Category Archives: arts & culture

‘But Everybody On TV Is White And All The Nice People Are Blonde’

By Guest Contributor Hana Riaz, cross-posted from Media Diversified

Participants in the upcoming exhibition, ‘A Different Mirror.’ Images and video by Martyna Przybysz.

Earlier this summer, my beautiful then five-year-old Nepali nieces sat with me in our garden enjoying the warm and easy sun. What started as a conversation about what happens to melanin when it finds home in all that glorious vitamin d, looking at our skin browner than it’s winter shade, turned into a difficult conversation about race, gender and diaspora.

One of them began to talk about wanting white skin and blonde hair, and what she would do if she had it. Whilst her twin sister disagreed, responding fervently that she actually liked her brown skin and her black hair, I needed to know what exactly had triggered the other’s denigrated thinking. Her answers, however, were unsurprising – a consequence of not only the (gendered) shadeism (and anti-blackness) that holds dominance in Asian communities but her experiences as a brown girl in a white supremacist society.

Upon my questioning, she responded with a resolute and yet strangely logical answer:

but everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde. Nobody wants to be brown.

There was nowhere she could really see herself.
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Can Gareth Edwards Build A Global Godzilla?

By Arturo R. García

The release of the trailer for the latest Godzilla release spawned a pretty good discussion over at The Mary Sue Wednesday, including this critique from a fan:

It’s too early to tell just how “global” this new Godzilla is, but it would be really nice if it acknowledged that the death of human beings is universal and is no more or less tragic by virtue of location, nationality or ethnic background. I don’t see that happening for the promotional campaign, because the people who make trailers and commercials are frequently different from the actual filmmakers, and tend to be somewhat problematic at the best of times – so I don’t see them doing anything different from the norm.

Because the sad fact is that lots of people are going to look on the deaths of non-Western non-white people in films, even outright disasters, as they do for real life: as sad or upsetting, but not *quite* as upsetting as if it happened to “their” people – even if it takes place in a western city with an ethnic majority. It isn’t cinema’s job to challenge those preconceptions, but cinema is in a strong position to make a difference. Would it really be such a problem for a film to make the “bold” statement that the death of thousands of non-Westerners is just as tragic as the death of thousands of Westerners? Would that really constitute “reverse”-racism? Is that infringing on white people’s representation in the media?

The first trailer doesn’t give us a lot to go on on that score. And even if the film’s IMDB cast list counts at least six people of color involved, what we see here is mostly focused on white characters (starting with the nameless white soldier who jumps into near-certain doom at the beginning). But the only POC featured, Ken Watanabe, will likely be playing a key character in Godzilla canon — Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the man behind the invention that killed the original Godzilla in the monster’s 1954 eponymous debut.

But a piece of the synopsis has me, at least, hopeful that this film won’t just aspire to be a “reimagined version” of the character’s first appearance, and will show better judgment in picking which parts of Godzilla canon to explore.

SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
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Racialicious Review: The Citizen

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from "The Citizen"

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from “The Citizen”

By Guest Contributor Nour Soubani

The recent independent film, The Citizen, raises a number of important questions related to identity, belonging, and representation that are relevant and challenging to many American communities at large today.

Ibrahim, a middle-aged Lebanese man, wakes up one day and actualizes his dream: he wins a ticket from the Green Card Lottery to come to America. He lands in New York on September 10th, 2001, and befriends Diane, an attractive white American woman who is just escaping an abusive relationship. The next fateful morning is the September 11th attack, and the rest of the movie follows Ibrahim’s experience as an Arab Muslim in a post-9/11 New York City, the relationships he builds with Diane and those who both support and villainize him, and his interactions with the law.

 Ibrahim, although not a legal citizen, is painted as the ideal American: He helps the homeless, works an honest job, and intervenes at a crime scene to save a man’s life. Although he looks distinctly Arab, and some suspicion is raised that he is related to one of the hijackers, there is a clear assertion throughout the movie that Ibrahim is completely disconnected from the evil terrorists who attacked the United States, and from the Middle East as a whole. In fact, multiple times throughout the film he expresses how grateful he is to leave Lebanon, to come to America and pursue “the American Dream”, and to leave behind his penniless and unsuccessful life. While the protagonist’s morals and values are virtuous—this was enough to make the audience fall in love with him—his character functions with a subtle undertone that reinforces a binaric hierarchy between the U.S. and the rest, one that inevitably places America at the top. Ibrahim comes to the United States to make something of himself; the storyline implies that this was inherently not possible where he came from, nor were any efforts to do so valued and encouraged. He is portrayed as an exception to the rule—a respectable, mannered, responsible and hardworking individual, who, with these admirable, individualist traits, clearly does not belong in the Arab world. The character of Ibrahim—while well-intentioned—in fact plays into Orientalist notions that otherize the Middle East, creating an unknown, inferior entity out of it that inherently does not hold the same purely “American” values that cause Ibrahim to succeed.

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Quoted: Bao Phi On Protesting Miss Saigon

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Miss Saigon is a play about a Vietnamese prostitute in desperate need of rescue from evil Vietnamese men and the war-torn Third World. It may be a nice place to visit but it sure doesn’t seem like a good place to raise kids. Shut your mouth – there’s a helicopter in it! On stage! The production values! Well there were helicopters in Vietnam, and prostitutes, and white soldiers, and bad Vietnamese men, and mixed race orphans, so the play must be historically accurate and shit. The Vietnamese woman shoots herself in the stomach so she can sing one last song while dying in the arms of the white man. When I was much, much younger, I ask my mom if she wants to go see this play, because it’s about Vietnam. She shakes her head and says, in Vietnamese, “that is not about us.” She says it like she’s explaining to me that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist.

