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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Prejudices in Film
Here's a thoughtful look at stupid prejudices in movies, which also lap over into television.

I'm an oddball; I'm more interested in seeing a movie with a mixed cast, and with a non-white and/or non-male lead, and I like watching white boys get butchered by monsters while the girl is setting up for a kill.  But mostly, if I want that kind of entertainment, either I write my own or look to my friends.  Hollywood isn't interested in my bitty little corner of the market.

I so, so want crowdfunding to catch on with indie film.

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Comments
dulcinbradbury From: dulcinbradbury Date: November 17th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of all the odd things, I watched "Notting Hill" the other day. I was looking for something light. One of the things I really liked about it was the one of the protagonist's friends was a woman who was paraplegic. It wasn't the main storyline. It was just there. I would love to see more of that.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 17th, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

That's called "background parity." It means that a group or trait has become sufficiently familiar to the audience that it can appear in a story about something else, rather than always having to be the focus of the whole movie/book/etc. It definitely is a good thing.

A good Torn World example is Marai, who is deaf. Most of her stories are about her profession, which is raising children, along with a few about other aspects of life in her culture; see "These Teeth, Like Stars." Her stories show a lot about what it's like to be deaf, but they're not about that -- they're about something else, such as a ceremony or a wilderness trip, and the deafness just comes up as something that people cope with routinely. It's actually kind of an asset for her because she works in the infant-house and isn't easily awakened by screaming babies, so there's always one raiser well-rested for the day shift. And like any Torn World character, Marai can pop up in stories that are about someone else, as one of the background people; see "Beads and Memories." That's a cool feature of having many authors sharing a big character pool; you get a lot of different focal points.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: November 17th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
The "like must go with like" assumption, which goes well beyond white-black romantic relationships (note that in most TV shows and movies, characters are almost always romantically involved, if with anyone at all, with someone of their same "race"), is what bothers me the most.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 3rd, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I agree. I want people to be free to follow their hearts.

Then again, I write and read xenophilia, so to me, any human pairing counts as "like with like." Happily, I do have Schrodinger's Heroes in which the combinations are frequently interracial, just because the cast is so very mixed.
paka From: paka Date: November 17th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. This stuff seriously does bug me. I had an even longer rant which I'm going to skip, but kids watch this stuff.

I remember how isolating it felt that either my group never got acknowledged in movies, and when we did, we were either victims of the only bit of persecution this country ever acknowledges - or oh yeah, something FUNNY is going to happen! Look, being a comedian was a way to gain social legitimacy in the 30s and 40s, and I'm delighted to share a heritage with a batch of comics, but haven't we moved on a bit since then? And I'm not even a minority the way my friends are minorities. It's gotta be this really crummy thing to grow up where the only people who look like you on the screen are either some tough guy stereotype, or they're the funny outsider, or they're disposable sympathetic character #8. It can't be good for a kid's subconscious development.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 17th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> I remember how isolating it felt that either my group never got acknowledged in movies, and when we did, we were either victims of the only bit of persecution this country ever acknowledges - or oh yeah, something FUNNY is going to happen! <<

I agree.

It's also frustrating to me, because I have eclectic heritage, and I get BORED (as a viewer) and ANNOYED (as an activist) watching straight white Christian etc. men get all the goodies. This does not make me want to throw you money. It makes me want to throw popcorn at the screen, or throw your book against the wall. Or what I usually do: stalk fuming into my office and write something that doesn't suck like a black hole made by MicroSoft, and hope that similarly frustrated audience members will give me their folding votes to say, "MOAR, PLZ!"

*chuckle* Which kind of explains the tendency in my stories for this:
New Character: "Hi, I'm Harry Whitebread, the Hero!"
Me: "Cool. Here's your red shirt."

>> Look, being a comedian was a way to gain social legitimacy in the 30s and 40s, and I'm delighted to share a heritage with a batch of comics, but haven't we moved on a bit since then? <<

Specifically, that's a defense mechanism. It signals that the comic is nonthreatening. That's why there's a trend for people of color, women, etc. to joke around -- it's a way of saying, "Hey, I'm not after your power, don't murder me."

Not so funny if you know that obscure little bit of anthropology.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 17th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts


>>It's gotta be this really crummy thing to grow up where the only people who look like you on the screen are either some tough guy stereotype, or they're the funny outsider, or they're disposable sympathetic character #8. It can't be good for a kid's subconscious development.<<

In fact, it is provably damaging. Ask some children of color what they want to be when they grow up, and some of them will reply, "A white wo/man."

