If you think I’m somehow “against diversity”, read this article. And this one. And this one here, Oh, here’s another one. Want more? I have them. My host will love the ad revenue and I will prove that not only am I in favor of diversity but I grew up with it. Modern writers, either due to their own egos or their own worldview, only remember something old existed if they can convince Hollywood to make their movie and the script they’ve been pushing can rename characters to give it a squint connection to the prior work (as in if you squint you can see how this is totally that old thing on the surface even if the details don’t match up at all). The reason I don’t fully, and note I said fully, subscribe to the “looks like me” mentality is that I have connected to many characters who don’t look like me, even if you lump all white people together. Black characters, women, Asians, robots, aliens, dogs…they resonate with me because of how I see elements of my life story and personality in those characters.

That said, I do understand wanting to see someone of your race and gender doing all the cool things and being awesome doing it. And if that’s what was happening this article would be about the story behind some old song or a pro-Superman article or something. I’m sure I’ve written on this before but I’m still seeing it and I’m still driven to mention that the METHOD at which writers, showrunners, directors, and so forth are actually HURTING the cause of diverse characters rather than helping. You’re shooting yourselves in the foot. Let’s break it down.

 

Liberals and conservatives finally agreed on something: that this comic was hella racist.

Racial Diversity

This is the big one, or it used to be. Black Panther was praised for having an all-black cast with a black superhero. This ignored The Meteor Man or MANTIS (the TV pilot movie, not the disappointing TV series that only had the name and Carl Lumbly in common) ever existed. They wouldn’t know about Superstretch and Microwoman from The Super 7, a show I grew up with because it’s one of those silly cartoon things that doesn’t have live actors. That’s just superheroes. There was also a show with black teen detectives in the future and their Speed Racer wanna-be Rickety Rocket. Whatever your thoughts on Blaxploitation, characters like John Shaft was popular enough to get a 1990s upgrade, Wesley Snipes had an action movie career, and with Keanu Reeves getting the John Wick movies at his age despite not even being in action movies nearly as long, I could see Snipes still doing action movies as long as he makes his tax payments, even playing the Yoda-style mentor. Snipes also played Blade, the first black Marvel character to get his own movie, though I wouldn’t call the vampire hunter a superhero. Superheroes are not the only heroes in the Marvel universe after all.

In the old days Hollywood would get chatized for only having black characters in movies be poor or pimps, gangbangers or drug dealers. Whatever you think of Bill Cosby today The Cosby Show was a game changer, depicting a suburban couple with children who were black. Heathcliff Huxtable was a pediatrician and his wife was a successful lawyer. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air went further, depicting a rich judge (whom I’ve heard is corrupt in the more serious remake) and his family. While it picked on Carlton for having a more whitebread personality, listening to Tom Jones instead of MC Hammer, he was still treated as a decent guy and eventually he and the city-born Will found common ground and learned to respect each other’s point of view and history. Family Matters also had a black family in the suburbs, with a police officer husband and a wife who ran the elevator at a building, back when elevator operators will still something you saw in certain buildings. (A dying business with automatic elevators advancing and thus costing less.) Even then these were more exceptions than the rule…and were only happening on sitcoms.

Well guess what’s happening today? Most of the black characters are still running crime organizations, only now getting to live in mansions, or being black stereotypes, only now the ones telling actors to “be more black” like in Hollywood Shuffle are black directors and showrunners. The sitcoms still have a place for black characters in the suburbs but not the dramas. Others are race swaps and while the original character’s story was about fighting evil or whatever it’s about how black they are, and that every black person comes from Africa and needs to get back in touch with their roots. Sucks to be anyone who traces their ancestry to the Bahamas. And of course, as I’ve noticed time and again, interracial romance is STILL taboo in the 21st century while children born from interracial “relations” have to choose a race and it can’t be the white parent. If one of the parents isn’t white then you can combine cultures of both nationalities because you can’t choose to ignore your ancestors’ culture even if you just want to identify as “human”.  In fact, I’m seeing shows for kids where I notice black kids can have friends of any race except white, unless they’re a girl. I shouldn’t notice that and until recently I wouldn’t have or at least wouldn’t have cared. And yet now I have to because pointing out racial makeup of a cast is such a big deal that the Oscars have insisted you won’t win unless a certain percentage are minorities whether it makes sense or not.