Read more at Hyphen Magazine

Photo by Anna S. Min

From Stereotype to Superhero: Gullah Sci-Fi Mysteries Reclaim Mammy, Uncle Remus

Mam-E The Avenging Uncle Remus

 

Artist Dawolu Jabari Anderson is putting a new spin on the racist caricatures of the shuffling, folksy Uncle Remus and jovial, servile Mammy. His illustrations for the fictional Gullah Sci-fi Mysteries–a melange of science fiction and steampunk–turn the reviled characters into muscled, battling freedom fighters. Mammy’s broom becomes a weapon; her washboard a shield. But while the art elevates Mammy and Uncle Remus from docility, it (perhaps necessarily) casts them at the other extreme of the stereotype spectrum–aggressive, violent and animalistic. Mammy becomes Sapphire with a headwrap. There is even an illustration in the series that depicts Mammy battling Uncle Remus, castigating him for “stir’n up trouble for these good folk,”  while he tries to go about the business of “liberat’n.” (Shades of the wrong-headed black woman, holding back black progress by fighting black men?)

Check out the rest of Anderson’s provocative work. What do you think?

H/T Afropunk

Quoted: The Atlantic on Hollywood’s “Sassy Black Lady” Problem

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Writer Akash Nikolas on the buzz surrounding Oprah Winfrey’s role in The Butler:

A win for her would be deserved—she’s wonderful in the film. But it’d also be the latest example of what seems to be a Hollywood maxim: Black women only get the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress when they play characters who confirm the stereotype of the Sassy Black Lady—bold, sharp-tongued, impertinent.

Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Oscar for Gone With the Wind, playing house-slave Mammy who was warm and witty with her slave-owners. Half a century later, Whoopi Goldberg won for Ghost by playing Oda Mae Brown, a psychic with no back-story of her own and whose entire purpose was to support a white couple and entertain the audience with sass talk. In recent years, black actresses started winning Best Supporting Actress more frequently. Jennifer Hudson won forDreamgirls by playing Effie White, a diva with too much attitude to remain in a successful pop group and just enough attitude to cover “And I Am Telling You.” Mo’nique won for Precious by playing Mary Lee Johnston, an abusive mother whose sassiness was taken to a monstrous extreme as she terrorized her daughter out of her own fear of being alone and unloved. And Octavia Spencer won for playing The Help’s Minny Jackson, a back-talking maid who fried chicken, cracked jokes, and literally made a racist employer eat shit while her husband beat her.

If Oprah nabs the Oscar, she will have also won by playing sassy, but look closer and you’ll see her role rises above and complicates the stereotype. In her introductory scenes, Gloria is sweet and maternal, and it’s only as the movie progresses that we see her sassiness growing out of resentment—over her husband’s career, over the discord between her son and his father, and over her station in life. In this way, the film actually provides historical context for the sassy black woman, suggesting that she became that way because of decades of inequality. At the same time, the film also offers a modern revision of that role. Gloria feels fleshed-out; she’s not over-the-top, her story is fully explored (and fully her own) and, with the film covering several decades, we get the scope of a complete life lived well into old age.

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Really, Spike? Filmmaker’s list of top films short on POCs, women

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For decades, Spike Lee has been a Hollywood gadfly, keeping race and the plight of black artists a topic of discussion. He has been critical of the film industry’s many biases, unabashedly saying the things most are too career-conscious to admit publicly. So when Lee published a list of Essential Films for Filmmakers to draw attention to his Kickstarter campaign on behalf of the newest Spike Lee Joint, many folks expected something beyond the typical whitewashed and testosterone-fueled canonical list. Yet, that is exactly what we got– a list featuring few people of color and zero women.

 

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See the list in its entirety here.

If Spike Lee, the dude who’s been calling out Hollywood on its racism for nearly three decades, can’t fathom an essentials list that includes, say, Oscar Micheaux, then  who can? And while I know Spike’s feminist politic is pretty weak–Julie Dash? Kasi Lemmons?

Of course, here is the spot where we talk about what belongs in canon. Essentials lists are ostensibly about greatness not affirmative action. This makes me recall, again, an online discussion I had about the Amazon Kindle’s original screensaver: revolving images of very white and very male authors, save a few. A commenter informed me that, while it was too bad about the lack of diversity on the e-reader, it was unavoidable: No woman or person of color had ever created literary work on the same level as accepted white, male greats. Anyone reading this should know that is not true. What is true is that the work of white and male artists, whether in literature or film or other media, is more likely to be supported, distributed and thought great; more likely to be lauded as possessing a universal truth.

But what is Spike Lee’s truth? In his estimation, is it that few filmmakers of color or women filmmakers have created “essential” work? If so, why? Is it because they lack the skill or the opportunity?

And for the community, what if any films by women filmmakers or filmmakers of color are missing from Lee’s list?

The SDCC Files: Arturo’s Collected Coverage

By Arturo R. García

This year, we expanded our coverage at San Diego Comic-Con to bring you more panels, more interviews, and more images from pop culture’s weekend-long prom. Kicking us off: a roundup of all but one of the panels I attended, in Storified form. I’ll have a recap of Rep. John Lewis’ (D-GA) appearance on Wednesday, along with some extra material.

 

Also, to clarify one item from the Black Panel recap, there really was a “Black Spider-Man” there who was not cosplaying Miles Morales. He was ahead of me in the line to ask questions of the panel: