Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture http://www.racialicious.com Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Re-Re-Birth Of The Cool: Static Shock Gets A Shocking Online Revival http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/22/re-re-re-birth-of-the-cool-static-shock-gets-a-shocking-online-revival/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/22/re-re-re-birth-of-the-cool-static-shock-gets-a-shocking-online-revival/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33413 By Arturo R. García Well now this is interesting. As Variety reported on Tuesday, the demand for a new Static Shock revival will finally be met, in perhaps the most unexpected of fashions: an online-only live-action series. It’s also encouraging to see the revival of Milestone Entertainment’s signature character is being led by Milestone alumni: […]

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By Arturo R. García

Well now this is interesting.

As Variety reported on Tuesday, the demand for a new Static Shock revival will finally be met, in perhaps the most unexpected of fashions: an online-only live-action series.

It’s also encouraging to see the revival of Milestone Entertainment’s signature character is being led by Milestone alumni: Film and comics veteran Reginald Hudlin will be the executive producer, in collaboration with Denys Cowan, who produced the much-missed animated series that Warner Brothers stubbornly left by the wayside years ago.

Cover to first Static Shock TPB, “Rebirth Of The Cool,” from Milestone Entertainment.

Pushing Static into the digital realm through its new Blue Ribbon Content imprint could help DC Entertainment in its bid to keep up with archrivals Marvel in that arena; the comics division has won popular and commercial praise for offering Smallville, Batman ’66 and the upcoming Wonder Woman ’77 as online exclusives.

The upside might be more than even DC anticipates: Static now has the benefit of returning to television after literally years of fans and critics (including this site) denouncing the company for letting him languish in the name of feeding executives’ apparent love for Silver Age white heroes.

This new incarnation is also arriving at a moment when the Black audience is growing online; according to Interactive One, that audience has grown by 30 percent since 2011 to an estimated 23 million viewers. Comparatively, the white online audience has only grown by 8 percent during the same span.

But as is the case with Cyborg, DC must now consider how to take advantage of Static’s new presence in its comics. Currently, the character is supposed to be featured in upcoming issues of Teen Titans. But it’s going to be hard for longtime fans to forgive how badly the company botched its relaunch as part of the New 52 era, in a short-lived run that “featured” original writer John Rozum, another Milestone alumnus, essentially get turfed out:

From the first issue on, I was essentially benched by Harvey Richards and artist/writer Scott McDaniel. All of my ideas and suggestions were met with disdain, and Scott McDaniel lectured me on how my method for writing was wrong because it wasn’t what the Robert McKee screenwriting book he read told him was the way to do things. The man who’d never written anything was suddenly more expert than me and the editor was agreeing with him. Scott had also never read a Static comic book, nor seen the cartoon series, yet was telling me that my dialogue didn’t sound true to the character and would “fix it.”

There was more concern about seeing that the title sold and didn’t get cancelled than there was in telling good stories and having something coherent to bring readers in. This is what led Harvey to insist on the stuff with the two Sharon’s and cutting off Static’s arm. He had no answers for how to resolve these things, but thought it would keep reader’s wowed enough to stick with the series. This, too, was frustrating. It was a lot of grasping at straws and trying to second guess what would keep it selling. It was decided that “bigger action” on every page of every issue was the key.

Static’s alter ego, Virgil, who was more important to the original series than his super hero persona, was put on the very back burner because Harvey said it wasn’t important and that the book just needed to be all action. One of my scripts was deemed too slow because there were a total of 4 pages where no one was hitting or shooting anything.

There’s little reason to believe that Cowan and Hudlin won’t want to avoid this kind of creative debacle. Nor should we doubt that they’ve considered the tremendous upside Static stands to give DC. The big question, as always, is whether a company that complained nobody would buy his action figures is willing to let them develop and deliver on that promise.

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Who We Be Examines the War on Multiculuralism http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/21/who-we-be-examines-the-war-on-multiculuralism/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/21/who-we-be-examines-the-war-on-multiculuralism/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 18:30:08 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33408 “Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history. Long time friend of the blog […]

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“Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin

This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history.

Long time friend of the blog Jeff Chang is the author of the American Book award winning Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and editor of the anthology Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop. To say we’ve been waiting for Who We Be is an understatement.

But in the introduction, Chang frames the core of the most recent case of racial backlash. Explaining the outsized reaction by some whites to President Obama, Chang notes:

In the 1830s white minstrels had put on blackface, creating space for the white working class to challenge the elite, while keeping Blacks locked into their racial place. Obama now appeared as a dual symbol of oppression. Because of his Blackness, he was even more of an outsider—and in that sense, even more American—than them. But he was also the president. His Blackness did not just confer moral and existential claims, it was backed by the power of the state.

And there went everything.

As much as we like to talk about the inevitability of America being majority-minority in 2042, the events playing out across the nation show that most places are outright hostile to the idea that people of color are equal Americans, with the same rights, privileges, representation, and agenda setting power bestowed to whites. Chang turns his critical eye to shifts in culture which becomes documentation of rise (and fall?) of multiculturalism.

The opening chapter is on the funny pages and American comic culture acting as a barometer for race relations. Chang finds amazing gems – Morrie Turner’s Wee Pals frames the narrative since Turner was the first black syndicated cartoonist, but we also hear about the work of Jackie Ormes, Gus Arriola, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Ray Billingsley, George Harriman, Robb Armstrong, and Oliver Harrington.

Chang also points to the variety of issues at play in cartoons like the friendly Sambo model that led to popular characters like Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny. Racism was even in the inking -comics used three colors: black, white, and the pinkish “flesh” tone. Anyone who did not conform became odd tones of purple. The modern world of comics hasn’t improved much – even with established cartoonists like Lalo Alcaraz and Keith Knight doing their thing, the Sunday comics pages have stubbornly resisted full integration.

From comics, Chang moves to art and the marketing of identity. Then on to politics, culture,The DREAMers, politics, war, neoliberalism, capitalism Occupy Wall Street and more in a bid to make racial sense of the country’s political mood.

While reading, one could wonder if society learned anything from the past 40 years? Or has polite society only learned to spout the “correct” answers? Later in the book, Chang discusses the phenomenon of people saying they want diversity, but seeing the reality play out in one of the biggest areas of segregation in America – housing:

How much did Americans value diversity and integration? Over the course of four decades, the Gallup survey had asked whites, “Would you move if great numbers of Blacks moved into your neighborhood?” In 1958, 79% said they would. In 1997, 75% said they would not. A month after Obama’s victory, a report from the Pew Research Center showed that almost 2 in 3 Americans—including 52% of Republicans, 60% of whites, 83% of Blacks, and 76% of 18-29 year olds—said that they preferred to live in a community made up of people who were a mix of different races. The numbers were similar for religious, political, and socioeconomic diversity.

Fully 68% of those making $100,000 or more a year—a significantly larger proportion than every other income bracket—said they preferred to live in a community with a mix of economic classes. But when Stanford professors Sean F. Reardon and Kendra Bischoff examined the data from 1970 to 2009, they found that not only had residential segregation by income soared, the wealthy had segregated themselves the fastest.

Large majorities told pollsters they wanted integrated schools and diversity in education. Pundits and politicians would often trot out such these polls as cause for optimism around racial justice issues. But in light of the actual social facts, the survey data looked less like an emerging consensus for cultural equity than evidence that multiculturalism had made some better primed to answer the questions “correctly.” For in this colorized generation, public schools were resegregating at a dramatic rate.

By 2010, 80% of Latinos and 74% of Blacks attended majority non-white schools. Around 40% of Blacks and Latinos in public schools attended hypersegregated schools in which 90-100% of the students were nonwhite. Blacks and Latinos were also twice as likely to attend a school predominantly serving low-income students than white or Asian students. White students were the most racially isolated of all—the average white student attended a school that was 75% white.

Resegregation did not escape even the rapidly diversifying suburbs or the most liberal strongholds. From city to exurb, the San Francisco Bay Area— one of the nation’s most diverse regions, the birthplace of the multiculturalism movement, and the site of Berkeley’s national model public school desegregation program—also boasted California’s highest rates of White isolation. Although white students made up only 28% of the Bay Area’s student-age population, 65% of them attended majority white schools. Those schools were eight times less likely than predominantly non-white ones to be deemed “high-problem” schools.

After 1968, busing, court orders, and district plans had helped to integrate the schools from the deep South to the Northwest. In turn school desegregation climbed sharply and peaked in the late 1980s. But then conservative challenges to desegregation mounted, and anti-integrationists began to accumulate victories in the courts and the legislatures. During the 1990s, while multiculturalists were winning the battle to change school curriculum and staffing, they were losing the battle to desegregate the next generation of public school students. By the new millennium, the same southern school systems that had made the most progress toward integration were the fastest to resegregate. Progress had always been fragile.

The book ends on equal parts heartbreak and hope, juxtaposing a few different stories to paint a picture of where we are.

The ambiguous ending fits the overall theme of the book – after all, isn’t that what we go through as people of color everyday?

Ultimately, Who We Be can feel a little disjointed – condensing America’s entire racial history in imagery is a major feat, and the book is much better at raising ideas and questions than providing concrete answers. But anyone who cares about racial equity should read this book – if for nothing else than to supply the foundation for our action.

Racialicious is giving away a copy of Who We Be. To enter, leave a comment addressing this question: “What does multiculturalism mean now and what needs to happen next?”

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On DC Entertainment, Cyborg, And Going Back To The Afrofuture http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/21/on-dc-entertainment-cyborg-and-going-back-to-the-afrofuture/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/21/on-dc-entertainment-cyborg-and-going-back-to-the-afrofuture/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33404 By Arturo R. García DC Entertainment scored a rare PR victory over archrival Marvel over the weekend when it announced its upcoming slate of films. At first glance, this latest take on the DC movie universe instantly puts Marvel’s to shame when it comes to inclusion. But besides the far-flung timetable involved, it very much […]

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By Arturo R. García

DC Entertainment scored a rare PR victory over archrival Marvel over the weekend when it announced its upcoming slate of films. At first glance, this latest take on the DC movie universe instantly puts Marvel’s to shame when it comes to inclusion.

But besides the far-flung timetable involved, it very much remains to be seen whether the company is willing to put in the work to elevate its non-white heroes to a position befitting their upcoming roles on the big screen.

Here’s how the schedule looks, courtesy of Slate:

Not only does this signal the long-awaited arrival of Wonder Woman in her own solo feature, but the Flash movie will be led by a queer actor in Ezra Miller. And that’s before getting to the two POC leads in Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and, perhaps more surprisingly, Ray Fisher starring as Cyborg.

Ray Fisher (right) will play Cyborg for DC Entertainment. image via wn.com

If you’ve never heard of Fisher, don’t be surprised; according to IMDB, his appearance in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will constitute his first major on-screen role. No pressure, right?

But look at the timeline again. Throw in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appearing in Shazam, and it’s likely that POC will not be prominent in a DCE film for at least three years. The X-factor here is Suicide Squad, which appears to be on the fast track and should by all rights include Amanda Waller. Even if it means the “sexy” version unveiled three years ago as part of the company’s comics relaunch.

A cynical observer might point out that waiting until 2018 for an Aquaman film starring Momoa and Fisher’s starring role two years(!) later gives DC enough time to scuttle their plans if Dawn of Justice is as much of a disappointment as Man of Steel. Or that Aquaman and Cyborg’s position in the movie pipeline reflects their standing within the Justice League. They’re such valued members that the Suicide Squad got the nod first, and Cyborg has to wait for two Justice League movies before getting his shot. A cynic might argue that the only reason Cyborg isn’t dead last is because Ryan Reynolds’ turn as Hal Jordan was enough of a flop that the Green Lantern movie brand still hasn’t recovered.

