Aziz Ansari, Consent and Rape Culture

In a sense it all began with Harvey Weinstein. He wasn’t the first man or high-powered Hollywood executive to sexually assault multiple women, but he was a part of one of the biggest scandals in the past few years, and once his actions were exposed, many more women gained the courage to report their own incidents of sexual assault. Fear of reprisals or career damage no longer shackled all the women who experienced sexual assault, in Hollywood or elsewhere.

The #Metoo movement was birthed and a slew of other film and television figures entered the headlines over the past few months, including actors such as Kevin Spacey. A particular disappointing one for me was the story of Aziz Ansari. Since the story first broke, the Ansari story appears to be one of the more divisive stories. Not only because the actor denies the allegations, but because many people don’t truly believe that the account of the alleged victim (Grace), really constitutes sexual assault.

While scrolling through Medium, I came across this article that studies the issue of consent for this case. One of the biggest issues that Grace detractors have is that there were moments when she did not clearly says she didn’t want sex. In their eyes, women should be comfortable simply saying no instead of relying on non-verbal cues, such as their body language.

I can agree that women should feel confident to simply say no. In this case, Grace is not Ansari’s employee. While Ansari is a man of some influence, it is not as if she was at a direct risk of losing her job if she simply said “I don’t want to have sex with you. I’m leaving.” However, if we read Grace’s account, we see that Ansari’s response to her saying “I don’t think I’m ready to do this, I really don’t think I’m going to do this” is to get them to put their clothes back on and “chill”. Fair enough, but then he kept trying to kiss her, stick his fingers down her throat and take her pants off. That seems to nullify the whole point of putting the clothes back on.

It finally clicks for Ansari that Grace isn’t interested when she pulls away from a kiss: that is when he agrees to call a ride for her. Just prior to that, she moves away from him and says she is calling a ride. She is then greeted with a hug and another kiss she doesn’t want. If anything, it was a non-verbal cue that finally let the message sink in. People who argue that Grace should have just said no, probably didn’t read her full account.  They read the accounts of her discomfort with Ansari’s advances and quickly rushed to the comment section.

I believe this animosity or apathy towards Grace has two main reasons.

  1. For men, it reflects a fear that they could make advances on a woman that they think are consensual (because she doesn’t explicitly say no), only to be the target of sexual assault allegations afterwards.
  2. For women, they can avoid having to empathize with Grace or put themselves in her shoes since they can think “Well I would have given him a firm no so that wouldn’t have happened to me”.

The “she should have said no” excuse has some merit. However, it also removes any responsibility for men to pick up on non-verbal cues. Anyone who is not autistic should be able to pick up on body language, such as moving away, averted eye contact etc. as signs that this woman does not seem interested. The answer is not to keep trying or offer more liquor like Ansari did. Someone like Ansari is likely used to fawning fangirls and I always wondered if this led to a form of blindness overtime. You get used to people fawning over your status so much that reluctance becomes harder to see. This is not an excuse for Ansari’s behaviour, I simply wonder if it is a factor.

Some of the Ansari defence uses slut-shaming and rape culture as their crutch, such as this comment on the Medium article.

“The best way to avoid a situation like hers was to not engage in one-night-stands. This goes for men and women. Have enough self-respect and self-control to get to know a person before you commit the most intimate act two people can.”

Basically, she was “asking for it”. Like I told this guy, this isn’t the 1950s. This antiquated idea that sex must always come from commitment or lead to it is a holdover from a time when sexuality was supposed to be the domain of a housewife and her husband. I liked to think that in 2018, a woman who is in the mood for sex, isn’t blamed for someone else’s aggressive advances. Wanting sex does not mean that you want sex from anyone, or that you are open to a potential sexual partner doing anything. As an example, if you agree to have sex with someone and then they want to do specific sexual acts that make you uncomfortable, then you have every right to say no. You were not asking for it if things get out of hand or if your partner’s true colours were not what you expected.

The excuses that rely on slut-shaming and rape culture don’t even require the detractor to read the article, and I’m pretty sure that the guy who wrote this did not read Grace’s account or the Medium article I linked to. He just saw an opportunity to judge someone else for their sexual behaviour, which didn’t fit his idea of what a proper woman should be like. “Tye Fox” says this excuse applies to men and women but I still have to wonder if he would jump to this defence to defend a woman sexually assaulting a man.

All this to say that I agree that there were blurred lines about consent in the Ansari story, not clear consensual sex as Ansari argued. Yes, I believe Grace could have been firmer with her rejection, but I also think some responsibility for what happened falls on Ansari. I believe that Grace did enough to signal she was uninterested, and that Ansari ignored clear signs. I have to wonder what dates look like for the hordes of men who are taking Ansari’s side on this issue (if they actually read the full Grace account). Do they also ignore a women when she says she doesn’t think she wants to hook up? Do they just try to feed her more liquor and keep trying to stick their fingers down her throat?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

T’Challa a.k.a Black Panther was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Captain America: Civil War, originally serving a role similar to the one Spider-Man played in the comics (the figure who joins Iron Man’s side but then changes his mind). Once Marvel were able to secure the rights for Spider-Man again, Tom Holland’s version of the character was hurriedly fit into the film. Spider-Man was brought in, but Black Panther remained and I think many people would agree that he shined in his debut.

