by Racialicious guest contributor Elton Joe
Word on the tubes is Heroes will return in September . In the meanwhile, dedicated fans can check out promotions such as NBC and Sprint’s Create Your Hero, which, through fan voting on lists of attributes, has culminated in two new characters, Santiago and Audrey:
Santiago is twenty three. He is an only child, and lives with his mother in a poor part of Lima. He works as an auto mechanic, but has a burning desire to go out in the world and accomplish something that will make his mother truly proud.
Santiago lost his father years ago to the Peruvian civil war. He carries that loss in his heart, but has found solace in the teachings of the Catholic church. Santiago attends mass every Sunday, in a local cathedral which was built by the Spanish Conquistadors more than four hundred years ago.
It was one Sunday after mass when Santiago first discovered his powers. He was playing soccer with his friends in a dusty lot, when he suddenly realized that he was faster-much faster-than his opponents. In fact he was so fast, that he had to hide his ability in order not to attract too much attention.
Santiago loves being fast-he uses his power to become the star of his soccer team-but he believes that his abilities are a gift from God, and feels strongly that they should only be used for good.
Audrey is eighteen. She lives with her mother and younger sister in Paris, in an apartment above the family’s bakery. Audrey’s father is out of the picture, and Audrey’s mother has fallen sick, so Audrey has been forced to take responsibility for the family business, despite the fact that she is still in school.
It is while working behind the counter at the bakery that Audrey discovers her power-the power to affect the speed of other people. Audrey can speed people up, or slow them down to a crawl.
Suddenly everything is possible. Audrey can easily help her sick mother, finish her homework on time, and hang out with her friends-practically all at the same time.
However, Audrey begins to succumb to the temptation of using her powers for darker purposes. She starts by doing nothing more than speeding up her math class to get out early, but then, before she knows it, she is slowing down everyone in the bakery so that she can steal money from the cash register.
As Audrey’s understanding of her powers grows, she resolves to use them for the greater good, but sometimes her means of getting to that good are morally questionable.
Latin Americans always seem to turn out strongly Catholic in the Heroes world, but in general, I don’t think Santiago and Audrey are stereotypes.
When I first wrote about Create Your Hero, I called it a “pathetic attempt at corporate creativity.” I wanted to find something overtly offensive about the promotion, because I was tired of the all-too-common Hollywood mentality that actors of color must be pigeonholed into roles defined by racial stereotypes. Actors of color often seem to be restricted to particular roles based on their race. And casting directors often seem to forget about the possibility of filling non-race-specific roles with non-whites. As aspiring actor Liam Liu (Ken Leung) said in David Ren’s Shanghai Kiss, “Why do I always have to play an Asian guy? I was born in Queens. Why can’t I just play a guy from Queens?”
Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek was played by a black actress, Nichelle Nichols. The role was written for a person of African descent, but Gene Roddenberry’s multicultural vision of the future meant that this woman of color had an important place on the bridge next to a diverse cast of multiple races and even an alien. She was black and proud to be black, yet wasn’t confined by her blackness. This is what I want for actors of color.
Although a brief look at Create Your Hero’s process of voting on labels such as “rugged” or “exotic” seemed to reveal a reliance on shallow stereotypes, I now believe the end result, created from a series of concise-yet-diverse categories, has potential. I think the challenge now is for the writers to do something interesting and surprising with the winner in the contest between Santiago and Audrey, who will star in a live-action series on NBC.com.
Claire is a blonde cheerleader, and Hiro is a Japanese cubicle worker, yet they became much more than stereotypes might have suggested. I hope the new Hero will also belie his or her brief summary, and that when Heroes returns in the fall, we can expect more characters who evolve beyond their original parameters.