Cyborg in the “Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians” cartoon. Image via DC Wikia.

On the bright side, DC now has no excuse to decisively elevate Cyborg into the top tier of its roster, even if most sensible fans wish John Stewart were getting that same treatment. It’s important to remember, first of all, that Victor Stone’s inclusion in the Justice League’s “New 52″ comics roster isn’t without precedent; in 1985, the character was featured on the Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians animated series, the final incarnation of the venerable SuperFriends franchise.

Cyborg on the cover of “Tales of the New Teen Titans” #1, as published in June 1982. Image via Wikipedia.

Then, as now, Cyborg was the junior member of the team — the POV character for the audience and the team’s designated IT person. Which probably seemed fine to casual viewers, but was in fact a reduction of his much larger role in DC’s hottest property of that time, the Teen Titans comic. As conceived by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the Victor Stone of the ’80s had the benefit of a full journey from being horrified at his condition to eventually leading the team and forging a new family relationship with them.

But just as John Stewart went from a stalwart hero to one with a higher profile thanks to the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series, another version of the Titans brand put Cyborg in the public eye:

Cyborg in the “Teen Titans Go!” animated series. Image via Fanpop.com.

It’s very possible that, to non-comics fans, their image of Cyborg is of the high-appetite, high-energy version from Teen Titans Go!. A funny guy, sure, but maybe not the kind of hero that’s going to fill up a multiplex. If DC is serious about making the character the next great POC movie superhero, we’d like to argue that the company needs to split the difference: show his traumatic origin, sure, but take him beyond the JLA’s sidekick and let his film reach for the afrofuturistic heights he’s perfectly positioned to reach. A movie-going public living in an increasingly tech-reliant world could really get behind a hero who can plumb the depths of the grid from anywhere in the physical world. If DC wants to end its “phase one” with a bang, it needs to stop treating Cyborg like the last one in line, and understand that for this position in pop culture, he’s the first of his kind.

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#GIA14: Racial Conversation as Performance Art http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/20/gia14-racial-conversation-as-performance-art/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/20/gia14-racial-conversation-as-performance-art/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:00:56 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33390 Originally published at Grantmakers in the Arts Can a conversation about race be a performance? What does that simple framework shift do to the conversation? The answer: everything. The long table conversation is a fascinating thing to watch unfold. Participants come in and out as they please. There is snacking and scribbling, mostly on topic. […]

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Originally published at Grantmakers in the Arts

The rules of the Long Table.

The rules of the Long Table.

Can a conversation about race be a performance? What does that simple framework shift do to the conversation? The answer: everything.

The long table conversation is a fascinating thing to watch unfold. Participants come in and out as they please. There is snacking and scribbling, mostly on topic. Some people were determined watchers, setting up camp on the chairs on the far edge of the perimeter. And others eagerly queued up in the seats closest to the table, waiting for the moment they could tap someone on the shoulder, sending that performer out and putting themselves into the conversation.

The Long Table - The Beginning

The Long Table – The Beginning

The conversation starts off immediately. There aren’t really any awkward pauses. The presence of the table as a speaking space created a flow that participants respected. I wondered if an art project gave people license to break the rules and conventions of conversation. I felt inspired to draw a circle around an errant blueberry on the table. And at times, I felt the urge to run around, to lean over someone and circle their scribble, to interact out of order and out of place. After all, isn’t that art? Responding to stimuli?

But that will have to wait for another long table. People needed this space – stories flowed alongside tears and while this may have been intended as an art project the space morphed to accommodate mass catharsis.

Defining racial equity.

Defining racial equity.

Race Scrawl.

Race Scrawl.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 11.01.58 AM

(TRA is an abbreviation for transracial adoptee.)

Racial Scrawl 2

Racial Scrawl 2

The session draws to a close. Many are in tears. Some feel a profound shift. Others looked at the way inequality replicated itself at the table. There is no solution. But in art, does there need to be a neat resolution?

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Live From San Diego Comic Fest: The Afrofuturism Panel http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/20/live-from-san-diego-comic-fest-the-afrofuturism-panel/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/20/live-from-san-diego-comic-fest-the-afrofuturism-panel/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33397 By Arturo R. García The final day of the Comic Fest opened with one of the most far-ranging topics in speculative fiction in Afrofuturism. And true to form, the speakers reached into the past and toward the future in discussing not only their interpretation of the concept, but how it has influenced their fandom and […]

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By Arturo R. García

The final day of the Comic Fest opened with one of the most far-ranging topics in speculative fiction in Afrofuturism. And true to form, the speakers reached into the past and toward the future in discussing not only their interpretation of the concept, but how it has influenced their fandom and their work.

Top image: A still from the trailer for “The Crypto-Historians,” which can be seen below.

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Live From San Diego Comic Fest: Latino Comics http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/20/live-from-san-diego-comic-fest-latino-comics/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/20/live-from-san-diego-comic-fest-latino-comics/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:00:53 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33394 By Arturo R. García Over the weekend I went to the third annual San Diego Comic Fest, which has pointedly positioned itself as the anti-Comic Con. Specifically, the size of the event is kept manageable for vendors, presenters and attendees alike; no conference room holds more than 40 or 50 people at one time, allowing […]

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By Arturo R. García

Over the weekend I went to the third annual San Diego Comic Fest, which has pointedly positioned itself as the anti-Comic Con.

Specifically, the size of the event is kept manageable for vendors, presenters and attendees alike; no conference room holds more than 40 or 50 people at one time, allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere and easier conversations between panelists and their audiences.

One end result is, panels focusing on diversity don’t feel as lost in the shuffle. And the Latino Comics panel covered not only industry trends within Latin America, but the rapidly-evolving effects of Latinidad on the U.S.’ identity.

[Top image via "The Condor and The Eagle: A Pilgrimage to Machu Picchu" official Facebook page]

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Blackface by Another Name? “Painting Down” on Gotham http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/16/blackface-by-another-name-painting-down-on-gotham/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/16/blackface-by-another-name-painting-down-on-gotham/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:00:30 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33381 The issues for people of color in Hollywood run deep – so much so that we occasionally forget how invested the industry can be in denying opportunities to enter this business. Jada Pinkett Smith landed a coveted role on the show as Fish Mooney, a female mob leader: So we have a black woman on […]

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The issues for people of color in Hollywood run deep – so much so that we occasionally forget how invested the industry can be in denying opportunities to enter this business.

Jada Pinkett Smith landed a coveted role on the show as Fish Mooney, a female mob leader:

GOTHAM: Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney in the "Selina Kyle" episode of GOTHAM airing Monday, Sept. 29 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Jessica Miglio/FOX

So we have a black woman on screen in a major role. But what is happening behind the scenes? Are people of color being represented in other parts of the industry, like doing stunt work? Not so, according to Deadline Hollywood:

After receiving inquiries from Deadline, Warner Bros. has canceled plans to “paint down” a white stunt woman to double for a black actress on its hit Fox show Gotham. On Monday, dark makeup was applied to the face of a white stunt woman in a hair and makeup test in advance of two days of filming next week in New York. After receiving calls from Deadline, WB initially downplayed the significance of the story, but after looking into it said that it had made a “mistake” and would hire a black stunt woman instead.

Really?

Deadline continues:

“Painting down” white stunt performers so that they can pass for black has been going on for decades, even though SAG-AFTRA calls the practice “unacceptable” and “improper.” Blackface went out in the 1930s, but “painting down” white stunt performers goes on to this day, and there is no language in the union’s contract that expressly prohibits it. The union’s contract only requires that stunt coordinators “endeavor” to find stunt performers of the same race and gender as the actors they are doubling. For many black cast and crew members, however, the practice is insulting and demeaning, a holdover from Hollywood’s openly racist past.

Was the industry so lacking in black talent that it was easier to paint a white woman than hire a black stuntwoman?

A few minutes of googling netted me a documentary by La Faye Baker about black stunt women in Hollywood:

Is it because the women featured there aren’t high profile enough?
The Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures has three black women on the front page: Nicole Callender,
Jwaundace Candece and Kelsee L. King Devoreaux.

No blockbuster experience? Angela Meryl put in work on the sets of Kill Bill, Skyfall, American Gangster, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Warner Brothers said:

“A mistake was made this week in casting a stunt woman for a guest star in a particular scene on the show. The situation has been rectified, and we regret the error.”

We regret this whole situation.

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My Fair Selfie? http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/15/my-fair-selfie/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/15/my-fair-selfie/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 14:00:43 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33359 by Guest Contributor Deepa Hi, my name is Deepa, and I’m excited to be reviewing ABC’s new fall show Selfie for you! When I first heard the premise of Selfie, I was pretty skeptical. It was billed as a modern-day version of the musical My Fair Lady, a story that is very much of a […]

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by Guest Contributor Deepa

Hi, my name is Deepa, and I’m excited to be reviewing ABC’s new fall show Selfie for you!

When I first heard the premise of Selfie, I was pretty skeptical. It was billed as a modern-day version of the musical My Fair Lady, a story that is very much of a specific time and place. Set in London in the early 1910s, the musical (based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion) is the story of Eliza Doolittle, a working-class woman who wants to improve her circumstances.

Enter Professor Henry Higgins, who is one of those unashamedly arrogant and misogynistic assholes that all of us have met at some point. By virtue of his apparent brilliance in the field of phonetics, Eliza decides he is the only one who can help her lose Cockney accent, which, Higgins says, is what truly ties her to her class. With the help of his friend Colonel Pickering (a much more chivalrous but no less patronizing gentleman), Higgins teaches Eliza not only to speak differently, but to conduct herself in high society. But when I found out that the Henry Higgins character would be portrayed not only by a person of color, but by John Cho, I decided I wanted to give it a try.

Some of my initial uncertainty may have come from the fact that I am a huge My Fair Lady fan. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, I was a first-gen kid with proudly progressive Indian parents. My mom, in particular, grew up in the Indian state of Kerala, which historically had a matrilineal society, and her family prioritized education and career for their sons and daughters. I was raised to be strongly feminist and anti-racist, and to confront my own socioeconomic and educational privilege. And I was also fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who mostly felt the same way.

As such, my first exposure to overt sexism and classism came from the film version of My Fair Lady, which I’ve loved since I was four years old.

My Fair Lady is also an obvious product of imperialist Britain. The movie appears to take place in that mythical all-white London that we’ve been shown so many times in popular culture.

Most of the obvious prejudice relates to class or to the other nationalities within the United Kingdom. There are a few throw- away references to other countries that are casually racist: for one the lyric in “Why Can’t the English?” that the Arabians learn Arabian/which is absolutely frightening – does a phoneticist really not know the language is Arabic?

And of course there is the fact that Colonel Pickering has just returned from India where, he says, he has been studying their “147 distinct dialects”. Even as a child, I used to yell at the screen that India has thousands of distinct languages let alone dialects, get your facts right, Pickering.

And yet, it is a film that is beloved to many South Asians that I know, despite racist undertones, because Eliza Doolittle is such a compelling character – and Henry Higgins, while deplorable, is a fascinating foil for her.

So while Selfie purports to be a modern-day American version of My Fair Lady, it’s not only the time period that is drastically different.

The show begins by introducing Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan), who fled from memories of childhood bullying by reinventing herself on social media. Unfortunately, the fix is superficial: she is widely “liked” on Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media, but she has no real friends.

In the opening scene, Eliza, embarrasses herself in front of a plane full of her coworkers when she a) finds out that her office “boyfriend” is in fact a married man, b) throws up into two barf bags in shock, c) gets covered with vomit when the bags break on her way to the bathroom, and d) emerges wearing strategically-wrapped airplane blankets instead of clothing. After her public humiliation, Eliza comes upon a solution to make her way back up from rock bottom.

At Eliza’s job, the morning staff meeting is all about celebrating the work of marketing genius Henry Higgins (John Cho), who managed to take company’s pediatric nasal spray, which (allegedly!) caused Satanic hallucinations, and successfully rebrand it. Easily my favorite character in this scene is the gleeful and wildly inappropriate CEO (David Harewood), who smacks a kiss onto Henry’s lips (CEO: “You know, I read an article that said Asian men are more comfortable kissing on the lips as a sign of friendship.” What?) and invites Henry to his daughter’s wedding that weekend, asking him to bring a date because “you’re always alone, it’s kind of weird.”

In my head, John-Cho-as-Henry starts defiantly singing “I’d prefer a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition than to ever let a woman in my life!” but sadly this does not happen.

Henry returns to his office to find Eliza there with a proposition: if he can rebrand a dangerous pharmaceutical product, can’t he help her change her image? “What,” Henry replies, “you mean be a better person?”

“Or that,” says Eliza.

Henry agrees to the challenge of trying to “repackage” Eliza (possibly a reference to My Fair Lady’s Higgins frequently calling Eliza Doolittle “baggage”?), and so the lessons begin. The first: for Eliza to greet the office’s receptionist, Charmonique, and ask her about her day. Note that in an earlier scene, we don’t see Henry take any particular notice of Charmonique either, but all that doesn’t matter!
Not when this is a perfect opportunity to mansplain common decency to Eliza!

Charmonique is clearly used to these kinds of micro-aggressions, which she most likely faces frequently as a woman of color working as a receptionist in this office, and when Eliza can’t even remember her name she seems at first to take pity on her. But even Charmonique is rightly upset when Eliza adds, “In my defense, that’s not a real name.” Wonderful, Eliza, that’s totally not an offensive racial stereotype or anything!

Of course, Henry’s next instruction takes the form of a “test” for Eliza: accompany him to their CEO’s daughter’s wedding, to see if she can behave herself in a social setting. There’s a predictable make under to get Eliza ready for the wedding, which she predictably screws up by making noises on her phone to distract herself from the genuine emotion of the ceremony – as, we learn through a flashback, Eliza has been doing since she was an unpopular child.

After everyone else has left the church, Henry and Eliza have it out. Henry doesn’t understand why Eliza would embarrass herself and him with such an obvious social faux pas, and he thinks he’s made a huge mistake by offering to help her. Eliza counters that maybe she’s the one who’s been helping him, since he didn’t even have a date for this wedding before he asked her. She then tells him exactly what she thinks of him: that he’s anti-social and holier-than-thou and un-fun, and at one point she even calls him a cockscomb. (John Cho’s hurt face when she calls him un-fun is my favorite thing in the entire episode.)

“Oh, I’m a cockscomb, am I?” says Henry. “Well, you, my dear, are a
lost cause.”

And after storming out, it looks like both of them are ready to give up on the entire venture. But the next day at work, Eliza finds herself having a friendly conversation with Charmonique as if it’s completely natural, a conversation that has nothing to do with Eliza herself. “Whatever you’re doing with Mr. Man, it’s working,” says Charmonique.

So Eliza goes to Henry’s house to apologize, and to explain that she hadn’t been on her phone from boredom, but because the wedding gave her feels (“Feels?” says a bewildered Henry, and I agree) that she wanted to suppress. And despite the scene playing out pretty much exactly as you’d expect – there’s even some gallivanting around in the rain to show how much Eliza and Henry are making a real connection – it’s still cute, and feels genuine enough to actually be the start of a wonderful friendship, or at least something close to it.

Selfie started to confuse me a little with its My Fair Lady parallels, or lack thereof – because My Fair Lady is a story about changing a person’s outward behavior and mannerisms rather than looking inward.

Sure, Higgins and Pickering think they are improving Eliza Doolittle’s character along with her elocution, but it’s clear that their perspectives come from their overweening class privilege. To them even the façade of a well-mannered and well-spoken lady is of more substance than the reality of a common flower girl. (Not that Higgins has much esteem for even the most respectable of women.)

What has always kept My Fair Lady in a different category from the She’s All That rom-com formula is that, at the end of the story, neither Eliza nor Higgins have been substantially changed by each other.

By the end, Eliza realizes that the process of “becoming a lady” may have even diminished her own personality and freedom, but she’s determined not to let that continue. Higgins’s heart is perhaps a little softened by Eliza’s influence, but really, just a very, very little – he’s still a snob and an unapologetic asshole. It’s a story about trying to use the tools of a rule-obsessed society against the very class that wields them. And in that aim, it’s a story with an ambiguous ending.

So it’ll be interesting to see how Selfie interprets the original Henry Higgins – who knows the rules of his society but has enough privilege to get away with flouting them himself, and who definitely does not know much about being a good person – into this modern version, who “finds it rather easy not to form personal connections in a city that only values wireless connection”, whose curmudgeonly behavior seems to be because he’s written off modern American society as narcissistic and shallow.

Is Selfie going to flip the original premise and go the simplistic-but-heartwarming route, trying to make the modern Eliza and Henry both “better people” who discover their “true selves” through their friendship (or maybe more)? Or is it going to be more complex than that?

Hopefully, the fact that the cast features a number of actors of color will help add to that complexity.

To take the character of Henry Higgins, who is the very definition of privilege in My Fair Lady (see, again, the song “I’m An Ordinary Man”, in which Higgins explains that all he expects from life is to be able to do whatever he wants, regardless of how it affects anyone else) and to take away or twist some of that privilege – it could turn out to be very interesting. The mere fact that John Cho is playing a rom-com lead in a sitcom not focused on race or ethnicity is groundbreaking – particularly since Asian men are often desexualized in popular culture. We’ll see if that gets addressed in ways that are less awkwardly humorous in the future (though “Kissing Koreans: Greenlight!” is a hilarious headline).

I have similar hopes for black CEO Sam Saperstein, who is married to a white woman, and whose biracial daughter is marrying a white man, without comment – and Charmonique, who stole every scene she was in.

Sitcoms tend to deal one of two ways with race – either offensively, or with willful “color-blindness” – but I think Selfie might be able to find a middle-ground instead.

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Who’s Your Mama?: Race, Sexuality, and the Adoptive Mother [Academic Essay] http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/14/whos-your-mama-race-sexuality-and-the-adoptive-mother-academic-essay/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/14/whos-your-mama-race-sexuality-and-the-adoptive-mother-academic-essay/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 16:00:54 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33353 by Guest Contributor Sara M. Erdmann, MFA, PhD The image of the American adoptive mother has emerged gradually since adoption’s inception in 1851, but it has always existed within a racialized and heteronormative context (“Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act, 1851”). According to the American adoption narrative, adoptive mothers are white, heterosexual women; their decision to […]

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by Guest Contributor Sara M. Erdmann, MFA, PhD

The image of the American adoptive mother has emerged gradually since adoption’s inception in 1851, but it has always existed within a racialized and heteronormative context (“Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act, 1851”).

According to the American adoption narrative, adoptive mothers are white, heterosexual women; their decision to adopt a child is an act of goodwill, and, in cases of transracial adoption, even a badge of racial acceptance.

This particular adoptive mother has become an accepted, albeit marginalized, part of mothering culture and is the one for whom books are written, organizations formed, and resources developed. This adoptive mother has defined the adoptive mother identity in modern America and become one of many voices within the larger motherhood narrative.

Yet, research confirms that white, heterosexual women are not the only ones adopting children: many Black and queer (*) non-biological children, but, save for mentions in a few isolated academic texts, their experiences are almost entirely absent from the larger adoption narrative.

Racism and homophobia are immediately identifiable causes of such exclusion: the powers of prejudice have an incalculable impact on the conversation surrounding non-biological motherhood. Indeed, the somewhat greater presence of Black and queer mothers in the blogosphere reinforces the fact that the elimination of mainstream publishing gatekeepers leads to an increase in diverse stories of motherhood.

Still, while prejudice has led to innumerable obstacles for these two marginalized groups, it alone does not explain the relative dearth of print and online literature surrounding Black and queer adoptive motherhood. In fact, it is in part due to the history of these two groups and their engagement in non-normative forms of motherhood tha they are less visible and remain largely absent from discussions of modern adoptive motherhood.

The community othermother has been recognized in African-American communities as an essential player in childrearing since the institution of slavery. In her essay “Mothering: A possible Black feminist link to social transformation?”, social scientist Stanlie M. James defines othermothers as “the women in African-American communities who assist blood mothers in the responsibilities in child care for short to long-term periods, in informal or formal arrangements” (45).

While othermothers don’t have legal custody of the children they care for, it is impossible to quantify their level of commitment toward the children in their lives. In contrast to the biocentric views of parenthood prioritized in the white, heterosexual community, the informal adoption of non-biological children expands the “network of fictive kin” common within the Black community (James 45).

Patricia Hill Collins, author of Black Feminist Thought, acknowledges that, while “grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins” are among those who act as othermothers, many othermothers have no blood relationship with the children they care for (178). None of the othermothers Collins describes pursue legal adoption, nor do they intend to be permanent replacements for a child’s birth mother, which makes this “informal adoption” of “needy” or “orphaned” children difficult for western culture to understand (Collins 181). In the Black community, necessity and a shared sense of responsibility has made othermothers central to the raising of children, as they have allowed for children whose mothers were unable or unwilling to care for them fully to be fed, clothed, and educated without having to leave their community or seve ties to their biological mothers.

This concept of children having more than one mother challenges the “one mother per child”, or monomaternalistic, mentality so rooted in American culture (Park 6). James observes that, “while western conceptualizations of mothering have often been limited to the activities of females with their biological offsprings,” a view that biologically prohibits co-mothering, “mothering within the Afro American community and the Black diaspora can be viewed as a form of cultural work” (44).

What James describes—this view of mothering as cultural work—explicitly challenges biocentrism and further ensures that a child’s needs are being met within their own community.

Indeed, Black othermothering is so prevalent that “young women are often groomed at an early age to become othermothers” (Collins), suggesting an expectation that the majority of women will take on some othermothering duties in their lifetime. Thus, the long-standing practice of African American othermothering has led Black women to view even traditional adoption and fostering differently and remains one of the fundamental reasons that Black women are largely absent in modern discussions of adoption.

In her essay “Ain’t I a Mommy?,” Deesha Philyaw addresses the lack of Black voices in American motherhood narratives. Philyaw acknowledges racism’s substantive role, but also concedes that Black women may not be writing about motherhood in the same numbers in the first place: “If black women haven’t beaten down publishers’ doors with manuscripts about mothering or about pulling second shifts,” she writes, “it’s probably because this is what we’ve always done, without fanfare and without the luxury of ‘what about the children?’ pearl-clutching” (Philyaw).

In other words, the market for Black motherhood memoirs is small in part because Black women either can’t or won’t buy into the guilt and angst that underlies most motherhood narratives. Simply put, Black women have been multitasking, working and raising their kids (and often other people’s kids as well) for hundreds of years, and they haven’t had the privilege of worrying (or writing) about the long term impact of their every decision.

This causation can be broadened to include Black adoptive motherhood as well.

Thorough research makes clear that there is very little concrete data surrounding black adoptive motherhood, so it’s difficult to know how many women’s experiences are being ignored by such a narrow focus, but blogger Adoptive Black Mom, author of an insightful yet rare blog on Black adoptive mothering, admits to feeling dismayed by “how few People of Color I see in adoption promotional media. We’re out here, but I think that the privilege of race frequently marginalizes us out of the adoption narrative” (“Privilege, Adoption, and Melissa Harris-Perry,” par. 17).

In a community so accustomed to the work of raising one another’s children, the media and literary attention surrounding adoptive motherhood may not resonate in the same way with Black women.

To write a memoir or create a formal organization geared toward adoptive mothering would suggest that one considers it a novel experience, when the communal act of child raising is so embedded in many African American communities that such formality is mystifying.

Like Black othermothers, queer othermothers have been vital to childrearing, despite their relative invisibility within the larger adoption narrative. In fact, the history of their crucial but undocumented role has similarly contributed to their absence within the conversation surrounding adoption. In her anthology, Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Moms Tell All, queer journalist Kathy Paige defines othermother as the non-biological co mother who may or may not have legal custody over her child.

Historically, before the increasing availability of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in the 1990s allowed women to become pregnant without engaging in heterosexual sex, queer othermothers have had great investment in remaining invisible. Their invisibility was critical to queer biological mothers maintaining custody of their children during the second half of the twentieth century, as husbands and biological fathers could use a mother’s sexuality as justification for taking her children away (“Milestones in LGBT Parenting History”).

While ART has allowed legally single women to become pregnant and has greatly lessened fear of losing custody to a male partner, the vast majority of states still deny queer women the right to marry and co- adopt, leaving them without even basic parental rights over children they raise from birth.

Rather than receiving the legitimacy afforded to heterosexual adoptive mothers by legal and social systems already in place, queer othermothers are often viewed as outsiders or helpers, more like aunts than mothers, and this difference is reinforced by the fact that, like African American othermothers, they usually carry “no legal maternal status” (Park 79).

Even in the most progressive of states, queer othermothers are required to spend thousands of dollars to legally adopt the children they planned for and their partners delivered, essentially becoming adoptive mothers even if they are married or partnered with the child’s birth mother for years prior to conception. Again, queer othermothers’ stories simply aren’t told within the adoptive community.

Of course, unlike Black othermothers, queer othermothers don’t step in only to fill a gap in a child’s life. They aren’t there to provide services that a biological mother cannot or will not, nor is their place in their child’s life dependent on fluctuating needs.

But it would be naïve to ignore the fact that all children gain different things from each parent, and that each parent acts in ways that complement another in hopes that all a child’s needs are met when all parents are considered. Furthermore, Black and queer othermothers share key characteristics: they challenge monomaternalism and reinforce the fact that children can and do thrive under the care of multiple mothers. They are also similarly disadvantaged by a society that prioritizes biological motherhood.

And, unlike in cases of traditional adoption, neither Black nor queer othermothers compromise the biological mother’s place in their child’s life. The fact that Black and queer othermothers have for so long existed outside of “legal maternity” and have grown accustomed to being considered “secondary” parents provides partial explanation for their absence in conversations surrounding adoptive motherhood.

Of course, even white, heterosexually married, middle-class adoptive mothers face challenges in their efforts to become a part of the motherhood narrative. Adoptive Black Mom allows that, “there’s just some stuff on this adoption journey that I think privilege can’t buffer. Make that a lot of stuff” (“Privilege, Adoption, and Melissa Harris-Perry,” par. 16).

Our society’s dependence on biocentric visions of motherhood has long placed adoptive mothers on the periphery of maternity regardless of their race or sexuality. In her book Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood, Shelly M. Park explains that, “like light-skinned blacks or closeted queers, adoptive mothers know that we are ‘passing’” (24). Adoptive motherhood contradicts biocentrism, and adoption, Park concedes, “is [still] considered a ‘second-best’ solution to the problem of discovered infertility” (61). Still, this imperfect place on the “borderlands of maternity” (58) remains a visible one, largely unavailable to Black and/or queer women. These white, heterosexual adoptive mothers’ voices, while marginalized, are still heard.

Writing is an act of resistance and activism, and it provides an outlet through which many white, heterosexual mothers might be able to share their stories. But for many Black women dealing with the profound inequalities of a racist society, “survival is a form of resistance” (Collins, 200). For Queer women, being called “mama” by their adopted child is activism. Books and blogs on Black and queer adoptive motherhood may never arrive in substantial numbers, both because of the silencing effects of racism and homophobia and also because the widespread history of othermotherhood has lessened its novelty, even to those involved in it.

Lest it appear that the experiences of Black and queer women can be conflated, it’s important to distinguish between Black othermothers, who generally seek no legal rights, and queer othermothers, who often place great value on legal reinforcement of their parenthood in the rare cases where it’s available. Of course, Black, queer women face compounded struggles as mothers, othermothers, and adoptive mothers, and they have their own unique stories to tell. But both Black and queer othermothers aim to serve as additional, rather than replacement, mothers; both challenge the biocentric and monomaternal vision of motherhood, and also the racialized and heteronormative visions of adoptive motherhood.

The history of othermothering in Black and queer communities does not justify the absence of Black and queer adoptive mothers within the larger adoption narrative. Rather, it serves to complicate the understanding of their absence.

The media plays a profound role in raising awareness of the struggles of marginalized groups, and whether it be access to social services that allow children to remain with othermothers within their community or affordable access to legal adoption for queer othermothers, giving othermothers and non-normative adoptive mothers a voice will increase the safety and stability of adoptive families everywhere.

Sara Erdmann earned her PhD in literature and creative writing in 2013. She teaches English at an all-girls boarding school in Connecticut, where she writes fiction and reads obsessively about issues affecting women worldwide. You can follow her on Twitter at @smerdmann.

Works Cited

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. City: Publisher, Year. Print.

“Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act, 1851.” The Adoption History Project.

University of Oregon, 2012. Web. 18 March 2014. http://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/

archive/MassACA.htm

“Milestones in LGBT Parenting History.” Mombian.com, 2014. Web. 18 March 2014.

http://www.mombian.com/2012/10/30/milestones-in-lgbt-parenting-history/

Paige, Kathy. Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Moms Tell All.

Park, Shelley M. Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood. City: SUNY Press, 2014.

Print.

James, Stanlie M. “Mothering: A possible Black feminist link to social transformation?”

Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women. Ed. Stanlie M.

James and Abena P. A. Busia. City: Routledge, 1993. Ppgs. Print.

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#GIA14: Journalism as Public + Art http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/14/gia14-journalism-as-public-art/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/14/gia14-journalism-as-public-art/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33370 I’m on the road still – currently in Houston at the Grantmakers in the Arts 2014 Conference in Houston, Texas. This year’s conference will focus on grantmaking, race, and social justice, so I will be blogging from the conference for the next few days about issues pertinent to artists of color. I’m speaking at the […]

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I’m on the road still – currently in Houston at the Grantmakers in the Arts 2014 Conference in Houston, Texas. This year’s conference will focus on grantmaking, race, and social justice, so I will be blogging from the conference for the next few days about issues pertinent to artists of color.

I’m speaking at the Monday morning plenary, on how the future of journalism is looking more and more like public art. Here’s a cleaned up version of my talk. – LDP

What is the future of journalism? The increasingly terrifying answer is that no one truly knows – in a time of budget cuts and a shifting media environment, it would be all too simple to despair. But in times of great turmoil we see some of the greatest forms of inspiration. In the media world, we are beginning to redefine what journalism is and what journalism can be. What is journalism, but a way of informing the public? What is art, but the expression of ideas made public? And what happens when the walls between the two start to fall?

Early experiments show a need for journalism to leap off the page, phone, and tablet and into other types of spaces. The “Reveal” project from the New York Times R & D lab, placed news, weather, and biometric data like a users weight and heart rate into a tricked out mirror.

The team started this project to “to explore how the relationship between information and the self is evolving.” So information moved from pages to personalized surfaces. But where else?

In response to the ongoing debates around net neutrality, activists from Fight for the Future took the story to the streets. Erecting a billboard and speakers, they blared John Oliver’s 15 minute monologue around the FCC to the front doors of the building – alerting passerby to both the story and the need for action.

But how else can we transport a story?

The MIT Media Lab grew a small experiment into an interactive art display, where even the spokes of a bike passing you on the street can deliver a message and tell a story.

Don’t be fooled by the grand look of many of these projects. The reason these types of innovation in journalism is possible is due to the change in consumer technology.

My Knight Project at Stanford focused on creating interactive public spaces with the most powerful tools already we can fit into pockets. And with a few small additions, you can create a mobile interaction space with tools that fit in your back pack. With sensors like the Kinect, bluetooth speakers and mini projectors, a story can live anywhere.

The mobile projection kit. Photo by Sam Stewart.

The mobile projection kit. Photo by Sam Stewart.

Like here – Luminous Intervention, an activist group in Baltimore had a major idea: to draw attention to the growing number of people without shelter. The simple solution? To project people under this road where drivers and passerby could see it.

Luminous Internventions

Luminous Internventions

Raising awareness, and making a public statement was not limited to an op-ed or a flyer. The statement – and the story – became part of the visual environment.

We can also foster community reactions to popular news stories. This image, also from Luminous Interventions, took the Occupy Movement and put it on the streets of Baltimore, in an accessible way to spark community dialogue and conversation. There was no need for people to go anywhere to engage – the conversation happened in their streets, on their block.

Luminous Intervention

Luminous Intervention

And most recently, in St. Louis, Missouri, activists have used their cell phones and projections to take the news to city hall – literally. Kajieme Powell was shot and killed by police officers, within the same month as Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Here , citizens ensured that this event was on the was not forgotten by looping the video.

My friend and co-fellow Mariam Seeman urged journalists to adopt a new framework for reporting – to go from storytelling to storyliving:

This action is how we live a story.

To move story living even further, journalist and artist Nonny De La Pena creates what she calls immersive journalism experiences. She hacked together virtual reality kit using an open source video game platform called Unity. From that base,she’s been able to explore a multitude of news stories – and picked up an Indiecade impact award this weekend for changing the expanding the scope of games. She’s explored issues like Hunger in Los Angeles and the experiences of prisoners in Guantanamo bay. One of her latest projects focuses on Syria – let’s experience a little of what de la Pena creates:

And with the advent of personal virtual reality technology, like Oculus Rift, these types of complex experiences will be soon be seen in the comfort of your own home.

One of the final elements of storyliving is social exchange. While most understand the need for social media as a way of promoting work, there is still so much potential in creating multifaceted stories with varying narratives in real time. The Question Bridge project, from Hank Willis Thomas and Chris Johnson does just that – by using devices like iPads and phones to allow viewers to see the project, ask a question, and record their own responses, becoming part of the conversation in a way that’s deeper than an interview filtered through a third party.

These were just a few of the many ideas influencing journalism right now. But it’s easy to see that the most interesting aspects of journalism’s evolution looks a lot like art – putting ideas, people, and the public first. Thank you.

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Live From IndieCade: Let’s Do Something About It http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/13/live-from-indiecade-lets-do-something-about-it/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/13/live-from-indiecade-lets-do-something-about-it/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33324 By Arturo R. García This past weekend saw our owner and publisher Latoya Peterson speak on a panel at IndieCade, a festival and conference celebrating independent game development. Moderator Shawn Alexander Allen (Treachery in Beatdown City) said that the discussion, “Let’s Do Something About It,” grew from a talk about race and gaming he gave […]

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By Arturo R. García

Top row, L-R: Moderator Shawn Alexander Allen, TJ Thomas, Racialicious owner Latoya Peterson. Bottom row, L-R: Catt Small, Ashley Alicea, Fatima Zenine Villanueva.

This past weekend saw our owner and publisher Latoya Peterson speak on a panel at IndieCade, a festival and conference celebrating independent game development.

Moderator Shawn Alexander Allen (Treachery in Beatdown City) said that the discussion, “Let’s Do Something About It,” grew from a talk about race and gaming he gave at last year’s event. Joining them on the panel:

A Storify of the panel is under the cut.

[Top image: Screenshot from Six Sides of the World by Cybernetik Design, via Indiecade Facebook page]

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Sarah Jones: “It’s like an intellectual stop and frisk!” http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/10/sarah-jones-its-like-an-intellectual-stop-and-frisk/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/10/sarah-jones-its-like-an-intellectual-stop-and-frisk/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 14:00:02 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33346 One of my favorite talks given this year at TED was by Sarah Jones. The self-described “polymorphic playwright” inhabits her characters, often inspired by people on the streets of New York. Check it out: Full transcript at the TED Site.

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One of my favorite talks given this year at TED was by Sarah Jones. The self-described “polymorphic playwright” inhabits her characters, often inspired by people on the streets of New York. Check it out:

Full transcript at the TED Site.

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The Racialicious New York Comic Con 2014 Preview http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/09/33338/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/09/33338/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 21:18:02 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33338 It’s NYCC weekend, and as in past years I’ll be attending on behalf of Racialicious. It’s been a long week leading up to the con, and it still feels like I’m recovering from SDCC, but we still need to highlight some Friends of the Blog doing great stuff at this year’s con. Below you’ll find a […]

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It’s NYCC weekend, and as in past years I’ll be attending on behalf of Racialicious. It’s been a long week leading up to the con, and it still feels like I’m recovering from SDCC, but we still need to highlight some Friends of the Blog doing great stuff at this year’s con. Below you’ll find a quick and dirty of the diverse panel offerings Friday through Sunday. There’s not much more offered this year than in the past, but Diana Pho is participating in two great discussions this year!

Tonight (Thursday) Diana moderates Geeks of Colour Go Pro where she and other professionals in the comics, gaming, and publishing industries will offer advice and tips for POCs who want to become successful in their desired fields. On Saturday at 3pm in room 1A21 she’ll moderate #YesAllGeeks: Let’s Talk About Harassment in Fandom. This massively important panel comes on the heels of several instances of harassment at conventions and very public attacks against women via social media outlets like Twitter. Joining Pho on the panel to discuss how we can make fandom and online spaces safer are Mikki Kendal (@Karnythia), Marlene Bonnelly (@ilikecomicstoo), Kaye M (Writer & Founder of #YesAllWomen), Emily Asher-Perrin, and Robert Anders. 

Diana also hosted last year’s wildly successful Geeks of Colour panel (which we covered here). I’ll be at her Friday panel and will otherwise be wandering around the Javits Center for the next 72 hours, so please don’t hesitate to say hello!

The rest of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are under the cut.

Friday

“Marry, Do or Kill?” What Will it Take to Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics?
Fri. October 10 11:15 AM – 12:00 PM | 1A05

Female characters have historically been limited to sexy good girls or sexy bad girls, with little between. Readers are ready for change. A panel of Writers, Artists and Editors weigh in on “strong female characters,” “fridged women,” the Bechdel test and troubleshooting storytelling stereotypes. With Marvel Editor Ellie Pyle, Dennis Calero (X-Men Noir), Erica Schultz (Revenge), Andy Schmidt (Comics Experience), Claire Connelly (Oculus) and Jenny Wood (Flutter). Moderated by Enrica Jang, Editor at Red Stylo Media.


Elementary Panel & Exclusive Screening
Fri. October 10| 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM | Main Stage 1-D Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson over 120 years ago, and the modern-day drama Elementary returns for its third season this fall. Holmes and Watson have entered a symbiotic partnership, with Joan now serving as Sherlock’s investigative partner. Sherlock faced a series of challenges that culminated in Watson moving out of the brownstone and Holmes accepting a job offer in London from MI6, the British intelligence agency. The detectives must figure out how to move forward separately after the demise of their professional partnership. An exclusive Screening of the season three premiere followed by a Panel discussion with Cast members Jonny Lee Miller (“Dexter”), Lucy Liu (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Ophelia Lovibond (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) with Executive Producer Robert Doherty.


Women of Color in Comics: Race, Gender and the Comic Book Medium
Fri. October 10| 1:15 PM – 2:00 PM | 1A24 Diversity. Women in Comics. Both subjects are hot button topics in the comic book industry. However, it isn’t often that both issues collide. This Panel includes Creators and Artists that are not only women, but women of color working in Multimedia industries. Host Regine L. Sawyer, (Owner of Lockett Down Productions), will lead a discussion touching on issues like gender/ethnic representation in comics, the ‘CON-sent’ movement and how they are currently influencing the industry as a whole.


Prism Comics Presents: Women in Queer Comics
Fri. October 10| 2:15 PM – 3:00 PM | 1A14 Be it in print or on the web, lesbian, transgender and bisexual women are using comics to tell their stories more and more. Join Moderator Tara Madison Avery (Dirtheads, Gooch) and Panelists Joan Hilty (Bitter Girl), Jennifer Camper (Women’s Review of Books, Bitch Magazine), Kristin Enos (Web of Lives, Deseo), Ariel Schrag (Likewise, Adam) and Elizabeth Fernandez (The Code Crimson) for a discussion of queer women’s improved profile in the industry and their approach to storytelling.


Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining
Fri. October 10| 7:15 PM – 8:00 PM | 1A14 Hip-Hop and comics reflect each other in many ways: Graffiti and album covers incorporate superheroic imagery, Rappers adopt secret identities and grandiose aliases, Writers base characters in urban settings and Artists draw on Hip-Hop’s rich visual vocabulary. Both forms have risen from modest beginnings to achieve global recognition. Here, Patrick A. Reed (Depth Of Field Magazine) brings together visual visionaries and musical innovators to discuss the ties between these creative cultures.


 

Saturday

The Mary Sue Presents – Strong Female Characters: The Women Shining in Geek Media
Sat. October 11| 1:15 PM – 2:00 PM | 1A01 We often ask to see “strong female characters” in our geek media and are critical when Creators fall short but this Panel will focus on the positive representations of women, both as they exist now and as they’ve evolved over time and those creating them. We’ll also be discussing the impact positive representations had on the lives of the Panelists and their hopes for characters we’ll see in the future.


#YesAllGeeks: Let’s Talk About Harassment in Fandom
Sat. October 11| 3:00 PM – 3:45 PM | 1A21

After years of silence, people have become more vocal in speaking against harassment in fandom. How can our community unite to make our spaces – online and offline – safer? With Mikki Kendall (Writer and Activist, @karnythia), Marlene Bonnelly (Blogger, @ilikecomicstoo), Kaye M (Writer & Founder of #YesAllWomen), Emily Asher-Perrin (Blogger, Tor.com), Robert Anders (Nurse Practitioner). Moderated by Diana Pho (Editor, Tor Books).


New York TimesOUT Presents Geeks, Gaymers and Crossplay
Sat. October 11| 5:15 PM – 6:00 PM | 1A24 The LGBT community has found a safe haven in the con culture. Equality and self-expression are encouraged in the space and Fans are able to take their online relationships into the real world through these gatherings. Let’s discuss the appeal of cons to the LGBT community and how the internet is playing a major role in mainstreaming both of these cultural subsets.


 

Sunday

Secret Identities – Transgender Themes in Comic Books
Sun. October 12| 12:15 PM – 1:00 PM | 1A01 From The Avengers to Batgirl, gender change has become more and more common in comic books, but comics have addressed transgender themes since the Golden Age. Indie and mainstream comics have been written and illustrated by transgender talent too. Join a Panel of Writers and Artists who will discuss the impact of transgender characters, and how Transgender Comic Book Creators have influenced the industry over the years.


Women of MARVEL Panel
Sun. October 12| 1:15 PM – 2:00 PM | 1A06 From Ms. Marvel to Black Widow, from Twitter to tumblr, women in comics has been one of the most talked-about topics in the industry recently. Join the conversation as women from every discipline in the creative process at Marvel discuss what it’s like working as a woman in comics today and what it means for the future of the industry! Plus, plenty of special announcements! Panelists will include Talent Scout Jeanine Schaefer, Editors Sana Amanat, Katie Kubert, Ellie Pyle and Emily Shaw, Associate Producer Judy Stephens, Writers Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel), Erica Henderson, Margi Stohl and G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel) and Artists Marguerite Bennett (Angela: Asgard’s Assassin), Sara Pichelli (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Stephanie Hans (Angela: Asgard’s Assassin)!


The Mary Sue Presents – All on the Table
Sun. October 12| 3:00 PM – 3:45 PM | 1A21 The Mary Sue has gathered Panelists for a discussion on representation in games and how it’s personally affected us in our lives, both in work and recreation. Panelists will discuss their favorite characters of color, LGBTQ characters, disabled characters, and female characters in the games industry, dovetailing into a discussion of how to bring that diversity into the most egalitarian games of all: tabletop (and live action!) roleplay.

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Debut: The How To Get Away With Murder Roundtable; Pilot http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/02/debut-the-how-to-get-away-with-murderroundtable-pilot/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/10/02/debut-the-how-to-get-away-with-murderroundtable-pilot/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 14:00:56 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33334 Sometimes Art, Latoya, and I have to admit defeat when it comes to singlehandedly watching every show on network television and basic cable. When that happens and some shows fall through the cracks we’re extremely thankful to be able to depend on a wide pool of fabulous readers to jump in and take the bullet […]

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Sometimes Art, Latoya, and I have to admit defeat when it comes to singlehandedly watching every show on network television and basic cable. When that happens and some shows fall through the cracks we’re extremely thankful to be able to depend on a wide pool of fabulous readers to jump in and take the bullet for us. That said, we’re pleased to welcome Diana, Jacqueline, Lizzy, Nassim, and Corrine and the debut of the Racialicious How To Get Away With Murder roundtable.

The three of us might jump in from time to time, but for now, take it away ladies!

Diana S.: As a lawyer and former law student, I thought it was very unbelievable technically.  No first year law students would be working on a real criminal case within a day, a week, or within months of starting law school.  With that said, I thought Viola was badass, not angry, and I loved it.  I was pulled in by the murder mystery too-why have these students killed Professor Keating’s husband?  Should be interesting.  And how is the murdered co-ed going to play out?  There are plenty of questions to keep it going for the next several episodes.

Jacqueline: I have to agree with Diana about the whole “here’s a job” thing, but after “Legally Blonde” lay people think that it’s normal procedure. Will I watch it again? Absolutely! I mean, I enjoyed the introduction to the students and I want to know more about each of them. And, while I enjoyed Viola Davis’ performance (especially the scene where she was crying/feeling up Wes), I don’t feel that the show revolves around her without necessarily being about her. For a while I thought the person that was murdered was going to be the 5th student she chose, Asher, because he was the only one not involved.

Diana S.: I liked Wes, but I was mad he wasn’t prepared for class the first day. He can keep a secret though and that’s good. He seemed to get a lot of screen time and I liked that.

Lizzy W. : I think we have to give Wes a break, he was admitted off the waitlist. As for the reality of the law school scenes, I didn’t think they were crazy outlandish (I also am a lawyer). I like how the students were simultaneously clueless, competitive and scared, as so many are on their first day. I was pleasantly surprised with the scene where Davis was crying, I thought as soon as Wes left the room the scene would show that she was just manipulating Wes to ensure his silence. I liked that it the character actually has some real vulnerabilities (or so it seemed). I liked the show, I thought there was some good mysteries presented up front. I hope the show will continue to take place both in the classroom and at the firm. I think that is unique among legal shows.

Jacqueline: That’s true, we don’t really see shows that take place in the classroom anymore.

Diana S.: They did get the classroom dynamic right. Did anyone else get the sense that Wes was more of a lead than the others? I wonder if that will continue or if they will alternate the perspectives of the students.

Nassim: Nassim: I agree! Wes seems like more of a lead. I love his character – and making him more accessible/likeable as an underdog works for me. Can I also say how much I love Aja Naomi King in this show?

Lizzy: I agree that Wes works as the underdog and I think he will be one of the leads given that we have been to his apartment. But, I really hope that we see a lot more character development of the other students as well even if they don’t alternate perspectives. They did such a great job making the group of students diverse given that law has always been such a white, straight, male profession. Rhimes has been good at that in the past with Grey’s, where in the early seasons the most promising member of the intern group were minority and/or female (Christina, Meredith) and the white males seemed to have it the least together (Alex, George).

Corinne: Let me say upfront that I am not a lawyer. As for Wes, I personally thought that he felt out of his league for much of the pilot. However, that didn’t stop him from pushing himself and being a go-getter…even if biking to your professor’s house in the dead of night and going in because the door’s unlocked so you can share your breakthrough on the case crosses some lines you know you shouldn’t, even if you are a go-getter. Also, it wasn’t clear to me who Keating called to tell them that they left the door open. Was that person also in on the rendezvous that night?

Jacqueline: It seemed like it was just a mistake that the door wasn’t locked. If I’m remembering correctly Prof. Keating doesn’t live there, it’s her office (that used to be a house). But speaking of the detective: his face on the witness stand was amazing! He’s supposed to be her little boyfriend on the side but you have to wonder if it was always going to come down to her getting Detective Leahy squirm up there.

Diana S.:  I guess the Detective is now wishing he had found another topic for his pillow talk with Professor Keating.  Loose lips ….

Nassim: Keating is super sharp, edgy, strong, and incredibly admirable in most of the episode. I was just as obsessed with her as Pratt. I definitely fell into the ‘look at her, what a role model!’ thing. Shonda Rhimes herself says she doesn’t like her characters to fit into boxes, so I guess I can see why she needed to be representative of a whole person – good, bad and everything in between. I feel like its important to mention the whole ‘Angry Black Woman’ comment in Alessandra Stanley’s article. Strong, intelligent, powerful black women depicted in positions of authority are all angry black women? And I don’t even want to get into the whole calling Viola ‘less classically beautiful’ thing…she is GORGEOUS and addressed the “compliment” herself, so I won’t rant.

Lizzy: Ah the NYT. Is there really no one on the NYT editing team that could see the problems in that article? Talk about proving the case for the need for diversity in the media.

 

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Nassim: Love the drama of this show! Can’t wait to see where it goes.

Corinne: Yeah, Nassim. Remember the scene when Keating stares down Wes in the classroom because he hadn’t been prepared? I remember thinking that a lot of viewers, especially if they’re white, are probably going to have an easier time sympathizing with and imaging themselves in the shoes of Keating’s students as opposed to sympathizing with Keating herself. She’s obviously a total powerhouse: a creative, intelligent and strong woman who is not to be crossed. She not only has high expectations for herself, but for those around her. She holds everyone to a certain standard and does not hide what she expects of people. That coupled with the fact that she does get angry and doesn’t hold back because people might stereotype her or feel uncomfortable is fantastic. She is a black woman who sometimes gets angry, has a right to get angry, and knows that she has a right to get angry. And her actual depiction (not just what we saw in the trailer) came after all that nonsense in Stanley’s article about Keating and some of Rhimes’ other characters being “angry black women” stereotypes. This is all to say that I think the fact that Keating expresses anger and is not rendered into one of the old black women stereotypes that can be written off will make some viewers genuinely uncomfortable because then they have to reckon with her and her anger, acknowledge her humanity. And sadly, I believe a lot of people are subconsciously just not familiar with doing that for black women. So if she makes people uncomfortable, good! Because there are undoubtedly millions of viewers cheering her on.

Lizzy: I love Keating’s powerhouse profile: she is a Black female criminal law professor (which is incredibly rare on its own) AND she has her own firm! From that alone you know she worked hard to get where she is and she deserves all of the power she yields. I like that they had her be a tough professor. I think that they did a great job balancing her desire to intimidate students while also showing that she really cares that the students are learning. I loved the scene where she told Castillo to never take a learning opportunity from another student.

Corinne: I feel the same way. When Castillo stood up and gave the answer, I actually rolled my eyes, because I expected Keating to praise her for giving the right answer and use her as an example for what Wes should inspire to be like. So Keating really flipped the script on that scenario.

What do people feel like was going on between Keating and her husband? Does their relationship seem loving and legitimate? Do you think there was any chance that the husband was having an affair as well?

Lizzy: I thought they hinted that maybe the husband was having an affair with the female student that was missing. In any case, I think the husband is likely having an affair and that affair may very well be with a student. There is definitely some bond other than love with Keating and her husband, but I don’t know what it is yet. It doesn’t seem like the typical “passion went out of the marriage” problems leading her to an affair. She claimed it was because of the stress of trying to have a baby, but I’m not really sure I believe that either. Maybe the marriage was part of some professional arrangement?

Corinne: Yeah, my suspicion is that it was something professional. I guess we’ll have to wait and see! As for her boyfriend, I wonder how much legitimate love and care factor into their relationship.

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Funny Business: The Racialicious Review of Cantinflas http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/29/funny-business-the-racialicious-review-of-cantinflas/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/29/funny-business-the-racialicious-review-of-cantinflas/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 14:00:49 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33273 By Arturo R. García It was perhaps inevitable that Sebastian del Amo’s Cantinflas would fit Charlie Chaplin into the proceedings. Much like Richard Attenborough before him, del Amo finds himself needing to make room for not just a performer, but a singular persona. And there are moments when it feels like a more introspective film […]

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By Arturo R. García

It was perhaps inevitable that Sebastian del Amo’s Cantinflas would fit Charlie Chaplin into the proceedings. Much like Richard Attenborough before him, del Amo finds himself needing to make room for not just a performer, but a singular persona.

And there are moments when it feels like a more introspective film wants to burst through amid the usual hagiography. But a few choices do make this take on Mario Moreno and his life’s work more interesting than the trailer would have you believe.

SPOILERS under the cut

The film’s biggest asset, thankfully, is Óscar Jaenada in the title role. It might seem scandalous for Jaenada, a Spaniard, to inhabit the role of Mexico’s signature comedic character. But as both Morenos and Cantinflas, he buoys the film adroitly enough to placate concerns.

Crucially, Jaenada manages to recreate the signature rhythm of Cantinflas’ verbal riffing, though the film chalks his discovering his voice up to an encounter, perhaps apocryphal, with a heckler during one of his first monologues. Once his act was fully developed, Moreno made it plausible that his lovable underdog persona was able to dominate rooms full of people, like this one in El Super Sabio:

The film leaps ahead in time in large part because its centerpiece — Moreno’s appearance in Around The World in 80 Days — takes place after Moreno has established himself as a labor activist and entrepreneur on top of his success as an actor.

Moreno’s inclusion is framed as the linchpin to Around The World being made, since he confirms his involvement alongside a literally from-out-of-nowhere Frank Sinatra, and their participation, it seems, entices Elizabeth Taylor (Barbara Mori — how’s that for a racebend?) to sign on.

But the decision is also positioned as his first step toward redemption after cheating on his wife Valentina (Ilsa Saenz) and allowing the Cantinflas brand to go from representing Mexico’s lower socioeconomic classes to making money off of them, as shown rather pointedly in a scene where celebrities attend the lush unveiling of a mural honoring the character, while the poor people he’s supposed to represent strain for a peek from outside the hall.

Óscar Jaenada as Mario Moreno as Cantinflas in “Cantinflas.”

It makes for a feel-good ending and a statement of balance between Moreno’s life and his work: we see him win the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical (this really happened) and announce that he’s both leaving Hollywood and adopting a child with Valentina. One of these statements is true: the couple did adopt a child, one he conceived with another woman. But they did remain together until she died in 1966.

In real life, however, Moreno didn’t immediately stop attempting to crack the U.S. market. Despite being warned not to do his schtick in English, Moreno attempted to do just that in 1957 with his second American feature, Pepe:

Unfortunately, not even appearances by Sinatra and Judy Garland, on top of a second Golden Globe nomination, could make Pepe a hit. Three years later, he appeared as the mystery guest on What’s My Line?:

The film has already been selected as the Mexican entry into next year’s Academy Awards, but as things stand, two factors hurt its chances: besides the historical omissions, del Amo and co-writer Edui Tijerina come up short in showing us Moreno in action as the fully-developed Cantinflas. We get snippets of directors learning to adjust (or else) to his verbal performances, but unfortunately, the only glimpse of him as a physical presence comes during the end credits, when Jaenada does his version of the eponymous sequence from El Bolero De Raquel. As he does throughout the movie, Jaenada does justice to the original, seen here:

We also don’t get any inkling of why U.S. stars like Sinatra and Taylor would hitch their wagon on Moreno’s talents, or why Chaplin would vouch for him to Around The World producer Michael Todd (Michael Imperioli, bravely battling both studio politics and an unflattering wig).

Showing Moreno gain credibility with “bigger” American performers would have fit in nicely with the narrative of the brand overtaking the man. And perhaps more importantly for Academy voters, the extra time could have helped del Amo present this story as the kind of epic a performer of Moreno’s stature deserves. After all, if Attenborough’s biography of Chaplin biography could command 143 minutes, why limit Cantinflas to 102?

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Funeral For A Gladiator: The Racialicious Review of Scandal 4.1 http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/26/funeral-for-a-gladiator-the-racialicious-review-of-scandal-4-1/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/26/funeral-for-a-gladiator-the-racialicious-review-of-scandal-4-1/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 12:00:41 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33319 By Arturo R. García Aside from addressing many of the questions posed in last year’s finale, Scandal‘s season premiere focused on two more: Who is Olivia Pope without her Associates? And does she even want to be Olivia Pope anymore? SPOILERS under the cut Given the circumstances, the elegiac tone permeating “Randy, Red, Superfreak and […]

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By Arturo R. García

Aside from addressing many of the questions posed in last year’s finale, Scandal‘s season premiere focused on two more: Who is Olivia Pope without her Associates? And does she even want to be Olivia Pope anymore?

SPOILERS under the cut

Given the circumstances, the elegiac tone permeating “Randy, Red, Superfreak and Julia” was appropriate, and possibly cathartic for the cast on some level. There was a “case of the week,” sort of — more on that in a second — but the centerpiece of the episode was the erstwhile Gladiators forcing themselves to reunite for Harrison’s funeral. Given Columbus Short’s real-life actions, this was not unexpected:

Jake (Scott Foley) knows what’s coming once Olivia (Kerry Washington) returns to D.C.

OK, so it wasn’t the first scene, but certainly the most important. The news that Harrison was indeed killed at the hands of B613 is enough to shake Olivia out of a life of island bliss as “Julia Baker” with poor genre-savvy Jake, who knows what will happen as soon as she gets a whiff of life in Washington again.

