Tag Archives: race in entertainment

Where are the people of color in dystopias?

Hannah GomezSarah Hannah Gómez has an MA in children’s literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College. Currently Guest bloggershe works as a school librarian in Northern California. An aspiring novelist and screenwriter, she is passionate about social issues in literature and social media engagement with books. She spends the rest of her free time singing, reading, and learning to run. Visit her blog at http://mclicious.org.

I was going to start this post with something pithy like, “How to survive the apocalypse: Be white. Or Morgan Freeman. Or, 2012 onwards, be a Kravitz!” I was going to tell you how dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction and film allow creators to act out a future and explore countless possibilities that could ruin or save the world. And that is kind of what’s happening, though it’s a lot more complicated than that…

Have you noticed that every movie trailer that talks about Earth after some catastrophic event displays a civilization of white people (and to have a future with no diversity, when there is so much right here on the ground today, is disingenuous, odd, and patently false.*Morgan Freeman) speaking American English? Sure, some of that is unavoidable and practical–you can’t make a movie about everyone and in every language at the same time–but it’s also ethnocentric and exceptionalist of us. Not to mention problematic in myriad ways, because the lack of diversity goes utterly unacknowledged.

Generally in dystopia, the reader understands everything about the society in the story as a copy of their own, except when the author specifically points out the rules that make it different. So to have a future with no diversity, when there is so much right here on the ground today, is disingenuous, odd, and patently false.*

As it’s the United States that is driving the current success of dystopian genre, let’s look specifically at our diversity. White people will no longer be the majority within thirty years, says the Brookings Institution. And in the meantime, people of color are rising to positions of power (hey, Obama!) all over, and while we have a long way to go, old bastions of whiteness and power are being dismantled. While I can’t say this from experience, since I’m a woman of color, I can imagine that this is terrifying to people who are in a position to lose their power. If I were someone with lots of privilege and power, I would want to hold onto it, and it would be very nice to create a world in which I could.

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Why Sleepy Hollow is both the Silliest and Most Important Show on TV Right Now

Shana MlawskiGuest bloggerShana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. Her first novel, Hammer of Witches, was published by Tu Books in 2012.

Bring up FOX’s Sleepy Hollow and you’ll probably get one of two reactions. The first is, “OMG, guys: black people! On network television! And there’s a Hispanic guy! And John Cho! It’s almost like TV has finally entered the twenty-first century.”

The second, more common reaction goes thusly: “Wow. This show is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS.”

Both reactions work for me. Sleepy Hollow does have an impressively diverse cast: of the eight major characters in its lineup, five are people of color (POC). More importantly, the main character is a woman of color.

As for the claim of ridiculousness… well, watch this:

What’s most interesting to me is how the two reactions intersect. That Sleepy Hollow is racially diverse doesn’t make it unique. Want a show that isn’t all white people all the time? You can watch Scandal or Elementary. But Sleepy Hollow is something different, something rarely seen on mainstream television: a program with a non-white lead that is also a work of camp.

Camp Defined!

In her famous “Notes on Camp,” Susan Sontag defined the genre as “art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much.’” Not a bad definition for a show that features a Headless Horseman carrying a machine gun. Sleepy Hollow takes itself seriously enough that it can quote Milton and Edmund Burke with a straight face, but its heroes also exclaim things like, “The answers are in George Washington’s Bible!” It may not be John Waters, but that sounds campy to me.

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People of Color in Once Upon a Time

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is the founder and publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes diverse fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. In this post (cross-posted with permission from Stacy’s blog) Stacy reflects on the representation of people of color in the ABC show Once Upon a Time.

<spoiler warning!>

Ever since Mulan showed up at the beginning of season 2, I’ve been pondering on how diversity is handled in the fairy tale world of Once Upon a Time. After Once Upon a Time posterall, this is a fairy tale world that includes (real) tales from China, not to mention the genie from Aladdin, so we’re not limited to the tales of white western Europe (and medieval western Europe was a whole lot more diverse than many people give it credit for). One of the seven dwarves appears Asian, the guy who plays Sidney Glass/the Mirror/Genie is black. Though the actress who plays the Evil Queen/Regina is Latina, she’s not portrayed as Latina, so it’s hard to count that as one in the win column. There are (a few) others, but few who are named and whose backstory we see anything of.

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Anna May Wong and Women of Color in Hollywood Today

guest bloggerContinuing our entries for Women’s History Month, we asked the talented writer and producer Paula Yoo (author of Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story) about whether women of color in Hollywood still face the same challenges that Anna May Wong once did. Here’s what she had to say: 

“It’s a pretty sad situation to be rejected by [the] Chinese because I’m ‘too American’ and by American producers because they prefer other races to act Chinese parts.”Anna May Wong, quoted from James Parish and William Leonard’s Hollywood Players: The Thirties (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers, 1976, pp. 532–538)

Anna May Wong dreamed of becoming a famous movie star in Hollywood. As a child working in her family’s laundry in downtown Los Angeles, Anna was often distracted by movies being filmed on location. While dropping off her customers’ clean laundry, Anna would hover nearby on the sidewalk to observe the actors, directors, and camera crews.

Anna, however, had no idea that she would also become a pioneer for actors of color, thanks to her determination to overcome the discrimination she faced in the 1930s as one of the few actresses of color in the industry. Like many struggling actors, Anna was forced to accept certain roles she found demeaning (and even racist) because the competition was so fierce in Hollywood.

Anna May Wong in Shining Star by Paula Yoo, artwork by in Lin Wang
Anna May Wong in Shining Star, artwork by Lin Wang

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Where Are All the People of Color In Downton Abbey?

Downtown Abbey
***Spoiler Alert *** My wife is a serious Downton Abbey fan, so as a result I have been following the show too. Downton packs a lot into forty-five minutes. I enjoy the period touches and the constant habit the English have of not being physically capable of communicating openly about well, everything. What is fascinating is how the show is placed in the context of history when change (World War I, economic concerns, women’s suffrage, the roaring twenties) is being forced on the Abbey whether the people there are ready for it or not. I have my favorites—Matthew Crawley and his Mum, and Maggie Smith’s comic timing as the Dowager. They always provide a good laugh. I also find Lord Grantham to be an interesting character. His impeccable posture and royal air hide an unsure man with a great many weaknesses just beneath the surface.

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