Art, Change, Entertainment, LGBTQIA+, Media, Movies, Racism, Shannon Jeanna, Television, Transgender

Black or White? #MoviesSoWhite

In case you didn’t already know – which is crazy really because EVERYONE knows this – I’m a huge hard-core, die hard, [insert cool adjective] MJ fan. He was more than just the greatest entertainer that ever lived to me, he was an incredibly lovely human being and that’s probably what I love most about him. Anyway, a few days ago it was announced that a TV movie was going to be made, detailing an alleged road trip from New York to Ohio, involving Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after the 9/11 attacks. As an MJ fan, I can already tell how disrespectful the mere concept is not only to Michael Jackson’s legacy, but also to that of Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. But, let’s skip the issue that the movie in itself is based on a lie, to discuss what exactly has Black Twitter and Tumblr – and MJ fans alike – up in arms. White British actor Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love) was cast to play Michael Jackson…

Ever since the announcement, a lot of people have been putting in their two cents: MJ fans argue – rightfully so – that Michael himself wouldn’t have wanted a white actor to play him, while others insist that, although he was African American, he did appear white later on in his life, making it okay for a white actor to play him.

In the midst of all this, I realized something rather important. Most people seem to forget the reason Michael’s skin was so light during the second part of his life: vitiligo. Vitiligo is an incurable skin disorder that destroys skin pigmentation by portions while putting patients at higher risk of skin cancer. Michael suffered from vitiligo universalis (universal vitiligo), meaning that depigmentation altered most of his body. This affected him tremendously and on so many levels. Having to deal with such a rare condition (touching 1% of the world’s population) was traumatic on a personal level, especially given the beauty-obsessed business he was in. This caused him to keep his condition a secret, suffering in silence for years, thus putting him in a much lonelier, more marginalized place than he was in the first place due to his ground-breaking fame. As if that wasn’t enough, mainstream media ridiculed him and made him out to be ashamed of his race, brainwashing the public into believing that he’d purposefully whitened his skin so that he might be shunned by both the black and white community. Vitiligo also affected the way he dressed: he always wore long sleeves, surgical masks and even had an umbrella-man to protect his hypersensitive skin prone to cancer. Vitiligo was therefore a huge part of Michael Jackson’s experience and identity. To erase that would be to erase part of who he was.

Michael on the set of They Don't Care About Us (how fitting!)

Michael on the set of They Don’t Care About Us (how fitting!)

So why has no one brought up the fact that if a movie was ever to be made about Michael, if anything, he should be played by a black actor who has vitiligo? Apart from Michael Jackson, there has never been a more famous person suffering from such a prominent case of vitiligo. Only very recently has the beautiful model Chantelle Winnie taken the world of fashion by storm. Despite that, people suffering from vitiligo still have very little representation in the world of movies and media at large. If I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie or TV show depicting someone who has vitiligo. Making a movie about Michael Jackson is therefore the perfect opportunity to cast a black actor with vitiligo. A great opportunity not only in order to remain true to Michael’s story, but also for a black actor suffering from that skin disorder to actually get work, be put on the map and given a chance to showcase his talent. But that’s just too much asked it seems, instead all we get is yet another white guy stealing (appropriating wouldn’t be a bad word in fact) someone else’s job and therefore only managing to perpetuate the under representation – and often times misrepresentation – of a given group; in this case, black people suffering from vitiligo. Casting a white actor to play MJ strips him of the essence of what he was and represented: a talented, successful, affluent black genius who shaped the world of entertainment and broke racial barriers on one hand; and a regular black man struggling with the physical difficulties and social stigma that come with vitiligo on the other.

Proper casting is vital for so many different reasons. The first is credibility. Cis straight white non-disabled actors cannot fathom what it’s like to be part of a marginalized community. It doesn’t matter how much “research” you put into it, how much makeup and prosthetics you cake on, how many hours you spend with an accent coach, or with the real life person the story is inspired by. I don’t care if your name is Marlon Brando, or how empathetic you are, the bottom line is that you are and will always be cis, straight, white and non-disabled. Because of those inherent characteristics, and no matter how mesmerising your performance may be, you will never be able to trump that of an actor who actually possesses those characteristics by merely existing! Given the fact that you belong to a privileged group, you have no clue what it’s like to deal with transphobia, homophobia, racism, or ableism day in day out. As a member of that majority you cannot possibly grasp the nuances and subtleties of living that kind of life. Of course, one could make the case that acting is about putting yourself in the shoes of a character that is nothing like you in real life. However, in a system which oozes double standards and only allows for a “certain kind” of actor to play any existing role, while the rest only get crumbs, certain ethical rules certainly need to be set in order to restore equity.

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The second reason is representation, because representation freaking matters! Newsflash: people hailing from marginalized groups actually enjoy reading books and magazines, watching movies and TV, seeing plays, and Broadway shows. Believe it or not, none of us live our lives being constant sidekicks to cis straight white non-disabled people. We are the leads in our own lives, so why not in movies also? We too deserve and long for the spotlight! Our stories matter, our opinions matter, our lives matter. I will never say this enough: Bend It Like Beckham changed my life. That kind of representation made the little brown girl in me subconsciously realize that I could take the driver’s seat. I could be the hero, I could be smart, I could be beautiful, I could be anything I wanted. I can do all that MY OWN WAY instead of constantly trying to tend towards whiteness. We live in a society that solely elevates the cis straight white non-disabled angle as the norm, the default narrative that everyone should strive towards. If you so happen to be a square peg in a round hole, you’re supposed to force yourself to fit that model until you break, instead of adapting it to who you really are. Such a mentality is toxic to us all. We all need to see different angles to broaden our horizons and better live together, and contrary to popular belief, the universe will not implode if all movies and stories do not automatically celebrate and worship cis, straight, white, non-disabled people.

tumblr_o1wrwf5emq1u55joyo1_540White privilege is profoundly embedded in society, and movies are no different. Cis straight white non-disabled actors in particular already have a wide array of roles to choose from in an industry where cis straight white non-disabled roles continue to be the rule. As if that wasn’t enough, they also get to take the scarce roles about marginalized people away from actors hailing from said groups, and who have a hard enough time as it is finding work. This is especially prevalent when it comes to roles about POC that seem to be constantly whitewashed so white actors may play them. The film industry therefore enables a bunch of white actors to play ancient Egyptians in Gods of Egypt, snow white Emma Stone gets cast to play a Hawaiian woman in Aloha, lily white Rooney Mara is even considered to play Tiger Lily in Pan, whiter-than-white-tea-drinking Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play actual Indian characters (not only Khan Noonien in Star Trek, but also Shere Khan in the upcoming Jungle Book movie), and still white Ben Affleck gets to be the Latino hero in Argo. Hollywood, French, British cinema (and should I say Western cinema at large), and let’s not forget Bollywood, has a long history of whitewashing roles that it has yet to address.

A similar phenomenon also occurs went it comes to LGBTQIA+ roles. Cis actor Jared Leto played Rayon, a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, which even owed him an Academy Award, when an actual trans actress could have and should have played that role. Same goes for cis Eddie Redmayne who recently played Lily, a trans woman in The Danish Girl, awarding him little to no criticism, while directly propelling him in the running for a very probable Oscar nod.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

Another example is the infamous movie Stonewall that managed the prowess of whitewashing, cis-y-fying (is that even a word?) AND male-y-fying (now I’m just making up words) the actual story; thus magically turning Marsha P.Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two black and Latino trans women – who played a central role in the Stonewall riots – into a cis white gay man played by a cis straight (?) white actor, Jeremy Irvine. More often than not, gay and lesbian roles go to straight actors. Back in the day, Brokeback Mountain was seen as such a progressive movie, finally offering some kind of representation to gay men, while starring two straight actors: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. When it comes to portraying lesbians, things are worse. Too often do casting directors make it a point to hire straight actresses who respond to society’s ideal of beauty (white, skinny and non-disabled) in order to fit sick male fantasies. The French coming-of-age drama movie entitled Blue Is The Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle), about a French teenager discovering her homosexuality was portrayed by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos both straight as can be. Actress Adèle Exarchopoulos was in fact awarded a César (French Academy Awards) for the part. A more recent example is Carol, a story about a young aspiring photographer and her relationship with an older divorced woman, which stars none else but Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (her again…). Yup, you guessed it: straight, straight, straight!

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett starring in Carol

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett starring in Carol

Claire Danes in the HBO movie Temple Grandin

Claire Danes in the HBO movie Temple Grandin

And the same “rule” applies to disabled roles, with an increasing amount of non-disabled actors “cripping up” for roles. Claire Danes for example, won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Temple Grandin, an autistic girl from Boston who went on to be a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and even invented a stress-relieving device for autistic people. Did the casting directors even search for an autistic actress who could play the part? I seriously doubt that. Same goes for Eddie Redmayne (again!) in The Theory Of Everything who played Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist suffering from motor neurone disease. The movie owed Redmayne another Oscar nomination, all that at the expense of struggling disabled actors! Leonardo DiCaprio was also nominated for both a Golden Globe and Academy Award, at the tender age of nineteen, for his portrayal in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape of Arnie a young man suffering from developmental disability. The list goes on.

The result is that cis straight white non-disabled actors benefit doubly from this short-sighted, prejudiced system. Not only do they have millions of roles to pick and choose from, but those performances are often greatly applauded by the mass cis straight, white non-disabled public just as clueless about the realities of the communities whose narratives are stolen from. This makes me think of Black Swan. Majority of the public ignorant of ballet, actually believed that Natalie Portman did a lot of the dancing herself, which in fact sparked quite a controversy as to whether or not she truly deserved to win the Academy Award. The truth was that ballet dancer Sarah Lane was hired to perform the dance sequences. The reason for that being that a person who hasn’t studied ballet seriously from a very young age, cannot physically perform any of the complex steps required. No matter how hard an actor may work at it, it is just impossible because they haven’t developed certain muscles that dancers do when they are kids and still growing. Same goes for cis, straight, white, non-disabled actors! You cannot grow a sexual orientation, skin color or disability, nor can you possibly grasp those struggles.

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Stephen Hawkings (right) in The Theory Of Everything

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Stephen Hawkings (right) in The Theory Of Everything

The industry seems adamant to use the slyest methods, throwing in as much money as necessary on prosthetics, makeup, coaches, consultants, so cis straight white non-disabled people may continue snatching all the roles for themselves, instead of footing the bill for hiring actors who actually inherently, and naturally possess whatever characteristics needed for said roles.

Keen status-quo defenders are quick to argue that no, it isn’t racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, etc. We’re just being oversensitive! Perhaps – in Charlotte Rampling’s own words – black actors just aren’t talented enough, and fighting for more diversity in film really is “anti-white racism”. Or how about Ridley Scott’s two cents? Movies wouldn’t be funded if actors from marginalized groups were cast as leads. I mean, it is public knowledge that the only good, famous actors out there happen to be cis, straight white and non-disabled! Let’s please pretend like it has nothing to do with centuries of unfair advantages awarded by white supremacist, patriarchal societies thriving on slavery, colonisation and the constant shunning of LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities! “White privilege? There is no such thing! Black lives don’t matter! All lives matter!” Such attitudes only contribute to one thing: strengthening the status quo. Viola Davis couldn’t have been more right: “the only thing that separates women of color [and marginalized groups in general] from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Nor can you become a bankable, studio friendly actor if you aren’t given a chance to shine in the first place.