The writing, the suit, the fighting and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal all introduced the new King of Wakanda, and Black Panther picks up shortly after, where T’Challa is returning to Wakanda to be crowned king.

Firstly, there has bee a lot of excitement about this film because it is one of the first mainstream Hollywood films with a black director and a mostly black cast. Additionally, it is also one of the first movies in a while focusing on a black superhero. Inevitably, people’s excitement at these developments is also being met with the “colour-blind” or outright racist resentment.

  1. You don’t see me cheering for a new movie with a white cast.

It wouldn’t make sense for you to. There is an endless parade of films with white main characters and supporting characters. Your characters have a wide range of traits and professions. They are not often portrayed as thugs, or streetwise comic relief. The numerical representation of white people on screen far outstrips their representation in America, with over 70% of speaking roles in Hollywood films going to white actors (Sept. 2014- to August 2015). You are so used to this now that you have become blind to it.

Whiteness is the most desired commodity in Hollywood. It is why many stories focusing on black heroes are not viewed as “marketable”, despite successes like Straight Outta Compton and Hidden Figures. Studio heads are more willing to bank on white actors. This is why they favour adaptations of properties with white characters. This is why a character can be whitewashed when Hollywood adapts a story, because they view it as marketable. Then audiences start to internalize the same excuse, and get to the point where they genuinely support the idea that a movie loses interest for them if the protagonist isn’t white.

Consider this, even with the Marvel brand and Black Panther’s introduction in Civil War, it was still considered a “risk” to give $200 million to a black director whose previous work was critically lauded and profitable. There is a long-standing belief that black doesn’t sell as well as white, especially overseas, and Black Panther is challenging the dogma with its empathic opening weekend.

Don’t accuse black people or minorities as a whole of being racist here. Black people and Hispanics generally see more movies than white people do, meaning that a lot of them shell out money to watch (or even repeatedly watch) movies with characters that may not look like them. If minorities can do it, why can’t white people? We can appreciate a good story regardless of race, but we can also be appreciative when we get a great story and great film with actors that represent our population.

In short, if you go into this movie and carry your resentment with you, it is likely to influence your rating of the film.

Moving on…

Firstly, I have to say that this film did an amazing job of bringing Wakanda to life. Everything from the costumes, customs and music transports you to the fictional country that was never colonized. Its technology and clothing blend traditional and futuristic, borrowing inspiration from existing African countries to create something that is truly afrofuturistic.

Second, Black Panther actually gives us a good villain. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger gives us a villain with a tragic backstory and a mission that is more unique than a lot of others you will see. Essentially, he wants to take over the world, but the nuances and motive behind his aspirations are what makes him and the film special. Jordan can be charismatic, intelligent, empathetic, but also threatening. Other villains have also been physically threatening, such as Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy, but without good writing they end up as generic placeholders. In terms of the entire MCU, Kilgrave from Jessica Jones may still have Killmonger beat. However, I have to place Killmonger above Loki as the MCU films’ #1 villain. Black Panther doesn’t shy away from exploring issues of racial identity and racism, and that was a pleasant surprise coming from the same company that turned a doomsday story into a buddy comedy (Thor: Ragnarok). Killmonger’s last line in particular, is one that left me speechless.

Speaking of comedy, it’s generally handled well in this film. I have previously ranted on YouTube and this blog about Marvel’s insistence on humour in their films. The Thor films as a whole are the worst offenders, giving us sloppy writing that regularly fails to build tension because we always know a joke is soon to follow, usually from the most annoying characters (looking at you Kat Dennings). Black Panther has one or two moments where I felt like a joke could have been cut, but overall I believe it is one of the MCU films that has the most balanced humour. There is nothing wrong with humour in itself, but it must fit the characters and the storyline.

In terms of jokes that could have been cut, one of the most notable comes from Andy Serkis as Ulysees Klaue a.k.a Klaw. Reprising his role from Avenvers: Age of Ultron, Klaw serves as an ally to Killmonger. If you have seen the trailers you know there is a scene where Killmonger frees Klaw from captivity, so what I am about to say won’t be too much of a spoiler. During Klaw’s interrogation, he is randomly singing What is Love. I guess the “don’t hurt me, no more” part is meant to be funny because Klaw wants to avoid torture, but the scene also comes across as really random and very Marvel-esque in terms of sloppy humour.