Then you have the aforementioned race swaps of characters. They celebrate these changes because they don’t care about accuracy, they care about token surface viewing. It doesn’t make sense for a European inspired culture to have black or Asian characters anymore than it would be for a show based on African culture to have a bunch of honkies running around, or Japanese lore to have a white guy unless it involves the period where the west was trying to get Japan to join the trade industry, even by force and that’s a whole other notthissite discussion. Meanwhile ACTUAL black characters or stories based on African or other cultures have been completely ignored in favor of also-rans, tokens, and “crumbs” of white characters and there are people of color taking notice and offence. I’ve gone a long time on this and I still have two more categories to go.

And she’s not even a feminist. Or maybe she is now.

Gender Diversity

Some of my favorite heroes growing up were women. I only knew Spider-Woman from her cartoon, but that’s also where I discovered other strong female characters: Astra, Princess Ariel, Web Woman, Teela, She-Ra, Gloria Baker, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Isis, which also leads into the live-action character since Isis was awesome in both forms. Jamie Sommers, also Wonder Woman, Sarah Conner in the GOOD Terminator sequel, and this where I admit I watched more action cartoons than action live-action shows. That’s because the movies I were too young for while the TV shows came on after I went to bed. Lindsay Wagner and Lynda Carter I’d have to wait for syndication to see in action. Since to me there is no difference between animation and live-action characters that still works for me.

The difference was the heroines of my youth were allowed to be women and still kick butt. Unless they had superpowers or cybernetics they couldn’t toss a dude twice their size and five times as mean. Femininity wasn’t considered a weakness, and some characters good and villain alike might even use their “feminine wiles” as a weapon against the men. They were good, pure, honest, and could still take a guy down, just not in the same way a guy would most of the time. They used the advantages of their bodies, ways of thinking, and we also either saw them train or were told they were trained. Now a woman goes from weak to badass in the course of five seconds of not even training because they needed to learn they were always awesome because they have amazing abilities (creating babies not being one of them) instead of earning their victories, and women are noticing and are bored.

Now it seems like action movie and show women have to be more masculine than the guys. We’re supposed to believe that a girl who looks 150 pounds can take on a male standing at 300 pounds plus. I couldn’t believe that a 150 pound guy could do that. I couldn’t do that! And they aren’t allowed to be women. They can’t be nurturing, they can’t use tactics and reflexes, they can’t look like women in cartoons and comics. For the group who talks about body shaming they are doing the shaming themselves. If you’re remotely attractive to those men things (and lesbians don’t forget) you aren’t allowed to play anymore. Apparently the only difference today is the lack of an Adam’s Apple, and even that might not be true, because before I explain why all this is so very wrong we need to discuss the new trend.

LGBT+ Representation

Let’s make this quick because some of this depends on what you think of this category. Some LGBs are having issues with the Ts because of extremists in the T corner, of course there are cis people who don’t believe in the LGB while many Bs report being shunned by the Ls and Gs for not “choosing one”. It’s a whole mess that this website is not in the slightest bit equipped to go over. I’m interested in stories and storytelling, and if we’re honest nobody in this group has ever gotten fair treatment. That’s kind of odd given how left-leaning Hollywood was (there’s a reason Joseph McCarthy targeted them as communist sympathisers, and many of them are openly Marxist today). Rock Hudson was gay and nobody knew it. He was considered one of that period’s equivalent of the Hollywood Heartthrob.

