Who’s Triggered Here? The Jellies and Tyler, The Creator

A few days ago a friend tagged me in the below video.

The Jellies! SDCC Panel

She asked. Tyler the Creator answered. The Jellies! coming soon to Adult Swim.

Posted by Adult Swim on Tuesday, July 25, 2017

 

This video is from a Comic-Con panel for “The Jellies”, an upcoming adult swim show that Tyler, The Creator is producing and starring in as Cornell, a human adopted by jellyfish. “The Jellies” was previously featured on Tyler’s “Golf Media” app, but will now see its debut on television later this year. The original app version of the show featured a white Cornell, and a fan asks (on behalf of her boyfriend) why Cornell is black in the adult swim show.

 

I do have some of Tyler’s songs on my phone, but can’t say that I am a huge fan by any means. These words aren’t the words of a fanboy. These are the words of someone surprised by how calm and articulate Tyler The Creator was in his response. He first challenges the fan to provide him with the names of five main black cartoon characters from shows that are currently airing. No sidekicks, no comic relief. Just black main characters on mainstream television. The fan can’t do it, and I am pretty sure her boyfriend wouldn’t be able to either. From what I understand, Cornell being white was not an important part of his identity in the show. As long as he is human, Cornell’s story, personality and struggles will be the same. The character is not ruined by changing his race. In Cornell, Tyler saw a chance to create a black main character who was not an athlete, a sidekick or comic relief.

Tyler’s response is perfect and also helps to illustrate the double standard concerning race-change that I have talked about repeatedly in my Youtube videos and on this blog. If a character is white-washed, regardless of how important their ethnicity was in the source material, then people argue that we should focus on talent or story, and not race. Anyone who disagrees is labelled a “libtard,” “race-baiter” or the more popular term, “social justice warrior”. If a character is “blackwashed”, then people are no longer “colour-blind”.  The real issue is that people just have a problem seeing more colour on screen. In America, white is considered universal. It often becomes the default.

When you read a novel, what race do you assume the character is? Obviously the author’s race might give you a preconception, especially if the author is known for writing characters of a certain race, or if the publishing house focuses on characters of a certain demographic etc.

Let’s pretend the author is unknown. You don’t know their name or race, and have no indication of what these things could be. The book uses generic descriptions for the character. It does not tell you the character’s name, doesn’t describe their hairstyle, skin tone, nationality, etc. You know the protagonist lives in a multicultural city, that is mostly white, but that is the closest indicator you get to race. You know the protagonist is tall and thin, that is it. What race do you assume?

For many people in America (or Canada in my case), the default is white. In China, the default would likely be to assume the character is Chinese. Even though I am black, I have found myself assuming the character is white unless there is some hint provided they are likely not, such as a description of dark skin or the reveal that they are of Chinese descent. My most recent example was “American Gods”, where I assumed the main character, Shadow, was white until a prison guard asked him if he “had nigger blood in him”. Shadow’s skin is also described as “brown” later in the book.  This made it clear the character might not be black, but likely wasn’t white either.

Like me, many other people do this as well. My point? When white becomes a default, it is easier to view anything else as subversive, “forced” or “politically correct”.

If the Facebook comments are any indication, people will be quick to rattle off a list of black characters and actors in an attempt to shut down Tyler’s argument. Many of these examples will list characters that are not main characters, or list shows that are cancelled or currently not on the air. This makes it clear that people’s comprehension skills are poor or that they likely rushed to the comments before finishing the video.

Even if people manage to list five characters they don’t realize the larger point Tyler is making. They don’t realize what a small percentage all these figures account for. Blacks are over 10% of the population in America, and their representation (especially positive representation) in American film and tv comes nowhere close to reflecting this. As I’ve discussed before, this is also not due to a shortage of talented or aspiring black actors.  More obscure actors aren’t coming out of nowhere for productions like Luke Cage, Black Panther, Straight Outta Compton and The Get Down. They have been waiting for their chance to get a good role. They have been waiting for their chance for the representation that triggers the people who preach about being colour-blind.

The Defenders

Spoilers for the preceding Marvel Netflix Series: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones

Entertainment Value: 9/10

Critical Value: 7/10

Iron Fist wasn’t the complete atrocity that many people made it out to be, but it was a disappointing experience after the two seasons of Daredevil, and the season of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage that preceded it. Daredevil season 1 is still my favourite Marvel Netflix series, that was consistently well plotted and engaging. DD season 2 was nearly my favourite due to the Punisher, but the season was brought down by the love story between Matt and Karen and a villain that proved to be less engaging than the antihero offered by Frank Castle. Jessica Jones had the slowest start of all of the series’ but the pay off was well worth it. Unlike Iron Fist, the cast’s performances were strong all around and the show gave us Kilgrave, the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Luke Cage made its character a fighter for the common man, exploring themes of racism and police brutality that are relevant to America (despite what many people argue). The show faltered once Cottonmouth was killed off, and Mike Colter definitely isn’t as strong a lead as Charlie Cox or Krysten Ritter.

Then Iron Fist just had the issue of poor, or inconsistent performances all around. There was also some poor characterization and weak fight scenes, which stood out more since Danny Rand is supposed to be one of the best fighters in the MCU. Finn Jones only got fifteen minutes to review the choreography for each fight scene, and it showed.

With all that said, I had some mixed thoughts going into Defenders. Firstly, I was worried that some of the issues from the solo series e.g. dragging plots, could be exacerbated with a team up. However, it was revealed that Defenders was shorter. So one concern went away, and then I was worried that the plot would come across as rushed. However, I was still excited about the show and all the things the show could get right.

Let’s start with how the heroes come together. This forms the crux of any team up movie and I believe that this is the part of the series that is handled best. Firstly, all of the heroes live in the same city, so there proximity creates a higher chance of them crossing paths to combat villains. Danny is returning to New York to continue his hunt for The Hand. Luke Cage is out of prison and comes across a low-level kid from Harlem who gets caught up with The Hand. Jessica Jones is investigating a man’s disappearance on behalf of her client. Foggy now works for Jeri Hogarth, and Hogarth wants to ensure that Jones’s investigation into a highly sought after man doesn’t result in any negative press through her connection to Jessica. Since Matt is now pro-bono, Foggy offers Matt the job. Let’s not forget the link that Claire Temple offers.

This chain of events makes it easier to accept when the heroes finally come together in the same location. Of course, there is still some suspension of disbelief required but as Rand says, “This can’t be coincidence”.

Yes, you may be lost watching this show without watching all of the solo series’. Iron Fist’s mythos in particular plays a central role in the season.

Danny Rand is a more engaging character in this show, although the character is still plagued by the weak link of Finn Jones. Rand’s mystical knowledge and background is contrasted with humourous effect, to that of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, who both have a hard time adjusting to another level of eccentricity in their lives. Rand, and the team as a whole, work great as an ensemble. The scenes where they are getting to know one another better still stand out as some of my favourites.

While the MCU films have struggled with giving us memorable villains, the netflix shows have done a better job. So far we have had Kingpin, Cottonmouth and the unmatched Kilgrave. The issue with Kilgrave’s presence is that any villain will have a hard time topping him in season 2 of Jessica Jones (but it looks like he’s returning).

We also have the issue of topping Kilgrave in Defenders. We got our first taste of The Hand in Daredevil, since Nobu was later revealed to be a member. DD season 2 went deeper into the mystical element of the universe and Iron Fist focused entirely on it.

Although watching Iron Fist is important for understanding the plot leading into Defenders, this series does offer more background on the organization. This helps to flesh out Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) and her allies more. Aided by the other four fingers of the Hand, Alexandra seeks to use the Black Sky to unlock an ancient vault that will give them immortality. The Black Sky is none other than a resurrected Elektra (not a spoiler, the trailers revealed this). Elektra gets a bigger role as the series progresses and is ultimately a dull villain, and her storyline was also one of my least favourite parts of season 2.

Weaver is great in her performance but ultimately wasn’t that memorable a villain, and I can say the same for most of them. The one that actually stands out most is Yutaka Takeuchi’s “Marikami”, one of the five fingers of the Hand. At the end of the series, I only wished that he had more screen time.  Great heroes need great villains and I don’t believe Defenders delivered.

The action is an improvement from Iron Fist, which isn’t saying much, but the choreography is still weaker than Daredevil season 1. Obviously Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are not martial artists, but there are still ways to make an entertaining fight scene with such characters. Even characters like Daredevil and Iron Fist are still hampered by some subpar editing and choreography.

The end of the series hints at numerous famous developments and storylines from the comics, and makes me especially excited for Daredevil season 3.

The series is entertaining throughout, but I can’t truly say that it’s great or fully lived up to the hype.

Current ranking for the Marvel Netflix Shows

  1. Daredevil Season 1
  2. Jessica Jones
  3. Daredevil Season 2
  4. Defenders
  5. Luke Cage
  6. Iron Fist