And please let us not make excuses for the actors who have the audacity of taking on said roles. The aforementioned people are big names and in no way need these roles to survive in the business. For one missed business venture, hundred other opportunities follow!  Those faces are literally in EVERY OTHER MOVIE! It is therefore their responsibility to turn down roles that they would otherwise be STEALING from struggling actors from given marginalized groups. They (just as much as casting directors) should be held accountable for their actions by the public, instead of being blindly revered for something that isn’t theirs to play with in the first place.

diversityWhile it is great that #OscarsSoWhite has been grabbing so much attention, even leading to the adoption of concrete measures, let’s not make this an annual thing. Part of the reason Oscars are so white is because movies in general – released worldwide all year round – are so overwhelmingly white, cis, straight and non-disabled. Movies (and media in general) are made by and for people belonging to that privileged group. So maybe instead of just boycotting the Oscars, we should concentrate our energy on boycotting movies that lack diversity both in front and behind the camera. Minority groups have buying power, and if President Obama’s reelection has taught us anything, it is that united we no longer are a minority. Our voices count and have an impact. Remember what happened to the Stonewall movie? It tanked because and only because we all agreed to boycott. See how everyone’s talking about responsible eating? How about we made responsible movie-watching a thing? The rule is simple if a movie doesn’t pass the new DuVernay test, meaning if “African Americans and other minorities [including the LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities] don’t have fully realised lives rather than serve as scenery in white [cis, straight, non-disabled] stories”, then don’t watch it, don’t contribute to its box office revenue. No diversity, no money.

The manner in which media is constructed only benefits cis straight non-disabled white people. So while I cannot stress enough how important it is for POC, LGBTQIA+, disabled people to keep on writing our own stories, this also proves how critical it is that we occupy positions of leadership within the industry, (in all areas, from casting to directing and also Academy/César/BAFTA/etc. memberships) or else, the stories that we keep telling, OUR stories, will continue being whitewashed and miscast to further perpetuate our under-representation and misrepresentation, contributing in our erasure of media, and in time of History itself.

Some things in life they just don’t wanna see But if Martin Luther was livin’, he wouldn’t let this be

They Don’t Care About Us – Michael Jackson

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Change, Entertainment, Media, Racism, Rebel With A Cause, Shannon Jeanna, Television, Violence

The problematic treatment of People of Color on The Vampire Diaries

Disclaimer: this article contains spoilers of season 6 of The Vampire Diaries.

I know what you must be thinking. Vampires? Is that still a thing? Not really, no… However, one of CW’s hit shows The Vampire Diaries is still going – if not strong since like its 3rd season – pretty smoothly and has even been renewed for a 7th season! Now six years is a long time for a show to last, especially on the CW where most shows are lucky to even see a third season, and are considered incredible if they attain a fourth one. So love it or hate it, TVD seems to have established itself as a pretty solid show for the network, despite some very problematic issues having to do with race and rape culture. Why write about TVD you ask? Because I find interesting how the show, in its treatment of people of color and/or females, unintentionally and pretty accurately reveals the kind of society we live in. Now do not get me wrong, not everything about TVD sucks (no pun intended). In fact it is in my opinion a pretty good show with clever twists and turns and at times pretty awesome cliffhangers. So I must confess that yes: TVD is my guilty pleasure. Most of the characters are pretty compelling – except perhaps for its lead (sorry Elena, I never really liked you) – and as a whole there are a lot of good things that could be said about the show. In fact, I still have hope that Season 7 could be the best season yet if the writers took it upon themselves to address the different issues affecting their characters, storylines and by extension, their viewers. The reason I’ve chosen TVD as an example is because it is one of the shows I am most familiar with but I do find that a lot of these issues aren’t specific to TVD or the fantasy genre and unfortunately often apply to a number of other shows, be it the ever successful Game Of Thrones, classics like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and even comedy shows like Friends or Modern Family. I will not touch on the HUGE issue that is TVD’s promotion of rape culture since it has already been addressed very eloquently and thoroughly by others. I will tackle however the issue of racism, which I often find has a tendency of flying way too often under the radar.

  1. The mayonnaise diaries
The Vampire Diaries cast (season 6)

The Vampire Diaries cast (season 6)

Now my biggest issue with most shows is the very apparent lack of diversity. Taking the example of TVD, its ensemble cast comprises approximately 9 characters (depending on the season): Stefan, Damon, Elena, Caroline, Tyler, Matt, Jeremy, Alaric and Bonnie. Out of these characters, 8 are white (Tyler though played by a latino actor, Michael Trevino, is portrayed as a white character), and only one is black. That character is Bonnie Bennett; played by biracial actress Kat Graham. Doesn’t look good for representation now does it? In all fairness, there have been other recurring characters of color in the show: Pearl and Anna were Asian, Luka and his father, Bonnie’s parents, and Jamie, are all African American, but all of those characters have had very little storyline and were all killed off or sent away at some point. That leaves us with Bonnie. The only person of color in that whole town situated in Virginia (arguably a very racially diverse state in real life). Therefore, Bonnie bears the burden of representation not only for black viewers but for all minorities (Asian, latino, etc. alike), while white people who watch the show have at least NINE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS to represent them, all having very different personalities and aspirations! Mind you, I haven’t even counted the recurring white characters like Katherine, Jenna, Sheriff Forbes, Enzo, etc. !

  1. Tokenism and asexuality
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Bonnie and Jeremy

We could cut the show some slack and think to ourselves, “well, even if there is very little diversity, maybe Bonnie at least gets some good storylines!” WRONG! Bonnie Bennett is probably one of the most poorly treated characters in TV history. She is the ultimate token black girl/magical negro. She is always put in a position of servitude and is ultimately a walking-talking plot device. If you watch seasons 1 through 5, Bonnie gets very little screen time, and the little she does get is only to cast spells, not because it is what she wants to do, but because she is asked, or mostly ordered or threatened into by her white friends and enemies. Bonnie is always the loophole: when the plot requires it, she is brought out of the shadows, and just as soon, shoved right back in. No questions asked. She has had no character development whatsoever, and in a show that lives and thrives based on its “ships”, Bonnie has only really ever been involved with one guy, that is Jeremy, her best friend’s human little brother. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but, when the white girls get to exclusively date guys that score high on the show’s Richter scale of hotness, aka older dangerous, unpredictable, (over)protective vampire/werewolf/hybrid guys, that’s when it gets unfair. Please let me emphasize that by no means am I saying that the criteria mentioned here is what anyone should look for in a mate, rather I am just discussing these “qualities” within the context of the show which keeps romanticizing them and painting such men as desirable. Love or hate younger predictable human Jeremy, even that relationship is made to be mind-numbingly boring and stale because all Bonnie and Jeremy are ever allowed to talk about is Elena, the lead white girl, in order to advance the plot. So Bonnie’s love life isn’t even about her, but is rather a means to an end, robbing her once again of all agency in her own narrative. On the other hand, Elena and Caroline – the two white girls – have hot guys fighting over them and worshiping the ground they walk on.

Stefan and Damon spend the major part of the series fighting over Elena's affections

Stefan and Damon spend the major part of the series fighting over Elena’s affections

Elena, who dated Matt, has been the center of a never ending love triangle involving Stefan and Damon the two hottest vampires in town, and has had some romantic vibes going on with Elijah, an original vampire. She has had the pleasure of being at the receiving end of countless romantic speeches and gestures. Now one could consider such treatment legitimate given the fact that Elena is the lead, but when you compare Bonnie’s treatment with that of Caroline, another supporting character, the difference in treatment is rather striking. Unlike Bonnie, Caroline is never really part of the A plot, yet she gets a real storyline allowing her to laugh, cry, lash out, and have a squadron of love interests lining up at her doorstep. Caroline has therefore had romantic entanglements with Damon, Matt, Tyler, Klaus, and Stefan.

Klaus and Tyler fought over Caroline

Klaus and Tyler fought over Caroline

Even Katherine, merely a recurring character, has been sought after by Stefan, Damon, Trevor, Mason, Elijah and Klaus; and Bonnie, well, she just has Jeremy a guy who cheated on her with Anna, his ex-girlfriend turned ghost, at one point even stating that “he always loved her [Anna]” by then completely rejecting his relationship with Bonnie and the importance it could have had for him.

Bonnie, like a lot of WOC on our screens, is made to be asexual and her looks are constantly downplayed so that her female co-stars may shine brighter. bonnie cloth
bonniehair bad

Bonnie-Caroline-and-ElenaAs a result she’s afforded the worst clothes, the worst hair, the worst makeup and whenever the storyline calls for formal events (balls, weddings, etc.) – that require characters to wear pretty dresses or smart tuxedos, and often are crucial in building romantic connections and by extension character development – Bonnie is often and very conveniently MIA.

Where's Bonnie?

Where’s Bonnie?

Now, in no way does this mean that in order for a female character to be compelling or relevant, she needs to have a love interest, but in a show that values its characters’ love lives above everything else the way TVD is infamous for, it is very telling that the girl of color gets little to nothing in that department.

I find that studying the whole “shipping” phenomenon that comes with these YA shows and movies is very interesting and telling in the treatment of characters of color and by extension POC in our society.

Elena, Caroline and... oops, not Bonnie.

Elena, Caroline and… oops, not Bonnie.

If we look at Bonnie, it is rather scary how quick the writers are in shutting down ships that involve her and just how violent and hateful the fandom can react to said ships. First off we have Klonnie. Pretty early on, fans began to ship Bonnie with Klaus, the new big bad villain in town. Bonnie was THE character who’d had the most showdowns with Klaus and the only one who could match him in power and strength, making for an interesting dynamic and great potential for something romantic to happen somewhere along the line.

Klaus and Bonnie

Klaus and Bonnie

The Klonnie fan base grew so much that it began to gain the showrunners, cast and media’s attention. Just as soon though, the idea of Klonnie was conveniently shut down and Klaroline (Klaus and Caroline) was made canon instead although it made very little sense in comparison. Another big ship was Kennett (Bonnie and Kol) which was shut down immediately by showrunner Julie Plec.

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But it is okay for Elena and Caroline to date murderous vampires and for Bonnie to date instead her kinda sorta half-brother Jamie? Okay…

And finally there’s Bamon (Bonnie and Damon). Though this ship has existed since the very beginning of the show, it has been getting a lot of attention lately due to the many scenes and relationship development Bonnie and Damon have had in the latest season.

