M. Night, say it isn’t so!

I don’t post much about TV stuff because I don’t watch a lot of TV. But when I do, because my tastes have always been eclectic and a little weird, I tend to watch weird eclectic stuff. Thus was born my love of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s a children’s cartoon. Yeah, I know. But I fell passionately in love with this show, because it’s frankly some of the most original fantasy I’ve seen in a very long time. Like most good children’s shows, it’s made an effort to appeal to adults as well, through complex subject matter and multi-layered jokes — to great and successful effect. I watched the finale episode at a party with 20 other twenty- and thirtysomething adults, all of whom were literally holding their breath and cheering at various points. Yeah. Over a kids’ cartoon. It’s that good. Go rent/buy it and see for yourself.

But let me be blunt: one of the things that hooked me about this show was that it was set in an all-Asian world. And it wasn’t fucked up. OK, let me clarify. You know how usually, when there’s an Asian character in an American TV show, he (or more frequently she) ends up as the martial arts master, the (white) hero’s submissive love interest, the dragon lady vamp, or the magical elderly person dishing out nonsensical proverbs and occasionally a can of whoopass? The thing is, all of these stereotypes are present in Avatar to some degree. But because the whole world is Asian, they’re lost in a sea of non-stereotypical, non-exoticized, perfectly normal human beings. How amazing is that? Not only that, but Avatar actually depicts different Asian ethnicities. Though this is a fantasy world, there are clear allusions to the Inuit, Koreans, Mongols, Tibetans, several flavors of southeast Asian, various Indians, and more. The Chinese- and Japanese-analogues of the story actually come in several varieties (Earth Kingdom and Fire Kingdom, Kyoshi warriors, etc.). Better still, while there are lots of martial artists in the show, the vast majority of people in this world wouldn’t know a punch from Hawaiian Punch. Just like most people anywhere. I know, huh? Good shit.

Given all this, I wasn’t surprised that M. Night Shyamalan, twist-director extraordinaire, was drawn to the material in order to make a live-action film. I was actually excited about his direction when I heard. I don’t like all his movies, but at least he’s not some no-name music video director. So it sounds like he’s chosen his cast for the film.

Continue reading

Black Is The New Doctor

This may all come to nothing, but it’s being widely reported that Patterson Joseph has been asked to play the lead in Doctor Who and he’s either thinking hard or has accepted the role.

For those of you who don’t know Doctor Who, it’s an iconic British SF show where the main character, The Doctor, has an unusual reaction to being killed.  Instead of dying, his body regenerates and he gets a new face, body, and personality.  This conceit was invented way back when the guy who first played the Doctor said he didn’t want to, anymore, but the show was doing so well that they didn’t want to end it, so they wrote an in-story explanation for the actor change and now there have been 10 guys in this role.

Further in case you didn’t know: Patterson Joseph is black.  And the Doctor has always been played by white guys.

Yes, I hear the wank coming for us, too.  There’s already been a bit.

But this is a pretty awesome turn of events.  Joseph is a good actor, from what I’ve seen, and quite handsome, which doesn’t hurt.  And the role of the Doctor is, as I mentioned, iconic, and a very big deal.  Doctor Who isn’t just a very famous SF show.  In England particularly, but in Western countries all over, the show transcends genre and is regarded as an integral part of childhood TV viewing.  This role is one that actors dream of playing.  It’s a chance to make some very influential TV.

I hope that the rumors don’t end up being unfounded, because it has the potential to be very awesome (or very crazy.  Doctor Who is not immune to icky race stuff).  Yes, the fandom will explode in stupid racism, but it may come out on the other end better and more enlightened.

And also: Black Doctor.

The state of PoC on TV: better or worse?

This makes me afraid. Very afraid. In concept it sounds good:

Percy Miller (formerly Master P) announces the launch of Better Black Television (BBTV) a family friendly network that will provide positive content for a black and brown culture that will appeal to all races with a goal to bring people of color a choice when turning on their television.

But… Master P’s running it. Master P. I mean, come on.

Shake what you got in them jeans (them jeans)
Girl grab the wall, then shake it like a dog
Shake what you got in them jeans (them jeans)
Girl grab the wall, then shake it like a dog
Shake what you got in them jeans (oh yeah)
Girl grab the wall, then shake it like a dog
Shake what you got in them jeans (oh yeah)
From the front to the back, girl you know what I mean

From “Them Jeans”

…Hmm.

