Good. God. I don’t know where to start with this. As soon as I heard about this I rushed to trade posts with Lady Geek Girl so that I could write about it. However, upon sitting down to do so, I realized that to write about it, I’d have to—ugh—actually watch the trailer.
If you know anything about me or this website, you can stand assured that I did not enjoy a second of it. This movie looks like it will be a disaster on every possible level, and on top of that, releasing it in the week after Iron Fist crashed and burned in no small part due to whitewashing complaints feels almost comically idiotic.
It means that I am not the Samaritan. That I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill intent who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.
Wilson Fisk transformed the villain’s role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is not an evil robot, or the head of a vast conspiracy, or an ancient god of chaos. His life story is not the tale of a festering wound inflicted by the hero. He’s not even a Nazi. Wilson Fisk is a purely human force. He has no magic, no powers, no wondrous technology—nor does he seek to acquire any. He lacks the kind of megalomania that drives others to take over the world.
He relies on human powers: money, muscle, and connections – powers which can be leveraged through his knowing white privilege. He ascends as populist dictators do, staying within the boundaries of the elite as he consolidates power.
His basic desire is chillingly simple: dominance. He aspires to wrest the chaos of Hell’s Kitchen into an orderly fiefdom, where the demolition of all opposition will mean that at last, the trains will run on time. And he’s not the only burly bald man to harbor such ambitions.
About a month ago, I wrote a post that was mostly about Michelle Rodriguez kind of putting her foot in her mouth while talking about race and superhero films. It was of the most forgivable sort; she was walking to her car when someone stuck a microphone in her face and she said something off the cuff that had the veneer of being reasonable. She even went back and explained, in a mature fashion, what she meant after being met with backlash. I still think she was wrong. Change the gender, race, ability, and sexuality of white, male, straight, cis, and abled characters. Do it often, and be bold about it, because there’s nothing to lose, and there is only inclusion to gain.
The subject of “loss” brings me closer to my actual point: a significant proportion of white male rage over changing the gender and race of superheroes can be connected to a sense of loss. I’ve previously emphasized that it represents a fear of “loss of cultural property”, but I’d like to broaden my point for a second before returning to it. This fear is a microcosm of the larger fear of loss of those who occupy a dominant position in our society.
Over the weekend, in a spectacular use of time that only goes to show how very impressive my decision-making skills are, I revisited a lot of my favorite Simon Pegg and Nick Frost collaborations. Eventually, through gratuitous use of Wikipedia, I happened upon a lesser-known film called Attack the Block, the 2011 directorial debut of Pegg and Frost collaborator Joe Cornish. Did I watch it? Yes, I did. Like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, Attack the Block is in many ways a send-up of a popular genre (this time, alien invasions). It’s suspenseful, engaging, and hilarious. Most of all, it’s thought-provoking: it has a level of diversity that is rarely found in sci-fi, and uses its cast to make some pointed racial commentary.
Positive racial representation is so, so important in our popular media. This is not news—it’s something we talk about at least weekly on this site. But what about situations where a character’s race is never stated? Some media, by their nature, don’t include physical descriptors of their characters: what, if anything, can these raceless characters do for racial representation?
Theoretically, leaving a character’s racial identity open to fan interpretation should allow fans to invent a diverse variety of different designs for that character. It should be a goldmine of racial representation, because leaving a character raceless should allow people of any race to identify with that character. The truth of it is, though, that characters with no assigned race often end up white in the majority of fan renderings. Much like the heterosexist idea that everyone is straight until proven otherwise, when a character’s race is not explicitly stated, the bulk of a fandom will fall back on the idea that white is the default, “normal” race and assign whiteness to the character or characters in question.
White privilege is present in every part of our lives, and part of that privilege is seeing oneself in media without ever having to look. In fact, people are so socialized into believing that all main characters are white people that we often visualize characters as white even when they’re not described as such. For example, did you know that Harry Potter is never assigned a race in the books? He’s got messy black hair and great skin, but the actual color of his skin is never brought up. And yet it’s only recently that I’ve seen people making an active effort to introduce biracial Harry headcanons into the fandom. We do this because we’ve been taught over and over again that white is the norm. While it’s not wrong to imagine a character as white, it is something to be aware of, and to challenge in ourselves as critical consumers of media. What subconsciously led us to whiteness, and why did we choose that over a PoC design?