech. These arguments are not isolated to William’s speech either, so this gives me a chance to attack all the arguments that I’ve seen on my Youtube videos, newspaper articles and so on.

1)      Williams is saying all white people are racist.

This argument is probably the best example of a straw man argument; where an opponent exaggerates or simplifies an argument in order to make it easier to ridicule. There are plenty of statistics demonstrating blacks are more likely to go to jail (as opposed to getting fines, probation etc.) for non-violent offences, and are more likely to get longer jail terms. There is also plenty of research on lingering and housing discrimination. If you are too lazy or unwilling to research this, start off with the two sources below. If you want more, let me know.

Wegman, Jesse. (2014). The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/opinion/high-time-the-injustice-of-marijuana-arrests.html?_r=0

Brown, M.K, M. Canroy, E. Curry, D.B. Oppenheimer and T. Duster, M.M. Shultz and D. Wellman. (2003). Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color Blind Society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Anyway, all of this research never tries to say all white people are racist. What it does say is that a legacy of racism still impacts institutions. An institution can be racist, or have racist policies even if everyone in it is not racist. For example, the fact that blacks are more likely to go to jail for non-violent offences does not imply every judge or juror is racist. It only means that the system as a whole supports racist practices. For an even simpler example, if a store manager tells his employees to monitor blacks as they shop, it does not mean every employee is racist. However, there is undoubtedly a racist system at work.

Acknowledging that there are racists systems and institutions does not the same thing as saying that you are a racist. Discussion of racism is not a personal attack. Too many people have this misconception and get defensive when the issue of race is brought up. This knee-jerk reaction is a fundamental part of what makes it so difficult to have a productive discussion on race.

  • Williams is half-white so how can he talk about racism?

This one actually baffles me a bit, but it is somewhat tied to the previous argument. If people think talking about racism = saying that all white people are racist, then it must be pretty confusing to see a mixed man discussing it.

White scholars and activists will fight against employment discrimination that leads to resumes with white names getting more callbacks, even if the skills are identical as resumes with more ethnic names like Jamal. Don’t worry insecure people, affirmative action apparently doesn’t mean black C students are getting jobs over white A students.

Their involvement does not mean they think all white people are racist. They only recognize that they benefit from the system, but they have the fortitude to accept that and fight against the white privilege that lingers in American society.

  • With organizations like Black Lives Matter, BET and the NAACP, how will we ever get past racism?

This argument ties directly into colour-blind racism. The key assumption here:

  • Racism is dead, there is no need to acknowledge or discuss it

Organizations like BET and the NAACP were created to counteract historical (and ongoing) discrimination. BET was purchased by Viacom in 2003 so its programming has been far more commercial since. However, it originally helped to showcase films with mostly black actors that have a much harder time getting mainstream exposure. To this day, directors will still deliberately pick white actors to play characters that aren’t white, because white is “more marketable”. Many supposed colour-blind people acknowledge that this happens, but also believe racism is dead. Maybe if Hollywood and most television networks didn’t still believe that whiteness is more marketable (Stoddard, 2006), we wouldn’t need BET.

In many cases, the NAACP is one of the few organizations openly challenging racism in today’s society. It would be great if we didn’t need the NAACP or BET, but that isn’t the world we live in.

This is the same reason we have Black Lives Matter. The world already cares about white lives. Everyone knows white lives matter. However, black death is often treated with retorts that we just need to learn how to behave ourselves. People donated nearly $500,000 to Darren Wilson after he killed Mike Brown, before the trial begin. There was the assumption that Brown was guilty, and this assumption is pervasive in cases of cops killing unarmed minorities.

f937MKa

 

Williams’s speech can either be a great opening for a debate or another speech that gets ridiculed for its racism, its “whining”, its “race-baiting”. It looks like this is another case where the majority of people pick the latter. There is praise for Williams, but it is more concentrated on outlets such as the Atlanta Black Star. Other outlets, like the LA Times are overrun by people who think Williams is only making racism in America worse. He’s the problem here according to them. How dare he speak out? How dare he try to ruin the mirage of an equal and colour-blind society?

 

Works Cited

 

Stoddard, J.D. (2006). The Burden of Historical Representation: Race, Freedom and ‘Educational’ Hollywood Film. Film and History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 36 (1), 26-35.