"The Last Dance" - Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore and Katerina Graham as Bonnie in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW. Photo: Annette Brown/The CW ©2011 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“The Last Dance” – Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore and Katerina Graham as Bonnie in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW.
Photo: Annette Brown/The CW
©2011 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

And for once, even the media seems to be hopping on the bandwagon, excited about the prospect of Bamon happening romantically in season 7. However the writers have remained painfully silent about it for years now, and the reactions of some of the fandom has ranged from patronizing comments, to ridicule, to hate and even death threats. Now why is it so difficult for people to understand or even want Bonnie, a black woman, to be with Damon, yet are so quick to root for Steroline (Stefan and Caroline)? Very little people had opinions about Beremy (Bonnie and Jeremy) because it didn’t make any waves. Nobody really cared because Jeremy wasn’t sought after the way Damon is. In being with Jeremy, Bonnie wasn’t a threat to Elena or Caroline. That unspoken rule that she was somehow subservent to them wasn’t breached by her being with Jeremy. Everyone is fine with Bonnie as long as she is seen and not heard. Jeremy isn’t as appealing as Damon because Elena would never want to be with him being as he’s her little brother and Caroline has never even laid eyes on him. But if Bonnie was to be with Damon it would change dynamics completely. It would force the writers to really put her on the map, not as Elena or Caroline’s friend/servant, not as the magical negro, but as her own self worthy of being loved by a character so important and sought after, and that is an idea that a society bathed in white supremacy and white privilege cannot fathom. Ask yourself why Bamon still remains such a delicate subject and so unthinkable to some despite the fact that – unlike Steroline and a lot of other ships – it even has basis in the original book series? Why is it that so many people find it so easy to ship book Bamon when Bonnie is described as a white redhead, but just can’t manage to open their minds to the potential of show Bamon when Bonnie is played by a WOC? Because the society we live in teaches us not to want such things, worse it teaches us to feel disgusted by it and to always prefer whiteness over everything else whether it makes sense or not. Whether it’s right or not.

tvd-elena-bonnie-2

Moreover, all Bonnie’s relationships (friendship and romance) are one-sided. Over and over again she is made to sacrifice herself for her friends and boyfriend without even blinking. None of her selfless deeds owe her any kind of recognition as the hero that she is, as opposed to Elena whose very scarce sacrifices owe her unending praise, most of the time undeserved. Bonnie is made to be the automatic sacrificial lamb which has heavily contributed in making her well-being, dreams, desires and entire life seem less valuable than that of the rest of the characters. Viewers are made to see Bonnie as disposable, so much that the rare times she is actually made to take a stand, her character invariably finds herself at the receiving end of unfathomable hate from the fandom.

imageedit_1_5606185916 imageedit_3_3554580729 racist tvd 2 racist tvd 3 racist tvd 4 racist tvd 5 racist tvd 6
tvd racisttt 3 tvd racisttt 4

Unfortunately, these kind of hateful comments seem to have doubled ever since season 6; when Bonnie was finally given more of a purpose and agency to put herself first which was long overdue and has been for a lot of critics the most refreshing part of what has otherwhise become a pretty repetitive show.

  1. Negationism

Another thing grossly and specifically wrong with TVD is its appalling silence about slavery. In the show’s first season, the year 1864 is of significant importance and is mentioned repeatedly. It is the year when two of the leads on the show, Stefan and Damon fall in love with evil Katherine and are subsequently turned into vampires. There are a lot of flashbacks to 1864 made to set up the characters’ backstories. In a few of those flashbacks, Emily Bennett, Bonnie’s ancestor, and a WOC, is seen and even mentioned as being Katherine’s “hand maiden”. Let’s be clear, though this is fiction, there have been some mentions of real life historical facts. For example, it is said that Damon Salvatore fought for the confederacy; and there even is a scene set up during which he returns home after having deserted, sporting a confederate army uniform. So while there are vampires and witches in this fictional town, it is still set in historical 1864 Virginia, therefore Emily Bennett wouldn’t have been anything else but a SLAVE.

Emily Bennett

Emily Bennett

Yet it was conveniently decided to gloss over that clearly uncomfortable fact, by calling her instead a “hand maiden”. That is disgusting not to mention completely unnecessary. Katherine is known to be one of the most evil characters on that show. She strings guys along, pretends to be dead to lure in her prey, manipulates, lies and kills. It would therefore stand to reason that she wouldn’t have had much of a problem being a slave owner, so if anything, calling Emily Bennett what she probably was – which is a slave – wouldn’t have changed Katherine’s character in the slightest, but in fact could have even brought more depth to her character and Emily’s, yet the writers conveniently chose to ignore that fact.

"Lost Girls" - Paul Wesley as Stefan and Ian Somerhalder as Damon in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW. Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW ©2009 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“Lost Girls” – Paul Wesley as Stefan and Ian Somerhalder as Damon in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW.
Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW
©2009 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Even worse, in Mystic Falls, the fictional town of Virginia where the story is based, tons of events are held celebrating the founding families. We see Elena, Stefan, Damon and Caroline happily attend the founders’ ball, and even play dress-up in 19th century attire at a founders’ parade. Bonnie obviously wasn’t at the ball nor did she dress-up for the parade – not because it would have been disturbingly wrong, but it probably had something more to do with the fact that she is banned from wearing pretty dresses, but I digress.

Instead, she was made to snap pictures, watch the parade and wave happily as her friends celebrated the lives of people who owned her ancestors. Talk about inappropriate!

Tyler wearing a confederate army uniform

Tyler wearing a confederate army uniform alongside Bonnie

  1. Black lives don’t matter

Another issue I have with this show is how quick and easy it is for people of color to die. To give you an idea, here is a list of all the characters of color that have been killed off without it triggering any grief or sense of loss for the characters and the viewers: Pearl (Asian), Harper (black), Luka and his father (black), Conor (black), random black guy eaten by Caroline, Jesse (black), Ivy (Asian), Qetsiyah (played by an Indian actress but supposed to be black). Versus the characters’ deaths that were met with some kind of emotional pain by at least one character: Jenna (white), Vicki (white), Grams (black), Tyler’s father (white), Tyler’s mother (white), Anna (Asian), Lexi (white), Isobel (white), John (white), Luke (white), Rose (white), Andie (white), Elena (white), Nadia (white), Katherine (white, her death is made a big deal out of though everyone hates her), Jeremy (white), Bonnie (black, not sure if I should count her in because she was dead for 3 months and none of her friends even noticed…), Damon (white), Sheriff Forbes (white).

But what is probably most telling about how little the lives of characters of color matter on this show, is when we compare Bonnie and Caroline losing their fathers. Bonnie and Caroline are both part of the main cast, yet though Bonnie has been part of the main plot even more so than Caroline, she isn’t given parents and a home or even just as much as a bedroom until season 4 (after fans kept demanding it from the writers).

Caroline and her mother

Caroline and her mother

Caroline on the other hand who has never really been part of the main plot, was given a home, a room and a very present mother pretty much since the pilot. Caroline’s estranged father was then introduced briefly back in season 2 before being killed off, while Bonnie’s father who was supposed to have been living with her all along was only introduced in season 4 to be killed off right away! But this isn’t even what is most problematic here, what remains most disturbing is how differently the deaths of both fathers were handled. Caroline’s father dies with vampire blood in his system. His hate for vampires was so strong that he made a conscious decision to die instead of completing the transition. Caroline sat by him as he breathed his last breath and was left to grieve, as her sense of loss was addressed in an entire episode. On the other hand, Bonnie who was a ghost at the time (don’t ask), watched her father’s throat being slit open by a maniacal killer and couldn’t so much as hold his hand as he laid dying. We see her scream and cry in horror through a camera shot that lasted all and all probably a couple seconds and… that’s it. Everyone moves on!

Bonnie and her father

Bonnie and her father

None of her friends are ever made to mention what happened and Bonnie doesn’t either. She just lights a candle in remembrance of her father a season later, without her trauma and grief to ever be addressed or even mentioned. What’s more, later on in season 6, Caroline’s mother dies of cancer and that’s enough to make her turn off her humanity and be at the center stage of a few episodes, while Bonnie once again gets nothing.

Why does this matter? Because if a show for teenagers is able to dehumanize people of color in a way that nobody or very little people seem to question, it tells us something really scary about our society and our level of tolerance for racism. It tells us why black people are so easily brutalized by police all over the US be it a man murdered over a routine traffic stop or a 14 year old girl being assaulted by a police officer, it tells us why a man can get pushed off a metro carriage in France for being black, why 147 Kenyan students can be murdered by terrorists in general indifference, why thousands of migrants can drown in the Mediterranean without anyone batting an eyelash, or why doing away with the confederate flag was even a subject of debate. TVD – and an appalling number of mainstream shows – is a construct of a society that oozes systemic racism and white supremacy. White people watch TV and internalize those toxic ideas to such extent that POC become irrelevant, worthless and invisible to them. POC watch, and if they’re not alert enough, begin to hate themselves and subconsciously apply the rules of colorism to their own communities. When we’re not in front of our TVs, we’re being fed those ideas by the Internet, by the movies, by commercials, magazines, and the very people around us. That is why it is so important to speak up whenever we come across such destructive attitudes and narratives. Simply ignoring them will not do. We are not overreacting, we are not being paranoid in standing up for what is right, whether it is walking through Ferguson with our hands up or tweeting network executives about the racism in their shows which contributes to poison impressionable teenaged minds. We can all make a change in our own little way. No issue is unimportant. I may not change the world by writing this article, but I will cause at least one person out there to question things and that in itself is a victory. Silence is complacency.

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Change, Entertainment, Fake Feminism, Media, Movies, Patriarchal Society, Racism, Rebel With A Cause, Shannon Jeanna, Television

Oscars 2015: Best and Worst Moments

Oscar season always makes me super excited and I normally make it a point to see most of the movies in the running so I can speculate as much as I can about who should win what, and rant over who should and shouldn’t have won. But this year was different. This year, the extreme lack of diversity turned me off and instead got me side eyeing the Academy like crazy. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one

Therefore, I will not rant over who should have and should not have won. I may not have seen half the movies nominated this year, but I did check out the acceptance speeches and I have to say that there were some pretty awesome moments, and some awful ones too. I often like to start with the bad news and end on a positive note, so let’s start with the worst Oscar moments.

Oscar fail #1: Sean Penn and his green card

Sean Penn presented the award for best picture to Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman. Right before mentioning his name, for some reason, Sean felt the need to preface by saying “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?

fran

I have to say that when I heard that, it pretty much broke my heart, because I love Sean Penn. I find that he is a very gifted character actor as well as one of the rare celebs who seems to be truly passionate about quietly helping people without cameras in his face. So when I heard that racist joke come out of his mouth, it appalled me. Now I do get that both Sean and Alejandro are good friends and that it probably is some kind of lame ass inside joke, and if Alejandro is okay with that kind of “humour” then so be it; but I think that it really is the whole context that makes it inappropriate. A context in which Mexicans (and Latinos in general) are marginalized, under-represented and grossly stereotyped by media, which in turn has the most awful of repercussions on their daily struggles. So when someone jokes like that about one of the biggest stereotypes attached to Latinos, in a context where millions are watching, especially in a room filled – even more so than normal (#OscarsSoWhite) – with white people, it gives the illusion that, once again, there is nothing wrong with marginalized groups always being the butt end of white people’s jokes. For a second, it even felt like I was reliving Margaret Cho’s cheap impersonation of Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes

The moral of the story is: if you really really want to make a borderline joke, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!!! And that goes for everyone: white people and POC alike. If you’re standing before a largely white audience (aka a privileged group) who has very little knowledge about the history, stereotypes, daily struggles, and overall difficulties marginalized groups go through, HOLD YOUR DAMN TONGUE!!! Because it is doing more bad than good! It may well be a good joke to you, but to the rest of the audience that sniggers away with you, or rather AT said marginalized group, it only encourages them to Other the rest of us and continue seeing us merely as walking-talking stereotypes that aren’t to be taken seriously. Knowing Sean Penn’s pretty progressive political beliefs, I don’t think that he meant any harm (at least I hope not), but it surely doesn’t give him a free pass. He really ought to have thought long and hard about it before blurting that stuff out like that. I mean Sean, seriously, in what world is a televised green card joke about a Mexican ever a good idea?

