Can My Character Look Like Me?

Here we go again: representation matters! I say this so much I should get it as a tattoo. But I really believe in this mantra. Today I want to talk about one of the more straightforward ways to include representation in video games. I’m referring to player avatars.

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Lack of Depression in Black Characters

Dearest Readers, writing for Black History Month is difficult. There is a difficult balance of focusing on concepts vs. people, discussing people that are strangers vs. people you are friendly with, and characters vs real people. To further the complication, there is an urge to spend the whole month celebrating and spotlighting things that deserve praise. But at the same time, I find it absolutely necessary to discuss less enjoyable topics.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Do Robots & Androids Have Souls?

VisionWho has a soul? The question seems pretty simple when we first think about it, but can get complicated very quickly. Do animals have souls? Unborn fetuses? Plants? The soul is a tricky thing to discuss, largely because there is no way for us to truly quantify or fully understand the soul. People who are religious tend to think of the soul from everything as the spirit that lives on after your death to that spark of God that truly makes you you. Most people will say that living things have souls. But what about your computer? Does it have a soul? This is a question that sci-fi authors have asked about robots and/or androids over the years. Can something man-made have a soul in a similar way that a human does? Is it something more than an inanimate object or more like a human being? Age of Ultron is one recent movie that gives us a glimpse of this issue.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Star Wars Rebels, Hera Syndulla, and Twi’lek Slavery

Star Wars Rebels’s second season will be coming soon, but not soon enough. I’m still blown away by how great the story is—I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it all that much considering that Ahsoka, my favorite character ever, is hardly in it, and Asajj has yet to make an appearance either. Rebels gives us an entirely unique cast, and I wasn’t sure how much I would love them since I’m so invested in other characters. I needn’t have worried, because Rebels does such a wonderful job: the story is interesting, and its main characters are all well written.

One of these characters is Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek ship pilot with connections to the rebel movement against the Empire. Hera is the first Twi’lek character in either the movies or the televisions shows to have a huge role. We’ve seen other Twi’leks, such as Aayla Secura, in supporting roles, but Hera is a main character. I was both pleasantly surprised and super excited for Rebels when I first saw Hera, because Twi’leks have been a longtime favorite species of mine, and that love has only grown in recent years. Hera has solidified that love.

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On Black Characters and the Cost of Diversity

michael-b-jordan-fantastic-four-e1392904953390As you likely already know, Michael B. Jordan will play the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four film, slated for release on June 19, 2015. This casting decision was met with its fair share of outcry, because Johnny Storm is understood to be a White character, and Michael B. Jordan is clearly African-American. I think it would be easy to write it off as just another instance of fans of a very White and very male industry being a very White and male kind of racist. But there are deeper questions about misunderstanding of the role of diversity in artistic representation. During my tenure at this blog, I’ve written a fair amount about race and representation in the geek world, not just in comics, but also in video games, and theatre. I’ll be honest, I’ve found a dearth of good arguments against increasing the level of racial diversity in geek culture. Once more, with feeling: brown kids deserve more brown superheroes. Most counter-arguments to that notion are vapid, disingenuous, or just plain racist, like “most people won’t be able to relate to that character if his race is changed/is nonwhite”. There’s a comic over at Critical Miss that sums it up perfectly:

People can identify with Fox McCloud and he’s a bipedal fox. But a dude with darker skin is somehow too alien? What is that if not [racism]?

Arguments like this one are easily, and hilariously, dismissed (seriously, go read that comic). But every once in a while, a more seductive argument against diversity of representation pops up. It usually goes something like: “Why is it okay to change the race of [x], who is White, but not okay to change [y], who is a POC, to a White character?” The argument relies on a rather misguided sense of absolute equality, among myriad other problems. It’s probably easier to get traction on such an issue if we phrase it in terms of concrete examples.

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Sleepy Hollow: “Pilot” Review

Monday night gave us the premiere of Sleepy Hollow, Fox’s modern retelling of the classic Sleepy Hollow short story. It follows Ichabod Crane, who finds himself in the twenty-first century after suffering a near fatal wound back in the eighteenth. He teams up with police officer Lieutenant Abbie Mills, and together they go off to stop the Apocalypse—yes, that Apocalypse. The one the Book of Revelation tells us all about. The Headless Horseman is one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse—Death, to be precise, which is not something I had expected when going into this show. This opens up a whole new can of worms that I didn’t see coming, but I’m glad for it, in all honesty. Without some kind of spin like this on the classic legend, I don’t think a story about just the Headless Horseman would have had a lot of room to work with.

SLEEPY-HOLLOW-TV-Series-600x425I have high hopes for Sleepy Hollow, especially considering that it’s the network’s highest rated fall drama in quite a few years. Overall, Sleepy Hollow seems to have been well received by general audiences, which is good news for me, since I’m quite certain that I may have already fallen in love with it.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Ask A Slave

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214px-30-Rock-TooferI want to let you in on a secret. I’m black. And not like Samuel L. Fury black, or Rick James black, or Dwayne Wade (as if anyone reading this knows who that is) black. I might even like to think of myself as a little bit Floyd Mayweather or Jay-Z kind of black, but the truth is I’m more of a Steve Erkel, Barack Obama, Toofer Spurlock (The Black Guy From 30 Rock Who Isn’t Tracy Jordan) kind of black. That’s okay, though. Makes me kind of a history nerd.

azie_dungey_ask_slaveI also like funny things. So you can imagine my joy when I discovered “Ask A Slave.” What is Ask A Slave, you ask? Well, it’s just about the funniest new thing on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. Here’s the rundown: Azie Dungey, NYU grad and DC-area native, translates her experiences as an actress to a hilarious series of videos by playing a plantation house-slave at an unnamed historical site. Her character is Lizzie Mae, 28 years old (116 in slave-years!), a fictional house slave at Mt. Vernon. They can all be found on the website, or on her YouTube Channel, which updates on Sundays.

While they are raucously funny, lampooning inane questions like “Why don’t you just go to Massachusetts?” and “Did you respond to an ad in the paper to get your job?”, they also address serious subjects like our inaccurate historical view of abolitionists and a genuine lack of knowledge about slavery on the part of people who live in the United States. By responding to “The Washingtons seem really nice. I bet they’re really nice to you, right?” with “Oh yes, they always give me a biscuit on my birthday!” and then looking meaningfully into the camera, Dungey is satirizing public ignorance and educating through humor. Here, check out the first installment:

As if you needed any help figuring out why this is fantastic, you could check out all the press they’ve been getting, from Gawker to NPR. Ask A Slave has achieved a meteoric rise to internet notoriety. This is a great example of “those who can, do.” Azie Dungey is using her theatre background and her experience in living history to do exactly what theatre is supposed to do: educate, challenge, and entertain.

It follows then, as hilarious as these videos are, that Dungey and her team see themselves as doing important work. To quote her:

Though this is a comedy, it is my hope to honor the memory of those people who struggled and survived through their uncanny intelligence, their strength, their love, and…laughter.

So, please, check this out. I guarantee you will laugh. A lot. You might just learn something. And remember, don’t let any abolitionists touch your hair: