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“Star Trek” mini-rant: Where do Michael and Tyler go from here?

Each week, Monique will sound off on the current episode of Star Trek: Discovery. For more, read Monique’s Star Trek: Discovery recaps at SlashFilm. These mini-rants will contain SPOILERS–You’re warned. 

I think this week’s episode, “The Wolf Inside,” goes up there as one of the best-written episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery. There was so much packed into this episode, from the continuation of the Stamets-Culber relationship, to the introduction of some bada$$ Andorians and Tellarites, to Jason Isaacs losing his American accent through parts of his Lorca lines (which was amusing if you caught it, because it was hard to tell if he was legit forgetting to sound American or still trying to use Lorca’s fake Scottish–“Scotty”, if you will–accent from before). Of course, with a title like “The Wolf Inside,” Tyler was the central character. Well, Tyler and Voq. And of course, where Tyler’s concerned, Michael’s not far behind.

So what do I have to say about this episode when it comes to Michael and Tyler’s relationship? Simply that I’m intrigued by everything that’s happened. I feel like it sounds clinical for me to say “intrigued” when Michael was nearly killed by Tyler-turned-Voq and Michael then did turnabout and nearly killed Tyler!Voq by sending him out into space, just so Discovery Prime could beam him aboard for detention (and to acquire the crucial files Michael hid in Tyler’s pocket). But from a writer’s perspective and from a fan of exciting television, I am highly invested to see where this goes. I also feel like regardless of what happens between Michael and Tyler, I won’t be let down.

I’m sure some are reading this trying to figure out how I can say this, when I’m one of the main people saying black women should have prominent love lives on television without the risk of something detrimental happening. If we go by the bare bones of what’s happening–Michael’s relationship is now put in jeopardy, with all signs pointing to a sacrifice of some sort needing to be made–then it looks like we’re getting the same script, different cast. But honestly, I feel like there’s so much more that’s happening here, and the fact that the writers are pushing each character beyond archetypal boundaries makes this story highly fascinating.

Let me break down exactly what I’m talking about:

This romance is less about Michael’s development and more about Tyler’s

It only occurred to me in this episode that the importance of Michael and Tyler’s relationship doesn’t rely on how this romance affects Michael. This romance is all about how it informs Tyler and forces him to mature.

As I wrote in my SlashFilm recap this week, Tyler is a man whose life is informed by those around him, particularly by women.

“…[W]hile Michael is a tether for Tyler, L’Rell is a tether for Voq. As we know, Voq only started waking up after he was in L’Rell’s presence. What’s interesting is that both Tyler and Voq are both the passive parties in their relationships. I’m not saying either one is less “manly,” as it were; in fact, I find it more endearing that they have the capacity to defer to the women in their lives for guidance. But I will say this: whoever Tyler is at the moment, he’ll have to choose who he wants to be in the future. One future has L’Rell and Klingon domination, the other has Michael and a peaceful Federation of Planets. L’Rell and Michael can’t make this decision for him — he’s going to have to choose.”

This is not to say that there’s something wrong with a man who relies on or defers to women as counsel. On the contrary–a man who can recognize the importance of women has more going for him positively than not. As an uncommon point of comparison, look at how Black Panther‘s T’Challa seems both supported and emboldened by the women in his life. Just looking at the trailers, you can see how T’Challa is empowered by the women in his life.

On the flip side, though Tyler seems unhealthily dependent on those he views are stronger than him to define how he should live and what he should do. It just so happens that many of the people he views as being stronger than him are women. Again, seeing a male character recognize the importance of women is cool and very much-needed in these #MeToo times. But Tyler and Voq also manage to subvert their relationships with women; instead of gaining empowerment from them, they wrongly cast them as personal caretakers; L’Rell and Michael don’t just provide Voq and Tyler with love and support; oftentimes they have to do the emotional and tactical heavy lifting.

To be clear, my point of view doesn’t include how Tyler handles his PTSD; Tyler and Voq’s habit of leeching onto stronger counterparts can be seen in earlier episodes. Looking back on Voq’s interactions with L’Rell, L’Rell would always take charge of Voq’s plans, instructing him on how to get his goals achieved. Voq came to rely on L’Rell not just as a right hand and not just even as a significant other, but as a conduit for his own feelings of independence. Without L’Rell, he’s just a Klingon riddled with self-doubt. To some extent, Voq even latched onto T’Kuvma, and in a way, he’s still takes from T’Kuvma in terms of developing an outward, acceptable identity.

Tyler has done the same thing with Michael. Whereas Michael needed him to tell her the truth about his mental situation, he lied. Instead, he continued his pattern of dependence, mining her for her strength and confidence, just like how Voq did with L’Rell. During the times we see the intimate moments between Michael and Tyler, the emotional interplay exists on two different levels. For Michael, she’s viewing the relationship as a mutually supportive one. On the whole, Tyler views their relationship like this, too. But what Tyler isn’t cognizant of is that he’s also running on a different wavelength than Michael. It’s more evident the more Tyler becomes mentally unstable, but it’s becoming clearer that Tyler doesn’t just rely on Michael as, in his words, a “tether.” He also relies on her to do his emotional dirty work for him. He wants her to determine who he should be. Even in regular, real life relationships, that’s too much for one person to handle.

There is a term for someone who sucks up someone else’s emotional energy: psychic vampire. I don’t think Tyler or even Voq latch onto others in their circle maliciously. Yeah, I know Voq is an actual villain, but when it comes to how he engages in relationships, I don’t think he realizes he leeches onto people.

In real life, most psychic vampires don’t realize they do it. More than likely, most of us have been a psychic vampire at some point in time. It’s surprisingly not that hard. But from my own experience, I’ve found that what drives people (including myself at one point) to psychic vampirism is severe self-doubt and low-to-no self-confidence. That lack of confidence can come from a myriad of things, but what can get people out of that vampiric mindset is to 1) become aware of what they do and who they latch onto when they feel self-doubt, anger and/or fear and how they might selfishly twist relationships to meet their ends and 2) develop new habits that foster more self-confidence and less self-doubt.

Both Tyler and Voq are people who have no self-confidence. They’re people who rely on others to fill the holes where their self-confidence and self-reliance should be. Voq was struggling before because of his state as an outcast within Klingon society, but now, after his transformation and his alter-ego’s PTSD and sexual trauma, Voq/Tyler’s mind is more confused than ever before. But somehow, Tyler has to figure out how to come out of this a whole person. This test that Tyler is now under is one that will not only decide the fate of the Federation, but is also one that will call on Tyler to find that confident place within himself to make his own choices. No one else can save Tyler from this but himself–it’s going to come down to him forcing himself to be defiant in the direction he wants his life to go. He has to realize that his life relies solely on what he wants for himself, not what L’Rell or Michael want for him.

Tyler’s arc is tailor-made for today

With all of that said, I want to make it exceptionally clear that I don’t think Tyler is “weak” or somehow less of a man, especially where women are concerned. Tyler subverts the kind of Captain Kirk bravado we’re accustomed to, and his passivity is something we rarely see in male characters on screen. I do think, though, that he inadvertently misuses the women in his life, and his fallacies make Tyler’s arc extremely important in this #MeToo time, in which we’re all rethinking how we view masculinity, femininity, and the interactions between the two. If we take Voq out of this, Tyler is, for me, the kind of leading man we should see more often. It would do us some good to see a leading man who isn’t always guns blazing, but is one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, and even the very human fear of weakness. At the same time, we also see a man who doesn’t realize that he doesn’t do the greatest job of taking care of he women in his life emotionally. All of this culminates into a layered story of personal growth.

As Shazad Latif told SyFy’s Swapna Krishna:

“Me and Sonequa, we always wanted to push it. Because you meet Tyler and he’s this guy who’s going through this trauma and we’ve seen that story many times. It’s amazing to explore, but we wanted to see him … With him and Michael Burnham, she’s always very strong. She’s the strong one and she’s the one looking after him, and he’s weak around her and he’s vulnerable around her, in the bedroom, in the hallway.

I wanted to make sure that that was clear because, to show a man’s vulnerability and weakness and show that you can still be a man and vice versa, that Sonequa is a very strong female character — it was very important to us in the scenes that we played that and we showed that. It’s nice to play the inner turmoil and suffering and weakness of the man as well, rather than being this classic sort of rogue action hero. There’s more to it than that.

Because when you first see him, he is playing that, we’re playing that sort of archetype. He’s this guy coming from the ship, he’s getting his job and ‘Aha! He’s a classic American hero,’ but really he’s crumbling, and it’s very beautiful to watch.”

I think Tyler’s current problem of fighting the Klingon within is highly salient to our current discussions about what manhood means and what it should look like. Like Tyler, each man is going to have to figure out what type of man they want to be. They can’t rely on others to convince them to be one way or the other; they’ll have to search within themselves and assess their values and then live by them.

That’s basically all Tyler is doing, but in a much more cosmic way–he’s never had to think about what truly matters to him until now. When he was Klingon, he wanted power to force his kind to bow to him. He wanted to rule the entire universe all so he could be accepted by others. All the while, he’s never accepted himself. Meanwhile, Tyler wants to be human and live by the Federation for Michael–it’s not clear if he, at this point in time, cares about the Federation for any other reason. Seeing Tyler’s journey towards self-acceptance, clarity, and peace is going to be turbulent, for sure, but I also feel it’s  going to be highly rewarding.

Michael always rises up above trope

As I’ve written last week, I’ve had some misgivings about where the series is headed after Culber’s death. But after seeing the continuation of the Culber-Stamets storyline, plus Wilson Cruz’s own promise that we haven’t seen the last of their love story, has put me tentatively at ease. Interestingly enough, how the writers are handling Michael’s characterization has also put me at ease with where the series is headed, since I now feel that all of the characters, especially Michael, will get deserving ends to their arcs.

Yes, Michael could be at risk for having a relationship go down the tubes. But at this point, it’s way more fruitful to talk about how the characters are organically evolving rather than keep a tally. As I wrote in my Season 2 finale recap of Into the Badlands for Black Girl Nerds, I discuss how Veil’s death doesn’t preclude that black women can’t die in their shows; what matters is how their characters have organically arrived at such a devastating conclusion. If it isn’t earned, then that’s when the characters fall into trope.

“Let’s take out the racial component for a second because the devil’s advocate rebuttal to Veil’s death would be that Black women characters have just as much of a chance to die as white women characters do. In a democratically-written show, this is very true. However, if we take out the racial component, we’re still left with another woman who had to die for there to be “emotional depth.” Couldn’t there have been emotional depth built with her still living? I understand that the writing team probably wanted this season to be one where Sunny comes face to face with the types of horrors his life of clipping can bring, but there could have been other ways for him to deal with those demons other than Veil dying, right?

…The fridging of Veil reiterates how much of a misstep this is for a show that has been praised for its commitment to telling stories a different way. Throughout two seasons, there hadn’t been an egregious fridging of any woman. If anything, we’ve seen the fridging of a man—Ryder—at the expense of Jade’s emotional growth, a remarkable gender role reversal. But Veil is the first woman to receive this extensive treatment, all to further Sunny’s hero’s journey as well as the building anticipation of reaching Azra. And again, she’s also a woman of color, whereas all of the other women who have been able to survive are white (or, in the case of Baroness Chau, Asian). If we’re going to fridge women, did the only fridged woman have to also be a woman of color? Let’s be equal in our annihilation of female characterization, at the very least.”

