Tag Archives: Racebending

C2E2

Video: Racebending presents ‘Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds’ at C2E2

By Arturo R. García

Our colleagues at Racebending passed along this video of their panel from the recent C2E2 event in Chicago, “Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds,” which discusses how creators make the realms in their work hew closer to the diversity we encounter in everyday life.

Moderated by Gabrial Canada, the panel includes:

(Batgirl, Megalopolis, The Movement, Red Sonja)

A few excerpts from the panel:

Onli on fans’ power as consumers:

“You guys have all the power to go to any vendor and say, ‘Um, how come this graphic novel collection on the shelf is not as diverse as what I see when I go to iTunes and look at music? When you go to iTunes, there’s more going on than The Beatles. So what are we talking about? Spider-Man kind of hit when the Beatles did. Superman hit when, who, Benny Goodman hit? Batman hit when Public Enemy No. 1 was James Cagney. So, their music isn’t stuck like that, right?

Liu on battling artistic misconceptions regarding characters:

I’ve actually specifically had to request people of color in the books, like in the script. Because if I don’t, the assumption is that everyone’s gonna be white. And so I’ll say, ‘No, this character is biracial, she’s Black.’ And I’ll get the colors back and she’ll be white. And I’ll be like, ‘She’s black.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Okay.’ And then I’ll get colors back and she’ll look tan. I’ll be like, ‘You know what, we’re having this conversation a third time.’ It’s really weird, this resistance. There’s an incredible resistance — not sometimes, all the time to diversify and bring in people of color into these books.

Simone on inclusive “casting” in her work:

People talk all the time about, ‘Why do you have to put all these characters in your comics that are gay or that are, you know, a different race, just let it happen organically. Well, the truth is, we didn’t get to where we were with so many straight white characters organically. Decisions were made for decades that that’s how it was gonna be. So, we can’t wait around for an organic thing to happen, even if there is such a thing. It takes people making decisions, doing the work, getting the work out there, and above all, people supporting those works.”

Overall, a solid discussion and a good watch and/or listen for you if you’ve got just under an hour to spare today.

The SDCC Files: Arturo’s Collected Coverage

By Arturo R. García

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

 

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

The Racialicious San Diego Comic Con Preview: Saturday + Sunday

By Arturo R. García

Compared to Friday and Saturday, the tail end of San Diego Comic-Con is starkly, depressingly light on diversity-centric panel discussions. But there is one major, notable highlight.

As ever, you can follow Kendra or myself to follow our progress throughout the weekend. But to take a look at more specific events, head on down under the cut.

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Race + Film: A Black Johnny Storm: What Happened to Color Blind?

Actor Michael B Jordan and The Human Torch.

By Guest Contributer TajRoy Calhoun

There was a rumor that actor Michael B. Jordan was in the running for the role of Human Torch Johnny Storm in the up-and-coming reboot of the Fantastic Four. The response was deafening.

A blog on entertainment website IGN – which, through a good amount of traffic, managed to make it to the front page of the site (I say this to note how much interest – from both sides – has been generated by this topic) – described it well:

“I thought the Internet was going to explode […] I’d like to think that the support was enough to overshadow the retorts, but it wasn’t.”

The problem: Michael B. Jordan is black. And Johnny Storm isn’t (or, possibly, wasn’t).

I’m not going to call racism – hang my head and lament the continued existence of racism in America and the excessive amount of it in nerd culture. I”m simply going to ask: why is this casting choice a problem?

Johnny Storm has previously only ever been portrayed as white – but that does not mean he is defined by that portrayal. Until 2001 whenDavid Oyelowo portrayed Henry VI, no black actor has ever portrayed an English king in a major Shakespearean production. There is a first time for everything.

Like the characters in Shakespeare, who can be played by actors of any race because their identities exist beyond such base and socially-constructed aspects such as race, nothing about Johnny Storm’s identity hinges on him being white.

“What if Storm or Black Panther were played by white people”, you will hear some say, in defense – but these characters are different; their race does factor into their identity. Similar to Shakespeare’s Othello, unique in the Shakespearean pantheon as being a character whose story centers on the fact that he is of a different race than those around him – to make the Black Panther anything other than black would be to fundamentally change his character and his story.

Johnny Storm is no Othello. He is Romeo. He is King Lear. He is Hamlet. He can be played as easily by the white Laurence Olivier as by Oyelowo.