Black girls often prefer to play with white dolls over black dolls. There are many good articles and videos about this:

"Are Black Dolls 'Worth Less' Than White Dolls?"
"Black Girl Wants White Doll: What Would You Do?"
"Fifty Years Later, Black Girls Still Prefer White Dolls"
"Little Black Girls Still Prefer White Dolls"
"Why Do Black Girls Still Prefer White Dolls?"

When I was little, I had dolls, but I wasn't as keen on them as average. Most dolls were boring. Now, if I'd had access to today's rainbow diversity of skin tones and things like Astronaut Barbie, I probably would've been a LOT more interested. See, I liked storytelling in my play, and dolls had a lower inspiration level than, say, farm animals. (I had several large bags of toy livestock.) Given free choice in a section with actual choices, like children's books, I happily diversified with things like world mythology.

I think that what children choose is based on a mix of factors including personal taste, family atmosphere, and the wider cultural atmosphere. If you want your kids to understand and support diversity, you have to SHOW THEM those things and TALK about the implications at an age-appropriate level. Frex, if you're raising a black girl, you might show her both versions of the centaur clip in Disney's Fantasia and talk about whether it's better to have a black centaur combing the hair of a white centaur -- or NO black centaur at all -- and why people might have made that choice in the first place. Ideally, provide not just ethnic dolls, but stories or movies with exciting ethnic heroes and heras. Those give kids ideas for playing with their dolls, coloring books, etc. If you just leave it up to the media, the messages are really going to suck.

So this is one reason why I make the kind of cultural material I do. I think most of the mainstream messages are downright toxic, and I want people to have alternatives. You want to be a young adventurer? Fine, here's your stick for safe exploring. You want to be a successful black woman? Bully for you, here's a steampunk mechanic for inspiration. *chuckle* When I fleshed out the cast for Schrodinger's Heroes, I randomly generated the sexes and ethnicities; that was fun. So that series has smart people, average people, light people, dark people, men, women, and Quinn who is trans and eschews labels.
paka From: paka Date: November 17th, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

The other thing I hate, as long as we're on the topic and I'm at risk of sounding like a backwards jerk, is that to some extent I think ethnicity and gender winds up being sort of a default. I think it's a more conscious choice in movies and TV.

But with things like art for roleplaying games and comic books (which I love), it always feels like there's this assumption. "Oh! Hey! When I look in the mirror, I see a white guy! My friends are white guys. Most of the people buying this stuff will be white guys. Therefore the protagonists are white and male, except oh, I guess we need a girl in the team." It's just not very realistic to me; it's like if you drew stuff where gravity wasn't working. Heck, I'd be more willing to buy into all the protagonists being a small group of white guys, 'cause I've seen that before. Invariably the fallout seems to be "oh, well, there's a girl on the team. What do girls do? I guess stand around and look hot."

(I know there've been some seriously talented Filipinos in comics. I wonder what they think of how every character they draw is white, with a few Black guys and now and then an Asian shows up, always as some form of martial artist, and always from Japan or China.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 17th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>> But with things like art for roleplaying games and comic books (which I love), it always feels like there's this assumption. <<

I enjoy gaming (as a player) to get AWAY from being myself. I tend to choose characters very different from my everyday form and personality. The last three were a centaur stallion, bay with tanned skin; a Vistani, light brown skin and black hair; and a winged half-celestial, fair-colored (all male, I tend to play males). Most of my gamers (when I'm running a game) like the chance to swap some major characteristic such as species, sex, coloring, etc. I tend toward the far end of the bell curve, though. *snicker* I have to wonder if this contributes to my ability to accomplish the impossible in games.

>>I know there've been some seriously talented Filipinos in comics. I wonder what they think of how every character they draw is white, with a few Black guys and now and then an Asian shows up, always as some form of martial artist, and always from Japan or China.<<

Some resent it, based on articles I've seen complaining about the lack of diversity. It comes up with webcomics sometimes, where people have a lot more flexibility and diversity.