The same can be said for black women who end up alone on screen. It all comes down to how they’ve organically arrived to that new chapter in their lives, regardless of any racial or social politics that surround the character. If this were just a case of Voq waking up and saying, “I’m bouncing for L’Rell, bye,” and there was no more exploration of anything, that’d be one thing. But it’s another when 1) Tyler/Voq is in a state of mental and physical duress–he’s a man trapped inside another’s body, and the minds of both Tyler and Voq are at war, with Tyler feeling the effects of PTSD and sexual trauma and 2) both sides of Tyler and Voq love two different people. While Voq relies on L’Rell as his reminder of his Klingon self, Tyler relies on Michael to keep him human. There’s a lot going on here, and the complexities of it save the entire exercise from stereotype.

Overall, I feel like Star Trek: Discovery just might have one of the most explosive episodes ever, and I’m not just talking about space battles. I’ll admit that dramatic changes, such as Culber’s death last week, are scary. They can make viewers and critics like me doubt a show’s direction. Some of that doubt is earned–too often, we’ve seen when big gambles don’t pay off. But it seems like with Discovery, the gambles just might do more than merely “pay off”–they might propel the show towards even greater heights. We’ll have to see how true this prediction is once the season is over.

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Crazy Rich Asian fashion, as shown in “Crazy Rich Asians” first look photos

Crazy Rich Asians is promising audiences the most expensive looking film of 2018! (Well, one of them, if Black Panther has anything to say about that.) Most definitely, we will see tons of fashions, tons of labels, and tons of money. But can you, the plebeian, have the Crazy Rich Asians clothes? Yeah…but you still might have to take out a bank loan for some of these. But yes, you can live the Crazy Rich Asians life. Check out these fashion selections as shown in the exclusive Entertainment Weekly first look photos and see what you think.

The Meet-Cute Trench Coat

Wool trench coat | ASOS | $135

None of us have seen Crazy Rich Asians yet, but we already know what this scene is about, right? Everything about it says “New York City Romantic Comedy Meet-Cute.” All of our dreams–living a fabu life in New York, dating a wealthy man (this wealthy man, Nick Young, played by Henry Golding), eating ritzy food in an expensive restaurant–have come true in this one scene. Also a dream: a great trench coat.

This belted trench coat from ASOS carries the urban elegance that I feel best reflects this particular scene in Crazy Rich Asians. This coat has a bit more drape than the coat in the image, but it has that monied, yet lived-in look that I feel is best suited to getting your “I’m a normal girl in a rich fantasy” lifestyle on.

Eccentric rich girl pajamas

PJ Salvage Dogs & Hats Flannel Pajamas | Dillards | $68

In Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina plays Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s (Constance Wu) kind, loving, rich friend from college. In this scene, it looks like Rachel has surprised her friend, since Peik Lin is meeting Rachel in her awesome dog print (silk?) pajamas.

You too can have some awesome silk pajamas, and for a fraction of a fraction of the price of Peik Lin’s expensive pajama set. These from Dillard’s, made by PJ Salvage, have dogs in kerchiefs and cowboy hats, making this set adorable, eccentric, and fun.

 Daytime party glam

Shape gold sequin halter top jumpsuit| PrettyLittleThing | $90

Sonoya Mizuno plays Araminta Lee, the fiancee of Nick’s very rich friend (in case you hadn’t caught on yet, everyone’s loaded in this film, including Rachel, although she doesn’t know it yet until the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend). Unlike Nick, who doesn’t flaunt his wealth, and Peik Lin, who is just a shopaholic but otherwise nice person, Araminta looks like she drips money and loves to flaunt it. Why else would she wear a party-ready gold sequin jumpsuit in the daytime?

This jumpsuit from PrettyLittleThing evokes Araminta’s luxe lifestyle. The black stripes also heighten the expensive look of this jumpsuit.

 Luxe beading

Embroidered dress | Sherri Hill | $1,550 (various sellers)

Nick’s mother Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) also looks like she loves being monied, doesn’t she? Her nude and teal-beaded jacket and dress (I think) combo gives off old money and class. What it doesn’t show is how she’s uppity–throughout the book, Eleanor has a chip on her shoulder about how Rachel is just middle class.

The appliqué in this dress made by Sherri Hill echoes the blue beading in Eleanor’s surely bespoke outfit. The beaded appliqué in this dress gives an updated appearance to traditional appliqué, which can look mature, depending on how it’s treated. Here, the appliqué gives this dress an upscale, chic look.

The wedding dress to end all wedding dresses

Topaz sparkle tulle bridal ball gown | Lazaro | $4000-$5000 (various sellers)

Araminta’s wedding dress is all bespoke–from last I checked, it’s supposed to be bespoke Valentino. It’d have to be to have feathers, a high-low ruffle skirt, gold, pastel pink, beading, and nude illusion all in one dress.

However, I was able to find a dress that would mimic the expensive, fantasy wedding feeling you get from Crazy Rich Asians that you can buy…if you save up beacoup money for it. From what I hear, folks who are in the market for a Kleinfeld dress spend at least $3000, so this dress from Lazaro is within the ballpark (as you know, the sky’s the limit for wedding dress prices).

This particular dress has the gold beading, pastel pink, nude illusion bust and ruffles, much of what’s in play with the bespoke dress. You can have Araminta’s look, after all!

What do you think about the fashion in Crazy Rich Asians? Give your opinions below!

Exclusive interview: 5 insights from “Marshall” star Mark St. Cyr

If you’ve seen Marshall, the origin story of future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, you’ve seen Mark St. Cyr. The actor plays August, the boyfriend of Thurgood Marshall’s frenemy, poet Langston Hughes.

While August might be happiest acting as a support system for Hughes, St. Cyr is hoping to stand out from the crowd and make a big dent in Hollywood. Marshall is just one of the major plays St. Cyr has under his belt; he’s also starring in the upcoming webseries Giving Me Life: In the Land of Deadass, which St. Cyr described as Friends, if Friends was directed by Issa Rae. The webseries has made its world premiere Oct. 24 at the New York Television Festival and has been featured as a Kickstarter creator-in-residence.

I’m glad I got a chance to speak to St. Cyr and learn more about his character in the film, his experiences on set, and what it’s like to be in the same room with Empire‘s Jussie Smollett and Chadwick Boseman, who has played Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and the Wakandan king T’Challa in the upcoming Marvel juggernaut Black Panther. Check out these five moments from our conversation.

On playing August: I play August and the key thing that August does in the film is he represents the outside world. Marshall is kind of in a small, claustrophobic courtroom world—he’s trying to solve the case at hand [involving] Sterling K. Brown [star of NBC’s This Is Us]. In the middle of the movie, he takes a break from that small courtroom and comes back to his hometown of New York to see what the world going on. [People] in the black world have their own opinions on how it’s going to go. August and Langston Hughes represent what the black elite artistic culture are thinking about Marshall at that moment. August supports the opinions of Langston Hughes as he and Marhsall duel it out at the jazz club.

On working with Jussie Smollett: He’s great. He’s incredibly humble and very warm and open. He shared a lot of wisdom with me, I was able to ask him about things that could help me on my own journey, and he was very gracious and generous and he did a great job.

 

On playing opposite Black Panther‘s Chadwick Boseman: It’s pretty cool [laughs]. It’s a little surreal. He’s a man—you get used to thinking he’s going to jump on top of cars, and then you see him in hair and makeup getting his hair [styled] into Marshall’s. It’s a funny juxtaposition, but it’s cool.

Everybody’s celebrating Chadwick and it feels like when one of us succeeds in a major way, all of us succeed in a major way. The fact that it’s being made at all is a [big win]. There’s just a lot of energy supporting that film and getting that [energy] so far before it’s been released– that’s a victory in and of itself. Having an opportunity to be a part of that energy is really great.

What St. Cyr learned about Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes: Marshall’s all about going inside the system and changing the laws. He’s very direct in his method and Langston Hughes is about creating art that moves people and stirs people from the inside out, writing about it in a way that…moves people’s conscience. It’s kind of a covert mission whereas Marshall is guns blazing. In the movie, Marshall disagrees with the way Langston goes about [challenging racism] and I think that’s still something we deal with now.

What moviegoers can learn from Marshall: People see Marshall as this iconic figure who won everything he ever did and went to the Supreme Court and lived happily ever after. I think a lot of times, people need to see the struggle chapters of some of our heroes, and I think this is the moment to show you [that] he was a man and he was not invincible. He may have become an American hero, but he was [human]. Our heroes are human…but they are capable of doing great things, as we all are. The world is always going to need heroes.♦

This article was edited and condensed. 

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2018 Film Forecast: Looking Into the Abyss

It’s time to look to the near future of film. Just like how the fashion industry has become an industry that relies on trend forecasting, let’s utilize the same concept when discussing what kind of mood the country will be in when we decide to sit in the theaters next year. From where I’m sitting, 2018 is going to be a year of contemplation, a year of gathering one’s bearings after a tumultuous 2017, and overall, a year of figuring out where we in the U.S. and, indeed, the world, are going if we keep on our path towards destruction.

COLOR STORY

The color story that seems to be going on in 2018 is muted blues and black disrupted by explosive, fiery colors–dark red, orange, and gold. My using the word “explosive” is meant in both a descriptive and literal sense; there is a very real sense of literal explosions in our daily life at this point in 2017, what with the threat of North Korea, the growing Cold War-esque tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and the country’s own political explosions with mounting evidence that showcases President Trump and the administration under the sway of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s power.

The end of 2017 will see dark red come into play as we transition from this year into the next. Check out these Star Wars: The Last Jedi posters from this year:

 

Dark red is the dominant color, painting each of the characters to show that no matter what side you’re on, everyone’s going to be affected politically, socially, and personally by the upheaval that will happen in this next part of the saga.

All of this year’s colors are featured in The Justice League, which is coming out late 2017. The Zack Snyder-led DCU has been consistently moody, with blues, reds, oranges, and blacks making up the color palette. Perhaps it’s because of this big tentpole that we’ll see a lot more films take on a more Snyder-esque palette for their promotional material. What’s funny is that as much as people have derided Snyder for his bleak palette, 2018 will be the year that we as a culture actually feel it reflected in our collective mood. Maybe Snyder was onto something the whole time.

Red, gold, orange, neon blue and muted blues make their way into several of next year’s movies, both in their posters and in the trailers themselves. The throughline seems to be that humanity wants to find the balance between war and peace, technology and human experiences, existentialism and optimism. The importance of neon blue definitely shows itself in the more futuristic films; in these films, humanity on the precipice of extinction–or at the very least, fighting for some kind of co-existence with a more dominant species– is the main plot point.

ORANGE: Power, the unknown, disturbance

(featured: Proud Mary, Alpha, A Wrinkle in Time, Blade Runner: 2049)

NEON BLUE: Technology, mechanical coldness, human advancement (not always for the better)

(featured: Pacific Rim: Uprising, Ready Player One, Black Panther, Blade Runner: 2049)

RED AND BLACK: Ominous threat, fright, fight for survival

(featured: The Predator, Early Man, Blade Runner: 2049, Pacific Rim: Uprising)

NAVY AND MUTED BLUES: Contemplation, the dark side of technology, lurking threat, existentialism

(featured: Pacific Rim: Uprising, Blade Runner 2049, A Wrinkle in Time, Ready Player One)

GOLD AND BLACK: Personal strength, inner power, intelligence, new beginnings

(featured: Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Blade Runner 2049, Alpha)

2018 MAJOR THEMES

Movie studios will still be making reboots, remakes, and sequels. However there seems to be an even clearer note of nostalgia with some of these films in 2018 aside from Hollywood trying their luck with any book or older film property.

Nostalgia, particularly nostalgia for the ’80s and ’90s (a time when a big chunk of the most catered to media demographic, young people 18-40, were kids or teenagers) will be apparent in 2018. Of course, Blade Runner: 2049 is a big send-up to the ’80s, but there’s also Ready Player One, which will have properties that span the ’80s and ’90s making cameo appearances (such as The Iron Giant, featured above). Other films such as Goosebumps: Horrorland, The Predator, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom keep up the nostalgic ’80s and ’90s trend. Even horror is getting on the bandwagon with the resurgence of killer doll Chucky and Halloween‘s Mike Myers.

Other films, like Barbie, Peter Rabbit, S.C.O.O.B. (a new live-action iteration of Scooby-Doo) and Mary Poppins Returns show that childhood memories from any era are back in play. Overall, the nostalgic trend showcases the longing everyone has to go back to a time when they didn’t have to worry about the fate of the world every. single. day.

A big example of the ’80s trend in mainstream tentpoles is Thor Ragnarok. 

via GIPHY

Thor isn’t a legacy property the same way Barbie, Peter Rabbit, and Mary Poppins are. But, as was apparent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the late ’70s and ’80s are a big influence on Marvel’s intergalactic adventures. I mean, it’s not accident that Bruce Banner shows up wearing a shirt featuring Duran Duran’s RIO album cover, or that ’80s genre it boy Jeff Goldblum is part of the main cast. The bright colors, bombastic feel, and Valkyrie showing up with a fleet of warriors on winged horses smacks of 1970s and 1980s heavy metal, Philip Castle airbrush art, as well as 1980s candy-coated cartoons, which also delved into their share of metal inspiration via He-ManShe-Ra, and ThunderCats. Even the ship that is felled by the fireworks display behind Valkyrie (below) seems to pay homage to the spaceship iconography apparent with the band Electronic Light Orchestra, aka ELO.

(featured: scenes from Thor: Ragnaork, Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, Philip Castle airbrush artwork, ELO spaceship artwork)

In short, film studios want those of us in our 20s and 30s to feel like we did when we’d stay up to watch TGIF or when woke up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons. That feeling of nostalgia is going to be used as a buffer and distraction from the scary times we have yet to enter come 2018.

While we’re all pining for our worry-free childhoods, we’ll also be taking stock of our place in the universe and whether we can keep our planet going for another couple thousand years. Quite a few films will focus on the world at its bleakest and most depleted as well as the world when it was fresh and new. Alpha, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, is set during the last part of the Ice Age, and Aardman’s Early Man will have its protagonist, a Bronze Age man (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), on a journey to save his beloved city.

On the extinction side of things, Ready Player One takes place in a near future in which Detroit is inundated with trailer-home skyscrapers called The Stacks and Mortal Engines, based on the popular book series by Philip Reeve, shows an earth that is desolate after the “Sixty Minute War,” with cities roaming Laputa-style, attacking and eating smaller cities in its path to replenish supplies. Extinction, which will feature Michael Peña, Mike Colter, and Lizzy Caplan, will see our current world invaded by aliens.

Sci-fi in 2018 will be almost exclusively about the world’s dire straits and how we humans can protect ourselves and the world from becoming extinct. One of Dwayne Johnson’s many projects next year, Rampage, is based on an ’80s video game (yes, nostalgia again), but it’ll be a more serious take on the game, which involved monsters wreaking havoc on cities. In the film, the monsters are animals (endangered or vulnerable animals, no less) that have been mutated by a mad scientist to destroy humanity. Pacific Rim: Uprising continues the story of a world that is constantly at war with underwater aliens, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes the dinosaurs out of the park and into the metropolis, creating yet another version of Godzilla. (Also, don’t forget about the sequel to Godzilla, coming in 2019, which will continue the environmentally-conscious trend in sci-fi films).

So why do sci-fi films seem to have a lot of power when it comes to this environmental message? Well, one of the cornerstones of sci-fi film is to discuss our culpability in our own demise and whether we’ll have the smarts to right our wrongs. And while we’ve been fantasizing about aliens wiping us out, the real threat has been us all along–we’ve mutated as many animals and destroyed as much wildlife as any alien in sci-fi has. So the alien threat in most of these films has become nature itself. When there is actual science to back up your sci-fi–yes, the earth is heating up and we’re destroying the ecosystem at all levels and perhaps we’re making our own grave if we don’t invest in sustainable methods of living–then sci-fi’s environmental message becomes that much stronger.

(featured: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Rampage)

It’s a little early, but I’ve been looking at the 2019 slate as it stands right now, and it would seem that some more optimistic films are on the horizon after 2018. Perhaps the film industry is banking on us getting out of our present political and social state (we will be getting closer to Trump’s end of his first–and hopefully final–term) and we’ll finally have reason to celebrate. Let’s hope so. But in 2018, we’ll be in the existentialist thick of figuring out how we’re going to keep this world spinning.

We’re at odds with Russia, and more and more people believe that the Russian government has injected itself into our politics and in the country’s presidency. More insidious is the probability that Trump is willingly under Putin’s thumb. We haven’t faced such times as these since President Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the Cold War, which lasted from the lasted from the late ’40s to the ’80s (again, there’s a hint of ’80s nostalgia there). So naturally, 2018 will see an increased focus on ’70s and ’80s politics, the Cold War, Nixon and Watergate, and new interpretations of those themes in present-day stories. Films such as Red Sparrow and Finding Steve McQueen are directly related to Russian/American politics, both in the 1970s and today. The interest in Russia has already in TV, with Channing Tatum’s Comrade Detective and HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 (I’ll get to TV in another post, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the TV trends too). That trend is also already coming to film with this September’s The Death of Stalin, chronicling the days after the Joseph Stalin’s death.

(featured: Red Sparrow book cover, The Death of Stalin, Finding Steve McQueen, The papers set photo)

The Papers is another film that’s about the 1970s (and late 1960s), but it’s handling public distrust of another kind. The Papers is all about the discovery of The Pentagon Papers, which showed that President Johnson lied to the public about the nature of the Vietnam War. While this isn’t directly about Nixon or Watergate, it’s still showing that the film tide is turning towards investigating a lack of trust in authority, particularly in a “post-truth” society.

Eventually, the focus that is beginning to be applied to Russia and the Cold War of the ’80s will also rope in North Korea as well. With North Korea becoming more and more of a nuclear threat each day, screenwriters will no doubt want to turn their attention towards the Hermit Kingdom, and studios will also probably want to capitalize on some of the properties that are already out that focus on nuclear threat. (A possible resurgence of Watchmen, perhaps? Just spit-balling here).

As you can see in this Oceans Eight first look image, women are going to be in power in all kinds of ways. From robbing folks to executing hits to owning stardom, women in unconventional and/or powerful roles will be all over 2018. Some of the films we’ll see next year are Battle Angel AlitaA Wrinkle in Time, Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, The Nightingale, Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider, Crazy Rich Asians, Proud Mary, Widows, Ant Man and the Wasp, Life of the Party, The Papers, Winchester, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Annihilation, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, to name a few.

(featured: Rosa Salazar cast in Alita: Battle Angel, Meryl Streep in The Papers, Taraji P. Henson in Proud Mary, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon in A Wrinkle in Time, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation, Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider)

Several of the films mentioned have women of color at the forefront, and two such films, like Widows and Proud Mary have black women (Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson, respectively) taking on roles that require their characters to exact deadly revenge, a micro-trend by itself. Alita: Battle Angel, based on a popular anime and manga about a cyborg brought back to life, stars Rosa Salazar amid a multicultural cast, and Crazy Rich Asians finally ends the drought of a lack of a pan-Asian presence on screen. Zazie Beetz (seen below) will become the first lady of Fox’s Deadpool franchise and, of course, all of that is rounded out by the introduction of Storm Reid in A Wrinkle in Time and the big screen debut of ballerina (or as I like to think of her, my ballerina Barbie come to life) Misty Copeland in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. (As a huge Nutcracker fan, I can’t wait to see the film’s costumes. Here’s hoping they live up to my expectations.)

The tide has been turning for women in film, what with the outcry of several actresses about the lack of meaningful roles for women, the financial gain studios have seen from hiring women for action and bawdy comedy roles (such as Girls Trip, which became the highest-grossing live-action comedy in 2017), and movie-goers’ own demand for actresses getting equal treatment next to their male counterparts. This has led to the portrayal of women who aren’t just boobs and butts with mouths for male pleasure; Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider isn’t the busty woman of the past (who still kicked butt, by the way); she’s now a slimmed-down, more athletic-built woman who is on an existential search for herself as well as she finds out the truth about her father. Meryl Streep plays a newspaper titan who is out to get those Pentagon Papers. Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson are scientists studying another world, with no men in sight.

But, as you can probably infer from the high gross from Girls Trip, that there’s also a racial element at play, too. It’s not just that women as a whole are getting more roles, it’s that there’s slowly more equity for women of color to be seated at the table as well. While women in general don’t have as much play as actors, white women still had the lion’s share of the roles. Technically, they still do, but thankfully, with directors of color like Ava DuVernay and actresses of color-turned-producers like Queen Latifah taking the reins, we’re finally beginning to see films starring actresses of color play in roles that were strictly relegated only to white actresses. Would we have seen Mindy Kaling and Oprah play interdimensional beings if it weren’t for another woman of color like DuVernay? I’m sure someone would have done it, but it wouldn’t have happened so soon, I’d think, and it might not have been done with the same intention of equity. Ditto for A Wrinkle in Time featuring an interracial relationship and what looks like a blended family (from the trailers, it’s seems like Storm’s character has a white brother, leading me to think that it’s her stepbrother).

Is Hollywood really “woke” by including more people of color and more of an LGBT focus in its movies? Let’s just say this is Hollywood’s first dip of its big toe in the water of being “woke.” However, this is still a huge push forward in 2018, with a bigger number of films showcasing either all-POC or mostly POC casts.

Of course, there’s Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and A Wrinkle in Time, but there’s also, Triple Threat, starring Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Tiger Chen and Uko Uwais, and The Predator, which stars Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn and Edward James Olmos.

As mentioned before, Annihilation stars Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, and several movies, including Deadpool 2, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Skyscraper, Gringo, Creed 2, Mary Poppins Returns, the currently-untitled Han Solo Star Wars filmThe Alchemist, Aladdin and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom will prominently feature POC characters. Just take a look at this compilation of actors:

(Featured: Lin-Manuel Miranda in Mary Poppins Returns, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok, the cast of RampageJurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘s B.D. Wong, Star Wars Han Solo film’s Donald Glover, J.A. Bayona in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, the cast of The Predator, the cast of Aquaman and director James Wan, Crazy Rich Asians‘ Henry Golding, Aladdin‘s Mena Massoud)

It also doesn’t hurt that there will be some big films directed by directors of color. DuVernay has been mentioned, and James Wan is in charge of Aquaman. Taika Waititi is behind Thor: Ragnarok and Steve McQueen is behind Widows. Jon M. Chu is bringing his directorial vision to Crazy Rich Asians.

There’s also Simon vs. the Homo-Sapien Agenda, which will be the live-action adaptation of a novel focusing on a high schooler taking coming out to his classmates in his own hands.

With all of this progress, there are still some indications Hollywood isn’t as woke as it’d like to be: at least two of the movies on the current slate feature Asian themes (specifically Japanese storytelling) without Japanese characters. As mentioned already, the Alita film adaptation will feature a multicultural cast with a non-Japanese POC lead, and Isle of Dogs will feature a mostly-white, if not all-white, cast (including Scarlett Johansson, whom people still haven’t forgiven for her role in Ghost in the Shell). We’ll see how these films are handled as we get closer to their releases. Also, Simon vs. the Homo-Sapien Agenda is currently the only high-profile film focusing on a gay character. We’ll see exactly how many LGBT characters and stories are a part of 2018, but it looks like Hollywood is, once again, lacking in this area. There’s also no clear word on how disabled people will be represented either. Seeing how disabled people have been represented this year, there’s no reason to think that 2018 will showcase anything different. But we can hope.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned every film coming out in 2018 (partially because not every film has released its promotional info) and, like with anything, there will be outliers that are hard to put into any category. But these are my general thoughts on 2018–an overview, if you will. What do you think 2018 holds for us? Give your thoughts below!

4 reasons why the “Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer rocks

Marvel Studios

Marvel has had a time with inclusiveness in their films. For most of their first two phases, they have failed at it, to be honest. The beginning of their third phase has gotten off to a rocky start with Doctor Strange. However, Marvel seems to be swiftly making up for their errors; first, we had Netflix’s Luke Cage (which has been greenlit for a second season, so hopefully we can get more #ShadyMariah action). We’ve also seen the amazing cast for 2018’s Black Panther. Now, we’ve got the trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, and boy does it look refreshing.

Let me count the ways in which Spider-Man: Homecoming might be the turning point for Marvel’s films.

1. It actually looks like the real world. Let’s face it; New York City doesn’t look like Sex and the City. I’d say Law and OrderNew York: Undercover and Living Single are the closest things to what New York actually looks and feels like. It’s a high-class town, and it’s also one of the grimiest towns. It’s also full of people of color.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, unlike other Marvel films, actually portrays New York as the diverse melting pot it is. The film also goes one step further and imbues a freshness to the city. Maybe it’s because the film is also in a high school setting and the majority of the cast are young. But this version of New York matches the vibe of the city—fast-paced and full of life.

2. A black girl is the love interest. Laura Harrier’s Liz Allan is “the new top,” (which is what Peter calls her, I think), and I couldn’t be happier. Now, if I’m being honest, we can talk about colorism issues, since there’s no black or biracial girl who’s darker than a paper bag in this movie. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Harrier is the first black love interest in a Marvel movie. That’s both a legendary title (for Harrier) and a shameful one (for Marvel).

Marvel Studios

How Peter, who seems way out of her league, gets her as his girl is something I’m dying to figure out, because I’m not seeing how Liz would give Peter the time of day. And maybe Zendaya’s character (who is or isn’t Mary Jane) is the one Peter’s actually supposed to be with (a la Clueless). If that’s the case, I hope the racists are extra mad, since either way, Peter ends up with a non-white girlfriend.

3. Marvel finally showcases positive multicultural representation. Jacob Batalon’s character Ned Leeds is a Filipino-American actor hitting the scene in a big way, and what better way to kick off your Hollywood career than in a splashy Marvel movie. The film also showcases the talents of Kenneth Choi, Orange is the New Black‘s Selenis Leyva (shown in the trailer), Hannibal Burress, Garcelle Beauvais, Tony Revolori, Abraham Attah, Donald Glover and many, many others. This is the most diverse cast in Marvel Studios history, which is damning praise, but praise nonetheless.

Jacob Batalon and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming. (Marvel Studios)

4. It looks like the Spider-Man movie we’ve always been promised. When the original Spider-Man film starring Tobey Maguire came out, we were happy with it; it seemed cool and the comic book movie genre was still in its infancy. But now, after so many iterations of Spider-Man’s origin story, the film franchise was in danger of dying out just because we were all sick of seeing Uncle Ben die. Thankfully, Marvel had the sense to skip all of that drudgery this time around. Uncle Ben is already dead, Aunt May isn’t a grandma, and we’re following Peter (who actually looks like he should be in high school—sorry, Tobey) as he finds his place within the Avengers, aka The Grown Adults Club. Also, we get some extra Iron Man appearances for our trouble. The film is ready to immerse us in the rest of the stories Spider-Man has for us.

Check out the trailer below and write what you think in the comments section. Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters July 7, 2017.

“Doctor Strange” puts Mordo on the villain’s path for no reason

Marvel Studios

With Thanksgiving comes Thanksgiving trips to the movie theater, and on one such trip, I was treated to a showing of Doctor Strange. As you well know if you’re a constant reader of this site, Doctor Strange isn’t well liked around these parts, and for good reason—whitewashing and using a pan-Asian cultural motif as a backdrop for non-Asian characters.

Doctor Strange is a confounding movie, partly because if it weren’t for the outstanding cultural criticisms and controversy, it actually has the bones of a decent film.  We’re only one movie-deep into Marvel’s Phase Three (Captain America: Civil War was the first one), but Doctor Strange showed the confident and daring direction Marvel plans on taking its films in the future. Now that we’ve introduced Marvel’s version of a Time Lord, we’re going to see much more boldness and boundary-pushing from the franchise. Overall, it’s great to see Marvel so confident with their chosen direction.

Also, Doctor Strange‘s score is by Michael Giacchino, who has quickly become a favorite for me. Due to The Lion King, I’ve always been a fan of Hans Zimmer’s brass-heavy scores, and because John Williams is so ingrained in movie culture—he even did the soundtrack for Home Alone, for goodness’ sake!—I respect his lengthy body of work, despite his composing style sometimes leaving too much of a light, airy atmosphere for my liking. However Giacchino is like the wonderful compromise between Zimmer’s boldness and punch and Williams’ cerebral qualities. In short, Giacchino creates scores that are fun, uplifting (see: Star Trek Beyond‘s “Night on the Yorktown”), tongue-in-cheek, yet dark, mysterious, and sometimes even sexy (perfect example of sexy Giacchino—The Incredibles‘ “Off to Work” and “Lava in the Afternoon”).

However, that is where my compliments for the movie stop. I have quite a lot of gripes with the film, and it’s time I let them out, in my favorite form—a bulleted list.

• The whitewashing is more egregious in person: After having analyzed the film for several weeks, I already knew the biggest issue in the film was Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. That issue was compounded by C. Robert Cargill, the co-writer of the film, sticking in his ill-advised two cents about Tibetan-Chinese politics as the reasoning for a white Ancient One.

But it’s one thing to write about the whitewashing and it’s another to actually see it with your own eyes. The problems in this film abound. First, you have Swinton. Not only is she The Ancient One, but she’s effectively a spiritual ruler of Nepal. An old Celtic woman is the spiritual ruler of a non-Celtic, non-white people. Fascinating.

Let’s also talk about what Nepal looks like. The film portrayed Nepal as some mystical place without roads or modern transportation. Everyone looked like they were mere seconds away from getting on their knees to pray. Religion might be a huge part of a country, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the country have to look like devotees. The film shows a side of Nepal that looks like this:

Kathmandu, Nepal--Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu, Nepal–Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This picture looks similar to the types of crowds Stephen Strange came upon as he was looking for The Ancient One. But Nepal also looks like this:

Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat "This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley." (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat
“This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley.”
(Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The point is there’s a lot more to Nepal, to just Kathmandu, than the film suggests. Is there time to visit every locale in Nepal? Of course not. But there was enough time to not give Nepal the “noble savage” treatment, which means, according to Wikipedia:

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”.[2] The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, whom some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the “feminine” sentimentality of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.[a] 

Even though the film didn’t have any of the extras speak, it clearly showcased Kathmandu as an idealistically mystical, Othered space, with closeups on holy men and temples. The extras also weren’t wearing Western clothes, something that further separated them from actual depictions of 21st century Nepalese people. Western exports have made their way all around the globe, including Nepal, and as you can see in the above pictures, folks are wearing leather jackets, hoodies, polo shirts, slacks and jeans. Even the woman with the shawl on in the first picture is wearing Westernized sandals, a long-sleeved red shirt and some green pants, and one of the men buying her wares, the guy with the leather jacket, has an iPod. If you took a shot of the extras in the Kathmandu sequence and put it in black and white, it could act as a shot from a film about Nepal in the 1800s, not the 21st century. This is not to say that portraying Nepalese people wearing traditional clothing is anachronistic; what I am saying is that painting a picture of the Nepalese as a people who haven’t been affected by world commerce and capitalism is a false picture.

The “noble savage” idea wasn’t explicit, but it was very subtly implied in order to make Kathmandu seem like a perfect place for The Ancient One and to act as further contrast to Stephen’s New York sensibilities and, indeed, his whiteness.

•The Ancient One is full of crock. Let’s get back to The Ancient One. She’s full of shit.

Sorry to be so blunt and for cursing, but she really is. She was using the dark magic that she forbade her disciples from using to lengthen her own life. She would say she was doing it to protect the earth, but she was actually doing it because of her fear of death. In essence, this makes the big bad, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), actually right about her. So, yes, he’s evil for invoking the intergalactic demon Dormammu in an attempt to take over the world, but just because he’s evil doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. What it does mean is The Ancient One’s hypocrisy is what turned him, a devoted disciple, into a disillusioned mess. Can we talk about how he was crying crocodile tears while spreading the “gospel” about the demon to Stephen while chained up in that suit-harness-thing? To me, it evoked scenes from Thor, in which Loki is crying while hating Thor for being the chosen one; Loki might be the “evil one,” but Loki is also psychologically damaged, simply looking for unconditional love from the Odin, the man whose supposed to be his father. Doesn’t that sound a little like Kaecilius’ dilemma?

 

Marvel Studios

Kaecilius might have gone to the dark side, but, like Loki, he was a conflicted soul who was looking for answers after the person he idolized failed him. If there was a way The Ancient One could have reeled him back in, she should have done it, especially since she already knew how powerful and skilled he was. But the thing that could have possibly swayed him—her giving up her Dormammu powers—was something she wasn’t going to part with. So Kaecilius probably figured, “If she’s going to use them, then why shouldn’t I?” Basically, this whole movie’s plot (minus Stephen’s accident) is her fault.

Also, The Ancient One was just giving out powers willy nilly. She gave Benjamin Bratt’s character Jonathan Pangborn the ability to walk again after a paralyzing accident. She was giving Stephen powers to use his hands again. She herself was bending time to stay alive. She made it seem like she was a benevolent master, but she was just as reckless with her powers as she claimed Stephen was and as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo warned against. Just like Strange, she was using her powers outside the natural order of things.

The Ancient One with the mark of Dormammu on her forehead. (Marvel Studios)

•Mordo is the only one who makes sense, and yet they’re building him up as the villain. How in the heck is Mordo supposed to be the villain, when Mordo is the only one who is keeping the world from being torn apart by Strange’s time meddling?

The Ancient One seemed to suggest that Mordo as a stickler for the rules was something that kept him from being great, or even being a master. I vehemently disagree. It’s Mordo’s insistence to stick by the natural order that made him supremely capable of being the master of the New York Sanctum. Mordo is right 100 percent that the laws of nature shouldn’t be tampered with, and yet it’s the hotshot white guy with a sarcastic mouth who gets to be the new Master. Are you kidding me?

Marvel Studios

Look, Stephen knew how to pick up magic fast. But isn’t Mordo owed something for being The Ancient One’s right hand for so many years? Had he not proven himself? To me, all this smacks of is the person of color being more qualified for a role that ends up going to the white guy who just got to the office a month ago. It smacks of the favoritism and tribalism that exists in society today. It’s why black people often tell their kids they have to be twice as good as their white counterparts in order to get half of the reward. It also smacks of a very white American, imperialistic view point of “We do what we want and get rewarded for it because we’re rebels!” Rebels don’t always need to be applauded. Just take a look at the Confederates.

If the next films present Mordo as the bad guy, I’ll be squarely on Mordo’s side. I know the argument is going to be, “But Doctor Strange helped save the world with his time-bending!” Sure. But Mordo was ready to save the world with his plan. He had his own way of saving the world, and it didn’t involve standing on the razor’s edge of an infinite loop of time, shredding the time-space continuum indefinitely. It involved fighting honestly and bravely and finding a solution that, as Spock would say, didn’t destroy the Prime Directive, and isn’t that how heroes are supposed to fight?

The end of the film sets up a very alarming status quo, something that also comes from real life. Just as the model minority myth wants to put Asian people at the feet of white supremacy and opposed to blackness, Doctor Strange sees Stephen and Wong (played by Benedict Wong) together, fighting evil on Stephen’s own terms, while Mordo decides to cast himself out, pitting himself against Stephen’s way of doing things. Doctor Strange‘s message seems to unconsciously be, “If only Mordo would do things Stephen’s way, just like Wong! Things would be so much easier.” Similarly, it’s like some people in real life thinking, “If only black people would do things our way, just like those industrious Asian people! Things would be so much easier!”

Marvel Studios

• The women in this film are strangely lacking: As the internet has said, it would have been better, much better, if someone like Michelle Yeoh was cast as The Ancient One. Making The Ancient One Celtic in a roundabout way to not create an Asian cariacature only complicated matters; all that was needed was to not create an Asian cariacture. If Yeoh played The Ancient One just as the character was written for Swinton, everything would have been fine; there wouldn’t have been any cariacture lines crossed.

With that said, it seems like this role as a whole would have been a waste of talents for Yeoh anyways. For all of the hooplah about The Ancient One being a “strong female character,” she barely did anything, at least not as much as the hype suggested. She participated in two battles with Kaecilius, and in the second one she was graphically fatally wounded. But we don’t see her do much else outside of instruct Strange, and even then, Mordo picks up where The Ancient One would sometimes leave off. In the end, The Ancient One was yet another woman in the comic book movie universe that has to die for the man’s journey to be fulfilled, so how progressive was her role, really?

Similarly, Rachel McAdams’s Christine is just another love interest, and somehow, she’s even less written than Rachel in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films or Natalie Portman’s Jane in the Thor movies. All Christine is there for is to be a battering ram for Strange’s emotional outbursts and as the soft, mothering angel he can come to after he’s changed his ways. McAdams did the best she could with such a thin character, but Christine was barely a character to begin with.

Marvel Studios

Lessons learned:  At the end of the day, it seems like Doctor Strange has proven to be a learning ground for the parties involved, or at the very least, for the director, Scott Derrickson. In a very honest interview with The Daily Beast‘s Jen Yamato, he gave an apology for his version of sidestepping the Asian caricature issue, a version which ended up being just as damaging if not more so. He said that he can’t be mad at those who are opposed to viewing the film.

“I don’t feel [the film’s opponents] are wrong. I was very aware of the racial issues that I was dealing with. But I didn’t really understand the level of pain that’s out there, for people who grew up with movies like I did but didn’t see their own faces up there.”

Seeing how he said he was already aware of the issue of Asian caricature, this was a case of someone believing they had all the knowledge necessary to solve a problem simply because they were “aware” of the issues. This film is a prime example of why creators need to reach out to people of color when making media that squarely affects a particular racial group. Maybe he should have contacted an Asian writer, producer, or actor in the industry for advice. Maybe he and Cargill could have asked Marvel to sign off on an Asian writer to share the co-billing with them; an Asian writer’s perspective could have only helped the film and made the film more respectful to the audiences they were trying not to offend. Hindsight offers a lot of solutions.

But along with Derrickson, if anyone needs to take stock in those solutions, it’s Marvel. Already, Iron Fist has caused a lot of pain with the main character, a character that could be race-bent to give Asian American audiences much needed visibility. Instead, the Asian visibility is coming from the villain and secondary characters, with Iron Fist set up to be yet another white male character who learns “ancient” and “mystical” ways from an Asian teacher.

Thankfully, we have Spider-Man: Homecoming coming up, which is providing Filipino-American and Chinese-American visibility as well as black female visibility. Hopefully Spider-Man, Black Panther, with it’s all-black main cast, and Thor: Ragnarok, which is directed by Indigenous director Taika Waititi, will be the jumping-off point for Marvel films with more representation and more sensitivity to its subject matter and audience demographics.

GUEST POST: How Far Will Marvel’s Diversity Play Go?

Guest post by Lauren Davis

As Marvel continues to expand its cinematic universe, it’s becoming clear that the studio has an eye on more characters and a somewhat-more inclusive casting philosophy.

In particular, fans who have been calling for a more diverse range of characters have been pleased with the news coming out about 2018’s Black Panther. We reported a few years ago that Chadwick Boseman was taking up the role, and the rising actor had a wonderful debut in this past spring’s Captain America: Civil War. It was also revealed that Ryan Coogler (responsible for Fruitvale Station and Creed) was co-writing and directing the project. And more recently, we learned that Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o will have roles as well. There’s not too much known about their parts at this point, though it’s being speculated that they’ll both be villains. Regardless, Marvel is clearly attempting to correct its past issue of racial diversity (or a lack thereof).

The studio is also taking steps to include more women in prominent roles moving forward. There’s increasing talk about Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) being the subject of a solo film, and other leading roles for women have already come out or been confirmed. Krysten Ritter starred as Jessica Jones in her own Netflix show, and just recently it was confirmed by reliable sources that Brie Larson (who just won an Oscar for her performance in Room) will be playing Captain Marvel. These developments have largely silenced critics of Marvel’s gender equality for now, even if DC more or less prodded them into it by introducing Wonder Woman.

What may be most interesting for those hoping to see a deeper embrace of different genders and ethnicities is the fact that Marvel has also shown a desire to rope in more major characters. In addition to Black Panther, they brought Spider-Man into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, and there are those who believe Wolverine could be next. That may seem unlikely given that 20th Century Fox owns the character, but Hugh Jackman himself has encouraged the idea. There’s also the little fact that Wolverine and Spider-Man both appeared alongside the Avengers in a roulette game featured amongst similar options online. It’s just one game, and ultimately a themed roulette table with superhero icons “helping you win big money,” but games have in the past hinted at cinematic activity. And if nothing else, it’s a sign that Marvel still very much considers Wolverine to be part of its own entertainment empire, and not Fox’s. Meanwhile, there have also been whispers about everyone from Moon Knight to Adam Warlock being injected into the MCU.

Naturally, when you consider the slow but sure movement toward more inclusive casting in conjunction with the idea of adding more comic book characters, the question becomes clear: will Marvel look to add even more non-white and female characters? Or will Black Panther prove to be a lone indulgence and Captain Marvel an aberration?

There’s no shortage of options. Characters like Doctor Voodoo (a sorcerer who really should appear in this summer’s Doctor Strange) and Bishop could command solo films as strong African-American leading parts; and the likes of Falcon (Sam Wilson) or Luke Cage (Mike Colter) could be given larger roles in the MCU. For women, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) could assume her “Rescue” identity, or someone like Tigra or She-Hulk could be introduced. And these are only a few of the possibilities.

For now, it starts with Black Panther and Captain Marvel. We’ll just have to see if films like these signify a new trend or exist to quiet down the criticism.

Lauren Davis is a pop culture and entertainment writer. She contributes in a freelance capacity to numerous sites and blogs, and hopes to become a TV writer one day.

DC vs. Marvel: Which Movie Franchise Represents Its Audience More?

With the culmination of the San Diego Comic-Con, we’ve been getting a lot of DC Comics movie franchise news. Some of which includes the new footage of the Justice League movie, featuring Batman (Ben Affleck), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Superman (Henry Cavill).

With the introduction of DC’s superhero team, I started wondering—which movie franchise represents its diverse audience more?

Let’s take a look at some stats. According to the MPAA, the movie-going year of 2015 saw 23 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of African-Americans going to the movie theaters, even though Hispanics only made up 17 percent of the population and African-Americans made up 12 percent. Similarly, Asian Americans and Americans of other ethnicities were 9 percent of the movie-going population, even though they only made up 8 percent of the total population. Even though white Americans go to the movies a lot, too–56 percent of them made up movie audiences last year–they go much less than non-whites, since they are 62 percent of the total population. With all of this said, it’s clear that if you’re non-white, more than likely you’re in a movie theater at some given point in time. This also means that a disproportionate percentage of the money generated by movies is from non-white pockets. Therefore, movie theaters should start catering to those dollars more than they already do.

MPAA-2015-ethnicity

In the movies department, it’s pretty clear that DC is about to school Marvel on using diversity as its opening act. Batman v. Superman‘s trailer had a frustrating scene for me–the scene in which a ton of extras with Westernized Dia de los Muertos-esque skeleton face paint revering Superman as a god. It looked a lot like the scene from Game of Thrones, with a ton of brown people exalting Khaleesi as their savior. In short, I didn’t like it. And to be fair, not many people liked the movie in its entirety. But, it appears that DC will still have the Marvel beat when it comes to catering to a wider majority of its audience.

Enter the footage for the Justice League. 

Already, we have an overlapping group of a woman and three people of color (I’m including Gal Gadot in this group, hence the use of the word “overlapping”), and even though he’s not playing a gay character in the films, the Flash is played by Miller, who is gay in real life. Already, that’s a heck of a lot more inclusion than Marvel’s Avengers, which is majority white male (the only actual member of color is the Falcon, and the only woman is Black Widow).

DC also has Marvel beat when it comes to treating female characters like actual characters. People have been begging Marvel for years now to create a Black Widow movie, but cries had been falling on deaf ears until very recently, when Marvel finally announced that a Black Panther film and Black Widow film were going to be made. We have finally been getting tons of news about Black Panther, but a Black Widow film is still missing in action. However, the third movie in DC’s official movie franchise is Wonder Woman.

You can read my full thoughts here, but the short of it is that seeing a female superhero do her thing on the big screen is going to instill pride and hope in a lot of girls and women out there. It would behoove Marvel to do the same.

The diversity quotient is also high with Suicide Squad, which features women (in general) in various roles, but the film also prominently features people of color as the heroes (including Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuouye-Agbaje, and Common).

Of course, someone could say, “Well, it’s cruelly ironic that the heroes of Suicide Squad are the evil guys, and that over half of the evil guys are people of color.” Yeah, it is cruelly ironic. But let’s contrast this to Ant-Man, which was also about bad guys becoming the good guys. Except with Ant-Man, Paul Rudd was the genius who actually acted like a genius a good portion of the time. Ant-Man’s friends, played by T.I., Michael Peña, and David Dastmalchian, were supposed to be geniuses, too, but they frequently acted like racially-charged buffoons, characters who seemed to be the brainchild of someone who believed non-white people actually act like stereotypes in real life. It was clear the Rudd’s character was the cool, calm, and collected leader, even though they were all supposed to be on the same level of intelligence. Sure, a lot of non-white people are the bad guys in Suicide Squad, but at least they all seem to be written to exist on the same level. They seem to all have their own individuality. There’s also the case of Smith’s character Deadshot in the leadership position, a change of pace from Marvel’s status quo. Also great is that Davis is the one in charge of all of them.

Marvel’s films are also failing in another area: proper representation of race. Marvel is quick to tout it’s “diversity” in terms of how many black people they hire for films. They’re especially doing that now, what with Black Panther and the Netflix show Luke Cage. But it took ages for Marvel to finally commit to Black Panther, and before they finally committed, bogus statements had been put out regarding their indecision, such as how supposedly hard it would be to create a realistic Wakanda, even though Marvel had already made Thor, which featured another non-existent locale, Asgard.

Second, it’s not like Marvel has ever had a character of color lead a film until Black Panther; the Marvel universe has had enough longevity to be able to put out several movies with characters of color as the leads, but instead, they’ve constantly resorted to the “goofy, yet smart white male” lead, which makes almost every movie in the latter half of Phase 2 feel like the same movie, just retold with varying degrees of success.

Third, the characters of color the films do have are always in secondary positions. The Falcon has since become Captain America in the comics, but in the films, Falcon is relegated to Captain America’s buddy; I dare say he was relegated to mere “sidekick” in Captain America: Civil War, because Sam all-too-readily agrees to follow Cap into the sunset, even without fully hearing Cap’s plan or questioning Cap’s decision to become a fugitive. Rhodey is a great character, but even still, he’s Iron Man’s buddy. Nick Fury is the most powerful man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but sometimes even he is treated like an outside force, a character that is “important,” but is merely a guise to lure audiences into believing that the black characters in the Marvel Universe are treated better than they actually are. Heimdall is also powerful, but as some have said online, they felt Heimdall was nothing more than a glorified doorman, not the all-mighty keeper of the universe and its alternate dimensions.

Marvel also lets down audience members in general by asserting the reductive conclusion that black people equal “diversity,” when there are a lot of people Marvel are leaving out of the conversation. Case in point: Doctor Strange. If you read my online roundtable discussion about Doctor Strange, you’ll find that quite a few people are upset by the lack of foresight given when casting the title character and the Ancient One as white people. Also lacking in foresight was the decision to “add diversity” by casting Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as Doctor Strange’s…I don’t know…helpers. Again, Marvel assumes the hierarchy of characters should be that people of color fall back as sidekicks or magical helpers, while white characters assume the “default hero” character role. Marvel has also failed when it comes to representing Latinos, people of the Middle East, South and East Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and black women. I’m sure I’m missing some other groups as well.

If the only other non-white, non-black Marvel character is Michael Peña’s character from Ant-Man, then it’s clear Marvel’s doing something wrong when it comes to fully representing fleshed-out versions of all Americans. The kicker is that they have representations of fleshed-out characters of color in their comics right now. Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man are two such examples. When are we going to see live-action projects featuring them? How many more white dudes with powers are we going to have to see on the big screen? Black Panther can’t be the only time we see a majority non-white cast in a Marvel film.

DC might have gotten their act together slowly, but they are coming out of the gate swinging with possibilities. We’ve already got Wonder Woman coming, and AquamanThe Flash, and Cyborg films have already been scheduled for 2018 and 2020. In building a franchise, it would appear DC has been studying Marvel’s failures as well as Marvel’s successes, and it seems like the franchise is planning on welcoming more people to the table.

However, Marvel seems to be slowly getting the message, since they have already cast Brie Larson as Captain Marvel for her own standalone movie:

And the cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming has been surprisingly multicultural (the film includes Donald Glover—who had campaigned to play Peter Parker years ago—Zendaya, Hannibal Buress, Tony Revolori, Garcelle Beauvais, Bokeem Woodbine, Abraham Attah, Kenneth Choi, Tiffany Espensen, Laura Harrier, and is rumored to also feature Selenis Leyva). The film has already had to face its share of whitewashing accusations when it comes to the casting of Michael Barbieri as an original character based on Ganke Lee, who, in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, is Miles Morales’ Korean-American best friend. But have they revamped that decision, based on this picture of the cast?

Despite their flubs, Marvel is working on rectifying their current lack of focus when it comes to representing their huge audience, baby step by stuttering baby step,. If Marvel starts getting serious about showcasing LGBT characters too, then I’d be absolutely convinced Marvel has learned its lesson from past mistakes.

What’s fascinating is that while Marvel has a ton of issues to get out of its system when it comes to the movie franchise, the same can’t be said of its TV and Netflix offerings. Such as Luke Cage, which offers up the politically-charged image of, as showrunner Cheo Coker told Vanity Fair, “a bulletproof black man.” Whatever is going on in Marvel’s TV department needs to filter into the movies department. But I’ll write more on the TV side of both the DC and Marvel universes in another post.

If you have thoughts about the movie and/or TV branches of either universe, feel free to discuss in the comments section!

JUST ADD COLOR’s “Ghost in the Shell” and “Dr. Strange” Online Roundtable featuring Claire Lanay and Keith Chow

Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange are two of the latest in a litany of projects in Hollywood that have whitewashed and otherwise erased Asian identity from film. The films have been an issue for as much as a year in advance (or, in Ghost in the Shell’s case, longer) before their initial releases, meaning worry for the respective studios and mounting anger for fans and moviegoers who want an authentic and culturally respectful film experience.

Each film has its many problems, but to give a short overview of what’s plaguing these films, here are the bulleted points:

Ghost in the Shell

• Scarlett Johansson cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi (now just called “The Major” in the film, possibly the first clue that the film is not only wiping away the main character’s Japanese racial identity, but also the property’s inherent ties to Japan’s post-World War II tech boom).

Scarlett-Johansson-GITS

•According to ScreenCrush’s source, Paramount allegedly hired visual fx company Lola VFX to create a Japanese filter for a character, probably Johansson’s Major. Paramount maintains that the fx filter was for a background character and never for the Major, but the fact remains that Paramount engaged in yellowface, regardless of who the character is.

• Sam Yoshiba, the director of Kodansha’s international business division (based in Tokyo), states that he’s fine with Johansson as The Major and that this is a great opportunity for a Japanese property to make it to the international (i.e. American) market. (which has rights to the Ghost in the Shell property). According to Kotaku, Yoshiba told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” Yoshiba also told The Hollywood Reporter that “he was impressed by the respect being shown for the source material.”

• Max Landis, the screenwriter of American Ultra, released a video condemning the casting, but also states in his video (as reported by Entertainment Weekly), “The only reason to be upset about Scalrett Johansson being in Ghost in the Shell is if you don’t know how the movie industry works.” He also stated that outraged fans are “mad at the wrong people,” stating that the problem isn’t with parties such as Johansson, the studio or the director, but with the film industry itself. He also argues a point that many would disagree with—that there’s a dearth of big names in film. “As recently as about 10 years ago, there stopped being big stars,” he said. “There are fewer and fewer stars who mean anything.” Not true.

Meanwhile, the internet took matters into their own hands by fancasting Rinko Kikuchi, from Pacific Rim, as Kusanagi. What’s heavily ironic is that it seems like the costuming/hair department took direct inspiration from Kikuchi’s Pacific Rim character Mako Mori when designing The Major for the big screen.

A video features Japanese participants talking about the Ghost in the Shell controversy. The throughline of the video is that the people interviewed don’t see a problem with Johansson as The Major. But now the video is being used by pro-Ghost in the Shell movie fans to denigrate those, particularly Asian Americans, who are against Johansson as The Major.

•Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu invokes the term “blackface” when discussing the Ghost in the Shell casting controversy, making people upset.

The statement was made during a panel including Wu, Ming-Na Wen, Joan Chen, and Lynn Chen, moderated by Teddy Zee. “It was particularly heinous because they ran CGI tests to make her look Asian,” said Wu. “Some people call it ‘yellowface,’ but I say ‘the practice of balckface employed on Asians’ because that’s more evocative.” She also said the special effects tests “reduces our race and ethnicity to mere physical appearance, when our race and culture are so much deeper than how we look.”

Before the conference, Wen had tweeted about Johansson’s casting, writing, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.”

Dr. Strange

• Tilda Swinton is cast as The Ancient One, originally a Tibetian character as well as an antiquated stereotype of an Asian mystic. Swinton was cast as a way to create a more updated, non-stereotypical version of the character, and while casting a woman is a unique decision for the character, the casting also erases the character’s original Asian roots. Check her out in the trailer:

(Personal commentary: aside from Swinton as a jarring Ancient One, hearing Benedict Cumberbatch with an nasally American accent is…upsetting.)

•Swinton tells Den of Geek that when she was approached to do the character, she was never told that she was playing an Asian man. “The script I was presented with did not feature an Asian man for me to play, so that was never a question when I was being asked to do it. It will all be revealed when you see the film, I think. There are very great reasons for us to feel very settled and confident with the decisions that were made.”

• C. Robert Cargill, the co-screenwriter for Dr. Strange, tells his friends, film reviewers and hosts of movie review/comedy show Double Toasted Korey Coleman and Martin Thomas, about the process he took in remaking The Ancient One. In his words, he didn’t want to offend China with a Tibetan character. (Discussion occurs around the 18 minute mark.)

However, Cargill later clarified his comments on Twitter, since his original comments suggest that he and Marvel were of the same mind about the Tibet-China situation. “CLARIFICATION: that interview answer going around was to a question from a fan specifically about MY JUSTIFICATION, not Marvel’s…FOR THE RECORD: no one at Marvel or with the film ever talked to me about China, so contrary to headlines, I didn’t confirm anything.”

Entertainment Weekly also states that the film version of The Ancient One is now based in Nepal, which makes it even more confusing as to why a non-Asian actress was chosen.

• Marvel releases a statement about their record of inclusion, obtained by PEOPLE.

“Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.”

One could say their statement features many fictional statements as far as their film universe goes, because the MCU is still not diverse enough in terms of race, gender, and sexuality.

These are a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot to parse through. At first, I was going to write a post providing my point of view, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I, a black woman, might want to sit this one out. I’ve written on entertainment moves affecting Asian Americans before, but let’s be honest; I’m not Asian, and I’m not about to wade in any “honorary Asian” waters, especially with how nuanced the issues surrounding these films have become. Instead, I thought I’d ask some of my online buddies if I could interview them about their opinions on these films.

Keith Chow is the creator and head of The Nerds of Color, a site focusing on the nerdy side of entertainment, but from the perspective of POC and other marginalized peoples. Claire Lanay is the new weekend co-host of podcast Afronerd Radio and CEO of Renegade Nerd Entertainment. I was happy to interview them both via email and break down just what people needed to understand about the lack of foresight and sensitivity that went into the creation of the Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange movies.

What were your initial reactions to the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One and Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi?

Chow: I think like most folks, I was disappointed but not surprised. It’s hard to believe that whitewashing is still considered acceptable practice in Hollywood, and these castings are no exception. But in light of the outrage (and lack of box office) that movies like Aloha and Gods of Egypt engendered, you’d think the studios would start taking the hint.

Lanay: Initially, I was mildly annoyed yet amused by Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One…I tried to play devil’s advocate and ask myself what discussions led to this outcome? Similar to the problems with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, many of these comic book characters were created several decades ago and are inherently racist.  Other properties were created as a result of cultural appropriation which has now become a recognizable trope in it of itself i.e. White guy learns the ways of the East, masters it in a day and is better suited to unlock the wisdom, magic and skills of these mystic teachings in a manner the savage natives never could – Iron Fist, anyone?

So why switch The Ancient One from a Tibetan man to a British woman? Could the reason have been that without including another female character, the film would look the way most movies, comic book or otherwise, do – a sausage fest?  OK fine.  Let’s make her a woman.

I half-jokingly tell my friends that Hollywood has an unspoken rule about not allowing more than one person per color per movie or TV show (if at all). On the rare occasions there is more than one person per color, they’re usually a minor/expendable character and therefore, the first to get killed off…Unless you’re Empire or Blackish, you can’t have more than one black character…Doctor Strange has Benedict Wong playing the servant.  They have Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Baron Mordo.  So, of course, they most certainly cannot have another POC playing the Ancient One.  Heavens, no! Too many minorities!  I may not like Hollywood’s twisted logic and how they conduct ethnic/gender musical chairs to feign balance or political correctness, but I’ve grown accustomed to it.

Now that they’re saying the reason why the character isn’t Tibetan is because it would piss off China… I’m right back to square one asking “WTF?” Here I was trying my hardest to understand their reasoning and then they go throwing me for a loop with their mental gymnastics in a weak attempt to rationalize whitewashing.  Just because you don’t want the character to be Tibetan doesn’t mean the character cannot be Asian.  Would The Ancient One originally have announced him/herself as Tibetan? If they’re so worried about making all that Chinese dough… why not make the character Chinese? Have him/her speak Mandarin.  Have him/her walk around with a large neon sign that says “Made in China”.

They’re implying that in order to avoid offending other cultures, they have to erase them.  Are they so lazy that they are not willing to put any thought into how they could modernize these POC characters for today’s audience?

As for Ghost in the Shell, here are some thoughts I had in regards to Max Landis’ comments:

To make a blanket statement that there are no Asian A-List actors, well yeah, if Asians are not even allowed to play Asian, then I don’t see how it would be possible for them to be visible enough to become A-list. That’s not by accident, that’s by design.

The other thing that was mentioned was that there are no Asian actors capable of getting a movie greenlit… See the highlighted movies on this list [in this article’s inset]. [Most] fail, flop, bomb.  Yet, nothing changes.  I’m starting to wonder if they ever will…Scarlett Johansson is playing a character named Motoko Kusanagi.  It baffles my mind that there are people who don’t see this as offensive.

Marvel has had a long-standing issue with casting for a certain demo; i.e. casting all male leads except for the Black Panther as a white male (even more specifically, a white male with either dark or blonde hair and a “dudebro”-ish attitude, even if the character wasn’t originally written that way). Marvel has no Asian superheroes, and the chance they could have had to give representation, with Iron Fist, was missed [for more information on Iron Fist and the lack of Asian representation, visit The Nerds of Color and Twitter hashtag #AAIronFist]. With that said, how do you feel Marvel should have tackled The Ancient One?

Chow: The problem is that Marvel, like a lot of people, assume whiteness is the default. So when they encounter tricky ethnic characters (i.e., stereotypes) like the Mandarin or the Ancient One, their solution is to remove that character’s race and think they’re doing us a favor. I said this during the whole #AAIronFist thing, but the way you deal with negative racial stereotypes isn’t to erase race from the equation, just write the character better. In the case of the Ancient One, just make the character not one-dimensional, and he/she could still have been Asian.

I guarantee an actress of Tilda Swinton’s caliber would not have taken the role if it was one-note. So why not afford that opportunity to an actress of color? Better yet, if you had to racebend Ancient One (for fear of Chinese censors or whatever) then don’t cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange! Can you imagine someone like Sendhil Ramamurthy or Naveen Andrews in the role? Hell, I would have been happy with Keanu Reeves (who was rumored). But they cast the whitest man in the world? Come on now.

Lanay: Wasn’t anybody out there the least bit curious as to what George Takei could have done with The Ancient One?  Ken Watanabe?  Chow Yun-Fat?…How about Michelle Yeoh?  Joan Chen?  Gong Li?  Bai Ling?

I’ve had so many heated debates and arguments with people about Iron Fist.  The argument for keeping Danny Rand white is that “it’s what the author intended for how that character’s story should be told”. According to that logic, we should stay 100 percent true to the original cannon and lore even if that means 80-plus years of American comic book history has primarily only given us white male leading characters as the hero and a handful of female/POC characters seen mostly as sidekicks, background or filler.

Recall, if you will, Michelle Rodriguez’s comments after Michael B. Jordan was cast as Human Torch and Jason Momoa was cast as Aquaman – “Stop stealing the white people’s characters and make some of your own”.  As if no one has tried?  Even if I understood why it’s bemoaned when a POC is cast as a character originally envisioned as white, why is it ok to “steal” our characters who were specifically created to be of color?

As much as I like and respect Marvel, I am truly disheartened by their approach to this issue.  They rather avoid it than face it head on.  For a company whose brand is kick-assery and bravery, this looks cowardly. Am I surprised?  No.  Disappointed?  Yes.  Captain America: Civil War will be their 14th film and only now are they barely getting Black Panther and Captain Marvel on the film schedule.

I will say that they do seem to be putting in a concerted effort on the TV side.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the wonderful Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May and Chloe Bennet’s Daisy Johnson (nee Skye) has addressed her bi-racial parentage.  I’m pleased to see that has been acknowledged since other hapa actresses such as Kristin Kreuk have played fully white characters on shows like Smallville.

Dr. Strange, as a comic book series, draws its inspiration from the 1930s radio series Chandu the Magician, which also features a white man receiving mystic instruction from an Asian teacher, this time an Indian yogi. With all of the stereotypical Asian mysticism Dr. Strange is based in, how do you feel the film should have been approached (despite the fact that we haven’t seen the full movie)? With Benedict Cumberbatch playing Dr. Strange and set pictures featuring non-Asian actors in Asian locations and in Tibetian monk-esque clothes, how do you feel about the appropriation factor of the film? 

Chow: It’s the same problem with Iron Fist, Doctor Strange is another example of the white man goes to the Orient for enlightenment trope. It’s so obvious that people’s reaction to the trailer was “Didn’t we already see this in Batman Begins? And I’d answer, yeah, you’ve seen it in every movie! At this point, Hollywood should start casting more POC leads just to stand out from the pack. Studies have already proven those films make more money anyway. But Strange and Iron Fist and even Daredevil prove Hollywood only thinks of Asians as set decoration and not human beings.

Lanay: I do not deny they have a very talented roster.  I’m a Sherlock fan, so I don’t doubt Cumberbatch will bring something interesting to the role.  Tilda Swinton also played a role originally meant for a male in the movie Snowpiercer. Her bizarre character was in no way defined by gender or race regardless of the fact the movie was directed by a Korean or that the story was based on a French graphic novel.  Swinton’s look is androgynous, unique and has always benefited her with sci-fi roles.  For all we know, she’ll be utterly fascinating to watch in Doctor Strange.

As for them playing dress up in monk-esque attire?  Appropriation is unavoidable.  I’ll say this – I have a problem with folks using all of my toys but not allowing me to play with them.

Swinton has come out and said that the way she was approached for the role was never under the guise that she was playing an Asian man and that she’s confident in how she’s portrayed the character in the film. How do you feel about her statement? Also, what do you think about the compounded problem Marvel has created by whitewashing a character, yet adding diversity by making the character a woman?

Chow: It could have been a woman of color. Just because they gender bent the character doesn’t give them a pass if they’re still being racist. If they were going to change the character, and not make him “Asian,” then what’s with all the orientalism in the setting? Even then, it’s still wrong because they’ve taken yet another POC character and erased him from existence.

That goes back to what I said earlier, she may not be “playing Asian” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t whitewash the character. They still took an originally Asian character and bent over backwards to come up with a reason for why said character had to be played by a white person. This is the double standard that’s the most frustrating. When I called for an Asian American actor to play Danny Rand, I had to come up with every justifiable reason for the suggestion, how an Asian American would not alter the character whatsoever. But white folks are like “just shave your head, it’s all good.”

Hollywood’s History of Whitewashed Asian Films (as provided by Claire Lanay)
  • BORIS KARLOFF
    Fu Manchu in ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’ 1932
  • KATHERINE HEPBURN
    Jade in ‘Dragon Seed’ 1944
  • JOHN WAYNE
    Genghis Khan in ‘The Conqueror’ 1956
  • MARLON BRANDO
    Sakini in ‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’ 1956
  • MICKEY ROONEY
    Mr. Yunioshi in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ 1961
  • ELIZABETH TAYLOR
    Cleopatra in ‘Cleopatra’ 1963
  • DAVID CARRADINE
    Kwai Chang Caine in ‘Kung Fu’ 1972-1975 &
    ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ 1993-1997
  • FISHER STEVENS
    Ben Jabituya in ‘Short Circuit’ 1986
  • LIAM NEESON
    Ra’s Al Ghul in ‘Batman Begins’ 2005
  • JUSTIN CHATWIN
    Goku in ‘Dragonball Evolution’ 2009
  • JAKE GYLLENHAAL
    Dastan in ‘Prince of Persia: Sands of Time’ 2010
  • NOAH RINGER, NICOLA PELTZ, JACKSON RATHBONE
    Aang, Katara, Sokka in ‘The Last Airbender’ 2010
  • BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH
    Khan Noonien Singh in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ 2013
  • JOHNNY DEPP
    Tonto in ‘Lone Ranger’ 2013
  • CHRISTIAN BALE, JOEL EDGERTON
    Moses, Ramses in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ 2014
  • EMMA STONE
    Ng in ‘Aloha’ 2015
  • ROONEY MARA
    Tiger Lily in ‘Pan’ 2015
  • GERARD BUTLER, NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU
    Set, Horus in ‘Gods of Egypt’ 2016
  • TILDA SWINTON
    Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’ 2016
  • SCARLETT JOHANSSON
    Motoko Kusanagi in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ 2017

Ghost in the Shell is, as Jon Tsuei has written on Twitter, an inherently Japanese story, but now the history is probably getting taken out of the film. Do you think the film is on the path of ignoring some of the historical and cultural elements that makes Ghost in the Shell as provocative as it is?

Lanay: If that’s the case, then why call it Ghost in the Shell?  If you’re going to remove the character’s backstory and culture, then call it something else.  At least Tom Cruise and Doug Liman understood that when they were making ‘Edge of Tomorrow’.  It was an American adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill.  They weren’t going to be idiots and keep the same title, the same character names and the same history.  Would you buy Tom Cruise playing a character named Keiji Kiriya?

The publisher of Kodansha has stated that he sees nothing wrong with Johansson playing Kusanagi, and quite a few Japanese movie goers have expressed the opinion of not going to see the movie anyway. What does this tell you about how the international market, particularly the Asian market, might accept or reject this film?

Chow: The way we view and discuss race in America is very different than how people in other countries view and discuss race. Japan has its own issues with how it views race and ethnicity that is irrelevant to Asian Americans in America.

To be blunt, folks in Japan or China might flock to the movie. Who knows? But that isn’t the problem. My advocating for Asian American actors has nothing to do with Chinese moviegoers, to be honest. China has its own movie industry with its own stars. There are a billion and a half Chinese people in the world. In China, “representation” of Chinese faces isn’t an issue. That is not what’s happening here, however. We [in America] have to move away from this idea that Asians in America are all foreign. Going back to Iron Fist, the whole gist of my original essay was to prove that we too are American. Why does “westernizing” something automatically require casting white people? This is the question I want people to ask themselves.