While Olivia is reacquainting herself with her old identity, most of the rest of her team has been trying to develop new ones: while Quinn seems to enjoy her post-Charlie life, Huck has resigned himself to life as “Randy the Smart Guy,” and Abby has found her attempt to be the Grant administration’s new Olivia (uh, in a professional capacity) blunted; not only is Abby not the new Olivia, she’s not even “Abby.”

The redefined balance between Abby and Olivia will no doubt be a focus of the upcoming year. As will the return of the Olitz teases, and the eventual return of Maya, and Charlie, and the question of what David will do with the scaaaary B613 files. But here’s the biggest question for the show after a slow-burn start: are viewers still interested in following this journey, or will How To Get Away With Murder steal Scandal‘s thunder?

Abby (Darby Stanchfield) isn’t Olivia’s No. 2 anymore.

Scandalous Notions

  • A Republican arguing for equal pay? And this show’s not on Syfy?
  • So what does Jake do for a job now? It’s not like Rowan is going to hire him back … or is he?
  • Ominous Words, Part I: “Get some power and use it.” You sure you want to say that to an ex-partner who now has the goods on the whole government?
  • Ominous Words, Part II: “When you see her, you will tell me.” Who knows how many thinkpieces are about to be devoted to Mellie’s mental condition, but the old Whedonista in me heard this and thought: From beneath you, it devours. The implications look rather similar at this point.
  • Always good to see Portia de Rossi. Here’s to hoping “Lizzy Bear” and Olivia cross swords sooner rather than later.
  • As things stand, Olivia doesn’t get a very varied skillset with just Huck and Quinn back on the team. So let’s have some fun: which actors would you like to see emerge as Harrison and Abby 2.0?

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#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Historical Fiction and Making Reading Fun http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/25/weneeddiversebooks-historical-fiction-and-making-reading-fun/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/25/weneeddiversebooks-historical-fiction-and-making-reading-fun/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:59:45 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33298 By Kendra James Like most of my friends in elementary school, I was obsessed with The American Girl dolls and books The dolls lacked comprehensive diversity back then, in that they had one single doll of colour until 1997. I owned Felicity Merriman, a white girl who lived in colonial Williamsburg, but received Addy Walker, […]

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Gotta catch ‘em all– the history nerd’s pokemon

By Kendra James

Like most of my friends in elementary school, I was obsessed with The American Girl dolls and books The dolls lacked comprehensive diversity back then, in that they had one single doll of colour until 1997. I owned Felicity Merriman, a white girl who lived in colonial Williamsburg, but received Addy Walker, a former slave who escapes from the South into Philadelphia, soon after she debuted in 1993. As per my mother’s rule, I read all six of Addy’s books before being gifted the doll. But unlike Felicity’s, I didn’t often revisit them for pleasure. In my constant search for American historical fiction with protagonists of colour written for young readers, I often come across the same problem I did when I was younger: it’s all really depressing.

Addy Walker’s story begins in Meet Addy while she’s still enslaved, and I have vivid memories of one paragraph where her overseer forces her to eat tobacco leaf worms. If you had asked me, when I was younger, to state a fact about Harriet Tubman I would have told you about the time her mistress threw a porcelain sugar bowl at her head. Meanwhile, Felicity’s biggest worry in life in Meet Felicity was saving a horse. My favourite young adult historical fiction author, Ann Rinaldi, wrote stories that spanned across races, but her romantic stories about southern belles and women of the revolutionary war were always more fun to read than her sanitised retellings of the Jeffersons and the Hemmings or Sioux boarding schools.

In pre-Mattel age when the American Girl Doll franchise was still owned and partially run by Pleasant Rowland and her Pleasant Company, I devoured their 90 page novels about young girls scattered throughout various points of American history. Back then they were a genuinely decent source of early education and introduction into various facets of American history for an 8 year old girl. I credit the dolls and their books for the love of middle and young adult historical-fiction I took into my adult life, but that doesn’t mean they were all fun.

Maybe I fixated on strange things when I was younger, but it was always the worst elements of these books, American Girls and others, that stuck with me, and I get the feeling that’s not the experience for the little girls with a wider variety of characters who look like them to choose from.

White characters not only get a wider variety of books to choose from, but books in a wider variety of settings. Characters of colour in American hist-fic tend to exist strictly within certain boundaries of time or not at all. African-Americans exist within the boundaries of slavery, the Jim Crow South, or the Civil Rights movement. Native Americans exist in the mythical west until about 1870 or so, Asian-Americans exist during World War 2, only in the west (and only from Eastern countries), and I had to reach out to our followers to fill in the gaps my childhood reading material left when it came to Latin@s.

These stories need to be told, of course. Diverse literature for young readers is extremely important. The world needs YA literature about Japanese Internment during the Second World War, but they shouldn’t be the only books Japanese-American children get to see themselves reflected in. This isn’t to encourage the erasure or minimalisation of the realities that people of colour have historically faced, but rather a desire for authors and publishers to realise that all of us existed in America outside the times of our most publicised oppressions. And that, even during the most difficult times, we still had lives that didn’t necessarily completely revolve around the overhead political themes of the day.

With that in mind, and because I’m 26 year old woman who still reads almost exclusively YA and middle grade fiction, I’ve compiled a list (that is by no means complete) of historical fiction with POC characters that might allow young and middle adult readers to have a little more fun with their reading escapism.

American Fairy Trilogy, by Sara Zettel: Having received an advanced copy of Dust Girl, the first book in this series, from Random House, I set it into my ‘Donate’ pile because neither the jacket flap or cover read as interesting to me. Callie, the book’s main protagonist, is a mixed race girl living with her mother in the middle of the Kansas dust bowl during The Great Depression. Not only is she mixed race (a white passing mixed race Black girl whose hair is a dead giveaway), she’s also half-faerie. Now, only one of those things was obvious from the cover or the description of the first book, and I’ll let you guess which one that was. It wasn’t until the publisher sent the third book in the series that I peered at the cover and wondered to myself, “is this series about a Black girl?”

After a quick Google to confirm my suspicions I started the series and couldn’t put it down. Callie’s story goes from the Kansas dust bowl to the golden age of Hollywood, and out into jazz age Chicago as she searches for her father who’s been kidnapped by the Unseelie Fae. Actor Paul Robeson is a significant minor character, topics like minstrelsy, interracial relationships, and passing are discussed, the fantasy world is well constructed, and the fifteen year old characters act like fifteen year old characters.

Lesson learned: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: I haven’t gotten to Aristotle and Dante myself and would normally be hard pressed to consider a book set in 1987 to be historical fiction (I am not that old, thank you). But rave reviews from friends and suggestions from our readers prompted me to include it here. It’s described as a gay coming of age novel, one that doesn’t seem to have a dedicated plot, but instead tracks an evolving friendship between two boys in Texas.

From the official summary: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.”

The Diviners, by Libba Bray: Plucky girl psychic Evie O’Neill is the main character in Bray’s book, but much like in her last YA historical fantasy series, A Great And Terrible Beauty, she rounds of her cast of paranormally gifted main characters with an MOC, Memphis, a healer, and his younger brother Isaiah, a prophet. Both live in Harlem in the height of the renaissance. The Diviner’s greatest flaw is an annoying protagonist whose attitude and overuse of 1920s slang I never could quite accept. The rest of it — a richly painted New York City that ranges the backstages of Broadway theatres to the abandoned mansions of Harlem, a plot filled with magic and murder, and a fun cast of supporting characters– makes that one flaw an easy enough one to overlook.

More than just long, this is a densely written book, with a lot of vivid detail for those of us really looking for the ‘historical’ in historical fiction. Some much younger readers may be turned off by how long it takes to get through a chapter, but for the rest I encourage you read it before the sequel comes out in 2015.

…And Now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold: I include this book with a caveat– it was written in 1953, based off a movie of the same name. While I remember enjoying it when I was younger, I don’t remember clearly whether or not it is written in a style that may reflect attitudes and language of of the 1950s.

That said, this is definitely a book for younger readers. Mexican-American Miguel lives in New Mexico with his shepherding family and wants to go with the men in his family on their annual herding trip up the mountain. He prays to his town’s patron saint to allow him to go, and his wish comes true, but at a cost. His older brother is drafted into service for World War Two, and so Miguel has to go on the herding trip in his place. It’s an easy ready with an easy, obvious moral for younger readers: Be careful what you wish for.

If I Ever Get Out Of Here, by Eric Gansworth: These days I don’t read many books with male protagonists (I know, I know– a misandrist to the end), but Gansworth’s book tells the story of two teenage boys (one Native American and one white) bonding over rock n’ roll in upstate New York in 1975. Given my love of 1970s rock I am, at the very least, intrigued enough to include it here. The summary reads:

Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?”

A Spy in the House, by Y.S. Lee: I’d hand this book to the teenager that’s already devoured the BBC’s Sherlock and/or loves Elementary. Taking place in Victorian London, Lee’s book is a slight departure from the rest of the list. Mary Quinn is an Asian-Irish orphan saved from the gallows by a school that specialises in training women spies. Her first mission has her going undercover as a lady’s maid in a London to discover the whereabouts of stolen goods from India. Her work leads not only to her first successful mission, but the unlocking of her past.

Keisha Discovers Harlem (The Magic Attic Club), by Zoe Lewis: The Magic Attic Club books were similar to the American Girl Doll franchise, but existed at a slightly lower price point. The books revolved around a group of girls who discovered a steamer trunk of clothing and a magic, time traveling mirror in a friends’ house. This was not the world’s best series (there’s a reason the company folded in 2007 while American Girl lives on), but Keisha got to do a lot, and they tended to have a lighter tone than the AGD books, while still being equally as informative.

Flygirl, by Sherri Smith: This one is downloading onto my kindle as we speak. Elementary School Me was obsessed with World War Two and plowed through books like When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Summer of My German Soldier, Number The Stars, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, and several others. Like school curriculum, much of YA discourse focuses on the Holocaust and the European Theater. Literature about the American side of the war is heavily focused on white protagonists, with Under The Blood Red Sun and The Bracelet(a picture book) being the two Asian-American focused stories that stick out from childhood.

Flygirl is about a mixed race girl named Ida who lives in Louisiana during the war. Her father was a pilot and all she wants to do is sign up for the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She could do so by passing as white, but has to consider what that means for her family, life, and identity. This is potentially heavy material, but I’m recommending it solely because this is exactly the kind of book I would have been looking for back in the fourth or fifth grade.

Mare’s War, by Tanita Davis: The same goes for Mare’s War, another book I haven’t read, but will since it’s about Black women serving in the Women’s Army Corps (something I still imagine myself doing). The summary reads as follows:

Meet Mare, a grandmother with flair and a fascinating past.

Octavia and Tali are dreading the road trip their parents are forcing them to take with their grandmother over the summer. After all, Mare isn’t your typical grandmother. She drives a red sports car, wears stiletto shoes, flippy wigs, and push-up bras, and insists that she’s too young to be called Grandma. But somewhere on the road, Octavia and Tali discover there’s more to Mare than what you see. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less-than-perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

Told in alternating chapters, half of which follow Mare through her experiences as a WAC member and half of which follow Mare and her granddaughters on the road in the present day, this novel introduces a larger-than-life character who will stay with readers long after they finish reading.”