Another thing you will hear people say: in an attempt to deflect accusations of racism, you will likely hear people, rather than saying “Johnny Storm isn’t black, he’s white”, say something like “he’s blond-haired and blue-eyed, which Michael B. Jordan isn’t”. The idea being that, “it’s not that we don’t want a black actor – we just want an actor who accurately embodies the character as he is portrayed in the comics.

As one person put it: “Unlike literary figures, where they only exist in our imaginations, comic book characters are visual represented. We grew up reading and looking at comic books. By changing a characters’ appearance, they are no longer the characters readers grew up seeing in comic books.”

This would be a sound argument – if the people that used it stuck to it; if, in all cases, they defended it as fervently as they do now. But that is not the case. One need not look any farther than Chris Evan’s portrayal of the character in the 2005 adaptation. If you want to bring up the fact that Michael B. Jordan isn’t blond – well neither is Evans, at least not in that portrayal. Yet there was no such rabid complaints about his inaccurate portrayal. And this is true for a great number of comic book characters portrayed in film.

Aside from their race, most actors don’t look like their comic book counterparts. With some exceptions I don’t believe we’ve gotten a single Bruce Wayne in cinema who looks like the comic book Bruce Wayne – black hair, sharp-featured square face, broad-shoulders, pale skin – Michael Keaton was the closest. Yet we haven’t heard criticism of these actors not accurately representing the characters we grew up with. Likewise, there has been no criticism of the casting of the fair-skinned Henry Cavil as the habitually olive-skinned Superman.

File:Spider-Man actors.jpg

Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man

And the two actors we’ve gotten to play Spider-Man look nothing alike aside from their race. Different build, hair color – hell, they even have different skin colors (though both are racially “white”) – and neither looks exactly like the comic book Spider-Man. Most fans adore Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker for more accurately representing the spirit of the character (I too am a fan) but with the exception of his build, he (arguably) looks less like the comic book Peter Parker than Tobey McGuire (I say arguably as it can be hard to measure what the “definitive” image of a character is in comics, as some of the more subtle features can change from artist to artist – this brings in the argument that, owing to this fact, the image of comic book characters are naturally malleable, and not only do they need not be held to hold, but cannot be – though I will not go further in that argument here).

With certain exceptions (Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr.), fans have had to make due with casting choices that failed to capture the image of the character they grew up seeing – and yet no complaints (or, at least none of such volume and fervor as today) have been made – because as different as those actors may be to their character, they were at least white.

As I have stated above – the recasting of a black character such as Storm or the Black Panther (or, I have seen someone bring up – Django) would be a completely different subject, as these are characters whose race informs and is an integral part of their character – these character’s race influences their portrayal, their actions, their stories – you could not tell story of the Black Panther, as it is in comics, if he wasn’t black. To change his race, it would be necessary to also change his story.

And I do not make this argument for one-side either. I would argue that Captain America (the Steve Roger’s Captain – though I would love to see an Isaiah Bradley film) is a character that should only be portrayed as white – I believe his race is integral to his character. Same for Bruce Wayne – a man from old money, raised in privilege, forced to confront the darker and bleaker aspects of life. To change their race, I argue, would also necessitate the changing of their character.

Image of Johnny Storm via Deviant artist DoOp.

With Johnny Storm, however, we have an example of a character whose race does not inform their character. And, again, I am not arguing for one-side either, when I say that there should be no problem with Johnny Storm being cast as black. Although I would bemoan the loss of an opportunity for a colored actor to have a role, if my argument is to hold any water I must also say: if there is a colored character whose race does not inform his identity, it should be alright to cast color-blind.

But at the same time, if those on the other side wish to cry foul of color-blind casting for Johnny Storm, they must also cry foul when color-blind casting is used to place white actors in traditionally colored roles. With that being said – where was the massive fan outcry when the white Tom Hardy was cast as the Afro-Latino Bain? Or having the “Indian” Khan portrayed by the white Benedict Cumberbatch in the newest Star Trek.

Though many – understandably – did, I, personally, did not have a problem with these casting choices (outside of bemoaning the loss of an opportunity for a colored actor to have a major role in a blockbuster Hollywood film). As much as the thought of a Latino or Afro-Latino Bain gives me goosebumps (the good kind), Tom Hardy did fantastic as the character – and there was, really, nothing keeping him from giving a full, accurate portrayal of that character. Although the character of Bain was based on Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo - a character who, despite almost always being portrayed as white, was based on Alexandre Dumas’ own father, French general Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who was black – Bain, like Johnny Storm, is a character whose race does not intimately define his character. It is merely a detail – like the color of Bruce Wayne’s hair, or the exact shade of “white” of Peter Parker.

