Triggered a.k.a You Disagree With Me

Anyone who engages in any form of communication online is surely familiar with the term “triggered”. At the most basic level it is used to criticize people who care or get “worked up” about a certain issue. It is normally used by conservatives or the right-wing to shut down any discussion of a topic they don’t care about. If you are one of those people who doesn’t believe in the left/right classification, read the below excerpt from another one of my articles:

People love to say that they don’t like pigeonholing themselves as right or left wing, or that they don’t identify with the spectrum at all. They are a unique snowflake who isn’t like the rest of the sheep they look down on. This argument parallels the infamous “race is a social construct” argument. The fact that something is socially constructed does not mean its impact can be ignored or simply dismissed. Our use of hours and minutes to plan our day is a social construct that has developed over centuries, and the political spectrum is the same. Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Are you against social security or not? Are you a gun-control advocate or not? The answers to these questions will place you somewhere on the spectrum. The totality of your views about different political issues will see you land somewhere; left, right, center-right, center-left etc.

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Think that’s deterministic, rigid, stupid? Ok, then let me throw off another social construct. I no longer recognize myself as a black man. So a girl who only dates white guys will still be interested right? Cops who are more suspicious of black people will no longer feel the need to pull me over or frisk me, right?

Anyway…

Triggered isn’t just a word used to denote passion or concern for an issue. It has a negative connotation. It is applied to the “politically correct snowflakes” who get “offended by everything”.

I have touched on the double standards in what people choose to care about in previous articles, such as my articles on whitewashing v blackwashing and my article on how easy it is for minority inclusion in a film to be viewed as “forced” or “heavy-handed“.

If someone criticizes someone else for being “triggered”, it implies that the accuser doesn’t have any issues that he gets worked up about. The same person who calls someone a social justice warrior (SJW) or pc snowflake because they care about whitewashing is the same person who gets worked up when they see an example of “blackwashing”. The same person who shuts down a conversation about police brutality against black people will be the same person who gets “triggered” when they see a gay couple in a tv show or a black student union on a university campus.

Yes, some people are too sensitive and get worked up or “triggered” over something that is not real discrimination or a real issue. However, right-wing buzzwords like pc and sjw start to lose their meaning when people use the terms to describe everything ranging from protest against Trump’s Muslim ban to calling little people “vertically challenged”. Maybe some people only using the terms pc to describe the latter example but there are plenty of people who think anything that does not endorse their outright bigotry is politically correct. The problem is not the world around you. The world around you isn’t getting “too liberal”. It is catching up to modernity. Yes, you can no longer say all Muslims are terrorists or that Mexico doesn’t send its best without a lot of people disagreeing with you.

Minorities are now allowed to have groups for themselves, because they are MINORITIES. China doesn’t have Chinese student associations and the US doesn’t have white student unions. I doubt people who hate black student unions would get as worked up if they saw Polish student unions.

Yes, we now live in a world where there are more gay and interracial couples out there. Or maybe there aren’t more. Maybe we just have more who are willing to come out since it is no longer illegal in the US and they are less likely to face physical violence for it. Of course, they can still face rejection from friends and family. Or they can face disgust from people forced to see them represented on screen. I have literally seen someone on IMDB’s forums (RIP), complain about a three second kiss between two gay characters on The Walking Dead. I really wish I could still access the post, because the IMDB poster literally said homosexuality was being “forced down his throat”. Realize that the heavy-handed homosexuality this poster was complaining about was a three second kiss between two male characters. If that is heavy-handed homosexuality, are all the kisses and implied sex in The Walking Dead heavy-handed heterosexuality? Didn’t think so. For people who are bigoted, any inclusion of minorities on screen is too much. It becomes part of an “agenda”, is “forced” or “pc.” A two second gay kiss can be interpreted as an entire episode where the writers were trying to force them to sleep with a man at gunpoint.

We are now in a world that is more divided politically than ever. Not because the left discusses racism or discrimination too much. We listen to the right’s arguments, we pick them apart with facts. They hear our arguments, they don’t listen. They jump to straw man arguments, denial, racist assumptions etc. This is something I’ve experienced personally with comments on my articles, YouTube videos, tweets etc. Or something I have seen from the reactions people have to any liberal thoughts they come across online.

