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:

Martha Jones and the Culture of Casual Racism

There’s a lot of opinionated posts out there on Martha Jones. Some people think that she was the worst out of all of Ten’s companions, and some people think she was drastically underrated, but almost all the opinions on Martha center around her race. Martha was the first major companion of color on Doctor Who (Mickey Smith, a previous companion of color, only traveled with the Doctor for three episodes).

And to be fair, Doctor Who had its share of racism problems with Martha—for example, when Martha and the Doctor land in 1599 in “The Shakespeare Code”, Martha asks the Doctor if she’d be all right walking about London. The Doctor responds “Just walk about like you own the place, works for me”—ignoring the fact that it mostly likely works for him because he’s taken the form of a white male.

Martha Jones, resident BAMF.

Martha Jones, the heroine of this story.

I used to think that Doctor Who had done a terrible job portraying racism with Martha, but after rewatching Series 3, I started to change my mind. Yes, Doctor Who hadn’t portrayed much overt racism with Martha, but perhaps that was the best option from a storytelling perspective. I wouldn’t have wanted the show to smack the viewer over the head every episode with “We are in the past! Look at this racism!”, and I also wouldn’t have wanted them to avoid taking Martha into the past, so I think the writers managed to strike a fair medium between the two. What Doctor Who did show us was a fairly accurate portrayal of casual racism.

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Is Supernatural: Racist?

supernatural2241It’s time, SPN fans, to discuss whether or not Supernatural is racist. Last time we discussed the accusations that SPN was sexist, and while I had some pretty harsh criticisms of the show’s treatment of female characters, I think I was pretty easy on the show. That’s not going to be the case so much this time around.

There are very few characters of color of note in Supernatural. When I say of note I mean either named recurring characters or characters that have become a fan favorite, despite the fact that they were in one episode and then disappeared.

Here are Supernatural‘s Characters of Color: Missouri Moseley, Tamara and Isaac, Cassie, Rufus Turner, Uriel, Raphael, Gordon, Jake Talley, Victor Henricksen, Kevin Tran and Mrs. Tran.

That’s it. That’s pretty much all the characters of color on the show. So let’s talk about these characters.

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Can We Have More Minority Representation in the New Year?

How often do you see minority characters in fiction? They’re pretty rare. When you read fiction, unfortunately you normally see a white protagonist alongside a plethora of supporting white characters. Possibly a minority sidekick, if you’re lucky. Minorities of both sexual orientation or race are underrepresented in teen and young adult fiction, according to this YALSA study.

But why is it so necessary for authors to write characters that accurately represent our world? It all boils down to facts—namely, the fact that races other than Caucasian exist in the real world, and when there is a fantasy world in which no minority characters exist, it’s basically telling minority characters that they aren’t good enough to exist even in a fantasy world. If elves and hobbits and dragons and dwarves can all wander around Middle Earth, there shouldn’t be anything terribly far-fetched about a few characters of color in the mix as well.

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