Most of the humour comes from Shuri, T’Challa’s sister. Letitia Wright previously portrayed Nish in season 4 of Black Mirror and she is also able to shine here with the lighter material and the more intense moments. Shuri’s rapport with her brother is one of the highlights of the film and is a perfect example of a more organic approach to comedy, where it flows from a character naturally and doesn’t feel like it was forced in to keep things “fun”.

Alongside Boseman, Wright and Jordan we also have a host of other talented actors and actresses. Danai Gurira, best known as Michonne on The Walking Dead, makes Michonne look like Elsa in this movie. Daniel Kaluuya also plays an important role but he does get outshined by Winston Duke’s M’Baku. Martin Freeman also returns from Civil War as agent Everett Ross, and is yet another talented cast member and Lupita N’yongo rounds it out. For those who have seen the movie, you know her character is the real MVP.

The action in the film is at its best when the hand-to-hand choreography is on display. Some of the larger scenes do feature some shoddy CGI but thankfully these scenes aren’t prevalent enough to ruin the film. The Black Panther shines in his action scenes but Boseman also brings a great presence and power to the character, building off what we saw in Civil War. He is someone who is torn between tradition and change, past and future.

I know that the hype or the outright anti-black animosity will affect some people’s views of this film. Some might say it is overhyped. I was pleasantly surprised not to feel that way. It is my new favourite MCU film, beating out The Winter Soldier.

Go see the film for yourself, and hopefully you can enjoy the film simply as a film, while also appreciating everything else that comes with it.

Black Panther and the Triggered Right

As I’ve discussed before, the term “triggered’ is often used by the right-wing to criticize people who get worked up about an issue that the right views as invalid. The use of “triggered” also implies that the right doesn’t have any issues that they care about, implying that they don’t worry about the trivial things the rest of us “snowflakes” do.

Which is why I find it so amusing to point out the double standard in this world view. For the newest exhibit, I present Black Panther. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Black Panther is the target of a barrage by the alt-right. The alt-right takes credit for The Last Jedi’s Rotten Tomatoes score, saying they used bots to create fake reviews. Now they have their sights set on a upcoming superhero film.

Aside from giving us a heroic black main character, Black Panther will introduce Wakanda, a fictional African nation untouched by colonialism. It is wealthy, technologically advanced and has little to no contact with the outside world.

There was a mob of people got angry when they saw John Boyega in a stormtrooper costume for five seconds in the first trailer for The Force Awakens, so I knew it was a matter of time before Black Panther got heat for positive portrayals of black characters. People are always quick to argue that online discussion doesn’t matter. Yes, there are some people who make inflammatory comments that they don’t genuinely support. They do it for the purpose of attention and we call them trolls. It is convenient to think that every racist comment you read online is the work of a troll, but that mindset is not just delusional, it is downright dangerous. Steve Bannon, the Breitbart editor who was temporarily the White House Chief Strategist, said that online hate is an “army”.

“You can activate that army,” Bannon stated. “They come in through Gamergate* or whatever and then get turned onto politics and Trump.”

Gamergate, in short, was an online hate campaign that targeted Anita Sarkeesian for speaking out on misogyny in the video game industry. What some people ignore as a bunch of trolls, became a weaponized force that helped to put Trump and his ilk in office. These aren’t just words. These aren’t a few harmless comments. They are the child of a much larger issue in society, a growing resentment and outright hate of minorities that is further emboldened by all the hate the commander in chief spews.

When the left complains about whitewashing in films, we’re told we’re being divisive. We’re focusing on race too much and not letting talent breathe. Now we get a talented black director, directing a large cast of talented black actors. We have black actors doing more than playing thugs, comic relief or supporting characters. Black Panther is like most of Hollywood’s films, where one race of people get the privilege of most of the roles and the roles with the most variety.

However, some people are ignoring the talent in the cast or the interesting story that the trailers hint at. They see too much blackness. Specifically, they see too much black greatness. These people would complain about a film where we’re slaves as well, since say they see that as an attempt to make them feel guilty or to stir up conflict (instead of simply seeing it as a history film). It turns out these people don’t like the other end of that extreme too.

  1. I don’t see my race represented enough! (although there are plenty of other films where you will see it disproportionately represented).
  2. It makes my people look bad. (For all we know it won’t. If it does, welcome to our world. We’re always told just to suck it up because it’s just a movie.)
  3. It’s wrong that black people are so proud of themselves. (Aren’t you the people that argue that the marches in Charlottesville were just a little racial pride? You have your free speech, we have ours.)

I’m looking forward to seeing Black Panther and there’s nothing the alt-right and their bots can do about it.

Maze Runner: Death Cure

As someone who hates bad acting and love stories, I generally hate young adult (YA) books, tv shows and films. The Maze Runner (2014) still piqued my interest despite the horde of teen girls in the YouTube comments and I eventually checked it out. The performances were a welcome surprise, with Dylan O’Brien being a pleasant surprise. Aside from O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie- Sangster, Will Poulter and others also helped to carry the film’s concept and story.