It is a toxic environment where both sides can start to drive each other to further extremes. Maybe the conservative who starts off a little disgruntled with minorities, because he thinks Black C students get all the good schools and jobs now, isn’t able to find the same support he used to find among his friends or co-workers. Then he turns to more conservative sites that fuel his ideas about the world. Like Dylan Roof, the Charleston church shooter, maybe he finds skewed statistics and narratives about Black Lives Matter orchestrating police killings. Then maybe he decides that if the majority of the world (from his point of view) doesn’t see the problem he sees, he’ll try to deal with it himself.

The Unwhitewashing of Geek Culture

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

iriswest

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

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

the-get-down

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

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

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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.

Whitewashing and Double Standards

Some may be familiar with the term, “whitewashing”, which is used by online communities to describe instances of characters of color being portrayed by white actors in live action films. As many will be quick to point out, Hollywood is a business. A business whose largest domestic segment is middle-class white people, which is why Hollywood films are crafted to appeal to this demographic (Stoddard 27).

Studio executives also believe that crafting a film for this demographic requires white actors, since they are deemed more relatable for other white audiences. However, racially homogenous China is Hollywood’s biggest international market. This is despite the fact that Asians comprise less than 3% of Hollywood’s lead roles. Although a country like China may look past the race of actors to enjoy a film, it is assumed that American audiences cannot do the same. White actors are deemed as normal and universal.

Predictably, instances of whitewashing often result in online debate, where some argue that whitewashing is no big deal since “It is acting after all” or that any critics should just “let the movie be”. For many readers, they have either used these arguments before or heard them from someone else. In many ways these arguments echo a valid sentiment: we should be color-blind. Let’s not judge someone’s race, only their talent or marketability. However, it is a fact that Hollywood is more willing to take risks on an unknown white actor over a minority one, indicating that white is inherently viewed as more marketable (Stoddard 373). This also means it is easier for an unknown white actor to get roles that can eventually lead to them becoming a marketable box-office talent. Also, the true test of this color-blind theory is if it applies to instances of actors of color playing notable white characters.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The most recent example of whitewashing controversy that can be used for comparison is Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), where ancient Egyptians are portrayed by white actors. Like Ridley Scott said, he couldn’t get the movie made if his lead actor was “Mohammed so-and-so”. Scott previously said that Egypt was a “confluence of cultures”, which is what explains the white actors. However, the Mohammed comment makes it clear that minority actors were never considered for the part. In addition, the only roles that went to minorities were those of servants, guards or soldiers.

DF-00727R - Seti (John Turturro, background) presents the future leaders of Egypt: Ramses (Joel Edgerton, left) and Moses (Christian Bale).

Seti (John Turturro, background) presents the future leaders of Egypt: Ramses (Joel Edgerton, left) and   Moses (Christian Bale).

Although the instinct may be to argue that Exodus is a mythical tale, Scott said that he did not want to treat Exodus as a fantasy, since real historical figures like Ramses II are portrayed. The race of Ancient Egyptians is still contested and the purpose of this article is not to say that the casting is necessarily incorrect. The purpose is to study how Exodus’s casting is defended with arguments such as “best actor for the part” and “marketability”, while instances of race changing in other films are criticized when minorities are cast.

For many who grow tired of online debate about these issues it is easy to become defensive and fall back on the “just a movie” argument. However, it is also interesting to compare the reaction that a film receives when a minority actor portrays a white character. In the case of films like The Hunger Games, Fantastic Four (2016)and Star Wars Episode VII (2016), there is even greater excuse for changing the race of actors since the stories are not inspired by any historical figures or conflicts. Yet instances of black actors getting roles in these films resulted in a flurry of online racist remarks. Along with the aforementioned films I will also be referencing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) to study how audiences react differently to whitewashing, than they do to instances of minorities playing white characters or inhabiting roles that they deem more appropriate for white people.

For many who grow tired of online debate about these issues it is easy to become defensive and fall back on the “just a movie” argument. However, it is also interesting to compare the reaction that a film receives when a minority actor portrays a white character. In the case of films like The Hunger Games, Fantastic Four (2016)and Star Wars Episode VII (2016), there is even greater excuse for changing the race of actors since the stories are not inspired by any historical figures or conflicts. Yet instances of black actors getting roles in these films resulted in a flurry of online racist remarks. Along with the aforementioned films I will also be referencing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) to study how audiences react differently to whitewashing, than they do to instances of minorities playing white characters or inhabiting roles that they deem more appropriate for white people.