During my period gay characters were rare and often used as a joke. They were flamboyant or incredibly girly. I say “were”, but they still are today. Only now it’s less of a joke. Basically Hollywood loves to accept stereotypes. This is true for the people of color. They put out a Cinco De Mayo cover of Green Lantern showing the half-Latino Kyle with a bag of tacos, and they’re the same people who complain about Speedy Gonzales being a poor representation of Mexicans…unless you ask actual Mexicans who really like the character and undid the last attempt at removing him from the Looney Tunes family. In the case of the LGBTs you have the tomboy, who they can’t believe could just be a straight girl who happens to like things statistically more interesting to boys. They like to climb, roughhouse and maybe boxing or martial arts, and would rather wear pants than a dress and play with He-Man than Barbie. I grew up with stories where the point was trying to convince the grown-ups, especially mothers, that their daughter was still a girl, identified as a girl, and was totally going to date guys in the future.

I think the last time I saw a tomboy still treated as a girl who could fight what was Jane & The Dragon from the early 2000s. Now they’re not just girls who like to fight or play sports; they’re either gay, “gender fluid/non-binary”, or transgender. Meanwhile, any time a story is about a character coming out of the closet, whether that character was solely depicted as straight or not–using bisexual as a dodge because you’ll never see them date the opposite gender unless they’re trans–their story is now only about their being gay. Or at least that’s all the promotion gave us with Jon Kent and Tim Drake. Enemies are now tied to “internet trolls” and opposing LGBT. No more fighting bank robbers, drug dealers, or anyone who wants to destroy/conquer the world. Nope, it’s about convincing their parents gay is okay or finding a date when your new to being out. Maybe that’s the reason there are no gay action heroes. The writers would rather see him seeking a date than kicking butt.

Say this for the Shredder; he makes a good entrance.

So about that foot-shooting thing…

Therein lies the whole problem. Take any story with a black lesbian, replace them with a white male, and change virtually nothing else…and the story still sucks. If I wanted to see someone’s love life explored I’d watch a romantic story. I don’t watch romantic stories. I don’t read or watch Iron Man stories to hear about how straight and white Tony Stark is. My first Iron Man comic has James Rhodes as Iron Man, and I really enjoyed the story. I didn’t even know he was black but as someone with my own issues with self-worth I identified with Rhodey in that story, worried he couldn’t carry the Iron Man name as well as Tony. He later became his own superhero identity, War Machine, the opposite of the Falcon-turned-Captain America also-ran Sam Wilson. I’ve also identified with Bumblebee in the early Transformers stories, and with MacKenzie the black and white border collie from New Zealand living in Australia and the equivalent of a six year old in the preschool show Bluey. I heard about and then found a way to watch “Space” and that just sealed the deal. (Australian readers know what I’m talking about. The rest of you hopefully will get the chance.)

I don’t believe that the character has to “look like you” to be relatable. I relate to situations and perspectives. I’ve never been a robot in an interstellar civil war, a puppy, or a black man in a suit of armor. Or a talking pony. Or able to turn into a car. Or had a talking dog help me solve mysteries. I could list more but I shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t matter. I’m not even against the idea that people of color or girls would want to see someone of their race or gender seeing someone of their race or gender. Two shows I’ve praised from Disney are Mira, Royal Detective and Ultra Violet And Black Scorpion for using other cultures to base their lore around rather than what is in essence cultural appropriation just because it’s set in a fantasy world. However, while I totally believe a little girl of Mexican descent would be thrilled to see a Hispanic teen girl superhero I do not believe that girl would say “you look like me” like we see in one of the ads for Ultra Violet. Note that I’m referring to the clunky dialog. “You’re a Latina like me” I could even accept, or “you’re a girl like me”, or drop “like me” altogether because it should be obvious. You can’t tell if someone in a luchador mask looks like you. It’s why they thought people would buy Los Luchadores. (Note: they did not. I didn’t care. It was just more superheroes for me but they didn’t look like Lucha Libre stars even with the masks.)