The Maze Runner‘s ending revealed that a solar flare has devastated most of the world, and has also lead to a virus known as the flare virus. The maze was one of a series of experiments being used to test the bodies of people immune to the flare virus, in hopes of finding a cure.

The Scorch Trails continued with the character’s escape from the maze, introducing us to a desolate world filled with “cranks”, those infected by the flare virus. WCKD continues their pursuit of the group, after the group escapes from their facility in search of a resistance group called The Right Arm. The setting of the second film wasn’t as unique as the first, since we have seen post-apocalyptic worlds and zombies before. However, maybe I am a sucker for those elements. I didn’t hate The Scorch Trials as much as most people did. I still found it to be an enjoyable movie, although it was somewhat forgettable.

The Death Cure mainly follows the group’s attempts to find Minho and the rest of those taken captive by WCKD, hatching a plan to break into WCKD’s home base, nestled in the Last City. The performances continue to shine here, especially O’Brien and Sangster. I found Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) somewhat forgettable in The Maze Runner but feel like she had a much better role in this film. The action sequences were a highlight of the second and that continues here, although the scenes do have those small moments of nonsensical actions that tend to ruin suspension of disbelief. For example, there is a scene where soldiers are approaching the heroes and instead of shooting from afar (but still within range) they wait until they are less than fifty feet away before pulling their triggers. Once the soldiers start shooting it is clear they are not planning to take the heroes alive, but that goes back to the issue, why not shoot when they were a little further away and had clear shots?

The action and the writing only allows a few characters to truly shine, with Thomas, Teresa and Newt getting the brunt of that. Honourable mention also goes to a short but powerful performance from Walton Goggins (as always) and a character who returned from the first film. Others, such as Brenda and Jorge get their action scenes, but get much less character development. They exist mainly to provide firepower for the main group.

In terms of the villains, Aiden Gillen is competent as Janson but is not that memorable (same as the second film). Patricia Clarkson’s “Ava Paige” is more of a standout as WCKD’s leader, but her character also fails to be a standout. She is a villain facing the utilitarian struggle of sacrificing some for many, but we don’t get too much time to explore her moral conflict.

Like The Scorch Trials the cranks were surprisingly creepy in the Death Cure, and the film actually has two jump scares that are better than some of the attempted ones in horror movies. I will say that some of the scenes, action or otherwise, feature cliches that detracted from my enjoyment of the film e.g. we hear a gunshot and think a main character got shot, but someone else did OR we think everyone’s doomed, but a last minute rescue comes into play. At one point, it seemed like there was a loop of these cliches but thankfully they faded somewhat as the movie went on. The most effective villain in this film is simply the idea of WCKD, the entity that wants to imprison the heroes.

The Death Cure also adds a resistance group that resides just outside the walls of the Last City, eager for their chance to break through and seek revenge on the company that has kept them out. I thought this subplot was interesting but we don’t actually get to explore the community much, although they make their presence felt in the third act.

The performances and the action are the best parts of this film, and arguably the series. The characters birthed in the first film are the ones who remain the strongest throughout, giving us the film’s heart and most of our reason for caring about the fate of the heroes. I will commend the series for being one that makes you root for all of the heroes, even if they are not well developed. Unlike some of the terrible slasher flicks or terrible sci-fi films I have seen (looking at you AVP: Requiem) I never crossed the line of truly not caring about certain characters. In contrast, caring about the character is what makes you want to know them better. The characters aren’t stereotypes, or simplified archetypes e.g. the jock, the smart one. There is more to them but we don’t really get to see that. We root for Thomas, Newt etc. and then root for everyone else by extension.

Although the film had its faults I still loved seeing it on the big screen and would be happy to see it again. I believe The Death Cure was a strong end to the series. The film was long but I honestly didn’t feel like it dragged. Maybe I’m just a YA fanboy but that’s my honest opinion. Do yourself a favour if you’ve seen the other two and don’t let critics sway you too much. See the film if you want to, and let yourself be the judge.

Del Toro Ago Exhibit

Note: Been a busy week starting a new job and looking for a place in a new city. I’ll also be celebrating the holidays over the weekend, but I should hopefully have another blog post up over the weekend.

I remember watching my first Guillermo Del Toro film, Blade II over ten years ago. I didn’t know it was a Del Toro film at the time but I remembered loving the story and the action.

I followed up Blade II with Hellboy. At the time, Hellboy was one of my favourite comic book films and although it may not be a top five, the Hellboy films and Blade II both stand as distinctive entries in the genre of comic book films. Blade II and Hellboy II also both contain great performances from Luke Goss as the villains Nomak and Prince Nuada respectively.






