Let’s Do The Twist!

People love to update old classics with modern twists and sensibilities. But be careful—it isn’t always so easy.

Take the Veronica Mars episode “One Angry Veronica.” Based on the timeless 12 Angry Men, Veronica gets jury duty and seems all too ready to dismiss a latina woman’s claim that she was assaulted by two white, well-off boys (09ers, as the show calls them) until one jury holdout makes a compelling case. After that it’s Veronica’s job—as teenage detective and jury foreman—to convince the rest of the jury to vote “guilty” on the two boys in question. vm_2x10

The “twist” is that this time instead of the defendant, a latinx person is the plaintiff, with the justice system still “working” to defend the actual (white) perpetrators of the crime. Problem is, there’s a big difference between 12 Angry Men’s use of the criminal justice system vs. Veronica Mars‘. For starters, the film had the “innocent until proven guilty” quality, where jurors are instructed to only convict if there’s no reasonable doubt in their minds. The entire movie centers on the bug of reasonable doubt spreading from one juror to the next until the climactic monologue that convinces the lone hold out. In Veronica Mars, it’s much less interesting—both legally and narratively—for the hold out to say that she has an inkling of the defendants lying to cover their ass; they’re not supposed to be guilty until proven innocent. I see what the writers were trying to do here, commenting on the racial and class divides in Neptune, but it’s not the update to 12 Angry Men they seem to think they’ve earned.

Same with Selfie, a single-season show starring John Cho and Karen Gillan in a modern retelling of My Fair Lady. Only this time it’s Eliza Dooley; a self-absorbed, social media obsessed pharmaceutical rep; and her straight-laced boss Henry Higgs, who she enlists the help of to assist her in learning there’s more to life than likes and shares.

selfie-castOnly here’s the thing: In My Fair Lady, Eliza was treated poorly because she was lower social class, and her manners are a reflection of that. Ass that he is, Henry Higgins’ “project” was ultimately set out to make high-society London the butt of the joke; he wants to illustrate the fact that the only thing that separates someone like Eliza from the upper-class is properly taught speech, an accent. His “experiment” is a stupid bet, but it also inherently implies that Eliza is worthy of good treatment.

Unlike Selfie, which instead of commenting on how a relatively arbitrary indicator of social class (speech) is used to artificually elevate one class over the other, is basically just saying that heavily gendered and youth-bent personality traits have no place in successful society.

While perhaps neither of these transgressions are so egregious that they can completely spoil what are essentially jumping off points, it’s as if the writers have a woeful disregard for the way the originals intended to jump off to. Ultimately their “twists” aren’t really twists are all, just poor adaptations.

 

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When silence is deafening.

Leslie Jones has had a rough summer. Between the launch of her well-received (if not high-grossing) blockbuster, a renewal of her SNL contract, and her invitation to the 2016 Olympics she’s had a great summer. But she has had a rough summer. And it’s all thanks to trolls.

et_071016_lesliejonesscandalhuluIt started when Ghostbusters was released, and Jones began receiving a near constant barrage of hate-filled messages. When she decided to not hide the racism and sexism she received on social media any longer, it drove her off Twitter for a few days. And then just today her website got hacked, with malicious hackers posting photos of her and her passport/driver’s license, and even her phone number.

On Twitter it’s lead to an outpouring of sympathy, anger, and love for Leslie. But none from her coworkers. And that silence is speaking louder than anything else.

At worst they’re turning their back on a co-worker who’s on the receiving end of a firehose of personal, harmful attacks just for starring in the same movie they did. The most optimistic way to look at it is that, as her friends, they are reaching out in real life and ways more effective and out of sight of the public than social media. Perhaps they’re doing so to not wade into the fray or paint a target on their own backs (or, as high-profile women on social media, simply turn around so people can see it).

But how can that be the best case scenario? How can we continue to accept the barrage of sexism, racism, and hate spewed at women—and in particular women of color—on social media as a “norm”? Why do companies seem to think that this isn’t a flaw only a byproduct?

What luck, for these trolls, that they are able to just represent the status quo and not stand out as a black woman. What luck. What a fucking curse.Lemonade Gif smashing window

Surprise! You already know.