Oscar fail #2: Patricia Arquette’s pseudo feminist speech

A lot of “feminists” have been raving about Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech. On receiving the golden statue for best supporting actress, she read off of a white sheet of paper something that she clearly should have given way more thought to:

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!

I will be honest, I didn’t quite know how to react when I heard those words. I certainly wasn’t jumping up and down on my seat the way Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez were, nor was I shaking my fist in anger. I was more confused than anything else. First of all because part of Arquette’s speech sounded extremely ignorant and self righteous: “(…) To my friends who all work so hard to make this world a better place. To my heroes, volunteers and experts who’ve helped me bring ecological sanitation to the developing world.” What does that even mean? You mean to say she “helped” the entire “developing world”? And what does it even have to do with winning an Oscar? That clumsy wording reminded me of what I call the white hero complex which touches a certain category of white people; the kind who get so insulted when they’re called racist, yet do not want to know what racism really entails. The kind who goes to Africa to “save” what they think are “poor, illiterate, ignorant people who can’t even save themselves”. The kind that does charity work only to pat themselves on the back and feel superior to the people they’re supposedly helping.

saving africa

That got me thinking: in her acceptance speech, was Patricia referring to all women or just white women? Since I wasn’t sure, I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. But then I saw her backstage interview and this is what she had to say:

The truth is: Even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.

Say what??! Patricia, in what world do you live in? Apparently the fight for gay people and people of color is won! Someone please enlighten me on where the hell in the world that fight is even close to being over. I find it doubly shocking that she even had the audacity of saying such a thing after watching John Legend and Common’s deeply moving performance of Glory, and hearing their heartfelt acceptance speech addressing the ongoing fight for equality between races (see below).

Secondly, since when have straight white women fought for us? Please note that I’m saying straight white women because clearly, Arquette seems to feel like people of color and LGBT people are entirely separate groups standing on the sidelines, waiting for white feminists in shining armor to come and save them; and that women of color, Lesbians, Bi women, Trans women (both white and of color) do not count for anything. Because if straight white women did fight for us, well they did a pretty lousy job. I hate to be the one to have to say it, but we ARE STILL FIGHTING not only for equal pay, but also not to get gunned down in the street for being black, beaten up for being homosexual/bi/trans, forgotten for being First Nation, ridiculed for being Indian/Chinese/Latino, etc., and overall victims of racism and sexism in all its despicable aspects.

Thirdly, even if white women had in fact fought for the rights of others, are you saying that fighting for human rights is a I-scratch-your-back-and-you-scratch-mine thing? No, because standing up for equal rights means fighting for the recognition of something that is inherent to all human beings whether men, women, white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans, bi, rich or poor. So the I-supposedly-fought-for-you-so-you-should-fight-for-me thing doesn’t even make sense and only reveals Arquette’s sense of entitlement when “fighting” for a given cause. Beware, people of the so-called developing world, because based on what Patricia said, her “supplying ecological sanitation” to you comes with a price: fighting so her pay check can equal Sean Penn’s!

Feminism is inclusive. It isn’t about pitting marginalized groups against each other. It’s about uniting against our common enemy: the patriarchal society ruled by straight rich old white men. So when Arquette says that gay people and people of color should fight for white women because white women supposedly fought for them, it is not only extremely ignorant, but also counter-productive. If anything, Patricia Arquette’s speech has proven one thing: feminism and celebrities really don’t mix! I really hope that she learns from this mistake and informs herself on the matter, because that distorted notion of feminism (which is unfortunately widely popular) really isn’t helping.

Now for the good part of the night, those who actually had something important and encouraging to say. Here’s Rebels’ top 4 speeches (in no particular order of preference):

#1: John Legend and Common march on

You know how I’ve been raving about the song Glory, so I was absolutely thrilled to see it win. But what I enjoyed probably the most was John Legend and Common’s acceptance speech. Short but straight to the point. Inclusive of all people, and embodying beautifully Dr. King’s message of love, peace and hope.

#2: Laura Poitras’ ode to Edward Snowden

The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made, affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage and to the many other whistleblowers and I share this with (…) other journalists who are exposing truth.

I was pleasantly surprised that Citizenfour won best documentary given just how conservative the Academy tends to be. The fact that director Laura Poitras was even allowed to give such a controversial speech is to be applauded.

#3: Alejandro González Iñárritu sets the record straight

I want to dedicate this award [to] my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build a government that we deserve; and the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect [as] the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant Nation.

I thought that it was very responsible of Alejandro to address this with such eloquence and sincerity, especially in front of a largely white audience. Whether he meant for it or not, I feel like Mexican viewers needed some kind of damage control after Sean Penn’s clumsy green card comment. Kudos to you Alejandro for handling it with class!

#3: Graham Moore’s inspirational tirade

I love that speech because it is so real. Graham seems to be speaking from the heart, and is so honest about something that we all struggle with at least once in our lives. We are so often told that being different is bad. That it’s something we ought to be ashamed of, that it keeps us from fitting in. But the truth is that the more we try to conform to these insane, rigid and dumb unwritten rules, the more we alienate ourselves from everything good around us. Be yourself and as weird, quirky and different as that means because that is how you will truly find where it is that you belong and truly make a difference in this world.Stay weird, stay different”. Graham, you hit the nail on the head!

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Art, Change, Greetings, Rebel With A Cause

Happy 2015 folks!