Anyway, this touched off a conversation between my cousin and myself about the state of television for PoC now versus 30 years ago. It seemed to both of us that there were more PoC on TV back when we were kids (in the 1970s, right after the Civil Rights movement) than there are now. They were not good depictions back then — one-dimensional, prone to early death, bizarrely good at martial arts — but they were depictions. These days it seems hard even to get that much. Blackarazzi noticed the change, too:

There was a time when diversity seemed to come naturally to prime time. The social consciousness of the ’70s spawned successful sitcoms like The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Sanford and Son; the ’80s brought living-in-harmony comedy Diff’rent Strokes and the ultimate breakthrough TV family on The Cosby Show. But a long fallow period (dominated by Cheers, Seinfeld, and Friends) followed until 1999, when the networks announced another particularly white fall lineup (The West Wing, Freaks and Geeks, Once and Again) — and minority groups revolted.

Thus prompting a brief resurgence in which we saw a few more brown faces appear. But that resurgence seems to have faded again.

Or has it? I’ll put the question to you folks, then. Are PoC on TV better off now than they were 30 years ago?

Save Heroes

I know many of you are fans of the show Heroes.  I also know that many of you are just as frustrated as I am about some of the show’s less desirable elements, such as the way they treat many of the characters of color. To that end, I created Save Heroes. To wit:

…if we, the fans, are going to hang in there for the long haul, continue watching Volume 2, and go on to watch Volume 3, then we need to know that Heroes‘ problems are going to be addressed. Because it’s not about just getting rid of troubling characters and ditching inconvenient plots, it’s about understanding why those characters were troubling and why those plots made the audience twitch. And beyond that, Mr. Kring needs to understand how issues of race and gender play into both aspects.

All of these issues have been explored, sometimes at length, in blogs and on message boards in fandom. But is Tim Kring seeing all of that? Probably not. Does he care what the fans think? Of course. Is he capable of change and growth? Obviously. Therefore we, as fans, have to find a way to make our voices heard.

We need to write a detailed critique of the plot, character, race and gender elements of Heroes. We need to have one place where the producers and writers of Heroes can come and find what fandom has to say on these issues.

That’s the purpose of this website. We don’t need to Save Heroes from cancellation or network misuse, we need to Save Heroes from itself. Because it’s not a lost cause. It’s still capable of being the amazing show it was in season one. No, it’s capable of being even better.

How can you help Save Heroes? Easy. Just give your opinion on the Plot and Characters or Race and Gender issues in the show. We’re inviting all fans to contribute to a collaborative document in which we provide constructive, respectful criticism of the current season. Whether you offer your original thoughts or point to existing posts on the Internet, all ideas are welcome. Once we have enough contributions to create a coherent document, we’ll put it together in total and digitally sign it.

I would love it if some of the folks who’ve been making insightful comments here would go contribute.

Inconceivable!!

Ever since the new TV season started I’ve been pretty pissed off at Heroes. I believe my exact words have been:

Dear Heroes,

KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE RACISM AND SEXISM ALREADY.

Bob!Beyond that, the writing/plotting itself hasn’t been the best. Everyone I know who watches has been grumbling in the same way.

Usually when this occurs, the fans have little recourse. We complain on blogs and to each other offline, but the show continues to suck and eventually becomes the ninth season of Stargate SG-1. However, something amazing happened recently. A show creator actually acknowledged the problems with his show and –Gasp!– vowed to fix them.

I know! It sounds like a total lie. But look:

‘Heroes’ Creator Apologizes to Fans

[...] Kring himself is keenly aware that Heroes is broken. Here’s his candid critique:

THE PACE IS TOO SLOW ”We assumed the audience wanted season 1 — a buildup of intrigue about these characters and the discovery of their powers. We taught [them] to expect a certain kind of storytelling. They wanted adrenaline. We made a mistake.”

THE WORLD-SAVING STAKES SHOULD HAVE BEEN ESTABLISHED SOONER [or perhaps scrapped altogether... --abw] The premonition of nuclear apocalypse created a larger context that unified every story line last season. Kring now sees that Volume 2 (the first 11 episodes of season 2) would have been better served if Peter’s vision of viral Armageddon had appeared in the season premiere rather than episode 7. ”We took too long to get to the big-picture story,” he says.

THE ROOKIES DIDN’T GREET THEMSELVES PROPERLY New Heroes Monica (Dana Davis), Maya (Dania Ramirez), and Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz) ”shouldn’t have been introduced in separate story lines that felt unattached to the show. The way we introduced Elle (Kristen Bell) — by weaving her in via Peter’s story line — is a more logical way to bring new characters into the show.” (That said, Kring says a few newbies won’t make it beyond this second volume, which wraps Dec. 3.)

HIRO WAS IN JAPAN WAY TOO LONG Hiro’s (Masi Oka) time-bending adventure in 17th-century Japan — where he mentored samurai hero Takezo Kensei (David Anders) — finally came to an end on Nov. 5. But Kring says it ”should have [lasted] three episodes. We didn’t give the audience enough story to justify the time we allotted it.”

YOUNG LOVE STINKS Kring regrets sticking Claire (Hayden Panettiere) with a super-dud boyfriend and forcing Hiro to moon over a cutesy princess. ”I’ve seen more convincing romances on TV,” he admits. ”In retrospect, I don’t think romance is a natural fit for us.”

There’s more at EW, go read.

He doesn’t touch on all of the problems — I see no mention of some of the icky race stuff. This gives me hope, though. I’ll hold out until Vol. 2 ends in December then eat some ginger, clean my palette, and go back to Heroes fresh and ready to be amazed again.

The Grass is Always Greener

Earlier this month, black British actor David Harewood published an essay in the Guardian lamenting the lack of media attention for the “Black BAFTAS” and the lack of black actors on British television.

…in Britain, TV and film producers and directors are still nervous about black actors in leading roles. Ask anyone in the street to name five American black actors and they can do it; but ask them to name five British counterparts and they will be stuck. That is not because the talent does not exist, but because we just don’t get that exposure here.

It is only when they go to the US that actors such as [Thandie] Newton and [Chiwetel] Ejiofor get the parts, and therefore the acclaim, they deserve. [...] black Britons seem to get better parts over there, even on the small screen.

Americans simply seem to be more comfortable with black actors in leading roles, and with the whole concept of “generic” parts in which race is not an issue. Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman have both played the American president, while Haysbert is now the leader of a special operations unit in the new David Mamet drama The Unit.

I find it incredibly interesting to see the view of us from the outside. Considering the issues we have with representation, it was hard for me to imagine anyone looking at the roles for black actors with envy.

And as much as I want to say that Harewood has a skewed view, so do I. I watch some British TV, but most of the shows I watch are either produced by the same guy or written by a guy who works on projects with that producer. So even if I’m seeing a fair amount of PoC, I just may be in the hands of the half dozen people at the BBC who care about such things.

I have been very fortunate in my career in Britain, in that I have managed to play plenty of parts that were not conceived specifically for a black actor. I am not entirely alone in this – think of Freema Agyeman as Doctor Who’s sidekick Martha Jones, for example, or first Adrian Lester and now Ashley Walters in Hustle – but many of my peers have struggled in this respect. To get roles with authority and weight still seems to be extremely difficult. All too often, black actors are only seen fit to be secondary characters: “the best friend”, say, or “the good cop”. I think I have played more black policemen than there are black policemen. And these are not the kind of roles that get you noticed.

By contrast, when I was in America last year for the premiere of Blood Diamond, I was amazed at the variety and scope of some of the castings I was going into. Casting directors told me openly that no new American television series gets the green light without at least two or three leading ethnic minority roles. If nothing else, in that melting pot of a country it makes business sense to have a cast in which the audience can recognise itself.

Hmm…. I wonder if maybe Harewood isn’t being a bit lied to. Just looking at the new SF television shows on this season (which I had to watch for an article… which is going up tomorrow!) I saw a LOT of white people in lead/recurring roles–Journeyman, Moonlight, Chuck, Flash Gordon, Reaper–and the two shows that include CoC in their recurring slots are still helmed by white people–Bionic Woman, Pushing Daisies.

Without events such as Screen Nation, much of the work done by black British people in film and television would go unnoticed. Do awards like these ghettoise black actors, or somehow relegate them? Of course not. If I win a prize on Monday evening, I will accept it with just as much pride as if I had been given a Bafta or an Oscar.

