Category Archives: Social Equality

Superheroes R Us

So also in the realm of superheroes, the comics side of Marvel has been watching the collapse of its sales model, while dealing with a cross-over disaster that had a far right leaning writer making Captain America, the Steve Rogers version, into a Nazi/Hydra spy as part of a muddled multiverse idea. The collapse has not been a new thing; it’s been a process going on since the 1980’s that happened to then coincide with the great shrinkage of the wholesale market for magazines, newspapers, paperbacks and comics that took place in the 1990’s and helped pop the collectors’ hyper-valuation bubble in comics issues. Essentially, the big comics companies tried to increase monthly buys by staging big crossover stories that required buying from four to seven series at a time to follow, while comic prices went up, up, up. These crossover stories often made use of multiple universes to shake series up, allowing them to totally reboot characters and past stories with little regard for consistency.

This was certainly one of the reasons that my husband and I stopped really buying comics way back – it was too expensive to do and our child needed food. But the success of graphic novels, including bound omnibuses of monthly comic issues, and the emergence of highly successful live action superhero movies and animated t.v. series and movies from major comics helped keep especially Marvel afloat for a while. Now, though, retail markets are further squeezed and Marvel has made things worse with poorly planned stunt events, constant reboots and number one reissues to try to generate short term sales instead of reliable regular fans. Economic uncertainty in the face of controversial political events has further dampened sales recently.

When Marvel Comics held a retailer summit in late March with the comic stores, one of Marvel’s vice presidents of sales – a white guy – apparently brought up that some comics vendors were saying the diverse comics – the ones not about white guys and white guy led teams – weren’t selling and that maybe this was the reason for Marvel Comics’ poor comics sales showing the previous quarter. This was flagrantly untrue. Many of the “diversity” comics are Marvel’s top sellers and had clearly brought in more readers domestically and globally. And many of their white guy comics had sales in the toilet and were being axed. The race and gender of the leads in the comics neither guaranteed sales nor that sales would tank.

So why would a senior vice president of Marvel, with full access to the real sales figures, float a lie that was so easily disproven about his own company? And which he had to apologize for and take back not long after? Did some comics store vendors actually say this to him? Very probably. But the comics store owners also have access to sales numbers well beyond their own stores. So why would some of them push such an assertion?

Part of it was clearly deflection. Rather than admit that the problem was an unworkable production, pricing and marketing model, or admit that your store has adapted poorly to pushing your products under current market conditions, it’s an easier fix to blame the audience of the medium for being unreasonably bigoted, which then becomes the big talking point.

But as a form of deflection, it’s a poor one. The vice president’s trashing of his own company’s line was a PR nightmare for them. Presumably this same vice president respects and works with POC and white women artists, writers and editors at Marvel. Why would he then disparage what they do, and which helps pay his salary? Especially when he had said last year that women and kids as readers were a key component of Marvel Comics’ success?

In a word, reassurance. Marvel and the comics industry in general has been run by white guys, like most industries, particularly in the marketing and business end of things of course, but also on the creative front. While others were occasionally welcomed in, mostly they were blocked and certainly kept from obtaining leadership positions of influence if they were around. This has created a comfortable cushion of established and protected practice at companies like Marvel.

That’s changing a little bit. As they recognize the need for greater variety to hold on to and expand a global market, Marvel, like other comics companies, has been putting out more titles that offer a slightly wider range of characters and ideas. With that comes a slight increase in the variety of people who work there and create the titles. This allows Marvel in the long term to grow and expand its workforce and its product line – something that can benefit white guys too.

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I Can’t Even

So I was going to write about some books, really I was, and I will soon, but in the meantime (not counting all the really nasty horrors going about the planet,) we had another one of those incidents. The one where the people running a SFF convention turn out to be bigoted asshats who retaliate against women, POC, queer authors, etc. and fans because they think a crimp is being put in their old-fashioned party. This time, it’s the Odyssey Convention in Madison, Wisconsin, which not only put two known, notorious harassers on their convention committee, but when one of their GOH authors who had been a victim of one of the harassers complained about being forced to deal with the man at their convention, twice, they proceeded to accuse her of lying, lied to her in turn, scolded her for having no legitimate complaint, and when she withdrew as GOH, doxxed her private email address on their public Facebook page while ranting at her with a level of sexism that was high even for the usual rhetoric in these things.

While some of them are attempting to make amends at the moment, that any of them thought they had the right to behave this way in the first place is a shining example of the problems SFF fandom has been tackling head-on the last 5-10 years as the people who routinely get told to suck up abuse say no and are sometimes forced to go public about it to try and help others out. The enough is enough line started getting drawn in the 1980’s and people have been pushing conventions to become safe, inclusionary fun places for everybody, which is a message that should have really sunk in by now, even with convention volunteer organizers who are still trapped in the 1970’s.

The Odyssey Convention hasn’t been doing that well apparently, and it’s not very surprising, given that some of the people waving their harassment policy around as proof of their virtue are the very people the harassment policy was written for. The GOH isn’t the only person who has turned away from this convention — quite a few authors and people were reportedly already not going because of the harassers’ presence, and others have now joined in the exodus in support, because of the concom’s behavior.

I vented a bit on Jim C. Hines’ blog on this one as he is doing a decent round-up of links with the details of this mess, which you can check out if you want: http://www.jimchines.com/2017/04/odyssey-con-frenkel-and-harassmentA number of other authors have been talking about it on Twitter or their blogs, with great sadness.

But in short, if you are a con-runner, here are things you don’t get to do:

  1. Tell guests and panelists who have a problem with the convention that they don’t have a problem.
  2. Tell women and marginalized authors what they should and should not have as safety concerns about the convention workplace.
  3.  Accuse those making reports of harassment of being liars and mentally unstable whiners who will be ignored.
  4. Publicly expose authors’ private contact information and personal information without their consent.
  5. Claim that somebody might be abusive to others, but everybody at the event, who are paying money and time to be there, has to put up with that person because reasons.