Dear reader,

I hope the year Marty McFly visited the future will be filled with joy, good health, dreams coming true and love. I wish that it will bring about progress not only regarding your own personal journey, but also for the rest of the world, and that by the end of it, we will find ourselves a step closer to true equality, respect and understanding between men and women, light skinned and dark skinned, rich and poor alike.

A person is the product of their dreams. So make sure to dream great dreams. And then try to live your dream.” Maya Angelou

I am looking forward to welcoming, meeting and connecting with new rebels, new dreamers, new artists, new creators, new people, all craving the same thing: honest and diverse representation of all of us in the media, which I believe will lead in turn to more harmony and understanding between peoples and a true change in our society.

The fight is real and we shall overcome.

My motto for this year is pretty simple, though not the easiest to keep: live. Live as in making the most of each opportunity, taking time to appreciate my blessings, decisively facing life’s obstacles, taking on the unknown with a brave heart and standing up for what is right. I will probably fail miserably at keeping such a challenging resolution, but promise to try my best.

I’ve started the year with a pretty inspirational jam, and I think you should too. Here’s to dreams coming true. 🙂

With every broken bone, I swear I lived” OneRepublic

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Art, Change, Media, Racism, Sexism

Enters in Rebel With A Cause

Ever watched a TV show or read a book and cringed at the sight of the token [insert any minority] character solely brought in to make the story seem inclusive?

Ever shook your head disapprovingly at the sight of women being objectified in music videos and films?

Ever wondered why and how today, in the 21st century, the media we consume still remains just as sexist and racist as it was fifty years ago?

Ever wondered what you could do to help change things?

So have I. Enters in Rebel With A Cause. Now I don’t have all the answers, in fact, I don’t have any straight forward answers to any of these issues. But I do believe that it all starts by asking the right questions. The rest will come as we go.

The most subversive people are those who ask questions.” 

Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World

Ask anyone what tokenism or rape culture is. Most people won’t have the slightest clue, some will argue about the real impact it has on society, and some others will even try to dismiss its existence. However, racism and sexism are not trivial subjects; they have plagued humanity ever since the dawn of time and unfortunately, the media seems to feed off of it instead of using its power and influence to break such disgusting mentalities.

Dickson, 90210's token black guy

Dickson, 90210’s token black guy

Paco Rabanne's advert promoting rape culture

Paco Rabanne’s advert promoting rape culture

Media no longer is a rare commodity only enjoyed by the richer few. In the industrialized world, 98% of households have at least one TV, global radio audiences reach 4.2 billion people, 1.4 billion people worldwide use a computer and 4.4 billion people in the world have mobile phones. Note that I haven’t even mentioned laptops, iPads, smartphones, etc. Once you’ve managed to digest all these numbers, think about the millions of TV and radio channels airing 24/7, the millions of weekly magazines, and movies out everyday; all so easily available to the masses, not to mention social media and the unfathomable amount of information that oozes every nano second out of it. Now that’s a hell of a lot to take in don’t you think?

In this wide maze of information, finding one’s voice and being heard gets tricky. It is easy to get lost both from an audience perspective and an artistic perspective. The overload of information has lead networks, producers, directors and artists to fight each other for audience attention. Imagine a room full of noisy people yelling over each other. Multiply it by a million, and you got yourself a pretty clear overview of what media is today; a hot freaking mess.

Only the voices of those who scream the loudest may be heard. So how does one manage to make their voice heard amidst all the noise? Shock value. Sex sells right? I would go further than that and say that it is provoking people that really does all the selling, whether it’s through sex, violence or hate. Provoking people is the fastest and easiest way to get the public’s attention. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s cheap. Anybody can take their clothes off or act like a complete douchebag to get attention, but not very many people are able to create something meaningful, positive and long-lasting. That actually takes talent.

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's 2013 VMA performance made headlines due to its shock value

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s 2013 VMA performance made headlines due to its shock value

A reality show solely meant for viewers to make fun of the protagonists

A reality show meant for viewers to make fun of its protagonists

That is why nowadays, media seems to be a system solely based on negativity; and more precisely, two destructive pillars: those of racism and sexism. Think about it, how many movies, novels or TV shows do not use the cheap ploy that is tokenism in order to seem inclusive? How many stories aren’t based on Othering people because of the color of their skin? How many music videos and movies do not objectify women and/or slut-shame them? Too little. But how much of the media that we consume every day does promote racism and rape culture? Way too much.

Hollywood

This blog is dedicated to peeling off the glitz and glam of show business, layer by layer until we can get down to the nitty-grity. Because everything that is released in the public arena whether music, movies, TV, or literature, everything contributes to shape our perception of the world, to such extent that it invariably ends up imprinting on our subconscious minds. As Michael Jackson once said, “If you hear a lie long enough, you start to believe it.” Scary right? Think about the amount of time that you spend each day in front of the TV and/or computer. We see so much racism, sexism, and violence everyday on our screens that we become numb to it, and that’s the real danger; because the moment we become indifferent to what is wrong, the moment we stop questioning things, that’s the moment we stop fighting to improve the world we live in, and therefore fail to make any real contribution to humanity.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Overall, this blog is dedicated to:

  • trying to debunk the useful and the useless in today’s pop culture,

  • spark debates on what we can do in our own little way to change things for the better

  • review movies, music, novels, artists, etc. that I happen to enjoy (hey this is my blog, I make the rules!)

It is my personal belief that true art not only is meant to be beautiful and meaningful, but that it often questions the rules and has challenged the status quo more than once. This blog is for those who believe the same and wish for it to take its rightful place in the forefront of mainstream media instead of cheap shock value designed to pass off as art.

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”

Anton Chekov

We’ve been taught to be -and have been for a long time- passive consumers of media instead of striving to become active agents of change. Let’s encourage each other to go from the former to the latter.

Join me in the adventure.

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