WITHIN THE SAME WEEK.
There is no safe place in Gaza right now. Bombs can land at any time, anywhere.
A small metal shack with no electricity or running water on a jetty in the blazing seaside sun does not seem like the kind of place frequented by Hamas militants, the Israel Defense Forces’ intended targets. Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters, either.
Ayman Mohyeldin… who has received widespread praise for his brave and innovative coverage of the conflict, has been told by NBC executives to leave Gaza immediately. According to an NBC source upset at his treatment, the executives claimed the decision was motivated by “security concerns” as Israel prepares a ground invasion, a claim repeated to me by an NBC executive. But late yesterday, NBC sent another correspondent, Richard Engel, along with an American producer who has never been to Gaza and speaks no Arabic, into Gaza to cover the ongoing Israeli assault.
I wanted my first-year film students to understand what happens to a story when actual human beings inhabit your characters, and the way they can inspire storytelling. And I wanted to teach them how to look at headshots and what you might be able to tell from a headshot. So for the past few years I’ve done a small experiment with them.Some troubling shit always occurs.
It works like this: I bring in my giant file of head shots, which include actors of all races, sizes, shapes, ages, and experience levels. Each student picks a head shot from the stack and gets a few minutes to sit with the person’s face and then make up a little story about them.
Namely, for white men, they have no trouble coming up with an entire history, job, role, genre, time, place, and costume. They will often identify him without prompting as “the main character.” The only exception? “He would play the gay guy.” For white women, they mostly do not come up with a job (even though it was specifically asked for), and they will identify her by her relationships. “She would play the mom/wife/love interest/best friend.” I’ve heard “She would play the slut” or “She would play the hot girl.” A lot more than once.
For nonwhite men, it can be equally depressing. “He’s in a buddy cop movie, but he’s not the main guy, he’s the partner.” “He’d play a terrorist.” “He’d play a drug dealer.” “A thug.” “A hustler.” “Homeless guy.” One Asian actor was promoted to “villain.”
For nonwhite women (grab onto something sturdy, like a big glass of strong liquor), sometimes they are “lucky” enough to be classified as the girlfriend/love interest/mom, but I have also heard things like “Well, she’d be in a romantic comedy, but as the friend, you know?” “Maid.” “Prostitute.” “Drug addict.”
I should point out that the responses are similar whether the group is all or mostly-white or extremely racially mixed, and all the groups I’ve tried this with have been about equally balanced between men and women, though individual responses vary. Women do a little better with women, and people of color do a little better with people of color, but female students sometimes forget to come up with a job for female actors and black male students sometimes tell the class that their black male actor wouldn’t be the main guy.
Once the students have made their pitches, we interrogate their opinions. “You seem really sure that he’s not the main character – why? What made you automatically say that?” “You said she was a mom. Was she born a mom, or did she maybe do something else with her life before her magic womb opened up and gave her an identity? Who is she as a person?” In the case of the “thug“, it turns out that the student was just reading off his film resume. This brilliant African American actor who regularly brings houses down doing Shakespeare on the stage and more than once made me weep at the beauty and subtlety of his performances, had a list of film credits that just said “Thug #4.” “Gang member.” “Muscle.” Because that’s the film work he can get. Because it puts food on his table.
So, the first time I did this exercise, I didn’t know that it would turn into a lesson on racism, sexism, and every other kind of -ism. I thought it was just about casting. But now I know that casting is never just about casting, and this day is a real teachable opportunity. Because if we do this right, we get to the really awkward silence, where the (now mortified) students try to sink into their chairs. Because, hey, most of them are proud Obama voters! They have been raised by feminist moms! They don’t want to be or see themselves as being racist or sexist. But their own racism and sexism is running amok in the room, and it’s awkward.
This for every time someone criticizes how characters of color and female characters of color especially are treated in text and by subsequent fandoms. It’s never “just a television/movie/book”. It’s never been ”just”.
“…and by subsequent fandoms." <— bless this addition.
This one is always worth reblogging.
When I say, “Representation matters,” it’s not just the presence of PoC, women, PwD, LGBTQIA, in narrative, it’s the roles are those characters are occupying.
The hall of mirrors that is the interplay between fiction and real life becomes a negative feedback loop with real consequences, because we internalize things and then we act them out.
Storytelling is a powerful thing. What stories are we telling, and why?