Bud Not Buddy & The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis: Two books mired within the Great Depression with two equally spunky child characters searching for their fathers. I haven’t read Bud since middle school, but I’ve yet to ever go wrong recommending Curtis, a Coretta Scott King and Newbery Award winning author.

 

 

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman: Another caveat: I haven’t read this one yet, and it’s only caught my eye because it deals with Chinese organised crime in the 1920s. Your 9th grader probably shouldn’t be watching Boardwalk Empire, but in case they do and they’d like a different take on organised crime during the same era, here we go. The summary:

Seventeen-year-old Jade Moon was born in 1906, the year of the Fire Horse, an ominous sign for Chinese girls. It signals willfulness, stubbornness, and impetuousness, all characteristics that embarrass her father and grandfather and cause derision and cruelty by her too-small village. So when Sterling Promise, a long-lost adopted cousin, appears and proposes she immigrate to America using false “paper son” papers, Jade Moon and her father agree to the plan. Jade Moon views this offer as escape and freedom; her father as the only opportunity to marry off his undesirable daughter. The interminable boat ride—and even more onerous imprisonment off California’s Angel Island—finally transitions to her treacherous entry into America. Jade Moon’s disguise as a young man and her homelessness pave the way for her involvement with the tong, a Chinese organized crime syndicate, and breathtaking danger at every turn.”


 

As I noted, this is by no means a complete list. Think of it as a jumping off point, rather than a comprehensive study guide. Here’s hoping it’s somewhat helpful to those of you looking to supply young readers (or yourselves) with some happier reading memories.

 

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Must Read: Guernica’s take on Class http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/24/must-read-guernicas-take-on-class/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/24/must-read-guernicas-take-on-class/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33286 Guernica, the magazine of arts and culture, dedicated their latest special issue to the class divide. But, as most of us reading this blog know, race and class are not so easily separated. And in spite people online and in activist circles arguing that the social issue of our time is no longer race, only […]

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From Guernica

From Guernica

Guernica, the magazine of arts and culture, dedicated their latest special issue to the class divide. But, as most of us reading this blog know, race and class are not so easily separated. And in spite people online and in activist circles arguing that the social issue of our time is no longer race, only looking at one issue in a vacuum means that our proposed solutions to societal ills will always feel incomplete.

Two essays in the issue beautifully and painfully explain the paradigm Patricia Hill Collins outlined in Black Feminist Thought. Race, class, and gender are interlocking systems of oppression:

Viewing relations of domination for Black women for any given sociohistorical context as being structured via a system of interlocking race, class, and gender oppression expands the focus of analysis from merely describing the similarities and differences distinguishing these systems of oppression and focuses greater attention on how they interconnect. Assuming that each system needs the others in order to function creates a distinct theoretical stance that stimulates the rethinking of basic social science concepts.

The first piece is Margo Jefferson’s “Scenes from a Life in Negroland.” A sample:

We thought of ourselves as the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians. Like the Third Eye, the Third Race possessed a wisdom, intuition, and enlightened knowledge the other two races lacked. Its members had education, ambition, sophistication, and standardized verbal dexterity.

—If, as was said, too many of us ached, longed, strove to be be be be White White White White WHITE;

—If (as was said) many us boasted overmuch of the blood des blancs which for centuries had found blatant or surreptitious ways to flow, course, and trickle tepidly through our veins;

—If we placed too high a value on the looks, manners, and morals of the Anglo-Saxon…

…White people did too. They wanted to believe they were the best any civilization could produce. They wanted to be white just as much as we did. They worked just as hard at it. They failed just as often. But they could pass so no one objected.

“Negroland” is a complex, complicated piece. As I read I was turned off, infuriated, dismayed, delighted, aghast, and provoked enough to blast it out to my network and solicit more opinions. I suggest reading, sitting with it for a while, and sorting out your feelings a bit later.

Familiar in a different way is “Ghosts in the Land of Plenty.” Luis Alberto Urrea opens:

Why don’t we stop lying? Why don’t we deal with reality? Race is easy—class is hard. That politically incorrect, Mexican-excoriating bastard Edward Abbey told the truth: “The conservatives love their cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause. (Neither group, you will notice, ever invites the immigrants to move into their homes. Not into their homes!)” Immigration is so last century. But “illegal” immigration is still paranoiacally embraced in this country as a race issue. The “browning” of pristine white America. (Sorry, Crazy Horse.) Among my sisters and brothers bussing your lunch table, however, you will never see an Octavio Paz or the Mexican consul general of Dallas. You will see people of the lower class, running for their lives. Immigration was and is a class issue. Invisible people escape doom to serve us as extra-invisible people, made more invisible by language, skin color, and class. You can’t multiply a zero, but somehow they manage to become doubly nothing in the Land of Plenty.

I am an invisible man who refused to disappear.

Pointing a righteous pistol at the various liberal industries cropping up around aiding the poor, the brown, and the marginalized, Urrea dances through his narrative, occasionally turning his rhetorical barrel on himself. Read it, for nothing else but this:

See how we’re helping? We hugged an African-American on camera! They put these pictures up on social media so other well-meaning folks will send them more money. A year later, those kids wake up one day and ask, “What happened to those rich folks with the big program?” I know because I have been asked this question.

How can you hope to help someone whose humanity you don’t fully recognize?

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Who is Lucy Flores? http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/23/who-is-lucy-flores/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/23/who-is-lucy-flores/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 14:00:13 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33282 Camino Cesar Chavez is now official! #Vegas pic.twitter.com/5AC3HESal3 — Juan Ortega (@JuanoBano) September 20, 2014 Midterms are coming. Also known as the election years that most people don’t pay attention to, the midterm elections have an enormous impact on the lives of day to day people. Voter turnout tends to drop, but major political machinations […]

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Camino Cesar Chavez is now official! #Vegas pic.twitter.com/5AC3HESal3

— Juan Ortega (@JuanoBano) September 20, 2014

Midterms are coming.

Also known as the election years that most people don’t pay attention to, the midterm elections have an enormous impact on the lives of day to day people. Voter turnout tends to drop, but major political machinations happen while the sitting President is still in office.

This month, long time friend of the blog Rebecca Traister wrote a stunning profile of candidate Lucy Flores for Elle Magazine. Flores, the Democratic hopeful for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada decimates other political origin stories – she’s Mexican-American, one of 13 siblings, the child of immigrants, and former gang member. She turned her life around, started at community college, became a lawyer, and decided to run for office. She’s unapologetically pro-choice (and one of the rare candidates that will share her own story.) Domestic violence shaped her world – and her life experiences lead to a very pro-populist platform.

But what really gives Flores’ story bite is her unique position in politics – not only who she is, but what she represents for the Democratic party:

When a governor steps down in the state [of Nevada], the lieutenant governor, who’s not necessarily of the same party, assumes the post. Nevada’s current governor is the immensely popular Republican Brian Sandoval, whom Politico Magazine dubbed “The Man Who Keeps Harry Reid Up at Night.” That’s because many believe he’ll challenge the majority leader for his Senate seat in 2016, if, that is, the person who’d take his place is a fellow Republican: Flores’ opponent Mark Hutchison. Which makes Flores, to use Politico-speak, “The Woman Who Could Save Harry Reid’s Hide—and Keep the Senate in Democratic Hands.”

Go read it. Read it all.

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Recap: We’re Gonna Have to Live Through At Least Two Seasons of This; Gotham, Pilot http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/23/recap-gotham-pilot/ http://www.racialicious.com/2014/09/23/recap-gotham-pilot/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:00:25 +0000 http://www.racialicious.com/?p=33304 By Kendra James Gotham 1×01 was not a good hour of television. I am 99.9% sure that, looking through completely objective and non-nostalgia tinted lenses (she says, unconvincingly), that the Birds of Prey pilot from 2002 was better than the pilot FOX served up last night. Unlike my beloved BoP, the Jim-Gordon-cum-Gotham-City origin story is […]

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An entirely accurate summation.

An entirely accurate summation.

By Kendra James

Gotham 1×01 was not a good hour of television.

I am 99.9% sure that, looking through completely objective and non-nostalgia tinted lenses (she says, unconvincingly), that the Birds of Prey pilot from 2002 was better than the pilot FOX served up last night. Unlike my beloved BoP, the Jim-Gordon-cum-Gotham-City origin story is about two white men and thus Gotham will most likely get more than 13 episodes to try and be great.

“Try” being the key word.

Normally I would attempt to find some beacon of hope mired deep in the muck of a pilot, but Gotham is a show that sounds like its using a comic book script for its dialogue –and no, it’s not a Greg Rucka script– and looks like at least 30 minutes of it was shot through a sepia tinted instagram filter. While envisioning characters’ dialogue appearing in speech bubbles above their heads, trying to be obligatorily impressed when familiar face appeared every ten minutes(“Hey, look, Poison Ivy! ”/ “Cool, it’s the Riddler!” / “Oh boy, Penguin!”), and watching the woman playing Jim Gordon’s fiancee ‘act’, I realised I’m not convinced that this show is ever going to be good.

Instead of grasping at straws to call this a win, lets just quickly list the great things Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) did last night:

Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney

– Despite her name (and the fact that she’s wearing a wig) Fish  is not about getting her hair wet, and she’s got white men in her employ to make sure it doesn’t happen. In this new Bat-verse where everyone is connected, a young Penguin (Robin Taylor) is in charge of keeping Fish’s hair laid while she beats her employees with a baseball bat in the rain. Penguin’s murmured , “Sorry,” for failing to keep an umbrella over her head results in, “If you let this hair go frizzy you will be.”

– Fish also has the future Penguin rub her bare feet while she auditions an amateur standup comic in her club (“Look, guys! I bet they want us to think it’s The Joker!”). This is before she orders Jim Gordon to shoot him in the back and dump him in the river for betraying her to the GCPD earlier in the episode. This was not a good pilot, but so many on twitter seemed to agree: we were all happy to see Jada Pinkett Smith kicking ass, taking names, (adjusting her wig after both), and dominating the men who attempted to get in her way.

–  We have no definitive proof, but it sure did sound like some of Smith’s line delivery was inspired by the late Eartha Kitt, the first Black Catwoman on the 1960s Batman TV show.

– Above all, Fish was introduced with more personality and outright motivation than either of the two white male stars of the show Jim Gordon or his partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). This could be because Gordon and Bullock are long established characters in the DC Universe, and between the comics and recent Nolan films, the writers are expecting viewers to come in with some prior knowledge. Smith, on the other hand, is originating the role of Fish Mooney. The focus on her character may peter out in subsequent episodes, but it was nice to see Smith handed something meaty to work with in the pilot episode.

(And it’s worth pointing out that women criminals who originate on Bat-verse shows have a history of going places.)

– Renee Montoya didn’t do much this week, but comic book fans (and everyone else) were probably able to pick up on the sledgehammer of a hint concerning her sexuality and her possible past relationship with Gordon’s fiancee. I was surprised there; we live in a world where fans have to fight NBC for John Constantine’s bisexuality and cigarettes (guess which fight they won), so I wouldn’t have been shocked to see Montoya’s lesbian relationships pushed to the side. Still, the way this pilot went? They’ll have to call me back when they introduce Kate Kane.


 

Being a seasoned expert of the medium, I understand that you generally can’t judge a show by a bad pilot. Gotham will get another episode or two from me to improve, but life is too short and Gotham Academy is coming out too soon  for me to waste time in a subpar Bat-scape. All I can do is encourage those of you who came to Gotham for the WOC to also give the CW’s The Flash pilot, and Candace Patton’s Iris West, an equal chance.

(Spoiler Alert: It’s better. It’s so much better.)

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