Oh, My Pop Culture Excelsior: Where Are The Religious Superheroes, Marvel?

Oh, Marvel. I’m only mean to you because I know you could be so much better.

Marvel’s comic book universe is at a peak of diversity right now. Characters of color, queer characters, characters with disabilities, and characters from other marginalized groups are gaining roles of prominence in the 616 Universe.

What makes that diversity supremely frustrating, however, is that barely a whit of it is reflected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel’s movies remain a relic of the white-bread, sausagefest past of their comic books, and a lack of religious characters is just one strike of many.

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Eterna and the Problem of Representation

Unfortunately, this is not a real movie.

We don’t often do fan videos, but I figured that something that managed to make both The Last Airbender and Ghost Rider movies look cool deserved some credit. I originally found this trailer here on the Mary Sue, who found it here on Vimeo from Behind The Epic.

Essentially, this six-minute long trailer for an epic movie that you’ll never get to see is comprised of clips from dozens of Sci-Fi and fantasy movies, some bad, some good, and quite a few that I’ve never seen before but now want to.

When watching it, I had a lot of fun trying to remember where I’d originally seen the parts that I recognized, but I was also struck by how much work had to go into this thing. And as I said, there are a lot of terrible movies that made it into this trailer that don’t look so terrible anymore. I almost feel disappointed that I can’t go watch the live-action The Last Airbender movie and be just as wow’d.

I’ve seen a bunch of trailer mash-ups before, but as of right now, Eterna is definitely my favorite. Unfortunately, while watching it, I did notice that the movies used are disproportionately more about male characters than they are about female characters. And to be clear, this isn’t any fault on the part of the makers of this fan trailer—that’s just unfortunately how most movies are.

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Theatre Thursdays: August Wilson and Colorblind Casting

When questioned on the identity of one Christopher Marlowe, Hallie Flanagan, then director of the Federal Theatre Project, said “Put in the record that he was the greatest dramatist in the period immediately preceding Shakespeare.”


August Wilson

Well, put it in the record that August Wilson was the greatest American playwright at the turn of twenty-first century. A bold claim, I know, but one I stand behind. The latest of America’s greats, he belongs in the hallowed halls along with Miller, Hansberry, and Williams. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (Fences, The Piano Lesson)  became famous for a series of ten plays known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, or alternatively as the American Century Cycle. Each one played on the stage of black life in America and American life in general in each of the decades of the twentieth century. Wilson captured the spirit of African-American existence and ambition in ways previously unattempted and unmatched in quality. His works are as much plays as they are staged ethnographies of the black experience, invigorating to those who could identify with them and illuminating to those who could not. He passed away in 2005. Continue reading

The Fosters

The FostersThe Fosters is a new series on ABC Family. The show, which began airing earlier this month, is about the family pictured above which consists of two mothers (Stef and Lena), one biological son (Brandon), an adopted set of twins (Jesus and Mariana), and a new foster child (Callie). Absent from the photograph but also appearing in the series are Stef’s ex-husband/Brandon’s biological father (Mike) and Callie’s little brother (Jude).

Obviously there’s a hell of a lot going on in this show. How well is it being handled? Ah, well, that’s the question I intend to address, though perhaps not fully answer.

The reason I don’t feel I can fully answer the question is that the show is very young, only four episodes old, and I haven’t done a particularly good job keeping up with it despite wanting to. Still, I believe I have enough to go on to discuss a few of the show’s strengths and weaknesses.

Its strengths, I believe, are its diversity and especially its representation, while its main weakness is poor pacing. The diversity on the show is pretty apparent from the multi-racial family and homosexual relationship, but what I think is more impressive is how these things are handled. After all, it’s one thing to have minorities present on a show, merely filling spots on a diversity checklist; it’s quite another to actually make their characters unique and rounded and from what I’ve seen The Fosters is definitely putting in the extra effort to do so.

The twins, Mariana and Jesus (pronounced “hey-ZOOS”, by the way, in case you were reading his name the same as you would Mr. Christ’s), are Latino and their heritage is present in the story without being trumpeted every time they enter a room. For example, in a recent episode Mariana celebrated her quinceañera, the Latin American celebration of a girl’s entering womanhood on her fifteenth birthday, showing an important part of her culture, but she and Jesus don’t go around daily listening to salsa music and peppering their speech with simple Spanglish to accentuate their heritage without alienating the English-speaking audience.

Similarly, the relationship between the two mothers is portrayed as simple and natural, without ignoring the fact that homosexual relationships still face prejudice:

Callie: So, you're dykes? Jesus: They prefer the term "people", but yeah; they're gay

Callie: So, you’re dykes?
Jesus: They prefer the term “people”, but yeah; they’re gay.

The show is walking that fine line between sensationalism and erasure: these characters and their identities are nothing to gawk at, but neither are they anything to be ignored or glossed over: they are worthy of attention and will be portrayed on screen. I was also happy to see that the lesbian relationship doesn’t go too far into the heteronormative representation of homosexual relationships where one partner is “masculine” and the other “feminine”. Both women feel realistically rounded and fulfill their roles as parents and lovers without losing their individuality.

The problem I had with the show’s pacing came from how quickly plot points were thrown at the viewer in the pilot episode. To break it down, within the first hour of the series I was expected to:

  1. Get on board with the overall plot of the show
  2. Meet some eight or nine characters and understand their complex relationships with each other
  3. Invest emotionally in each of these characters’ lives
  4. Follow at least three independent stories which each had their own climax by the end of the episode

That was quite a lot to absorb in roughly forty-five minutes of storytelling. I found it to be too much to tackle for a pilot, which should have focused on introducing the characters and setting before having each character tackle a dramatic personal hurdle that the audience can hardly be invested in after only knowing the characters for about twenty minutes.