Nomak                                                                                                                  Prince Nuada

Pan’s Labyrinth was a masterpiece that combined historical fiction and fantasy seamlessly, combined with great performances and more of the stunning imagery and creature design I was introduced to in Hellboy. Finally, Pacific Rim gave me a live-action mecha film that I have been dreaming of seeing since I watched Gundam Wing as a child.

There are earlier works by Del Toro, such as The Devil’s Backbone that I have not yet seen. I have also missed newer releases such as Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water. After seeing the Del Toro exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) I am making it a priority to travel through more of Del Toro’s filmography.

The exhibit “At Home with Monsters” began September 30th and will end on January 7, 2018. I caught the exhibit near the end of its run and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. The exhibit is not only a great tribute to Del Toro’s works, it is also an insight into his creative process and all of the influences that birthed his works. I don’t only recommend the exhibit to movie lovers or Del Toro fans, I believe it is also a must see for any creative mind.

“At Home with Monsters” uses real decorations and props from Del Toro’s own home (or one of them), which he refers to as the “Bleak House”. These props include life-size figures of characters from his movies, and my personal favourite, his “rain room”: a room with a simulated environment of a rainy day, where Del Toro likes to spend a few hours at a time writing. Many of the figures I follow, such as Ryan Holiday, will play one song on repeat in order to focus. I have adopted this strategy as well, playing a low-energy, repetitive song on a loop. After a few minutes, the song becomes part of the background noise but helps to block out other noises e.g. loud roommates. The rain room appears to have a similar effect, with the repetitive and consistent light drumming of rain on a window, complete with an artificial overcast sky outside.

Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft emerged as two of Del Toro’s literary influences. While I read some of Poe’s works in school, I have yet to touch H.P Lovecraft’s works. This is not due to an unwillingness,  Lovecraft has been on my list for a while but this exhibit makes him a priority. Del Toro has expressed interest in adapting Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”, going so far as to complete a screenplay for it. The exhibit featured a concept model of an ‘albino penguin’ for the film, which was basically a tall and pale penguin with puss infested eyes. Sweet dreams children.

I felt creatively motivated seeing Poe and Lovecraft represented. Both authors struggled to support themselves with their writing while they lived, but have since become legendary authors. I am not arrogant enough to assume the same fate will befall me, but their stories do give me motivation to continue working at my goal.

A theme of the exhibit, present in the Del Toro quotes plastered throughout, is that adulthood causes many people to lose their sense of wonder and creativity. Perhaps this is a cliche to some, but “At Home with Monsters” gives us a sense of what we can accomplish if we don’t let our curiosity die. A life-size statue of Poe reveals one inspiration, a wall of comics reveals another, a wall of novels reveals more… Del Toro’s works are the amalgamation of everything he consumed and continues to consume. His rain room is a childhood dream brought to life, the embodiment of someone who didn’t let go of what they wanted as a child. Del Toro didn’t only continue to dream, he continued to work at making his goal a reality, and that is what I intend to do as well.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Warning: This should be obvious but this review will have spoilers for previous Star Wars films

After seeing The Last Jedi yesterday, I am now ready to share my thoughts on one of my most anticipated films of 2017. While I believed The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, I still enjoyed the film and Rogue One also cemented my continuing interest in Star Wars lore.

I try to avoid reading or watching any reviews of a film before I see it, since I want to avoid going in with preconceptions. I also try to avoid social media as a whole since Han Solo’s death was spoiled for me by one of the attention-seeking denizens of YouTube. I wasn’t able to abstain completely prior to seeing The Last Jedi but I can only hope that I successfully subdue any preconceptions or at least acknowledge the impact they had on my viewing of this movie.

Episode VIII begins right where VII left off, cutting between the stories of Poe, Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren. I am happy to say that this film doesn’t come across as a complete rehash of Empire Strikes Back, although there are a few moments of similarity. The film’s strongest arc is definitely Kylo Ren’s, who is still dealing with the conflict of truly embracing the dark side. Rey and Ben shippers have a lot to moments to look forward to. Aside from the will they/won’t they moments, Episode VIII delves further into Ben’s past and his relationship with Luke Skywalker.

While the plot revolves around getting Luke to rejoin the Resistance, Luke is a reluctant mentor for Rey. He is a tragic figure whose past failures hinder his ability to move forward. There is plenty to love in the original Star Wars trilogy, but my enjoyment of them was always hampered by Mark Hamill’s subpar acting. Hamill has developed a lot as an actor since then, with a plethora of voice acting and live action roles separating his speaking roles as Luke in Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi. Hamill is able to bring true vulnerability to the role, along with the wisdom expected from the last Jedi Master.

Aside from criticisms that may be reasonable, there is also a slate of alt-right vitriol since this movie has too many women and minorities for their liking. I always found it amusing that people who use the word “triggered” to insult others, are actually the most triggered. They will not be bothered by any of the issues present in “liberal propaganda” but it’s all hands on deck if a film set in another galaxy isn’t dominated by white males. I will ignore these people’s opinions, since they are no more valid than the thoughts of a flat-earther.