Good question. It looks like Britain is suffering from the same kind of problems regarding race and representation that our media has. But perhaps from different angles and for different reasons. Though I was really pleased with the representations I saw in, say, Doctor Who, others see that show and its spinoff as problematic. There’s still a lot of work to do.

Fortunately, folks like Harewood are paying attention and speaking out. But he’s an actor, not someone who creates shows for the BBC. Those are the people who need to be paying attention.

Oh wait:

Neil Gaiman has said he will soon make fantasy television shows for the BBC.
[...]
“I’ve been in talks with the BBC for about two years about doing an original fantasy series for them, which I keep putting off because my plate is so full.

“I think it’s time to clear some plate for them.
[...]
One option he is looking at is a television version of his novel Anansi Boys which has just been made for radio by BBC World Service.

“I thought this would be so cool if we could do it as four 42-minute episodes for the BBC or even ITV,” he explained. “I don’t think anybody has actually done a drama, the cast of which was almost completely black, in which the point of it was not that the cast was completely black.”

Emphasis mine.

Maybe Gaiman will be a good influence on the BBC. And then he can come back over here and be a good influence on us.

Oh wait:

When Anansi Boys first came out, we got a number of very big [Hollywood] directors going after it and all of them basically ended up saying the same thing, which was they had real problems with a story as black people as leads in a fantasy movie. [...] It’s one of those strange moments when you go “I don’t know if it’s racist or if it’s just stupid…”

Sigh.

Dear Black People: Stop Embarrassing Me

Though this website is mostly a people of color positive zone, every now and then I feel the need to vent a bit about my own people. It generally happens when I want black people to stop freaking embarrassing me!

First up, hip hop artist Plies. Yes, his name is Plies. It’s embarrassing enough to have a grown-ass man running around calling himself Plies, but he supposedly waxed poetical with Vibe magazine on why he chose such a moniker:

Vibe: “Plies is an interesting name for a rapper, how did you get that nickname?”

Plies: “Plies is a tool, You can use it to put the squeeze on things, like I’m doing to these niggas in the rap game. I got the squeeze on them real tight, they feeling the pressure, or you can use it to pull things out. I pull out all the bullshit and keep the real you feel me?

It also a word you can use in terms of things goin’ on in yo life, ya dig. You may hear something I say and say that it plies to me.”

Vibe: “I’ve heard of a tool called a Pliers and the term applies.”

Plies: “You know what I’m trying to say my nigga, just buy my album, I’m from the South my nigga, we don’t learn no grammer. My Album out August 7, 2007, cop three copies each, it’s Christmas in July fo’ real, ya dig?

[Source]

Yeah……

Now, I say he ‘supposedly’ said this to Vibe because there is some doubt that this snippet is from a real interview. I’ve only been able to find it on message boards and blogs with no attribution link. It was supposedly on Vibe.com but isn’t there now. I’ve seen some other recent interviews with this ‘Plies’ person, so I don’t have a lot of trouble seeing this as real. But, it may not be.

If it is: PLIES, stop FUCKING embarrassing me! That is some straight ignant shit, yo! Plies is a tool, You can use it to put the squeeze on things — gah!

If it’s fake, I suspect a white conspiracy ;)

This second item, however, is not a product of the white conspiracy.

Did you know that The View now has two black co-hosts? They brought in Whoopi to replace Rosie, not Star Jones. They brought in Sherri Shepherd to replace Star. (No, I don’t know who Sherri Shepherd is, either.) Apparently, Sherri is a Christian. She says that she does not “believe in evolution, period.” As a follow up, Whoopi asked her if she believed the world was flat. Her answer? “I don’t know.”

*tires squeeling, cars crashing*

You don’t know?

“I’ve never thought about it,” she went on to say. “‘Is the world flat?’ has never been an important thing to me.”

See, this is the reason people make fun of Christians. This is the exact reason.

Sherri Shepherd, stop embarrassing me! I mean, come on. Is the world flat? is not a hard question to answer. And if you answer “I don’t know,” that says to me you don’t want to admit, on national television, that you really, deep down, think that it is. And if that is true, then you need to sail off the edge of it. Right now.

The whole conversation is here, if you can stomach it:

Check out the grin on Joy Behar’s face. She’s happy to have two black women going at it instead of one black woman going at her.

Maybe we should write a letter to these folks ala “Dear Black People” or stage an intervention.  Because, really, there is no need for this foolishness.

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