Philae Lander snaps a selfie of itself and Rosetta with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the background!
The Science of Spoilers by John Kovalic
(Thanks to Aldus Vartten!)
Over 70 actors have previously played Sherlock Holmes. Now he’s 93 years old and it’s my turn. #MrHolmes
(Via Ian McKellen’s Twitter)
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?
I play a game called The Story Machine when I go into schools. Children pick a character out of one box and an action out of another and have to to come up with a story to explain what they get. E.g: “The Detective walks through the city barefoot.” The characters include The Orphan, The Convict, The Scientist, The Banker — only one, The Princess, is gendered.
And I thank God for The Princess, because without her just about every story would come out as being about a man or a boy. Very occasionally, girls think The Orphan might be female, (I don’t think I’ve ever had a boy do this) and the Librarian is relatively often a woman. But the Detective, Scientist, Banker, Convict and even Opera Singer are always men, even when I’ve carefully written she/he into the descriptions, even when I say “These don’t have to be men, by the way!”
I haven’t been challenging it. Because they’re kids and I don’t want to feel picked on, because I’m focusing on their ability to come up with something, anything in that exercise, and I try to make everything they come back at me with a positive. And honestly because I’m exhausted at the prospect of having a big feminist conversation with a crowd of ten year olds. But I should.
But one time a woman did say, when the talk was finished, “Interesting how everyone thinks all the characters had to be men,” and I said yeah, that’s a huge problem, and do you know that if you were going by TV and film you’d assume 2/3 of the world’s population were male? And if you were going by film LEADS it would be more like 95%?
And a ten year old boy who was sweetly helping us with the tables said thoughtfully. “I do notice it. I play Halo with my sister. She has to play as a man. She shouldn’t have to.”
I’ve reblogged the casting story before. I was going to reblog it again just for that, but Sophia’s story is revealing too. I’ve met a lot of people who genuinely don’t believe that kids absorb gender and race norms from TV/Film/Video games, even though kids are learning sponges - the amount of stuff they process and just accept from adults at school age is vast.
And this is worth turning on yourself, not simply going ‘It’s terrible that other people are like that’.
I was recently going over my novella prior to submission. I’ve been uncomfortable with the fact that only two out of seven characters are women (three out of eight if you count an old women who’s basically a bit part), and those two characters could be characterised as the mother and the daughter. Or even, the mother and the love interest. And it didn’t pass the Bechdel test. And all but one of the men have jobs, and the women don’t. In otherwords: it’s everything I would hate in a story somebody else wrote.
I wouldn’t write a story like that now. In fact, when I first started writing the story, 8 or 9 years ago, I tried several scenarios with more women in, and they were awful. The reason I went with so many men as the movers and shakers was because of the roles I thought were open to women in a fantasy story. I had internalised the thought that the sexism of traditional fantasy settings, although not inevitable, would have to be its own story to unseat. And my story had a central enigma and it wasn’t that. Moreover, I was writing at a time when I was exhausted from challenging the sexism I encountered everywhere, getting nowhere with the men around me, and being hated for it. I’d concluded that the way to get men to change was to make stories that were about them but dealt with the issues that women face - to write a story where the main character is weak, dependent on others, has his power taken away from him and has to find a way to define himself in a world where he has no power at all. And whilst I still think it’s important to tell stories where men get to have emotions, get to feel powerless, that challenge the norms of masculinity, it shouldn’t be at the expense of women.
So what do I do? I believe in this story. I find it emotionally powerful and I stand by its central message. But it’s floating around in all this toxic muck. And suddenly I realised it was easy. I had thought the mayor and the wizard couldn’t be women because they wouldn’t have been in a traditional fantasy setting. But there was nothing in my story preventing them from being so. I am the god of this world and I know that women can do these roles, have done them historically, and I am a convert to the idea that our fantasies do not have to perpetuate the prejudices of the actual world. Just like that, they were women.
And what interesting women they were. The mayor, who had been a somewhat bland symbol of conservative small town government, became interesting, because I suddenly realised that I wouldn’t have written the character in quite that way if she had been a woman from the beginning. And yet I had met women exactly like her.
The same for the wizard. I had really liked him as a charismatic, but reserved man, who became slightly disturbing to be around when he was actually working magic. I liked the character and had a visual identity for him that I liked. I was reluctant to change him. But there was no reason in the story for him not to be a woman, and there were reasons to keep the other male characters as men, and one more woman wasn’t enough. Especially as the mayor wasn’t as significant a character as the wizard. So the wizard became a woman. And a black woman, because I had also realised that this was a very white story, and this wasn’t actually medieval Europe, but even if it had been, there would have been people of colour.
Suddenly the wizard was more interesting too. I’d thought the character was interesting as a white man, but really, he had been a very familiar type. To have a black woman play a charasmatic, wealthy, powerful but reserved character, one who was respected because of her work, even if it was somewhat disturbing to see her work it. Again, I realised I wouldn’t have written her like that if she had been a woman of colour from the beginning. Not because I didn’t think women of colour could be like that, but because I would have worried about how the character would have been received. I would have hedged around with ways to make her more acceptable. But she was so much more interesting just being herself on the page, and not caring. And having the characters around her just accepting that because she was so powerful, of such stature in the community.
Look at your own stories and really grill yourself about your choices. It’s worth it, and you’ll surprise yourself with how you can come out with something better than what you started with.
El ruido de un trueno (tumblr.) turned 4 today!
Vaya, esto ha sido inesperado. En fin, ¡feliz cumpleaños a mí!
EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #2
Written by JASON LATOUR
Art and Cover by ROBBI RODRIGUEZ
· GWEN STACY: SPIDER-WOMAN!
· In one universe, it wasn’t Peter Parker bitten by the radioactive Spider, but Gwen Stacy!
· She’s smart, charming and can lift a car— Just don’t tell her Police Chief father!
This is an awesome design, and wonderful art by Rodriguez.