*ponder* Let's see, my Morgan (Hawai'ian/Japanese/American) doesn't seem to know martial arts and isn't particularly athletic; she's an astronomer, though she's skilled at swimming and canoeing. I don't think the paper mages are martial artists either; they solve their problems with magic or philosophy. Huh ... I probably have a martial artist around somewhere in my fictional characters, but can't think of one off the top of my head. Kay, maybe, since she's military; but she's Hispanic.

This also reminds me that anime and manga run heavily to white characters too. That bugs me. A majority of that stuff is created by Japanese people; I'd rather see Japanese characters in there. It makes me happy when I find examples that really draw on Japanese culture and charaters; Spirited Away is a favorite.
paka From: paka Date: November 18th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

I'm led to understand that manga/anime characters are really very much influenced by the late Osamu Tezuka, who was going off of Disney ideas (so minimizing dead areas on faces). I'd assumed that the default manga characters were supposed to be basically Japanese - just so completely stylized that they weren't particularly any one group.

One of the weirder manga that way is Shirow's Appleseed series; he does the thing you read about in Scott McCloud, where the most accessible characters are intentionally made most non-descript, and more distanced characters have more specific facial features. So Deunan and Briareous are, I believe, supposed to be Americans originally (and Shirow's canon is that Briareous was dark-skinned, back before he was converted to being a cyborg!), they'll be interacting with characters who are pretty specifically white, or Asian or Black, and then they'll go hang out with Hitomi and her nice boyfriend, who are pretty obviously supposed to be Japanese and yet they have manga-generic features. It's kinda bizarre that way.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 18th, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>> I'd assumed that the default manga characters were supposed to be basically Japanese - just so completely stylized that they weren't particularly any one group. <<

Not very often. First, look at the eyes. These characters tend to have huge round eyes with level set, whereas Asian people usually have almond-shaped eyes often with a tilt. Also worth considering is coloration. Bright, inhuman colors of hair and eyes are common, whereas Asian people tend to have black or brown hair and dark eyes. Skin color is often fair, lacking the various golden tones of Asian skin. These are not universal in anime and manga, but they're quite widespread -- most of the creators seem to favor characters who don't look like themselves. They're free to do that, of course, but it creeps me out a bit and makes me favor the ones who at least sometimes draw characters that could plausibly be considered as stylized Japanese (or whatever, some are set in China etc.).

I really liked Disney's Mulan in part because the characters were expressive, not caricatured, and recognizably Chinese.

>>One of the weirder manga that way is Shirow's Appleseed series; he does the thing you read about in Scott McCloud, where the most accessible characters are intentionally made most non-descript, and more distanced characters have more specific facial features.<<

Huh, fascinating!

Often I'll mix up the races in my writing, just because I like diversity and want to represent a bunch of different people. If race matters, I'll specify it. Other times, though, I'll leave it open to interpretation so people can imagine a character who is like themselves if they wish. *ponder* Which makes me wonder, given the social tendency to assume white as the default, if ethnic folks assume a character resembles them only when that is explicitly stated.
paka From: paka Date: November 17th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

I think the best head-nod I've ever seen was actually in this British thing about the anniversary of D-Day. It was actually the last thing Sir Alec Guiness did, I think. There's a couple of British vets and an American vet doing this pilgrimage to their friends' graves for the anniversary, and there are a whole batch of interesting interactions. Finally the guys get to the graves and hey, the friend who the American's come to visit? Mogen David marker. It's pretty much the only instance I can think of where someone's Jewish just kind of in passing. I realize this is a hard one to do as just a throw-away item, hey, guy's Jewish, move on.

It's weird - I love Aliens but some of the gender/race stuff in the film drives me nuts. By comparison Alien has this great example for how I think gender and race could be treated. Supposedly Sigourney Weaver showed up, was cool enough to get the part, and the writers decided yep, Ripley's female; previously they hadn't really decided Ripley needed to be either gender. I like that idea. Theoretically about half of all characters should be women, since half of all people are human. No strong woman or pretty eye candy context needed, it's just that women are going to show up and do the job too.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 17th, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>>Mogen David marker. It's pretty much the only instance I can think of where someone's Jewish just kind of in passing.<<

Cool!

>>Theoretically about half of all characters should be women, since half of all people are human. No strong woman or pretty eye candy context needed, it's just that women are going to show up and do the job too.<<

Yes, I like that. It's especially relevant for impromptu heroes: whoever is Johnny or Jenny on-the-spot when Something Happens is humanity's de facto champion for that encounter. There's about a 51% chance it will be Jenny.
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