This is the same for Khan – though it goes further than him simply, again, being an example of a character for whom his race does not inform his identity. While in his backstory he is described as being from India, he was originally portrayed by Ricardo Montalbán, who, despite his great skills as an actor, did nothing to try and disguise the fact that he was Mexican. Thus, from day one a precedent had been set for the raceless casting of this character, and thus I see no problem accepting Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of this “Indian” character. To do otherwise would be to say – while neither Montalbán or Cumberbatch are Indian, Montalbán has greater right to the role simply by virtue of not-being-white. And I believe that is wrong.

Just as wrong as saying that any other non-blond-haired-blue-eyed actor has greater right to the character of Johnny Storm than Michael B. Jordan, simply by virtue of being white. There should have been just as much outcry for the “racebending” of Bain and Khan as there is now for Johnny Storm  But there wasn’t. Because there has never been a problem with racebending – while there are many who, unlike me, are adamantly against the casting of white actors as Bain and Khan, their voices were, unfortunately – and like the voices of many who wish to discuss race in America – largely unheard outside of niche media. Hell, I’m still confounded by the relative lack of outcry for the racebending of the actors in Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. I cannot make this statement with certainty, so I do apologize – I am not relying on hard statistics, merely my own memory and experiences – but I believe that more attention, and a greater vocal outcry, has been generated by the controversial over the rumors of a black Johnny Storm then by the entire cast of that movie - and the racist remarks made by some of those cast members.

But – with the exception of those sadly niche places like Racialicious and Racebending and Afro Punk, for whom discussions of these order are their market – the world was strangely quiet.

And in many places the casting was defended. Not due to the “racelessness” of these characters – as I argue was the case with Khan and Bain, and here and now Johnny Storm – but with an argument for color-blindness. I do not wish to talk about color-blindness – just as I did not wish to talk about racism. I simply wish to ask: what happened to that color-blindness?

Now they are making the same argument that only people of color (and our allies) were making before: a vocal argument against racebending. And its getting attention. It might even have an impact.

Because now that “racebending” is happening to white characters it is suddenly a problem. And whether the voices are in greater numbers or just louder, or simply the ears listening more attuned, everyone can hear their cries.

A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness

By Arturo R. García

Poster for “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Image via thetrekcollective.com

Kendra and I will have a more thorough discussion regarding Star Trek Into Darkness on Wednesday. But, now that the film is out and a rather big racebending cat is out of the bag, I figured we’d open things up for a bigger discussion. Spoilers under the cut.
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Argo And The Trouble With Hollywood Logic

By Latoya Peterson

(L-R) Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in “Argo” and the actual Tony Mendez. Via ABC News.

There are posts where you already know how things are going to fall out before you even write it.  This is one of them.

We’ve talked about the controversy with Argo before.  Arturo broke down the man behind the movie back in July:

The more you read about Antonio Mendez, the more his exploits make Burn Notice look like Get Smart: the Colorado native who grew up in a single-parent household went from answering a random want ad to a 25-year career in the CIA as an “espionage artist,” specializing in helping assets get out of tough situations.

“I would say the whole thing was like James Bond but even better. I was involved in Moscow creating tradecraft, knocking the socks off the KGB,” he told Open Your Eyes magazine in 2008. “If you are surrounded by an army of that kind of counterintelligence and you can still do your business, Bond doesn’t even get close to that.”

Mendez went on to write two memoirs about his experiences in the field. But his most celebrated operation, an extraction of six U.S. diplomats from Iran in the first days of the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeni, was the subject of a 2007 article in Wired Magazine. As Joshuah Bearman wrote, this particular plan would take a more cinematic turn – literally – than the usual covert actions: Mendez actually created a fake movie production.

Many people–including our friends at Racebending and Latino Rebels–have already pointed out that Ben Affleck squandered a prime opportunity to put a Latino actor in the lead for Argo. And we’ve heard the usual pushback that comes to discussing casting in Hollywood.  
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Quoted: MANAA Speaks Up Against Cloud Atlas

Jim Sturgess in “Cloud Atlas.” Photo via Collider.com.

“Cloud Atlas” may be artistically ambitious, but it’s also racially retrograde, according to a blistering new release from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans …

… “Cloud Atlas” missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man–an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers,” Guy Aoki, MANAA’s founding president, said in a statement. “He’s the one who liberates [a clone played by actress] Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often.”

Instead, it is Jim Sturgess who plays that role, while Hugo Weaving and James D’Arcy are also cast as Asian actors.
- The Hollywood Reporter