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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Updates

This marks the third day of my commitment to blog everyday, so far so good, but there are still plenty of days to go.

Although my novels are science-fiction, my blog has always explored a range of subjects. I write about movies and comics, but I also write about race and politics. I know that may dissuade some people but it is who I am. I am not diluting my interests for the people who may feel threatened by the views that I try to express in a rational manner.

When it comes to my daily post, I often write about what is on my mind. An article, a comment by a friend, anything can end up being the inspiration for an article. Since it is Friday now, I figured that a lighter blog post was in order. I’m checking out Captain America: Civil War tomorrow and I am excited. As I expected, the film has already been met with near critical acclaim. Although I love Marvel and DC I can’t help but feel somewhat apprehensive since I know the Marvel brainwashing is very powerful.

However, I’m still excited. I have dbox seats for tomorrow and will be putting up a review tomorrow night or Sunday at the latest. I am planning to do a written review as well as a YouTube video. I’ve been avoiding any promotional videos since the first trailer came out because I don’t want too much spoiled. I hear Tom Holland is amazing as Spider-Man so we’ll see what he brings to the table. I haven’t heard much about Chadwick Boseman as The Black Panther but I think he’ll kill it and hopefully build some hype for the Black Panther film.

Heteronormativity and The Last of Us

In my previous post, I reflected on how Hollywood has conditioned us to view certain things as normal, and others as unnatural. The normal things include whiteness, masculinity and heterosexuality. When I wrote the previous post I indicated that one article is not enough to discuss all the issues tied to Hollywood and minority representation. I wrote my master’s paper on colour-blind racism and Hollywood but I could easily write a dissertation on this larger topic. For that reason I am thinking of including a weekly segment that looks at a specific example of a minority (racial, religious, sexual) being viewed as unwelcome or alien.

Tonight’s example is one I came across a while ago, but that still sticks with me. The Last of Us is a video game that focuses on a pair of survivors (Joel and Ellie) in a post-apocalyptic American landscape swarmed with bandits and zombies (humans infected with the cordyceps fungus). An expansion pack for the game, The Last of Us: Left Behind, focuses on Ellie and reveals more of her past.

This past included a friend named Riley, who died from the fungus. Prior to Ellie’s death, she kisses Riley. This kiss is captured on a YouTube upload of the expansion pack. After watching the second part of the video I scrolled through the comments, only to be greeted by numerous comments saying that Ellie isn’t necessarily lesbian. It was just a kiss, she could still be straight.

I had to ask, “Wait, so for the people saying “a kiss doesn’t make her lesbian”, if she kissed a guy would you say “a kiss doesn’t make her straight”?”

This is something that any reader must seriously consider. If Ellie kissed a guy, and people vehemently argued that she could “still be lesbian”, those people would be seen as idiots. Where is there proof? What are they basing this on? Why are they so eager for the character to be lesbian? We have been conditioned to think of homosexuality as a “lifestyle”, a “choice” or a “phase”. I can’t blame Hollywood completely for this but I think that Hollywood can definitely help to cement these views when homosexual characters are not developed well. The worst offender for me was The Kids Are All Right, where Julianne Moore’s character cheats on her wife with a man- we all know she was just biding time with the woman and waiting for a man to come along.

Hollywood Brainwashing: Political Correctness and Agendas

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most creative, entertaining and memorable films I have seen in the past few years, if not ever. The acting, writing and of course, the action and visuals were all amazing. The title character, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), has few lines and in many ways isn’t even the main character. I didn’t find this jarring or bothersome since this was similar to Mad Max 2, where the plot revolved around one of the communities Max came across in the apocalyptic landscape. Like Fury Road, Mad Max 2 also focused more on the community and the villain.

However, this fact appears to have been lost on some people. Fury Road has received widespread acclaim and was even nominated for best picture at the golden globes and the Oscars: a huge achievement for an action film that is basically a two hour car chase (albeit a beautifully crafted one). Then again, the loudest voices can often stand out best, even if they are the fewest.

When discussing the film online it seems that praise for Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is closely followed by criticism of “feminist propaganda” or a “feminist agenda”. Searching “Mad Max Fury Road Feminism” brings up numerous articles from outlets such as The Guardian and The New York Post. The presence of strong female characters is hard to ignore, but I think it is a problem when we view strong female characters as indicative of an agenda.

Any discussion of ideological messages in films is often derailed by those who proclaim “It’s just a movie”. Yet as I’ve indicated many times before in blog posts and YouTube videos, this logic does not apply when the ruling class in Hollywood (white men) is affected. We are so used to seeing strong male characters, that seeing a strong female one comes across as “forced”, or “politically correct”.