The thing of it is, nobody is taking them seriously, even the people they’re supposedly representing with stereotypes and token characters. As noted here in the past, people are realizing this is all just marketing. The studios and distributors just see using people of color or women in traditionally male roles without what makes them special as women, or gay/trans characters for cheap marketing and to make certain groups happy so they’ll get awards. They’re afraid to have a woman struggle like men do, despite that struggle and overcoming being what draws us to these stories, either catharsis or inspirational in our own struggles. Now the Oscars are demanding you have a quota of non-white males if you hope to win. You can have a no-white cast and still be up for an award, but there better be an approved number of black people in your story about ancient Greece or you’re out of the running.

A more stable, loving, nurturing family than anything on adult US TV. I know families like this and I’ve never been to Australia.

So imagine being a black lesbian and seeing horrible stories being made about “someone who looks like you”. Imagine being told the only way you’ll ever succeed is if white people force other white people to include you because for some reason they don’t believe Hollywood can make a good, successful movie with a black lesbian lead who wears pink and can’t toss King Kong Bundy like a sack of M&Ms. Now also imaging being told that if you have average or larger breasts you aren’t allowed to be included by the same people who complain about body image in order to get less attractive and larger bodied women into roles that make no sense for them? Reverse the world situation if you’re not a black lesbian and see how you’d feel if they had to be forced to add a white male because the writers were too crap to write a straight white male. You could make the case that they can’t but that’s because they can’t write good characters at all.

Black and female fans of Tolkien find The Rings Of Power insulting to his work because they tossed out the history of Middle Earth and the previous depictions of their characters into something they would have never pulled off without that brand name to use as a way in with the risk-adverse studio (taking a chance is what got these earlier properties you’re ripping off where they are so you could rip them off). They do a surface view of the characters, create what they really want, don’t make them interesting, and this is not just a problem for Middle Earth tales. A lot of franchises are doing it. They can’t create something new so they rework something old into the story they want to tell, ticking off fans of those early works while sending the message that they can’t make a decent black lesbian action hero because they lack the talent. People of these underrepresented groups know that Black Panther wasn’t the first black hero, but his first appearance and later his first movie was made by people who were trying to properly represent the character instead of group X. Now the MCU is operated by people who don’t care (Kevin Feige has changed his project ever since Avi Arad left, and let’s stop pretending Ike “we can replace the black character in Iron Man for a cheaper actor and nobody will notice the difference” Perlmutter was responsible for keeping the MCU close to the comics lore) and so the next Black Panther movie was more about representing groups than characters, and thus it failed.

They know they’re being pandered to rather than being given the same good stories the straight white dude was. They may be fans of the straight white male characters or the feminine women and even if they want more POC LGBT+ characters doesn’t mean they want to lose the characters they already like. “But what difference does it make if the character is white or black? It’s only fiction.” So is In The Heat Of The Night. So was Black Panther, and by that reckoning he didn’t have to be black or even from Africa. The character should reflect the source material or the world they’re set in. Plus isn’t that a variation of a once stupid question “could the character have been a white man” that was considered racist?

Make good characters, use them to tell good stories, and you’ll have fans. It’s why those straight white characters worked, not because they were straight and white. You can’t just replace them. They became popular for a reason, including with non straight white people. Figure out what that is and your black lesbian hero will gain her own spot on the list of great heroes. Don’t use their race, gender, or sexual orientation as a shield to hide terrible stories. Offer struggles to overcome so we can see our journey in their even if it isn’t a one-to-one reenactment of our life story. I’ve never fought in a space war, dealt with supervillains, or been a canine. Analogs don’t have to be so exact to your life story for you to see parallels to your life journey. Good storytelling can boost everyone whether they’ve been in that specific situation or not. That’s just life, as you can be inspired by people who never shared your life even if they share your made-up outdated grouping, or if they never shared your grouping but still had similarities to your struggles. If you want people to accept non-cis white male characters, do what made the cis white male characters popular: make good stories. Otherwise you’re insulting your intended audience AND your potential audience. As a wise old little green guy once said, “that is why you fail”.

Oh, and stop telling Japan how to tell their stories. That’s also cultural appropriation and Japan isn’t the US. It’s why some people in the US enjoy Japanese media, and why Japanese people enjoy Japanese and US media.

Advertisement

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s