Andy Serkis puts in another great motion capture performance as Snoke, surrounded by a cast that delivers for the most part. Finn’s marketing bait and switch, from possible Jedi to bumbling comic relief, was one of my biggest criticisms for the previous film and I happy to see that remedied here. Finn has a meatier role this time around. Domhall Gleeson’s General Hux straddled the line between campy and intense in The Force Awakens, but he crosses that line here quite a few times. There are some weak performances from some minor characters; ones who only have a few lines. While this shouldn’t hamper a film too much it didn’t help that two such characters had the film’s first spoken lines, seemingly setting the tone for what was to come.

Rey’s character was met with a flurry of Mary Sue complaints and some fans will be happy to see some of their thoughts addressed here. One reviewer I follow said The Last Jedi is the Cabin in the Woods of Star Wars films, and I have to admit that this thought influenced my outlook on certain scenes. For example, in one scene Snoke criticizes Ben Solo for his lack of commitment to the dark side, noting that killing Han Solo must have broken his spirt since he lost a fight to a girl who had never wielded a lightsaber. With the Cabin in the Woods comparison in mind, I had to think that writer/director Rian Johnson was trying to address some of the previous film’s biggest criticisms. The film also takes this approach when it delves into Rey’s history, giving us a reveal that may be anti-climactic for some, but also helps to set it apart from other Star Wars films.

I think that some of these scenes help to account for the polarizing reception that The Last Jedi has among fans. While The Rotten Tomatoes critic score is 92%, the audience score is 54%. I am sure that this low rating is partly due to people bothered by too much colour and ovaries, but I won’t say that the alt-right is mostly to blame.

The Last Jedi is nearly three hours long, and its length was the main criticism from the friend I saw it with. While I didn’t feel like the film dragged, I will understand if people say it could have been shorter.  New characters are introduced, such as Rose Tico, Star War’s first Asian character and an easy target for the alt-right. She is paired with Finn for the majority of the film and I have to agree that this is a subplot that could have been condensed at the very least. This subplot leads to the infamous confrontation with Phasma that we saw in the first trailer, but one can’t help but wonder if we could have arrived at that moment differently. The subplot would not have been improved if Rose was white. I will say that like Rogue One, this subplot helps to bring in more moral ambiguity to the Star Wars characters. Instead of characters who are affiliated with light or dark, The Last Jedi shows us more who are simply looking out for themselves.

There are some moments of humour, or attempted humour, that do not work. However, I will say that the majority of jokes didn’t feel out of place. Aside from some flat jokes, there are also several scenes or moments that could have been cut to allow screen time to be used more efficiently. Yes, porgs are cute. After the film cut to them for the tenth time, I started to get annoyed. As a result of some unnecessary or dragged out scenes, we miss out on other moments that could have been expanded, such as the reunions of key characters. It would have been great to see more of Princess Leia, especially since this was Carrie Fisher’s last performance. Obviously she may have been written somewhat sparsely with more in mind for Episode IX, but a weak subplot just brings more attention to what else could have been presented. There are now more questions that will have to be answered by Episode IX. 

To end on a more positive note, The Last Jedi, has moments, whether dramatic or action-oriented, that I believe will become iconic parts of Star Wars lore. The action, at the very least, is sure to please fans, but I believe the film has more to offer as well. I honestly believe I may need to watch The Last Jedi again before I can give it a true rating. For the moment, I will say that I am looking forward to seeing it again.

Star Wars Film Rankings

Rogue One

A New Hope

The Empire Strikes Back

Return of the Jedi

The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens

Revenge of the Sith

“” Attack of the Clones

“” The Phantom Menace

Alexandra Shipp: Blackish

The Thursday announcement that Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox properties, including X-Men, led to a lot of speculation concerning the future of the X-Men film universe. I shared some of my own thoughts on this, and while sharing the link on Twitter I came across another conversation. There were retweets all over my feed revealing one post after another arguing that Alexandra Shipp, who portrays Storm in X:Men Apocalypse and the upcoming Dark Phoenix, is too light-skinned to play Storm.

I didn’t comment on the argument at the time because I wanted to let it develop more, so that more contextual info would be available before I shared my thoughts. Two days after the conversation began, it is now easy to trace its inception.

This debate began after a fan asked Shipp if she would like Storm to meet Thor, now that the universes would likely be merged. Shipp’s enthusiastic response was then met with criticism from one fan, “Disney is re-casting the whole team, boo. Sorry. Dark Phoenix will be your last. We getting a dark skinned non-racially Ambiguous Storm like we deserve.”

Shipp then retorted:

Presumably, the debate that I viewed on Thursday originated from this exchange. It is not confirmed if Disney will start fresh with X-Men and recast after Dark Phoenix but that isn’t really the point here.