The Hunger Games

Rue, from The Hunger Games, was described as having “dark brown skin and eyes” in the book. The author also said that Rue, and the character Thresh, are “African-American.” However, Twitter provided a refuge for hundreds of angry fans after they either heard about the casting of a black actress (Amandla Stenberg) for the part. A Canadian fan began identifying racist tweets about the casting by using “#hungergames”, and he eventually compiled hundreds of tweets and posted them on his Tumblr, Hunger Games Tweets. If audiences were truly color-blind, would they write tweets like “Why is Rue black?!?!” Or “I was pumped about The Hunger Games. Until I learned that a black girl was playing Rue.”

 

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Racist Twitter

Another defense mechanism is probably to argue that these are just a few idiots online. Why bother analyzing them and thinking they represent anything significant? The problem is that hypothetically, these people who criticize this casting could be the same ones denying any discussion of casting discrimination when a character gets whitewashed. This isn’t just one troll, these are hundreds of people from only one case study. As the website’s anonymous creator, “Adam” says, “That tweet was very telling in terms of a mentality that is probably very widespread.” It is important to acknowledge and understand the double standard present in audience reactions to race-changing.

Color-Blind Racism and The Fantastic Four

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Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch

Although the increased discourse of color-blindness is ideal in theory, groups such as the American Psychological Association have denounced it because they realize that people who claim to be color-blind are more likely to support racism. As a result, scholars have coined the term “color-blind racism” to describe this new, superficially post-racial mindset.

Color-blind racists view racism as an issue of the past, which leads to a denial of racism and a belief that all races receive equal treatment. With this mentality it is easy to ignore any alleged whitewashing, since color-blind people don’t acknowledge discriminatory casting. For a colour-blind racist, race should be a taboo topic since they believe acknowledging race perpetuates racism. The discussion of racism is only relevant to a color-blind person if the act of alleged racism is deemed damaging to whites, which demonstrates the racial bias of this colour-blind veil. To colour-blind racists, whiteness is normal, while color is seen as threatening or subversive.

To color-blind racists, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four can then be interpreted as an example of minority privilege. Instead of seeing Jordan’s casting as a selection of the best actor, color-blind racists see this casting as an example of minorities getting special treatment. The belief in minority privilege then frames whites as the targets of “reverse discrimination”.

Although there are numerous examples of whites playing people of color over the past ten years, color-blind people will ignore or rationalize these changes and then focus on the fewer examples of minorities playing white actors. While 30 Days of Night (2007), Dragonball: Evolution (2009), Prince of Persia (2010), The Last Airbender (2010), The Lone Ranger (2013), Pan (2015), Aloha (2015) and others are defended for various reasons, The Fantastic Four becomes an easy target for colour-blind racists.

Like Rue and The Hunger Games, Twitter provided a refuge for racist comments when the casting was announced. The Fantastic Four casting is incorrect; Johnny Storm has always been depicted as white. However, if audiences were truly color-blind then Michael B. Jordan’s race would not be a problem for the casting. Online comments would not say the casting is an example of “political correctness”, or that it is “racist”. Shouldn’t there be more comments arguing that race doesn’t matter, and that studios simply pick the “best actor for the part?” Even if his sister is white in the film, that should not bother someone who is truly color-blind, since they do not see color. Jordan is already familiar with the complaints. As he said in May, “Some people may look at my casting as political correctness or an attempt to meet a racial quota, or as part of the year of ‘Black Film.’

Quick Comparison: The Hobbit and The Last Airbender

Avatar:The Last Airbender (ATLA), set in a fictional world, was a particularly interesting case of whitewashing since the casting was sometimes defended by arguing that the fictional world makes the intended race of the characters irrelevant. Even though the creators have described the series as a “fictional Asian world” and said that they wanted to create a fictional world like Lord of The Rings, but use their love for Asian cinema to take it in a different direction. The show and its depiction of Asians was also a source of confusion for some since Asian characters were not depicted with the stereotypical markers audiences are used to in Western TV and cinema, such as slanted eyes and yellow skin. Since the show was influenced by Korean animation, ATLA’s animation style reflects the practice of avoiding these markers.

