The Racialicious Links Roundup 11.14.13: Sleepy Hollow, Renisha McBride, Luke Cage, Rememberance Day, YA Lit

Years ago, an actor/writer working on a pilot episode for Fox told me she suspected a 2010 session just led producers to transform tertiary white characters into ethnic minorities, with no change in the scripts to acknowledge the shift in race or culture.

But then came this fall’s sleeper hit, “Sleepy Hollow,” Fox’s tale about the modern-day adventures of Ichabod Crane. Ichabod somehow awakens in modern times after a 250-year sleep. The story unfolds like “The X-Files” meets “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (except the Yankee moves forward in time rather than back). Crane teams with a young cop to tackle supernatural weirdness related to the return of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

And the young cop, Abbie Mills, is played by Nicole Beharie, an up-and-coming African-American actor who made a splash as Jackie Robinson’s wife this spring in the film “42.” Suddenly, the show was anchored by a strong black woman who gets to kick down doors, tote a trusty sidearm and play skeptical Dana Scully to Ichabod Crane’s witchcraft-wise Fox Mulder (for the uninitiated, that’s an X-Files shout-out).

When the show featured a storyline centered on Mills’ sister, we got to see two black women in an action/adventure setting, fighting the bad guys instead of waiting to be rescued or seduced. It was exactly the kind of diverse casting I had been waiting for since 1999, when the issue hit a crisis point as the broadcast networks offered a fall slate of new TV shows without a single character of color.

We have been here before. Our history becomes our present so often it becomes difficult to distinguish the two. Politicians and cable news hosts and the naïvely colorblind ask us to forget, most of the country obliges, and black people, again, are left to piece together the fragments of history, suffering, rage, and pain so that we may have hope for something better.

Again we advocate for justice. Again we question what justice would even look like. Again we demand that black life be valued. Again we wonder why it never was in the first place. Again we weep, we pray, we march, we raise our voices. Again we prepare ourselves to be let down. And again we ask when will the moment come where we won’t have to go through this again.

For those unaware, Luke Cage, aka Power Man, is one of the first African-American superheroes to be the main character of his own comic book. He was created in the early ’70s — the era that also saw the emergence of the polarizing blaxploitation film genre — and, in his earliest incarnations, bears some of the hallmarks of that time. Cage, born Carl Lucas, was a Harlem-bred petty crook and gang member who was sent to prison after being framed for heroin possession. While behind bars, Lucas submitted to one of those wacky experiments always being conducted by unscrupulous scientists in comic fare and ended up, not only with rapidly regenerating cells as intended, but with steel-tough skin and superhuman strength. (Such ill-advised clinical trials always go wrong, right, Dr. Banner? But that doesn’t completely obscure the slightly uncomfortable Tuskegee-like undertones of this particular experiment, botched or otherwise.)

After the four series have aired, Netflix will follow up with a Defenders miniseries presumably tying all four of the heroes together. Marvel has had an enormous amount of success with this approach in recent years, rolling out each member of the Avengers in their own individual cineplex-ready adventures in a sequence that culminated in the blockbuster film “The Avengers.” In that particular, lucrative example, while neither of the Hulk films were well-received, die-hard Avengers fans would not have stood for the omission of the Big Guy from the team. And so, the Incredible Hulk’s inclusion was assured. In the same way, whoever is least known among the Defenders — I’m feeling a dead heat between Jones and Cage — is still likely to end up in the final series simply by virtue of the fact that a full bench is expected.

The show’s diversity problems go back to its very start. During the first season of SNL, which debuted in 1975, there were nine cast members, including three white women (Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner) and one black man (Garrett Morris). For the next five years, whenever a sketch called for a black woman, the part would be played by Morris in drag. Some of his celebrity impressions include Diana Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tina Turner. In 1980, Eddie Murphy became the second black man to join, and Yvonne Hudson would be SNL’s first black woman.

Hudson only lasted for one season and never had any prominent or recurring characters. Instead, she played stereotypical, subservient black women; it was as if the writers didn’t think she could convincingly play anything else. Hudson’s various (and sometimes, uncredited) roles include a maid, a nurse, a slave, and a character listed on IMDB as simply, “Black Woman.” Hudson was fired at the end of the season along with a slew of other cast members.

In WWI, one in five service people were volunteers from the Indian Subcontinent, the Caribbean and Africa. In WWII – three out of ten service people. Despite efforts to include of these Commonwealth citizens in public acts of commemoration such as at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates, the basis of their inclusion remains ambivalent. There is also the present to contend with. To counter impressions that British Muslims are unpatriotic because of their opposition to military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, mosques have been setting up poppy stalls and encouraging Muslims to wear the red poppy.

With this range of contexts and experiences in mind, we turned to art and poetry as a way to intervene in and re-route dominant narratives of remembrance. Is it possible to acknowledge the contributions of colonial soldiers without buttressing a jingoistic or militaristic British nationalism?

How many people would never consider buying Anne of Green Gables or Island of the Blue Dolphins for their 10-year old boy, but don’t pause before giving a daughter Treasure Island or Enders Game? Books featuring girls are, for the most part, understood to be books for girls. Which is interesting as well because, in addition to there not being enough, books featuring girls as protagonists are disproportionately among the most frequently banned children’s books. In a recent Buzzfeed list of 15 commonly banned books for kids, almost half were about girls. Girls who do things apparently scare a lot of people.

Researchers of the study above concluded, “The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children’s media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books.”

This is true of racial and ethnic diversity as well. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education has conducted a survey of children’s and young adult books published each year since 1985. Of an estimated 5,000 books released in 2012, only 3.3% featured African-Americans; 2.1% featured Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders; 1.5% featured Latinos; and only 0.6% featured Native Americans. God forbid you have the audacity to be a girl of color and expect to see yourself as cherished by our culture.

  • 10100111001

    Too bad that sleepy hollow still relies on stereotypes of native americans