I was interested in seeing Batman: Bad Blood, one of DC’s animated films. Before I looked into it I thought I would go to IMDB and see what other users thought of the film. One conversation in particular caught my interest:

screenshot

 

Unfortunately the text came out blurred but I figured it would be good to have proof of this conversation. I know people always like to say that people who express discriminatory ideas online are just trolls, but I think that simplifies things far too much. There are definitely people who get amusement from inflammatory comments, but I don’t think that explains every single discriminatory comment online. The internet is an arena where people can express their true feelings anonymously or with a pseudonym.

The person who started this post seems genuinely upset at being called a troll, his words are his “honest thoughts and opinions.” Perhaps the honest opinion he would not reveal in class or at work?

Bad Blood focuses on batman’s sidekicks and their efforts to fight crime in Gotham after his disappearance. While Nightwing and Robin are in the story, Batwoman is too. According to the person who started this conversation, the film would have been better without Batwoman since her sections felt “forced” and her homosexuality felt “heavy handed” (the newest Batwoman is Lesbian) . As another poster points out, this heavy handed homosexuality plays out with one scene of Batwoman flirting with a woman at a bar.

Some people reading this may agree with the original poster, but that brings up the issue I am trying to tackle. If one scene of a woman flirting with another is a heavy-handed depiction of homosexuality, would the scenes of Nightwing flirting with another woman also be heavy-handed heterosexuality? For decades, Hollywood has fed the world a steady diet of entertainment. Most of these characters fit a certain mold: white, male and straight. Years of seeing most heroes fit this mold can then lead to this becoming normalized (Dyer, White, 1997). When whiteness and masculinity becomes normalized in film, it is then easier for women and people of colour to be viewed as subversive. People who are outright bigots can also disguise their prejudice and aversion to seeing minorities and homosexuality on screen by saying that they simply don’t like it if it’s “heavy handed”. As the example above demonstrates, it does not take much for these elements to be viewed as heavy-handed.

A recent example of this which I have discussed before is the reaction to Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII. Rey has been relentlessly criticized for being a Mary Stu, a female character who is often overly skilled and is often viewed as the worst example of “feminist influence”. While it is reasonable to look at Rey’s progression in the film as being highly unrealistic, I just wonder if fans nitpick her progression as much as they nitpick Luke’s in Star Wars: Episode V or any male character’s in pretty much any movie. Can we all say that we have never seen a film where a male character ends up being a prodigy at whatever is important to the plot? Can we honestly say that we tore that characterization apart because it seemed too unrealistic, or did we embrace it and rejoice in how badass the character is?

With all of the bitterness and anger directed towards women on screen it seems that any female character who is on screen to do more than hook up with someone or be a damsel in distress is now viewed as unnatural and unwelcome. The same logic applies to minorities of any kind. If a black character is portrayed as heroic, intelligent and articulate, the movie is too politically correct. If a religious minority is represented as a fleshed out, sympathetic character then it is “propaganda”. Even better, the film is “pushing an agenda”. God forbid, if the film actually discusses discrimination of any kind openly, whether it is racism, sexism or homophobia . As another poster on IMDB said, he hopes The Revenant can win best picture since it is the movie that is a “non-agenda” movie.

Note: This post barely scratches the surfaces of all the things I want to say on this topic, so I will probably revisit the topic and get in the habit of blogging about other examples of this trend.

Works Cited

Dyer, R. (1997). White. London, UK: Routledge.

 

Star Wars: Episode VII-Not Life Changing, and a little disappointing (SPOILERS)

I took a while to start writing this post, mostly because I honestly didn’t know where to start.

Firstly, I would consider myself a pretty big star wars fan. I love the lore, the universe, the characters and I have seen all six movies. Like most, I do agree the acting and writing of the prequels is generally inferior, thanks to Hayden Christen and Jake Lloyd, but I still liked the world they created.

The Force Awakens is on track to potentially be the highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) and it is easy to see why. Hype was unavoidable for Episode VII. Not only was it another Star Wars movie, but we were getting some of the most iconic characters back, along with their original actors. How could we not be excited?

I find that having high expectations for a movie can result in two extremes:

1) mindless praise since subjectivity becomes overshadowed by excitement

2) severe nitpicking because the movie couldn’t live up to very high expectations

This is why I always wait at least a day before truly sharing my thoughts on a film as hyped as Star Wars. After taking a day to collect my own thoughts and scour through news and comments online, I think I am finally ready to add my voice to thousands of others. Some might think, what is the point? I do this for my sanity and to quiet the debate raging in my head over the film’s merits.

1) General Thoughts

I didn’t get to see the film until Wednesday, by which time some of my friends shared their thoughts on how amazing the film was. Maybe that got my hopes up further.

Overall, I believe the film is a solid start to a new trilogy, a 7/10. In true nerd fashion I felt chills seeing the star wars logo on the big screen again, complete with the iconic music and text filling us in on what has happened since Episode VII.

Adam Driver was a standout as Kylo Ren, a character with emotional conflict and rage that truly resonated on screen. This was my first time seeing Driver and I look forward to checking out more of his work.

After Ex-Machina I was looking forward to seeing more of Oscar Isaac’s work but this role is a much smaller one in comparison. Although Isaac does well with what he has, his character does not have that much screen time and doesn’t get that much development. Here hoping that the sequels can better flesh out the ancillary and main characters.

Another Ex-Machina star, Domnhall Gleeson also appears and makes a speech at one point that truly stood out.

My biggest issues and the main reason I felt the need to write this post, were due to the two new central characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega).

I was happy to see that Abrams opted to use lesser known actors, which mimicked the casting practices of the original. Ridley’s first acting credit was in 2013, with a few episodes in different tv shows. Yet I couldn’t tell from her performance in this film. She is amazing in her role. Women will like seeing a strong female lead, while Ridley probably has a lot of new fans just due to her looks.

Next, is Finn. I loved Boyega in Attack The Block and I was very happy to hear that he got this role. When it was announced, I immediately saw this role as one that could help catapult his career. However, it looks like Ridley will benefit from it more. Her character has a bigger part in the film and her skin colour doesn’t bother some fans of the trilogy. It is a fact that Boyega was subject to hundreds of racist tweets when he was cast, and I think it is highly unlikely that every racist tweet came from online trolls who simply wanted attention. Racism is widespread online when discussing Boyega and his character. Hollywood has brainwashed audiences into seeing an all-white or mostly-white cast as a natural one. Hollywood has done this so well since its inception that inserting a black character into an intergalactic story comes across as forced. I would hate to know what the disgruntled racists think of blacks being cast in other movies.

As this movie confirms, Boyega is not meant to be a clone of Jango Fett. By this point in the story, a lot of troopers are no longer clones. So with worries of a black stormtrooper satiated, people still complain simply because they don’t like seeing a black character on screen. These are probably the same people that defend whitewashing since they are “colour-blind”. When a black actor is cast, there is no assumption that he got the role because he was the “best actor for the part”. People assume that the actor has no merit and was selected as some form of “reverse-racism” or “political correctness”.

Some people are arguing there was no need to change the race of characters, but nothing is being changed here, something is being added. If aliens don’t bother you, then black skin shouldn’t. I was discussing the film with a friend on thursday and although I know he is not a racist, he still said something that made it clear he was brainwashed by the whiteness of the mid-century originals. In his own mind, he thought all Jedi were supposed to be white. Although the originals never said or implied this, the on-screen presence of only white Jedis crafted this image. By the time A New Hope begins Jedi are nearly all dead, with Obi-Wan and Luke being the few ones left. We see a more diverse group of Jedi in the prequels, encompassing many human and alien races. Meanwhile, the only black character we get in the original films was Lando Calrissian.

I am not disappointed or angered at seeing a black character. I am disappointed that the black character is reduced to comic-relief and sidekick for the white protagonist (Rey). Boyega is a great actor and was best in the films during his character’s serious scenes. However, those scenes feel relatively scarce. Tie-in material reveals that he is a skilled soldier and marksman, but this is downplayed (emphasis on the word downplayed, we do see some of this) in order to provide a foil for Rey and her skills with the force and mechanics. While Rey is the capable, white heroine, Finn often comes across as the bumbling black sidekick. This comes after a marketing campaign that featured Boyega holding a lightsaber and facing off against Kylo Ren, almost making it look like he would be a Jedi. He is not and I think it was the marketing’s bait and switch that leaves me more disappointed with Finn’s role. While his character is brave, he ultimately is wounded and rendered unconscious by Kylo Ren. At the end of the film, after being saved by Rey numerous times, he is unconscious and in intensive care with the rebels while Rey flies off to meet Luke and presumably train with him.

Some people may not see what the issue is, but that is probably because they lack the proper perspective. There is nothing wrong with comic relief in itself, Han Solo was beloved comic relief in the original films, but black people have a record of disproportionately being used as comic relief in films. They are also routinely used as a supporting actor for a white lead. I was hoping to get something different from Finn, the first black lead in a Star Wars film. I have no doubt that racism plays a part in some of the criticism of Finn and Boyega, but I do believe some criticism of the role he was given is warranted. Yet I still have to ask: Would Boyega’s casting and his character get as much vitriol (i.e. comparisons to Jar Jar Binks) if he was only another white male lead in star wars? Or does his skin colour already indicate to some people that he does not belong?