Maybe Disney will re-cast, and also usher in a jarring tone change (as I suspect). However, I don’t think that Shipp’s skin tone should be an issue central to her potential re-casting. If a darker-skinned actor takes her place I have no problem with that, but I also don’t think that Shipp’s skin tone gives us a bastardization of the character.

Shipp’s response reminds me of statements Halle Berry made concerning her own racial identity. Like Shipp, Berry is mixed and chose to identify as black from a young age, because she knew that is how the world would perceive her. For example, a white guy who says he doesn’t date black girls, would still see Berry as a black girl, instead of a white one.

While Shipp says she has never been “treated white” it is a fact that there is pervasive colourism in the world and in Hollywood. Even in Jamaica, a country that is 90% black, dark-skinned black people are performing skin bleaching to lighten their skin because they realize lighter-skin is viewed as more attractive. In other areas, such as Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East, lighter skin is inherently viewed as more attractive than darker skin. The preference for lighter skin often coincides with a preference for other features typically associated with whiteness, such as straighter hair, thinner lips and thinner noses. Light skin goes beyond the aesthetic, becoming a marker of status and privilege due to the legacy of slavery or colonialism. For someone like Shipp, she may benefit from this colourism in some situations, while also being subjected to racism like any other black person in other situations.

There is a trend in entertainment- whether it is music videos, television or film- to cast the lightest-skinned black people possible, especially if they are love interests or eye candy. After a while it isn’t simple happenstance that most of the attractive black women in entertainment have “sun-kissed skin”, it is a deliberate choice by casting executives. They can get people who are ethnic without being “too dark”. As Viola Davis says,  there is a pervasive conception that “If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy.” Of course, Hollywood sometimes graces us with an exception, but the word “exception” means that they are a minority within a minority. I have been over the “best actor for the part” argument, and the slate of talented black actors that seemingly come out of nowhere for productions like Luke Cage and Straight Outta Compton make it clear there is plenty of black talent out there, they just need opportunities for good roles.

Respect to Bad Boys II for its dark-skinned love interest

It is possible that I am setting the bar somewhat low for Storm since I am so used to roles being whitewashed anyway. Even films based on true stories, like 21, are not safe from Hollywood’s attempts to make it more “marketable”. Storm seems like one of the few untouchable characters, and this may be why fans are even more protective when it comes to her portrayal.

There were plenty of users arguing that the discussion of whether a black actress is black enough is divisive and racist in itself. I ignored most of these comments simply because this is the same logic used to shut down any discussion of racism nowadays. You complain about white supremacist marches in Charlottesville? You’re being divisive. You complain about another unarmed black kid getting killed? You’re divisive. You complain about a public figure saying something racist? You’re divisive.

In principle, I don’t think it is racist or “divisive” to complain about an actress’s skin tone. Especially since I am sure that many of the people using this “divisive” excuse routinely defend whitewashing in films, thereby enabling racist practices in Hollywood.

Now, there are also people who understand the implications of whitewashing in film, and genuinely just believe that there is nothing wrong with Shipp’s skin tone. The character is black, and Shipp is black as well. Shipp is mixed, but Apocalypse never states that the character is mixed, and Shipp is a visibly black individual. In terms of skin colour, she may not be Viola Davis or Lupita Nyong’o, but she definitely isn’t Paula Patton or Meghan Markle either.

All of this to say that while I don’t agree with the backlash against Shipp in this case, I can understand where the detractors are coming from. If Shipp did a poor job with the role I would probably be more likely to support them. However, I thought Shipp was great as Storm. Maybe I’m not the best person to judge but her accent also seemed a lot more authentic than whatever Halle Berry tried to do in X-Men 1 (2000). Although Apocalypse was a disappointing film I was looking forward to seeing more of this iteration of Storm and I hope that if she is recast, fans don’t cheer simply because she was too light-skinned for them.

Fox- A Disney Company

Today, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. The deal comprises numerous properties, ranging from The Simpsons, to Avatar, but the biggest point of interest for me is that Disney now has the rights to X-Men.  The development is now confirmed but this is something that a lot of Marvel fans have been praying for for a long time, if online discussion is any indication. I remember entire threads on the Internet Movie Database’s (IMDB) forums where people would demand that the rights for the X-Men films go back to Marvel. People would argue that the series needed a fresh start under Marvel Studios because the X-Men films mishandled characters like Cyclops (fair enough) or because they didn’t like the buttons on a costume (seems unreasonable). Like I have mentioned before when discussing the DCEU, when people want something to fail they become more sensitive to any perceived shortcomings.

Aside from the fans that have been praying for this, there are more reasonable fans who simply wanted to see the X-Men in the Avengers universe. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to see Wolverine in the Avengers film, which likely will not happen. Hugh Jackman previously said that he would be open to returning in the role if he got to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but he has said more recently that the “ship has sailed” for him. The scripts for Infinity War Part I and II are already written and being filmed, so normally I would say that the ship has sailed for seeing any former Fox properties in Infinity War. However, the rushed introduction of Spider-Man in Civil War does make me wonder if the filmmakers might be willing to squeeze something in for Part II.

One of my biggest worries was that darker and/or R-rated properties like Deadpool would be watered down to suit Disney’s “fun” and family-friendly silver screen image. Fortunately, Disney CEO Bob Iger has stated that Deadpool can remain R-rated at Disney. This is a step in the right direction, but it is still aligned with Marvel President Kevin Feige’s proclamation that the MCU will never be dark.

Deadpool had one noticeably dark segment, namely Wade’s time spent being tortured, but for the most part it still fits in with the “fun” tone that Feige is committed to.  In contrast, the X-Men films, especially X1, X2 and Days of Future Past (DOFP), are noticeably much darker than anything in the MCU’s films. The themes of prejudice from the comics are unashamedly fleshed out on screen, showcasing the violence and darkness that mutants experience. The opening scene of X1, where Magneto is separated from his parents in a concentration camp, is still one of my favourite openings in any film. I highly doubt we would see a scene like this if X1 was originally handled by Marvel Studios. Maybe most of the scene would be the same, and then a Stan Lee cameo would be used to alleviate the tension.

Now, the MCU has also given us properties like Jessica Jones and The Punisher, but I am not talking about Netflix here. I am talking about the big screen. When Disney originally acquired Marvel, people argued that imprints such as Touchstone would be used to distribute darker or R-rated material. However, we know now that any R-rated material so far has come from Netflix. Deadpool 3 will likely be the first R-rated X-Men film property that Disney gives us.

I think Disney will be willing to give Deadpool more R-rated sequels because they have already seen how successful his film was. The box office receipts are a testament to people’s love for the character in all his R-rated glory. In contrast, Disney might be more willing to take risks with X-Men since the most recent X-Men film, Apocalypse, underperformed (relative to previous entries) with critics and the box office. Additionally, Logan was a well received R-rated entry but marked the end of the X-Men film universe’s most popular character.

If darkness is viewed as the enemy, then “fun” will be viewed as the saviour. What about the rest of the films? Will X-Men be rebooted to offer more “fun” now? Will the themes of prejudice all be cut in order to make everything more family friendly? Will we get scenes like this one?

Or this one?

I doubt it.

Jason Isaacs and Free Speech

I have previously discussed the phenomenon of people who don’t believe that celebrities are allowed to have opinions. Any political comment, whether it is in an interview or on social media, is derided as inappropriate and a breach of some supposed social contract.

I don’t despite this mindset simply because it has resulted in some actors I like being vehemently criticized. I despise this mindset because of the inherent hypocrisy in it.

The most recent example I will use is a tweet I came across from Jason Isaacs, who expertly called out a Star Trek fan who said his political views are alienating the Star Trek Fan base.


So here we see a fan who feels like Jason Isaac’s political views are affecting “the fan base”, which we can translate to “me”. This fan is not speaking out on behalf of others, he is speaking out on behalf of himself. Isaacs previously criticized Trump via tweets and retweets of anti-Trump videos, so this *whitegenocide believer felt the need to call Isaacs out. It is obvious that someone who repeatedly uses the hashtag #whitegenocide doesn’t believe in the value of diversity and is likely to support the President who said Mexico “doesn’t send its best” to America and who also wants to keep Muslims out. So, instead of saying that he disagrees with Isaac’s political views, this twitter user simply tries to say that entertainers as a whole are not allowed to express political opinions.

It looks like @Eye_of_Empire has deleted some of the tweets in the thread since, but his original response to Isaacs appealed to the principle of free speech. So after criticizing someone for exercising their free speech, this user says his comment is appropriate because it was his legal right. Isaacs has that legal right too. Fine, maybe you want to argue that Isaacs is an actor so it is different. It shouldn’t be. Actors are real people too, with their own fears, values and political beliefs.

The real question here is if @Eye_of_Empire would be as upset with Jason Isaacs if Isaacs repeatedly proclaimed his love for Trump and his belief in White Genocide. I doubt that would bother @Eye_of_Empire as much. The idea that actors shouldn’t have opinions is a smokescreen for “actors shouldn’t express views different from mine”. If I disagree with an actor’s political views I say that I disagree, I don’t pretend like my anger is about the principle of actors discussing politics.

I was tempted to pursue another topic for this post but I decided to continue with this one because the irony is a godsend. Diversity and acceptance have always been themes of Star Trek, where people of different races (human and alien) look past their differences and work together. Star Trek even has the distinction of having tv’s first interracial kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk in 1968. So we have this apparent longtime fan of the show who is disgusted by an actor who speaks out against the bigot in Chief. Welcome to America.