Lanay: The reason why a lot of folks in Japan are not upset about Johansson’s casting in Ghost in the Shell is because they already have their own media infrastructure.  They already have their own, actors, singers, dancers, writers, producers, directors.  They already have their own content made for them by them.  So they don’t really care about one movie with one white actress.  In this country, Hollywood gives us less than a handful of opportunities to see ourselves represented in movies and television, so of course we’re clamoring for whatever crumbs and scraps are tossed our way.  The rest of the world soaks up our content, but we don’t promote or watch content from the rest of the world.  That makes seeing diversity in American media all the more important to POC in this country because it’s such a rarity.

Do I think it’ll do as well as Lucy? Doubtful.  Do I think a Black Widow movie would be the better option for Johansson?  Absolutely! She’s not hard up for cash or some struggling actress trying to make her big break.  She didn’t have to say yes to Ghost in the Shell.

I want to see Doctor Strange.  Controversy aside, I am a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  I’ll take a look at Iron Fist since I’ve enjoyed watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  Even though the nasty discourse has left a bad taste in my mouth, I’m very curious to see how they build towards The Defenders.  Can’t wait to see Luke Cage!  Will I watch Ghost in the Shell?  Nah, I’ll be skipping that one.

Recently, several actresses of Asian descent have called The Major “blackface,” launching another layer to the outrage. Do you think about the controversy over calling such casting “blackface,” despite the term “yellowface” in existence?

Chow: Yeah, I cringed when I saw that report. I in no way condone the analogy, primarily because yellowface is an offensive and racist enough practice on its own — but I get why Constance felt she had to make it. One of the problems is that most people think race in America is binary. This has always been part of the struggle for Asian Americans when discussing race in that context.

Often in matters of race, Asian Americans are only perceived depending on their relation to whiteness or blackness. But I don’t think that excuses co-opting black struggle to make a point. I think as a community we have to be mindful about how we coalition build and support one another without being anti-black in the process. This is why the backlash against #OscarsSoWhite was disheartening. This was an example of a pan-ethnic protest against the industry’s overwhelming whiteness, but for whatever reason non-black POCs thought their issues were being ignored. It didn’t help that during the telecast aired, Asians were still openly mocked.

So I understand the frustration and feeling like you’re invisible. But we shouldn’t criticize others for not standing up for us if we don’t first stand up for ourselves. This is why I’m working with Ellen Oh (of #WeNeedDiverseBooks fame) to launch a campaign to bring even more attention to the racist practice of whitewashing. We’ll be attempting to take to social media on May 3 with the hashtag #WhitewashedOUT. I’ll have more details on that soon[click here for that information].

Lanay: As someone who was fortunate enough to grow up with friends and influences of all backgrounds… As someone who has so much love and respect for the African American community… As someone who is deeply proud to call many intelligent, creative, beautiful Black people my friends… I’m very troubled by Constance Wu’s choice to use the term “blackface” over the term “yellowface” in regards to what we’re discussing here.  She specifically said “blackface” because she thought it would be more “evocative”.

While I fully appreciate the outrage towards her comments, I have some idea of where she’s coming from. During the Oscars telecast, Chris Rock did a fine job of addressing the #OscarsSoWhite elephant in the room.  So all the more reason people in the Asian community were upset and insulted by three little Asian kids being paraded on stage to make fun of their own kind. Can’t forget Sacha Baron Cohen’s “little yellow people with the tiny dicks” joke.

While I deem her tone to be a little aggressive or hostile, I can understand why Wu and many others were incensed by these jokes during a show that was basically hammering diversity down people’s throats.  Yes, there were no Black nominees.  There were no Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Disabled, or LGBT ones either (as far as I know).

…When I came across the “blackface” comment, my first thought was: “Why all of the sudden, are Asians getting angry now?  Why weren’t they speaking out and standing up when we were getting disrespected or excluded before?”  I was starting to feel like I was the only Asian-American who gave a damn.  Why are the rest of them so late to the party?

…I’m bothered by Wu’s comments because it reinforces the divide amongst POC.  We should be working together.  It’s bad enough that we keep falling into the trap of begging Hollywood for a seat at the table and trying to convince white people of our worth without us turning on each other too.

What do you want Hollywood to learn from these casting debacles?

Chow: Mainly that white people are not the only people in the world. I wan the studios to understand that having non-white people in a movie can actually be a good thing. But mostly, I want there to be more opportunity for actors of color. 

Lanay: The studio executives don’t view these decisions as debacles.  They’re not listening.  They don’t care. They wanted to cast name-actors, so they did.  White is the standard of beauty.  White is the grade for which excellence is measured.  White is the default setting.  Anything outside of that is seen as an abnormality.

Rinko Kikuchi is an academy award-nominated actress for her role in Babel.  She’s already in the nerd-sphere starring in projects like Pacific Rim.  Tao Okamoto is a supermodel in Japan.  She was in The Wolverine and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I bet you anything, these women weren’t even considered.  I bet you no Asian actress was considered for Ghost in the Shell.

There have been plenty of white-starred movies that have failed.  There have been plenty of diverse-starred movies that have succeeded.  Hollywood learns nothing.  The outliers who take risks and go against conventional wisdom are the ones who will instill change… eventually.  I hope I’m still around to see that change.  Scratch that.  I am going to be part of that change. ♦

The controversy surrounding these films are needed, and the conversations they’re starting are necessary. If Hollywood is really going to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to proper representation, two of the first places to start are finally ending the practices whitewashing and yellowface. When a group of people grow up hardly ever seeing themselves on-screen, that causes serious psychological, social, and cultural repercussions. Ending these practices and representing people fairly on-screen would allow for everyone to feel accepted and like they are a valued part of America. Lanay states this point best:

“For a long time, I hated being Asian.  I hated the way I looked.  I hated not getting the auditions I wanted.  I hated not being taken seriously.  My mother would always tell me not to make waves.  With all due respect – F*ck that sh*t! I’m making some damn waves!  Nobody should feel like they were born in the wrong skin.  Nobody should feel ashamed for being what they are.”

Other articles to check out:

#S4MBlerds: Dear Hollywood, whitewashing doesn’t make better movies|Blavity

Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and How Hollywood Keeps Giving Asian Roles to White Actors|Complex

6 Japanese Actresses Who Could (and Should!) Replace Scarlett Johansson in ‘Ghost in the Shell’|Yahoo

Hollywood’s glaring problem: White actors playing Asian characters|L.A. Times

N.O.C. One-Shot: Whitewashing in Black and Yellow| The Nerds of Color

Some Thoughts on Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell|The Nerds of Color

Hollywood’s upcoming films prove it loves Asian culture – as long as it comes without Asians|Media Diversified

What a Shitty Week to be an Asian American Woman in Hollywood|The Nerds of Color

Constance Wu And Ming-Na Wen Protest Hollywood’s Whitewashing Of “Ghost In The Shell”|Buzzfeed

Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?|New York Times

#OscarsSoWhite Dominates Oscar Nomination Talk

The Oscar nominations have been released, and the talk isn’t about who people want to win, but about why the list of nominees aren’t more diverse. This makes the second year that #OscarsSoWhite has dominated the social media and real world discussions about the highest honor in film, but this year is just one of many in which white stories and white actors and directors have been chosen over equally-as-talented minority actors and directors. Personally speaking, some of the domestic projects I’m rooting for are SpotlightSanjay’s Super Team, What Happened, Miss Simone?, CarolThe Danish Girl, and The Revenant, since they are the only stories featuring diversity of any sort and/or tell stories that need more in-depth coverage. (By the term “domestic,” I’m not including foreign films.)

The big question lots of people are having is why the nominations are still just as homogeneous in the acting categories as they were last year? At the very least, Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for Best Director. Some people are probably feeling like no one is listening to their cries for more diversity in films, especially since 2015 itself wasn’t that diverse of a film year to begin with; the biggest films featuring racial diversity were indie films, like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and Dope, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the end of 2015 so hard, to the point that it seemed like 2015 was more diverse than it actually was. Also, films like Carol, Tangerine, and The Danish Girl were about the only films of the year featuring LGBT stories. Yet, Tangerine, which featured transgender characters of color, was overlooked for Carol and The Danish Girl, which feature white lesbian or transgender characters.

The answer about the nominations issue comes in the form of time. There simply hasn’t been enough time for the changes the current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, have implemented to really be effective. The Hollywood Reporter called the Academy’s recruitment of more members from diverse backgrounds as “Phase one,” stating that “phase two” needs to be in effect, if it’s not already. “Now campaigners must ask: Do these freshman members change the nature of the game? The answer is yes, though the full effects of change won’t be felt for a few more years, as even more new members replace the old,” wrote Stephen Galloway for the site. “…Some insiders argue that the apparent diversity isn’t as widespread as it seems, and that the bulk of new members are entrenched in the Hollywood establishment. They’re right—this is still a relatively small contingent. Diversity is starting to happen, but it’s slow and its effects may not be felt fully for several years to come, or until the industry itself is more diverse.”

CHRIS ROCK

The old guard in the Academy could be considered part of the problem; the nominations list includes nominations for the screenwriting team of Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus; however, the screenwriting team is white, while the rest of the Straight Outta Compton crew, including director F. Gary Gray, weren’t nominated for the same movie. In case you haven’t guessed, F. Gary Gray is black, as are the actors in the film. Also, the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation wasn’t nominated at all, despite the star talent of Idris Elba, young actor Abraham Attah, and the direction of Cary Fukunaga. Ditto for Concussion, starring Will Smith, whose role in the film is tailor-made for Oscar nominations. Ditto again for Creed, which starred Micahel B. Jordan and was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, but only Sylvester Stallone was nominated for an award.

The other part of the problem is, of course, that it’s an industry-wide problem. Tambay A. Obenson wrote for Shadow and Act that people’s anger shouldn’t be with the Academy at all. “I continue to argue that our ire should not be with the Academy, but instead with the studio heads and financiers who decide what films are made. Until the playing field is leveled, this disparity between the volume, variety and quality of films made by/about white people and those made by/about people of color, will extend its run, uninterrupted.” One way he illustrated his point earlier in the article is when he discussed the Straight Outta Compton snub and wondering if Gray, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Will Packer, producers of the film, had any say over who would get to write the film.

Want to read more about diversity in film and television? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

However, one observation is the Academy’s old guard and the perpetrators of industry-wide problems are hand-in-hand, since quite a few of the perpetrators are a part of the Academy. Right now, the Academy—and the Hollywood industry itself–are in a vicious circle, feeding each other BS while the the public demands something new. However, there’s something to be said when the Academy president herself is speaking out against the nominations. “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated],” Isaacs told Yahoo’s Pete Hammond. “This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it.” When discussing the problems with a lack of diverse nominations, Isaacs said, “We have got to speed it up,” saying that the Academy’s efforts to recruit and focus on diverse films is happening at too slow a pace.

The changes are happening, but at a glacial pace. But as Obenson wrote, it would behoove us to support indie films that do showcase diversity as well studios and companies focusing primarily on diverse filmmaking like Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and Charles D. King’s MACRO Ventures, both of which put out statements today:

Here’s what I had to say about the Oscar nominations on Twitter:

The irony of all of this is that Chris Rock is going to host the Oscars this year. I wonder what his jokes will be like.

What did you think about the nominations? Give your opinions in the comments section below!