By Guest Contributor Sky Obercam, cross-posted from Clutch Magazine
By Arturo R. García
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
Not to get all Morpheus on you, but: what if some of us Whedonistas have been approaching Agents of SHIELD off focus, just a bit?
Sure, I’ve been among the fans who have been critical of the show during most of its’ freshman season, with a good deal of that dissatisfaction aimed at the ostensible audience POV character, Skye (Chloe Bennet) — and this was before we found out she might be an extraterrestrial sort-of object of considerable power, on top of being a super-hacker.
But, over the weekend a colleague of mine at The Raw Story, Scott Eric Kaufman brought me up to speed on at least one more way to approach the series. It might not excuse some of the story choices in Agents thus far, but it sheds new light on how we might consider Skye and her cohorts.
In this February 2010 piece, Thea Lim examines how “Avatar” exemplifies a disturbing type of faux-progressive filmmaking.
By Deputy Editor Thea Lim
How do you know when a story is allying, versus appropriating?
In other words, if someone of privilege writes a story about the political oppression of a group they do not belong to, what is the difference between:
a) a story that brings marginalised voices to a wider platform and advocates for their rights, versus
b) a story that simply appropriates a political conflict for a writer’s own end, taking advantage of the fact that communities who experience marginalisation are rarely ever allowed to speak for themselves?
Apart from the fact that a story that appropriates usually winds up grossly misrepresenting a marginalised group, this is my yardstick for telling friends from foes: one of the central purposes of a story that acts as ally, is to use one’s own privilege to tell another’s story, in the hopes of ameliorating the others’ situation. Meanwhile, a story that appropriates just wants to spin a good yarn, get some adulation, and uses another’s story in order to do so. An ally story is giving, an appropriating story is taking.
Quit jabbering Thea, you may say. It’s easy to tell the difference between stories that appropriate, and stories that ally! We don’t need a yardstick!
Not true. At least within mainstream opinion, it is startling and depressing how many stories that appropriate get passed off as political progressive, as allies. Like Not Without My Daughter. Or the documentary Born into Brothels, which purported to tell the story of the children of sex workers in Calcutta, but really just seemed more interested in showcasing the magnanimity of the American photographer who worked with the children.* Or another documentary, Paris is Burning, about the black trans/gay vogueing community of New York City, which brought immense praise on the white outsider director, but painted the community as tragic and hopeless, while bringing little benefit to them. I’m sure you can think of loads more films like this.
Including…(drumroll)…Avatar. Which I finally saw last week, in all its headsplitting 3D glory. And it fulfilled all the negative press I had read over countless months, from anti-racist and anti-ableist camps among many others. But seeing how my esteemed peers did a lot of the deconstructing work for me, I was left to ponder another question. If Cameron is as leftist as claimed, why didn’t he tell the story of an actual conflict between big business (or colonialists) and an indigenous group? Why use blue allegory?
Hollywood films have a generally untapped power to sway how people think about political events. Packaging a political story within the rhetoric of emotion (and also I guess, within face-blasting special effects) is often the best way to get people to swallow arguments they would otherwise reject. Hence a movie that – at least at face value – is very anti-war, anti-military and anti-capitalist is demolishing box office records with hardly a peep from conservative viewers.
Can you imagine the impact that a movie like Avatar could have, if Cameron had used all the CGI to recreate (for example) any area of the Americas the way it looked before first contact with the Europeans, and instead told the real story of an indigenous group struggling to protect themselves from genocide? Imagine the kind of support it could create for indigenous rights.
By Guest Contributor M. Shadee Malaklou, cross-posted from JFCB
My first impulse was to resist paying even a modicum of attention to the story following Richard Sherman’s postgame interview, namely because the goings-on of the sports industry — an industry that takes from Black bodies their bits and pieces of flesh, leaving Black athletes often permanently disabled and with little material or financial support in (a very early) ‘retirement’ — rarely surprise me or gives me pause for critical reflection. But then I saw the tweets. The disgusting, racist-cum-speciesist tweets.
By Guest Contributor refresh_daemon, cross-posted from Init_Scenes
There Is a Problem
Every year, without fail, a report will show that the American entertainment industry has consistently underrepresented people of color on screen, both in character and by actor. Even when studies show that it is actually in the best interest of Hollywood to have more equitable representation, we do not see equitable representation on screen. This is true for film, network television, and cable television and not only in front of the camera at all levels, from leading roles to background actors, but also behind the camera, from the writers, to the directors, the producers, and all over the corporate structures that run the studios and networks to even the big money interests that fund them.
And it is not only a product of racism, but the inequitable representation of people of color, women, and other marginalized groups, actually contributes to and reinforces deep underlying systemic racism and other injustices not only in the United States, but also to any place where our entertainment products have reach.
And this is a problem.
Kendra on the industry’s expectations of the audience: “What’s the nerd stereotype? The guy who looks like Kevin Smith, or the [brown] girl who’s been loyal to the same comic shop for years? There’s a worry, subconscious or not, that if white males have no one to identify with that the readership vanishes. No amount of trend-bucking — take Miles Morales, for example — is going to change that.”
Arturo on white fans’ reluctance to accept when POC are cast as characters who were originally white: “It’s the natural result when the industry spends decades prioritizing white male characters — you have white male fans getting twitchy over this sort of casting while accepting white-washing or all-white stories.”
- From “Who Gets To Be A Superhero? Race and Identity in Comics” by Gene Demby.
Recommended Reading: The full transcript of a panel interview including Kendra, Arturo, Kelly Kanayama and Alan Yu.
By Arturo R. García
One of the worst things about the worst responses to Richard Sherman’s interview Sunday night with Erin Andrews might be this: he probably saw it coming, and has decades’ worth of history to back him in that response.
By Guest Contributor Anoosh Jorjorian
When I was 13 years old, my best friend introduced me to Doctor Who. Growing up as a brown girl in a predominantly white neighborhood in Sacramento, people would ask me, “What are you?” When I explained that my family came from Armenia and the Philippines, I might as well have said they were, like the Doctor, from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. The show played perfectly to my fantasies of escape into wider possibilities. Yes, funny smart man with your English accent, please whisk me away in your blue box as far in space and time as I can get from 1980s Northern California.
Nearly two decades have passed since I first watched the show, but on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, to my eyes, the show looked a bit… like 1980s Northern California. “The Day of the Doctor,” the episode marking the special occasion, was simulcast globally in 94 countries, an official Guinness World Record. So why was so little of the world in it? I had expected the diversity of the audience to be reflected on the screen, but instead the episode seemed Anglo in every dimension.
I monitored #DoctorWho50th on Twitter but couldn’t find many people of color livetweeting the simulcast. The few that did seemed to have “the feels” like everyone else. No one mentioned race. With Matt Smith’s tenure in the title role ending on Wednesday, I turned to Facebook to find more Whovians: friends, friends-of-friends, and strangers, mostly Americans, mostly people of color. What did they think about the whitewashed “Day of the Doctor”?