Has surprise casting ever worked? I don’t mean like Kevin Spacey at the end of Se7en. More like casting a notable actor in a film (typically a reboot or franchise) as a rando new character before ultimately revealing that—surprise—they were this character all along. Think Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness or Marion Cotillard as Miranda Talia Al-Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises.

At this point fandoms have become accustomed to the studio’s schtick: There’s no such thing as adding a new character to an established franchise, they’re only there if it’s a bait-and-switch. Whether it seems to happen because they want to withhold some plot development later on (see Dark Knight Rises) or they want to be able to justify not casting a POC (Star Trek Into Darkness, and arguably Iron Man 3) without fan outrage, it’s a common enough practice that audiences—especially those that leak, clamor, and obsess over anything released by the studios regarding franchises—aren’t buying it anymore.

KhanSequel_FEAT-970x545.pngI’m all for spoiler warnings and avoiding knowing the plot ahead of time before movies (if that’s what you want, I don’t really see the harm in reasonably facilitating that for yourself). But too often it seems producers just straight up lie in order to avoid—what, controversy? Discussion? All they’re really doing is hoping the can is kicked far enough down the road that viewers will be more sympathetic, or at least understanding, of the artistic junket choices they made. But in my experiences no one likes feeling conned. And when these experiences don’t pay off artistically it makes it all the worse. It’s too simple to say that witholding information like this should enhance a viewing experience not dampen it, because that’s probably what creators thought they were doing with Talia and Khan.

But compared to something like (to grab another Spacey-villain-reveal joint) The Usual Suspects, where the person pulling the strings the whole time is played in a bit of misdirection—even acknowledged misdirection, as we see Spacey orchestrate the initial robberies even as he tells us that it was someone else. It’s nuggets like that that can create repeat and rewarding viewing experiences. Compare that to trying to reboot and slip a villain in under the radar in an established franchise under the wire while keeping it under wraps that it’s what you’re doing and the game is considerably more dicey (and as we’ve seen in both Rises and Into Darkness, prone to failure and letdown).

Perhaps the latest comes with the news that Zendaya won’t be playing a random “Michelle” in Spiderman: Homecoming, she’ll be playing none other than the red-headed heartthrob Mary-Jane. Though I’m hardpressed to believe that (if the rumors are true) there’s any real reason Marvel would withhold this information other than to have a couple more months without the ire of racists on the internet directed towards them, at least for once it’s being used to get a person of color into a white role, rather than the other way around.

Through Confirmation Bias Glasses

Everyone’s got it. You form an opinion, you see a pattern, and your brain starts working to confirm it. Most of the time it’s no big deal. But it can be dangerous as soon as you encounter anything that seems to fall in an “other” category.

It’s how police officers overwhelmingly suspect people of color of crimes, even when the cops are 50 percent people of color themselves. It’s how shows like Black-ish or Fresh Off the Boat can become the black or asian (respectively) family show, even when their families are closer to the average American family unit than Modern Family. It’s also how you get reporting like this, from The Mary Sue about the rumors that Sony is passing on the Ghostbusters sequel because the first one lost them money:

In fact, within the body of the article it reports that Sony has made no such decision either way, but weirdly connects that to its other Ghostbusters plans in order to draw conclusions:

Sony won’t comment on whether it has banished a sequel to the netherworld, but perhaps tellingly, a rep says the studio actively is pursuing an animated Ghostbusters feature that could hit theaters in 2019 and an animated TV series,Ghostbusters: Ecto Force, which is eyeing an early 2018 bow. Both are being guided by Reitman, who firmly is back in charge of the Ghostbusters empire via Ghost Corps., a subsidiary with a mandate to expand the brand across platforms. (It was former Sony film chief Amy Pascal who first embraced Feig’s vision for the live-action reboot, not Reitman or Rothman.)

Now, we’ve known about this upcoming Ghostbusters animated film since the end of 2015, and reported on the film finding a director in March of this year. Yet, with the sly phrase “perhaps tellingly,” this article presents its existence, as well as the existence of Ghost Corps. as a direct result of Ghostbusters’ box office. Ghostbusters was also a Ghost Corps. project! And yet, if you were to read this with no other information or context, you’d think that Ivan Reitman had nothing to do with Ghostbusters as a film, and created Ghost Corps. as a response to its failure.

