Entirely scatterbrained today, between writing and working and whatevering. Here are things as I think of them.
- Sometimes.I.see.people.type.in.forums.like.this Or Like This, And It Confuses Me A Lot Because Not Only Is It Wrong But It’s A Sort Of wrongness.that.takes.additional.effort.over.doing.it.properly. I don’t get it.
- Saw a mention of Stomper 4x4s online and a chunk of childhood came flooding back. We loved those things! They weren’t cheap, though, so I remember I only had four–I had the Toyota pickup, the semi truck, and two of the Rough Riders 4×4 knockoffs, the Jeep and the little blue semi. I still have the Toyota and the Jeep. But I remember they did a Subaru Brat, and an AMC Eagle, and a Jeep Honcho, and a Ford pickup–a whole bunch of uncommonly-modeled vehicles. Plus they’re just the most adorable little battery-powered 4x4lets. I MUST HAVE MORE. Turns out they’re kind of bloody expensive on eBay–upwards of $50 for working ones. Which makes sense, for a forty-year old plastic toy; survivorship can’t have been great. But ah! frustrated desire. Spare time will be spent trolling the ‘Bay just in case there’s an affordable one languishing out there. It doesn’t even have to work. I think my Jeep still works but the Toyota doesn’t. But I think I’d like to have a couple more in the toy-car collection.
- Saw Ant-Man. I appreciate Marvel’s skill in making movies entertaining enough that my disbelief’s pleasantly suspended, and the “hey, wait a minute, do you even science?” questions don’t crop up until the drive home. I know it doesn’t work that well for everyone, but it generally does for me. Don’t get me started on some of Black Widow’s dialogue in Age of Ultron, though–that kicked me out of the movie.
So, here’s a revolutionary and possibly incomplete thought: a lot of the time, I actually don’t mind when there’s a lack of people of color in a Hollywood movie. It goes back to being kicked out of the film. And maybe it’s just me, but in my experience, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only POC in the room, so seeing an all-white cast just isn’t that odd for me, provided it isn’t taking place somewhere that this makes no sense, or glaringly replacing characters of color with white actors (i.e. a Chinatown without Chinese people? Yeah, that’s weird. Suburban America with no brown faces? Maybe not necessarily representative, but also not inherently wrong to me. So no, it didn’t bother me that the cast of Fury Road was overwhelmingly white. I didn’t even think about it until someone pointed it out.
Conversely, a lot of the time when writers and film makers feel compelled to insert POC, they get them wrong. You really want to kick me out of a movie? Cram in a glaring, painful stereotype. Hollywood’s frequently not good at letting characters be human first and ethnicity second, and it’s been way too often that I’ve had to cringe at the character who’s The Black Guy lumbering through a mess of what some writer thought would be what black viewers wanted to see on-screen. (Granted, Martin Lawrence and others have built entire careers on intentionally doing this. I don’t like their movies either.) This is one of those places where Fury Road triumphed in a quiet way–with Furiosa’s missing arm and her gender, they were just parts of the character. They weren’t the whole of her character, they weren’t even pointed out, they just were. That’s really rare for any minority–outside of a “black” movie or a “gay” movie, with black and gay (and other traditionally marginalized groups) characters, the non-mainstream quality has a tendency to become a massive chunk of the character’s identity. It reminds me a bit of the Left Behind series, which always seemed to me to have been written by people who were so incredibly Christian that they couldn’t even imagine how non-Christians thought. Which meant that the atheist characters spent 75% of their time ruminating on how they didn’t want Christ in their life, instead of just being, you know, people. Some Hollywood writers may find this difficult to believe, but I don’t spend most of my time saying to myself, “Holy shit, it is amazing how goddamn black I am!” No, really! It’s true! I really like it when a POC character seems to have been written without a thought to what the character’s race was. He or she may be tweaked to reflect the race afterward, but the core character could be any race (and sometimes any gender). Denzel Washington falls into a lot of roles like this. Steven Yeun on The Walking Dead’s another good example–his ethnicity might come up once in a while, like ethnicity does in real life–but it doesn’t define his character. He’s not “the Asian guy,” or “Glenn the Asian guy,” he’s just Glenn.
TWD is a good segue to the third reason that I don’t always mind all-white casts in non-glaring contexts, and that’s a direct result of being twitchy about what I mentioned above. Because POC are so often handled badly, there’s a tendency to look for (and see) patterns when they aren’t there, or aren’t necessarily intentional. TWD ran into this twice: in the first season, when two characters were prepared to give up and die, and they talked the blonde white woman out of it but didn’t even seem to make an effort to convince the black woman, and let her go. And second, of course, with the now much-talked-about There Can Be Only One Black Dude pattern that evolved over the next couple of seasons. I honestly don’t think it was intentional on the show’s part, and they certainly (belatedly) attempted to make up for it, to the point that the main cast had more POC characters than white ones, for a hot minute. But was it an intentional pattern? Hard to say. Analytical-brain looks for patterns, and because POC are so rarely treated like just characters (the blackness, the female-ness, the Asian-ness, the gayness, it always has to be a plot point somehow) I’m looking for the significance. Have you ever noticed that over the entire run of Firefly and in Serenity, with the exception of River, the black characters are always the most dangerous ones? Not necessarily in a good vs. evil way, but in terms of ass-kicking ability? List the most combat-capable characters over the series’ run: Zoe, the Operative, Jubal Early…does that mean something? Probably not? Or maybe it does. Intentional or not, it’s a pattern and it sets my mind churning trying to figure out what it means, and I’m not sure if I’d be happier to realize that it was just coincidence, or to find out that it did mean something.
Which doesn’t mean that I wish that someone other than Chiwitel Ejiofor or Richard Brooks had been cast. It just is. But it does mean that unless they can be treated just like normal people, I’d much rather Hollywood not try to cram people they don’t understand onto the screen just to get diversity points. Maybe it’s just me. It’s true, I wouldn’t mind seeing myself in the characters in movies that I see, but I’d also rather you didn’t try and get it wrong. Being a skirt-wearing African-American male with some pretty complicated self-identity issues, I’d rather y’all didn’t try. I’ll find myself where I can, thanks. I am happy to identify with Rocket Raccoon and call it a day.
Now, next week we’ll address a tangential issue, repeatedly raised by The Fast and the Furious franchise: Car people will not casually wreck their cars. We care about them a lot, you know. Intentionally wrecking a car you spent several years restoring and hot-rodding is tantamount to handing your teenage kid a gun and telling him to go shoot the bad guys while you hide.
But I digress.