That said, I was pulled in by the show, but I honestly had difficulty telling if it was because the writing was actually good or if I was just being emotionally manipulated, because I’ll come right out and say it: I’m soft and my heartstrings are easily tugged, especially when it has anything to do with young people and/or families going through tough situations. As such, I definitely plan to watch the show some more to flesh out my opinions. If you’re watching, let me know what you think of the show and maybe you can help me make a more level assessment free of my interfering sentimentality.

Representation Roll Call, vol. 2: Big in Japan

armor_hisako_ichikiThis, ladies and gentlemen, is my strong suit: pulling comic characters you might not know about from the ether and telling you why they’re awesome. I get to be nerdy and people will read it and even find it interesting. In short, I want to tell you about more of the awesome women of Marvel Comics. We’ve talked about how important it is to pull back the veil on the representation of women in Marvel, and why it’s important to not leave people out of the coolest categories. So, while I’m on the subject on Marvel and the representation of women, I’d like to indulge the basest of my weeaboo instincts. Let’s talk about some Japanese girls.

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Trailer Tuesdays: After Earth

Yes, I know this movie just came out recently, but I haven’t seen it yet, and it only came out a couple days so I think I’m still within my blogger rights to review the trailer.

It’s summer time and Will Smith is in an action movie. That seemed to be the norm for a long time, but now that I think about it, I haven’t seen Will Smith in many movies lately, or at least many action ones. But this time it seems like the burden of providing most of the action actually is on Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith. In After Earth, Will and Jaden play a father and son team that crash lands on… Earth? So apparently one thousand years ago humanity left Earth for… reasons, but now Will Smith and his son have crash landed there, and they need to retrieve some sort of beacon in order to get home. But there’s a twist: everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans now. Again because of reasons… reasons that I assume will be connected with some surprise twist ending about why humans left the planet in the first place. Maybe the plants killed people? No, wait, it’s all actually Jaden Smith’s dream, or it’s faeries, or normal people dressing in yellow robes to scare everyone and hide the fact they live in modern times. Or maybe the twist is that it’s set in a world where Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t suck.

As you may have guessed from my thinly veiled sarcasm, this movie is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Which leaves me in something of a conundrum when it comes to whether or not I should see this movie. You see, almost all Will Smith movies are good. That is just fact. Even if it’s not good in the sense that it has a good plot, it’s always at least entertaining and enjoyable to watch. But M. Night Shyamalan has, in recent years, been a terrible director, but his early movies were so good I think I just want to always given him a chance to redeem himself. The movie looks exciting. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the movie stars two characters of color, which is something movies don’t often do, especially sci-fi movies. That alone might be the reason I see this movie, even if the plot seems to set itself up with one too many twist endings.

We’ll have to wait and see if this will be an exciting movie or another M. Night Shyamalan failure at making a comeback.

Positive Representation: Beyond the Veil or Representation Roll Call, Vol 1.

You’ll be happy to hear that this post will lack any of my trademark pretension (lies!). Today, all I want to do is introduce you to a pair of very cool heroines from the Marvel Universe. I say “pair” not just because there are two of them, but because they share so many traits, all of which make them exciting characters. They’re women, they kick ass, they display remarkable loyalty and patience, and they’re both hijabi.

Let me clarify. The term hijab (which appears as حجاب in Arabic)‎ is used specifically to refer to the headscarf worn ostensibly for the sake of modesty. The term can be generalized to refer to any form of cover which conforms to a standard of Islamic modesty. These vary by region and degrees of Islamic orthodoxy—there’s a good list here. The term hijabi is used to refer to women who wear one of these kinds of veils.

So, when I introduce Faiza Hussain (Excalibur) and Sooraya Qadir (Dust) to you, you’ll understand that they wear the veil. What I love best about these characters is that their Islam is not incidental or inconsequential to their heroism. They are proud hijabi heroes.

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Robert Morales, Truth & Reconciliation

"Think of the American lives you will save… Do not consider what we did to you."

“Think of the American lives you will save… Do not consider what we did to you.”

Content note: spoilers, graphic content

Two weeks ago Wednesday, news came that Robert Morales, Marvel Comics author and entertainment journalist, passed away at the age of 55. Samuel Delany, author of too many science fiction novels to name, broke the news on Facebook:

Robert Morales was one of my closest friends—and had been since he was seventeen years old. He died at his home in Brooklyn this morning, leaving his father and mother. He was fifty-four. We spoke on the phone for many years, at least once a week and often more. I am shattered. His many friends will miss him deeply. He had agreed to be my literary executor, and the idea that he would pre-decease me never entered my head. For me and many others he was an indispensable friend. To say he will be deeply missed is an incredible understatement.

My comment on his passing is not timely. It is a fortnight late and the story of his death has been covered by at least ten other websites. All I can say is that Morales was a creative powerhouse and he, his inspiration, and his passion will be missed.

Morales’ legacy, however, lives on. His work with artist Kyle Baker, Truth: Red, White & Black, is one of Marvel Comics’s most compelling ventures into the subject of race in America. Truth reveals a backstory for the Captain America mythos in which the Super Soldier Serum was tested on Black soldiers in secret, resulting in the death and mutilation of all but a few.

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“To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang”

This is a slam poetry piece by Rachel Rostad, a finalist in the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. There isn’t anything I can say here that’s more eloquent than what she says, but to anyone who doubts that media representation of minorities affects real minorities, take the four minutes and watch this.

Edited to add: Hey guys, this post is getting a lot of hits and I want to make sure that you see this video too. It’s the original performer responding to some legitimate critiques of her piece.