What’s “telling” is the unnecessary dig at Amy Pascal, separating Reitman and Rothman from her as if Reitman didn’t also produce this movie. Why did that need mentioning? Oh right, because we want to make sure that people know that it was the woman in the equation who thought this movie was a good idea, and let’s all remember she’s not working there anymore. What’s frustrating is that a female writer wrote this piece.

Confirmation bias can be a tricky drug to get a handle on. It takes constant checking of what we know to be true versus what we believe to be true. And it causes real damage, from police brutality all the way to showrunners and directors of color who feel afraid to make experiences around their lives (as opposed to white lives) because then it “wouldn’t be universal.”

And the fault can be spread everywhere: Even when critics, for instance, are trying to build momentum around a show lead by women or POC, they often do so at the sake of its universality. It goes from being the critically acclaimed new show on the block to the critically acclaimed girl show coming out. And in that sort of instance, anyone involved in making it who is that characteristic (girl, POC, LGBTQ, etc.) becomes implicated in its success—and more notably its failures.

Amy Pascal greenlit hundreds of movies during her time, will she be held to the fire on Spiderman: HomecomingFuryJames Bond? Probably not.

Too often creators are conflated with the works they’ve done, if they’re anything aside from a straight white guy. Don’t let confirmation bias lead you to misunderstand what they’re doing.

 

 

 

On the eve of UnReal‘s finale, we’ve all got questions on our minds: What will Quinn and Rachel’s renewed alliance yield? Who will Darius pick? How the hell did this show go so off the rails?

There aren’t a lot of definitive answers to be found (yet). There’s a lot of awkward growing pains and remaining faults that lined the path for a disappointing sophomore year from last year’s critical darling. But most agree that the seventh episode of the season, “Ambush” is a lowpoint for the show.

After Darius, Romeo, and two of the contestants steal a car, Rachel and her showrunner boyfriend Coleman sic the cops on them, knowing it will make for great TV. When Rachel starts to have doubts after seeing just how far the cops will go when they pull over a black man in a fancy car that’s not his without a license, she darts out to call them off—only to alarm the cops, who accidentally shoot Romeo. unreal-ambush

After the shot the camera follows Rachel as she trips in the field she’s running through, the camera holding and tumbling with her, as she lies on the ground in shock. It’s a highly manufactured shot, one showrunner Sarah Gertrude Shapiro wanted especially to show how the event rocked Rachel and “turned her world upside down.”

Except, it’s not really her role that got turned upside down. It’s Romeo’s. Rachel was not subject to sadly prescient police brutality, Romeo was. Darius was. Rachel, a white woman, would never be. And while the effects of that shooting should affect her—as the cause, bystander, and protagonist of the series—it’s absurd that her narrative would be the one focused on here.

Two episodes later, one left in the season, and we still haven’t gotten an update on Romeo’s medical condition. For a show that’s allegedly supposed to be showing how those outside the black community can’t understand pressures on that community, and then to tell their story specifically through someone else’s viewpoint is a wildly misguided and privileged thing to do. Black lives matter, and white showrunners shouldn’t only engage with that when there’s white lives involved.

Perhaps with a few cuts and snips UnReal could’ve saved its white savior narrative. But the fact that we still aren’t sure whether they’ve saved Romeo means there’s a whole season’s worth of cuts and snips that had already gone untouched.

Ghostbusting politics

Ghostbusters is iconic, and now that the new one is out we’ve got a legacy going. I just wish it didn’t have to do its black characters the way it has.

When the 2016 trailer was released crowds went wild (and so did MRAs)—with the exception of one thing: Patty; played by Leslie Jones, the only woman of color on the team; was a MTA official. Whereas the other (white) girls knew science and research, Patty “knew New York.” Why couldn’t a black woman be a scientist, some asked?

And it could’ve been a question that should be reserved until the movie was seen. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was history repeating itself.

When Dan Aykroyd was first trying to get Ghostbusters (1984) off the ground he had written Winston to be a bigger, more prominent character. And when actor Ernie Hudson showed up for shooting, he found a haunting what-if was left largely in place of his character:

I look back on Ghostbusters in a very fun way, but it’s got so many mixed feelings and emotions attached to it. When I originally got the script, the character of Winston was amazing and I thought it would be career-changing. The character came in right at the very beginning of the movie and had an elaborate background: he was an Air Force major something, a demolitions guy. It was great.