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ATLA’s Asian character. Aang (front) and the Inuit characters Katara(middle) and Sokka (Back)

Some audiences may see the characters depicted in anime and assume that they are not meant to be Asian since they lack these markers as well, but these characters are judged by Western standards. Another way to think of it is by using the example of a stick drawing. If we draw a stick person in a country that is mostly white, such as America, England, France etc. we will assume the stick person represents a white person unless we give the figure stereotypical markings e.g. brown skin, curly hair.

In Asian countries, such as Korea or Japan, where the population is over 90% homogenous, they will assume the stick figure represents an Asian person. This principle also applies to their animation. The confusion only arises when their animation is exported to other countries, where audiences get hung up on the appearance and ignore any other signs of an Asian world, or an Asian-inspired one.

People will decry the presence of black extras in The Hobbit, a world inspired by European mythology. Yet people will also defend the casting of white actors in The Last Airbender, a world inspired by Asian and Inuit architecture, clothing, mythology and philosophies.

The Last Airbender

Pictures displaying the whitewashing of the Inuit characters, Sokka and Katara.

(Some may be quick to get defensive, ignore the brown skin and point to the blue eyes as a sign of whiteness. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, there are individuals who have the ability to manipulate the element of their tribes or groups: earth, water, air and fire. The eye colour serves as an indicator of a character’s element. In the show the Air Nomads have grey eyes, the earth nation members have green eyes, water tribe members have blue eyes and the Fire Nation have orange eyes.)

These blatant double standards cannot be ignored. Double standards where criticism of whitewashing is ridiculed as the work of “unemployed” people with nothing better to do, while minority casting generates rants about the negative influence of political correctness.

 

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The last example I will use from this article, and the second one from this year alone, is John Boyega’s casting in Star Wars: Episode VII. When the first trailer for the film debuted Boyega was briefly glimpsed in a stormtrooper costume.

Black stormtrooper

At this point, we could not be sure whether his character used it as a disguise, like Luke and Han did in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. However, many disgruntled fans believed he was meant to be a clone of Jango Fett, like the soldiers from the prequel trilogy. The only time Jango Fett was pictured without a face-concealing helmet was in the prequels, where he was portrayed by Maori actor Temuera Morrison.

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However, the producer of the television show, Star Wars: Rebels, indicated that the last of the clones would be “old and grey” by Episode IV. Any stormtroopers pictured in Episode VII will be people recruited from the general population. This means that Boyega’s character is not meant to be a clone of any previous character. However, the damage control came too late for Boyega, who also witnessed a flurry of online racism that led him to tell critics to “Get used to it.”

According to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, 1 in 10 films have a minority lead. This is despite the fact that America is becoming more diverse and despite the fact that Latinos comprise the largest portion (over 25%) of American moviegoers, even though they are only 16% of the population. Additionally, only 7% of Latinos identify as white as of 2010. This demonstrates that the out-dated notion of needing a white actor to draw in a bigger audience is overstated and only serves as an excuse to limit the roles available to minority actors, and in some cases, take those roles away and give them to a more “marketable” white actor. This only creates a cycle of unemployment where minority actors are not given the same opportunity to display their talent, since they are not seen as marketable or relatable enough.

Directors and actors who are involved in whitewashing rarely voice a critical opinion of the casting, with director Cameron Crowe being one of the few to openly criticize his own casting choice. While Joel Edgerton said he empathized with those who opposed the Exodus casting he also added, “it’s not my job to make those decisions…I got asked to do a job, and it would have been very hard to say no to that job.”Additionally, few actors speak out against instances of whitewashing, possibly because they fear backlash from potential employers.

Meanwhile, the few instances of minority actors receiving a role that could go to a white person are met with an onslaught of racist comments. From The Hobbit, to the The Fantastic Four and Star Wars, people will throw out the same arguments about representation and racial accuracy that they would ignore if a character was whitewashed. With this warped mindset, it becomes easy to see “reverse-racism” as the real problem in the film industry, and even America as a whole (Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich 192).

Is race-changing ever a right thing to do? That is not the question of this article. The question is do we react in a consistent, logical way to instances of race changing. Or are their obvious preferences in what we choose to care about?

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