Brain Food – Episode 34

Hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of Brain Food, wherein I discuss the latest series from Marvel written by G Willow Wilson, Ms Marvel!

And wouldn’t you know it? It’s a top seller at Comixology, actually beating out one Batman title as of the time of the release of its 4th issue!

Not bad for a new legacy character.

Equinox – Cautiously Cautious… With A Side Of Caution

Hello everyone, and in this video I discuss my concerns about DC Comics’ newest character, the Canadian Cree teen superheroine, Equinox.

My main concern boils down to DC Comics’ past racial failures, so anything like this just makes me awfully damned cautious.

For added context, here is an article from the CBC talking about Equinox.

The Delphine LaLaurie Rubric for Ethically Compromised Women of Color Characters (SPOILERS for last night’s American Horror Story: Coven)

Previously I came up with the Walter White Sliding Scale of Sympathetic Villainy and the Tony Soprano Litmus Test for Morally Dubious Main Characters as a way of putting the actions of female characters doing dirt into some perspective.

The gist of it was this: if you didn’t say anything about a fictional cishet white dude doing bad shit, you can STFU and sitcho ass down when a fictional woman does bad shit.

But if the reactions to last night’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven is anything to go by, we need to add to the Walter White Scale and the Tony Soprano Test.

I’m gonna call it the Delphine LaLaurie Rubric for Ethically Compromised Women of Color Characters.

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It matters that the Evil Queen is Latina.

The Evil Queen is Latina, and it matters.

Regina is, in the words of Archie Hopper, “a very complicated woman.” This is someone who loves her Daddy dearly but kills him to cast the Dark Curse. This is a woman who loathes Snow White with the fire of a thousand suns yet loves her son (*cough* and Emma *cough*) so much and so deeply that it’s at times physically painful. And let’s not get started on that shit with Cora.

So much about Regina’s story is so familiar because many of us have been there.

  1. We’ve been abused by those who claim they love us.
  2. We’ve been exploited by those more powerful than us.
  3. We’ve lashed out in fear and anger.
  4. We’ve held on too tightly to those we love and wound up losing them.
  5. We’ve clung to the past because that’s all we had.
  6. We’ve been desperate for a way to end our pain.
  7. We’ve done things we regret.
  8. We wish to love and be loved yet don’t always know how to do so.

These are universal human experiences. All too often, the face of a “universal human experience” defaults to a white face. Yet, this time around, the person embodying these universal human experiences is a woman of color, a Latina.

Whether you approve or disapprove of what she does is not the point. What matters most is: can you identify with this person? Can you relate to what she’s gone through? Does her humanity touch yours?

Do you not see how fucking important that is?

See, it’s easy to admire a woman of color who always has her shit together, who makes the right decision, who is an inexhaustible font of strength, courage, patience, wisdom, and kindness. People eat that shit up. What people have a harder time with are women of color who are merely human, who are not paragons of virtue, whose lives are a mess, and whose choices are not so easy to say, “Right on, sister!” to.

Women of color are rarely allowed to be deep, complex, or multifaceted. Our virtues and vices, rather than reflecting our humanity, serve as evidence in favor of or against it. As Viola Davis said to Tavis Smiley,

“[T]here aren’t enough multifaceted roles for women who look like me. And when I say multifaceted roles, I mean roles where I open up the script, and the character goes on a journey. Right, see, a balance, where I’m not just always dignified, I know everything, I see everything, I’m just this straight-backed Black woman/friend/all-knowing-seeing/whatever. I’m talking about a human being, multifaceted human being who actually lives, breathes, all of that, OK? [...] I’m saying that as an artist you’ve gotta see the mess. That’s what we do. What we do as artists is we get a human being, and it’s like putting together a puzzle. And this puzzle, it’s gotta be a mixture, a multifaceted mixture of human emotions, and not all of it is gonna be pretty. We’re not gonna win, we’re not gonna be heroes, y’know, OK?”

That’s why it fucking matters.

In Which I Ponder a Lily-White Les Miserables Movie

I’ve been a fan of Les Misérables since the 90′s.

Like, a big fan.  When I was a kid I had 5, count ‘em, 5 different cast recordings.

As long as I’ve been a fan, every production that’s striven to be a definitive cast has included people of color.  The Tenth Anniversary Dream Cast (meant to be the best of the best) included Lea Salonga as Eponine.  The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Concert included not only Salonga as Fantine, but Norm Lewis (whom we all love in Scandal) as Javert and Iranian-Canadian Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras.  The Complete Symphonic Recording, which strove to be international as well as definitive, cast Kaho Shimada from the Japanese production as Eponine.  Les Mis has been around for a long time; it’s been performed in a huge number of countries; and more than many other musical theatre productions it’s understood to be about content and story instead of about people’s skin color.

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10 Reasons Martha Jones Is Awesome

I promised a Martha Jones salute in my intro post, and people seemed enthusiastic about it, so here it is!  (warning: Rose gets compared mildly unfavorably a few times, for those who would be bothered by that)

Martha Jones Looking Badass

I’ve recently been watching New Who with a friend (her first time through), and I’ve been struck even more strongly with how Martha has the best companion character arc in the entire series so far.  The best.  And this despite the show constantly and inexplicably treating her as second-class to Rose!  But one of the greatest things about Martha is that in the final tally, how the Doctor treats her isn’t the most important part of her life, because unlike a lot of the other companions, Martha is so much more than her period of traveling with the Doctor.  She’s not defined by him.  After traveling with him—even before traveling with him—she’s got kick-ass narratives all of her own, and she’s going to live her life on her own terms (now alas, if only we could have seen more of her story on the show, but we see enough to know it is there).

I give you:

10 Reasons Martha Jones is Awesome,

in Roughly Chronological Order

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Can You Have a Grey Area if You’re Whitewashing?

So lately we’ve been talking about fiction and especially fantasy/science fiction and race, and I just finished Malinda Lo’s Ash, which was so incisively reviewed by Raz. I found it an interesting read in light of what the author has to say about race in the novel, and how she leaves it open for every reader to construct race individually as they read:

I think that sometimes readers tend to give too much credence to an author’s thoughts about her own work. Every reader brings his or her background to a book, and a book’s meaning is always a negotiation between the reader (and her experiences) and the story itself.

This is a nice theory, but it begs the question: why is race left up to the reader, when queerness is built into the structure of the novel?

One of the nicest parts about reading Ash is the way characters can dance and flirt and fall in love with characters of either gender. It’s no big thing, and that’s really, really awesome. (I could read an entire book of just the queer fairy tales that get narrated at various parts of the book.) And there’s definitely such a thing as too much physical description of characters in romance (as always, Smart Bitches has all the evidence). But when she says her characters can’t be Asian because in the world of the novel there’s no Asia, it’s really hard not to respond that there are ways of describing an Asian body without using the word “Asian” and nothing else. In light of the discussions in comments about writers of color whitewashing their own fantasy novels, this reticence feels troubling. If I hadn’t read her blog about this issue, I never would have known how she viewed the characters.

Which is okay. Malinda Lo can write her books however she wants. But I do feel a little betrayed — worse, I feel like a bad reader — when I go to her blog and find I’ve missed a large chunk of the context she had in mind as she wrote the book. Not excluding the possibility that the protagonist is a person of color is not quite the same as including a protagonist who is a person of color. It’s not precisely whitewashing — but it feels kinda close.

And today I found this item about the upcoming film version of The Hunger Games:

The debate over Katniss’s on-screen ethnicity (or lack thereof) has raged in the Hunger Games fan community ever since a film adaptation was announced, owing to author Collins’ seemingly specific descriptions of the young heroine’s ethnicity. Described as having dark hair, olive skin, and gray eyes (in contrast to her fair-haired mother and sister), Katniss is thought by some readers to be of Mediterranean, Latin, Asian, or mixed descent.

By the same token [note: HA HA HA SOB], Katniss’s colorings could also suggest a brunette Caucasian girl, as in the novel’s official marketing materials (above). Either way, it’s fair to say that Collins’ ambiguity was purposeful in this regard. So the question isn’t, “Is Katniss white?” but “Could Katniss possibly be anything other than white?”

In casting only for Caucasian performers, the filmmakers seem to close the door on that possibility.

So because race was considered an ambiguous aspect of Katniss’ identity in the book, it is considered unimportant to the people casting the (probably white) actress to play her in the movie. This is not Suzanne Collins’ fault — it is the classic White People Are The Only Real Protagonists problem in Hollywood films.

And the only antidote for that particular poison is more protagonists of color.

But if you make skin color and race a strong part of your character’s identity, you become Niche Art. And the mainstream — who are of course all white people, it goes without saying — feels like they can comfortably ignore you.

It gets worse, though:

The candidate must be between the ages of 15-20, be Caucasian, appear “underfed but strong,” and be “naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness.”

Now, the point of the whole entire series — which I’ve only read snippets of, because hot damn that is some good dystopia, by which I mean thoroughly and unrelentingly depressing and so I’ll save it for summer when I’m not already halfway down Dreary Lane — is that Katniss and her family are starving. So yeah, she’s gonna be malnourished. But there’s something creepy and unpleasant in the use of the term “underfed” when you’re using it to describe 1600 actual teenage girls — 1600 is the number of unsolicited resumes received in the open casting call. (Not to mention the thought that putting “underfed” next to “pretty” in this instance only works for a given value of pretty.)

So the author’s description of the character is unimportant when considering race, but significant when considering weight.

And it all just plays to me as so terribly convenient — I don’t have to think about race in Ash because it’s up to me in my own head. I don’t have to worry about Katniss and the idealization of thinness because she’s starving, so obvs she’s not gonna be, like, fat. (Because Hollywood, they really care about realism and plausibility above all else, you guys.)

This is what it looks like when privilege reinforces itself.

Romance, Race, and Invisibility

We are currently living through a romance novel renaissance. Not only are new subgenres appearing and old ones expanding — steampunk romances, no joke! — but romance authors and readers are getting more vocal, resisting the stigma of romance readers as sex-starved bonbon-devouring housewives. There is now a course on romance novels at Yale, and an academic journal that deals with the subject. Just this week the rising tide of romance ebook sales — by far the most-sold genre in digital form — was featured in an article on the front page of the New York Times.

Which brings me to China.

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