Now I’ve heard, over the years, that the part had been written for Eddie Murphy—all of which Ivan Reitman says is not true. But it was a bigger part, and Winston was there all the way through the movie.

…The night before filming begins, however, I get this new script and it was shocking.

The character was gone. Instead of coming in at the very beginning of the movie, like page 8, the character came in on page 68 after the Ghostbusters were established. His elaborate background was all gone, replaced by me walking in and saying, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” So that was pretty devastating.

Call it racism, call it carelessness, call it Hollywood, but it’s an odd thing that both Ghostbusting teams feature characters of color that aren’t allowed to be scientists, or even really distinguished. Ghostbusting knows now gender, and it shouldn’t know any race either.

Acknowledging Whiteness

I understand the idea that we can’t ask celebrities and people of that ilk in the public eye to be representatives of political agendas. But it’s odd to say they’re wholly independent of them.

People and their artistic creations exist in a cultural context, and that cultural context exists within a continuum of social and political agendas. Sinking all your hopes on representation on a celebrity may be ill-founded—just look at the racist reactions by white actors to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. But claiming that means we shouldn’t expect artists who devote their lives and waking hours to contemplating bigger questions and honing their respective craft to have something to say on it is misguided.

Though I’m no fan of him, Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” shows that he is (and has been) contemplating his grander place in the context of hip hop music. The song itself isn’t much of a song, almost more of a personal essay than spoken word, but it’s a public proclamation of him falling in line with Black Lives Matters and at least beginning to acknowledge the privilege he benefits from in the world and the rap community. Whether it ultimately succeeds is another story. But the fact that it’s out there—and for once in Macklemore’s career speaking from his own lane to people within that lane—is something.

It’s no coincidence that two years running has seen Hollywood award exclusively white performances. In the Academy’s mind there’s a certain type of “Oscar worthy” performance. And when that comes to narratives of people of color it’s even more focused. It’s images of black bodies in pain, being rescued. Not proving themselves, whether in the face of the music industry, a multimillion dollar sports organization, or the shadow of their father’s legacy. It’s latinX people winning awards for trafficking drugs, not being enigmatic tech geniuses. It’s white men portraying trans women as tragic figures, not trans women of color playing themselves in a modern farce. It’s a problem that has roots deep in Hollywood, far beyond the Academy, about the stories we choose to tell when it’s not a cis, straight, white, able-bodied man.

And it may not be their job to speak out on these issues. But it seems clear that it’s their job to properly portray them.

Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comedians

It’s been two weeks and this Amy Schumer story won’t die, so I guess that means it’s time for my two cents.

Like seemingly every other comedian, Schumer is experiencing the double edged sword of virality: Sure your talents are exhaulted, but then people find your old stuff. Your non-PC stuff.

In Schumer’s case it’s about race, and the problematic blindspot she seems to have for at least latinx people. And in the grand tradition of comedians on social media, Schumer jumped in to defend herself.

There are many arguments I suppose one could make for Schumer here: Stand-up comedy is always a sort of hit-or-miss medium, and often times comedians judge their success in the moment after a joke is told. Digging through any joker’s past is sure to illicit a few skeletons and jokes that bombed (or should’ve, or would if told today).

The difference is, Schumer was so beloved because of her unabashed focus on taking on controversial issues (like rape, equal pay, and feminism in the media) and punching up. And if you look at that list of things she’s tackled, the most successful ones are where Schumer is speaking from her own lane: White womanhood. From here, Schumer is able to root in (presumably) her own experience and voice and stick it to the man.

So what makes Schumer’s response so disappointing is that she’s defending material that ultimately isn’t coming from her own viewpoint, but from the viewpoint of an ally who believes they’re servicing the greater good. But here’s the thing about being an ally: You don’t get to decide when you’re in the right. You sit down, shut up, and listen when disenfranchised communities tell you they feel wronged by you.

Arguably Schumer’s response is that of a comedian, dismissing complaints as people who might not understand her “edgy” comedy, instead of hearing what are essentially critiques of her job performance. If Schumer took the time to hear the complaints, she could make herself a stronger comic, and an unstoppable force in today’s needlessly PC-phobic world of comedy. Instead she’s just telling 1995 edgy comedy to a 2015 club. It’s not falling on deaf ears, but we don’t need to hear more of it.

 

No Aloha for White-washing

If you haven’t been following the “Aloha” casting-controversey it’s hard to fault you. The film is, after all, a total bomb and so you’re forgiven for not cluing yourself in too much. The important take-away is that in a film called “Aloha,” that centers on the fate and traditions of Hawai’i at odds with the U.S.’s interests, the main 14 characters are white. Which really in this day in age is shocking, especially since Oahu is only 17 percent white.

Meet the diverse line-up of "Aloha"
Meet the diverse line-up of “Aloha”

The main offender that people kept circling back to was the character of Allison Ng, played by Emma Stone. Often times when there’s a popular white actress (or actor) filmmakers distance themselves from the controversy, and just wait for it to all blow over. So there’s something to be said for Cameron Crowe stepping up to the plate and acknowledging he has something to learn.

Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice. As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one.  A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii.  Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.

Whether that story point felt hurtful or humorous has been, of course, the topic of much discussion. However I am so proud that in the same movie, we employed many Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islanders, both before and behind the camera… including Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, and his village, and many other locals who worked closely in our crew and with our script to help ensure authenticity.

We were extremely proud to present the island, the locals and the film community with many jobs for over four months. Emma Stone was chief among those who did tireless research, and if any part of her fine characterization has caused consternation and controversy, I am the one to blame.

I am grateful for the dialogue. And from the many voices, loud and small, I have learned something very inspiring. So many of us are hungry for stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation, and I am anxious to help tell those stories in the future.

Crowe on The Uncool

It’s admirable, that Crowe is willing to eat crow and take responsibility, and his background does shed some light on the situation.

The problem is, it’s still not great. It’s mind-boggling to think that there are some out there who would see this as an anamoly—or worse, a decision based wholly on merit—but there are. And while Crowe clearly owns up to the need to learn something, 14 lead white characters isn’t a mistake or an oversight. It’s systematic.

Representation is more than something “people hunger for,” and that’s not a new concept to 2015.

The original “Star Trek,” set against the cultural backdrop of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement, not too long after World War II. Its commanding crew featured a Russian, a Black Woman (in an actual role), a Japanese man (who was actually in an internment camp as a child), and their science fiction regularly dealt with the friction present on 1960s Earth. Seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge is what inspired Whoopi Goldberg to be an actress and Mae Jemison to become the first African American woman to become an astronaut. The show was so representative for the Civil Rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Nichols to stay on the show.

“Star Trek” embraced a life beyond cultural divides through representation. “Aloha” sidelines what people of color it does have; all but marking them as “others.”

To say that white-passing is the same as white erases valuable voices that could’ve provided some commentary around the film. Crowe is by no means the first (nor, sadly, likely the last) to take an ill-advised turn into the white-washing, and for Crowe to say that in 2015 he’s “learned something inspiring” silences the voices that deserve to be heard over his on the subject.

White-washing in the Shell? On the ScarJo rumors for live-action anime

I’m as ecstatic as anyone to see Scarlett Johansson’s career of “badass female kicks ass and takes names in a way no one can even touch” take off. She’s a talented actress, and dedicated to boot. Yet she’s constantly reduced to her looks.

Which is a little what I’m about to do. I’m not pleased that she’s been offered the lead in the long-awaited “Ghost in the Shell” live-action remake, specifically because she’s white. Helmed by Steven Spielberg, the rights to the Hollywood recreation of the anime about a group of Japanese counterterroism folks who fight cyber-crime in some sort of futuristic backdrop have been tossed around since the anime’s popularity in 1995.

Seeing as how (at least publicly) this role has been discussed with two, white, blonde actresses it seems that there has been little–if any–consideration of Japanese women. Or women of color in general. It wouldn’t be the first time that Hollywood enacted racist practices when it came to casting. It may not be new, but (as a white person) the invasion of “Ghost in the Shell,” which holds a special place to the anime community, feels strikingly unpleasant. The character’s name is Motoko Kusanagi, for God’s sake.

Ghost in the Shell protagonist Motoko
“They’re thinking about casting who?”

Who knows if that detail will make it to the film. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift coming to the Ghost in the Shell world. Which can be interesting, and it’s exciting to see women-lead action flicks leading the box office of 2014, I’m just tired of it coming at the cost of people of color. Instead of getting a taste of these cultures we are clearly and absolutely appropriating them; sampling what suits our white tastes, and using eyeliner to fix the rest.