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.

X-Men Apocalypse

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Hi everyone,

I was hoping to see X-Men Apocalypse today but it looks like that won’t happen. I’ll be seeing it sometime this week but I don’t have a definitive date yet. So far Apocalypse is predicted to make about $77 million for the opening weekend, which is lower than an expected $80 million haul.

The reviews have been very mixed, with the film currently sitting at 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience rating is 74% and after the critical beating BatmanvSuperman took, I am not paying any attention to the reviews. BvS wasn’t amazing overall, but 30% on Rotten Tomatoes is just unfair in my opinion.

Some reviews and articles do mention that Apocalypse might be a victim of superhero fatigue- since it is the fourth comic book film of the year. That is not to say that this is the only reason it has mixed reviews, but I believe that may play a part. I’ve discussed Marvel bias before, and this film could be more prone to fatigue syndrome if people are already wary of a non-MCU film. I am curious to see what impact this potentially has on Suicide Squad.

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Once I see it, I’ll put up a review on the site and YouTube. Enjoy your sunday everyone.

 

Jennifer Lawrence- The Taylor Swift Effect and X-Men Apocalypse

After this latest trailer the Suicide Squad has quickly moved to the #2 spot of my most anticipated comic book film of 2016. Deadpool is still #1 and it comes out in less than a month so Suicide Squad will occupy my #1 spot for most of the year.

X-Men’s themes of discrimination and oppression have always resonated with me and I thought X-Men Apocalypse would easily beat out Suicide Squad. I was fine with less Wolverine, and I know that many viewers (even those who loved the films) still wished they focused on Wolverine less and let other characters shine. With the exception of X3 and the Wolverine solo films, the X-Men films are some of the best comic book films to date.

Which is why it was disappointing to see the first trailer for Apocalypse and realize that Jennifer Lawrence has apparently been given a bigger role. Step aside Wolverine, make way for Mystique. I used to like Jennifer Lawrence. I enjoyed the first Hunger Games film and also enjoyed her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. As time passed though, Lawrence quickly became the Taylor Swift of Hollywood: ridiculously overrated and overexposed (in my opinion). For that reason I refuse to watch any more of the Hunger Games films, American Hustle, Joy or any other films she will appear in.

Lawrence was already an A-lister and every teen girl’s idol when the script was originally written. Therefore, I do not think it is a coincidence that the most marketable actor in the film, now has a much bigger role. This would be understandable, if the move was really necessary. X-Men First Class still managed to make a decent profit, despite the absence of the franchise’s most marketable character and actor (Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine). Additionally, Apocalypse was in a position to build off the hype of Days of Future Past instead of pandering to one actor’s fan base.

Lawrence’s acting was a weak link in Days of Future Past and the few lines in the trailer make her sound like she’s half-asleep. Hopefully they sound better in context, but if Days of Future Past is any indication, they may not. What makes Lawrence’s position even more frustrating is the fact that her character does not have to be an important figure in this storyline. First Class revamped Mystique as a central heroic figure, as opposed to a super-villain. Days of Future Past transitioned her into an anti-hero and X-Men Apocalypse could have continued by having her as a periphery figure who is deciding which side to join (Apocalypse or the X-Men). Instead, Mystique will now replace Wolverine, wasting an opportunity to develop other characters. After the cyclops we had in the original trilogy, I was hoping this film would help to flesh Cyclops out more. Instead, that might be pushed aside for more Lawrence or more Sophie Turner (Jean Grey). Turner’s few lines in the trailer make it clear she has brought her whiny Sansa Stark voice over to this film, so my hopes are not too high for her performance. Then again, we will see. Perhaps I will be proven wrong: Turner and Lawrence will be great, and all of the characters will get their chance to shine. However, I doubt it.