I also have no doubt that sexism and the manosphere mentality that “sexism is dead and feminism is the enemy” contributes heavily to the criticisms of Rey. Hollywood brainwashing is at work again. Men rarely question the merits of the male hero who is good at whatever the plot requires him to be, and who is irresistible to the opposite sex. Why would they question this hero? It is the ultimate form of wish fulfillment. In contrast, seeing a strong female character, and one who does not hook up with anyone at the end of the story, renders their fantasies null and void. While a strong male character is pretty much taken for granted these days, a strong female one is often regarded as a Mary Sue, a female character who is “usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling.” The term comes from a 1973 article by fanzine writer, Paula Smith, and is now used to refer generally to lazily-written female characters who are loved by all men and are special due to or in spite of their skills (I’m looking at you Bella Swan).

While I have to admit that Rey’s proficiency with the force seemed way advanced for a beginner, I think it is important to ask whether her character’s skill would get picked apart as much if she was a man. After all it is the fact that a woman is doing so well that leads people to criticize the character with terms like Mary Sue or “pc”. We don’t hear people venting over how much of a Marty Stu James Bond is and it seems that people are content to either justify or ignore these double standards.

Another part of this post that I initially struggled with, was how to end it. The paragraph above seemed like too abrupt an end, and I was tempted to continue with a deeper analysis of racism and sexism as it relates to film. Yet I couldn’t bother with that. I wrote my Master’s thesis on racism in film, I have written numerous blog posts and poetry pieces on racism, and have explored racism numerous times in my YouTube videos. I do not discuss the topic only for views or hits, but I still get tired of repeating the same arguments and repeatedly seeing them fall on deaf ears. For every comment that I get applauding my work, there are usually five from people whose defensiveness and anger causes them to resort to straw-man arguments and various other terrible arguments that ignore facts and help people feel more comfortable with the way they see the world. I have yet to experience someone commenting on any of my writing or videos, saying that I changed their mind and helped them see an issue in a different light. I have even had a (formerly) respected family friend accuse me of racism for using the term “my fellow blacks”, in the context of saying that it is a shame films like Joyride 2 and Barbershop 3 are expected to do well at the box office while ones like Selma face relative struggle.

If my point failed to get through to a lot of people with all the other pieces I have done I do not know if it is worth it to preach yet again. Hopefully people can understand where I am coming from.

 

 

 

Straight Outta Compton and Minorities in Lead Roles

If you have been watching my Twitter or Facebook feed you know I can’t stop talking about how awesome Straight Outta Compton was. The film wasn’t perfect by any means, it dragged slightly at points and was also brought down by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who may resemble his father well but was one of the stiffest actors in the film. With that said, Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) and Corey Hawkings (Dr. Dre) and Paul Giamatti (Jerry Heller) anchor the film.

I was considering doing a review and I may do one on YouTube but this piece won’t be a review. I simply want to comment on how well the film is doing, especially in a time where studios and audiences continue to justify whitewashing and disproportionate casting of whites in Hollywood films. Paul Giamatti may be a great actor, but I do not believe he is considered a highly marketable actor. This biopic became the highest August opening for an R-Rated film due to the popularity of the figures it portrayed and a great marketing campaign. Despite the popularity of the real-life figures it would not surprise me if there were people who believed the film would flop financially due to its mostly black cast: Even though the film has relatively small budget of less than $30 million. Straight Outta Compton also had the fortune of being funded partially by figures such as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, which probably helped to assuage studio worries of financial loss.

What I am hoping is that the success of Straight Outta Compton goes far beyond biopics. I hope studios can realize that the set in stone rule of black (and minority actors as a whole) not being marketable is a myth and a self-fulfilling prophecy. How are new minority actors supposed to become marketable if they are not given the appropriate chances to prove themselves? With 1 in 10 roles going to minorities in 2015, it is obvious that Hollywood’s practices of whitewashing and restricting casting calls to white actors severely impacts minority representation in films. Stars such as Will Smith and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were fortunate to have established careers that made them marketable prior to their first film. Will Smith had The Fresh Prince, while The Rock had the WWE. Although these careers did not mean that both actors were taken seriously as actors it did mean that studios didn’t view them as risky investments.

Hollywood’s casting practices have demonstrated that white actors generally do not need to worry about this stigma as much. Studios will cast untested leads like Armie Hammer and Kellan Lutz in huge budget films, while hesitating to cast minority actors in roles for less expensive films. As I have discussed in my piece on double standards, people will often defend whitewashing in large numbers, using excuses such as “it’s just a movie”, “best actor for the part” and “artistic interpretation”. When a white character is turned black/Hispanic/Asian, suddenly those same excuses are not valid. I want to see studios take more calculated risks with black actors, pointing to the success of Straight Outta Compton, instead of emphasizing the failure of Red Tails.