On days when I was dreaming of being a full-time writer, I would dream of places I’d love to publish. Top of that list would be the wonderful center for geek girl culture, The Mary Sue. Or should I say formerly wonderful site for geek girl culture, The Mary Sue. Because it’s no longer a wonderful site, or a place that covers geek girl culture. Instead, it’s become a site for general geek culture (because there aren’t enough of those) that claims to be inclusive, while really targeting a “neutral” demographic—aka 20-40 year-old privileged white men. How did it get this way? Well, let’s take a look. This is what the site looked like on June 12. Click through if you’d like to see a live version. Looks like the site I know and love—love for providing good coverage, snappy editing, excellent writing, and insightful comments. But then, on June 13, relatively out of the blue, they announced that they were merging with Geekosystem, a general site for pop culture/geek things. And as this announcement happened, the site changed dramatically. How it looks now (June 30). The layout is definitely not an improvement. It’s supposed to be more mobile-friendly, but it’s also very white, very boring. Note the utter lack of color, and the way the famous logo is diminished. But most importantly, please note that the masthead no longer reads “A Guide to Geek Girl Culture.” And here’s the thing. The editors may think that it’s not a big deal. They have argued that they are trying to be a more “inclusive” site—but haven’t defined what inclusion means (and if you feel the need to question if such a definition is important, you’ve lost the point already). But having that tagline at the top of the page—front and center—was radical. It was important. It announced the perspective of the site and the space for its readers the moment the page loaded. It declared our allegiances and loyalties, defined our topics and voices. And we were damn proud of it—of the writing, of the coverage, or the voices we heard and got to discuss with. And to drop that tagline at the time when the site merges with another site with several male writers on staff (more on this later) is not just troubling, it is a slap in the face to those readers who came to The Mary Sue for not just pop culture, but geek girl culture. At the time of the merger, the new editors and the old had an AMA on Reddit —a fact which, in itself is deeply problematic, because Reddit is NOTHING if not known for being the hivemind of MRA and general ambient misogyny. And it lived up to its reputation—or rather, the new editors ensured that it would. There’s a bunch of really misogynistic tweets from Glen Tickle (associate editor, formerly of Geekosystem) and Dan Van Winkle. There was the snarky response by Tickle, using a statistic that “55% of TheMarySue readers were male” to justify the changes being made to the site. Of course, such a response is not an actual response to valid concerns posed by readers. It’s a classic derailment. It is What About The Men, rephrased. To quote the tumblr user hamstermastersamster: This does nothing but cast doubt on why the female branding needs to be removed from the site. It was obviously attracting the right kind of male readership with its unique lady geek focus. Both the original TMS crew and the Geekosystem crew have all so far completely failed to address his problematic behaviour. They ignore any attempts by community members to get it addressed. Since the merger on June 13, the site has gotten worse. While the number of stories covered on a given day has gone up, the quality of the writing and the feminism found in those perspectives has plummeted. Tickle’s article on Google’s new program to train female coders, rather than pointing out how problematic it is that Google is only now addressing this problem, and in a very limited way considering the resources this conglomerate has, makes a point of giving out friendly ally cookies. Another article, also by Tickle, on the fact that the percentage of female game developers has doubled in the last 5 years, is also disappointing. While you’d think that this is an incident that they’d desperately want to cover well to prove to their readers that they actually aren’t eliminating feminism and women’s voices, they fail to do that. Instead, the piece comes off as incredibly condescending and patronizing (the joke about animating women isn’t funny if it’s you they refuse to animate). What happened? Well, male writers took up the pieces that really should have had women’s voices. User Hamstermastersamster again: The comments on articles since the merger have basically been sexist derailment bingo like you’d get on any other site, including but not limited to “but what about the menssss”, “why is this important when there’s war in the middle east” (sadly deleted, what a gem), “it’s your responsibility to handle online harassment”, and “I’ve never seen any harassment of a female during my 240 hours of playing XYZ”. If you looked at the above and went “well, that about sums up most of the internet,” you’d be right. But here’s the thing: to many of us devoted readers of The Mary Sue, the site was better than the rest of the internet. It was of higher quality, better relevance, and of more interest. And perhaps most importantly—it was safe. So much safer than the rest of the internet, where the kinds of comments mentioned above didn’t happen on a daily basis. The idea of safe spaces has been so ridiculed by the patriarchy and the kyriarchy in an attempt to minimize social justice movements—but they are important. They’re crucial. Having a safe space means that you don’t have to deal with the constant minimizing and derailing and re-explaining 101 concepts for allies who just want cookies. And when you spend hours doing that in your daily life, those safe spaces online become your home. Because the Mary Sue was my home. It was the first feed I checked, without fail. It was the place I where read, commented on, updated for news, and searched for inspiration. At the top of every single page, it declared that it was a site for me. And now? Well, I have no home. Instead, I’ve got a cheap impromptu version of a home that claims to be faster, cooler, and more inclusive. Somehow, rather than being included, I’m feeling distinctly shut out. In fact, I rather feel like Arthur Dent when he realizes that both his house and the Earth have been demolished to make way for a bypass. Bypasses are fast, and cool, and everyone can use them. And how can we protest? “You’ve got to build bypasses.”