This is a lesson that many con-runners have been slow to absorb. And the sad thing is, not simply what that’s going to do to their conventions over the long term, but that whenever one of these incidents occur, we have so many people — mainly women and POC — saying that they’ve never been to a convention and now don’t see how they can try attending any SFF convention, as it seems like they are run by horrible people and aren’t safe to visit. And that is not because of the people who have brought up the issues of abuse and tried to get changes. It’s because of the people running the conventions who announce that they are okay with the situation and who go after those who bring the issue up. Many conventions are not run by such people and can be great experiences.  Some of them have had problems in the past, but have learned and often gotten new people in to run them. But when the people running a convention embrace a con culture that ignores and enables abusive behavior — and engage in it themselves — then it ends up reflecting poorly on the entire SFF network of fandom events and opportunities are lost.

Quite simply, authors — and their fans — aren’t going to go to conventions where they are abused and further abused by the con-runners. They have plenty of choices and it’s not worth their time or their careers to deal with such behavior. If you behave in this manner, surprise — people don’t want to work with you or hang out with you. And if you put people who behave in this manner in charge of your convention and let them speak for you, again, you are going to lose customers and authors who can draw in customers. Far more than the abusers themselves — who are a minority — it’s the people who help abusers and abuse their authority to do it who cause a systemic problem. This one might sink the Odyssey Convention or not, but it would sure be nice to have fewer problems in this vein.

*Up-date: I’m going to add this link to Brianna Wu’s guest column on Hines’ blog because it does speak to the wider systemic problem that created this situation.

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An Annoyed Rant (Put the Warning Right There in the Title for You)

Kyle Davies, Paramount’s domestic distribution chief, had this to say about Ghost in the Shell, which white-washed its lead role and failed at the box office: “You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and [making] a movie for a mass audience.”

This quote is everything that is wrong with the people (mostly white guys,) running Hollywood. 1) First off, calling the fans of this long-running franchise “fanboys” — this reflects the demographically incorrect belief that the fans for SFF and in particular for Japanese manga/anime are mainly young white males, and that those white males are interested in the material only for the sexy babes, so you have to have a sexy actress. In actuality, the majority of western fans for manga and much of anime tend to be young women and female teens and have been for over twenty years. There is a huge number of Asians and non-whites in the West who are big anime fans. And white male fans are actually usually more interested in the action sequences, noir violence and special effects than they are in sexy women. Paramount literally had no idea who their audiences was, in the East or the West. They cared nothing for the source material that was giving them that audience. They engaged in rampant sexism on a feminist-positive franchise, and it helped tanked their film.

2) The belief that the source material — Japanese Asian anime/manga — could not have “mass appeal” in the West if fully honored. Anime/manga has been huge in the West, a mainstream phenomena particularly with young people for well over thirty years. Some of the biggest global franchises, including merchandising and fashion, are from anime and manga. And yet, because most of it is created from East Asia, and because Hollywood is convinced the global and particularly U.S. audiences are rabid bigots, Hollywood continues to pretend, ignoring actual statistical numbers, that “Asian” material cannot sell unless you place a white, preferably American or American-sounding actor at the center.

Only with a white lead does Hollywood believe a film has “mass appeal.” It is a fairy tale based on the fact that working with a white actor, particularly a male one, boosts the social status of executives in the industry and their financial backers. It’s a drug they don’t easily give up, and instead blame the audience — the “masses” are bigots and must be cosseted to supposedly lower the risk. And yet, no matter how many flops this idea currently produces, they refuse to change the bigoted narrative. No matter how many movies do really well without white leads or white-washing, they refuse to change the bigoted narrative. It’s not about money, but fear of power shifts and an inability to believe that all white people don’t want only stories of whiteness, whatever the cultural source material, and a belief that non-white audiences are small and niche and unimportant. Because that’s the world they were taught and think should stay in place, even if it’s not real.

Dr. Strange from Marvel succeeded but benefited from only white-washing a supporting character and mainly from being part of the Marvel-Avengers franchise that places puzzle clues to the bigger overall story in each of its movies, encouraging people to keep up with all of them. But most big action movies don’t have those incentives. The Last Airbender, Gods of Egypt, etc. have not fared well.

Kyle Davies is a clueless, mediocre, incompetent white guy who if not for systemic institutionalized bigotry, would be out of a job for that quote alone. Throwing up one’s hands and murmuring that they were forced to make changes to white-wash is a lie. It’s always been a lie, and most of the time now, it’s going to fail. And that goes as well for the folks at Marvel who played the same game recently about their comic books. They’ve been strategic in their roll-outs, but individual films can still start failing if they don’t get a lot smarter.

This thinking is dinosaur thinking. It’s poor marketing and stagnated vision. If you are in any kind of industry, and you start spouting this same kind of drivel about mass or mainstream appeal of products, by which you mean supposed white people appeal, you’re wearing your prejudices on your sleeve and no amount of hand waving is going to spare you. So stop acting so surprised or pretending to be exasperated when you get angry push-back. We know what “mass appeal” means — and there’s nothing appealing to the masses in it.

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Women in Film – Part 1: 2016 Review

It’s time to get back into the topic I’ve been trying to do annually for a few years now on how female actresses are doing in box office power in the big budget action, SFF, thriller, action comedies and horror films of each year – the mostly bigger money, bigger press or “cool” films that can catapult actors into a very high tax bracket. In the previous year of 2015, women packed a lot of punch in their roles in franchises and led in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and several other quite successful films, so 2015 ended up being a bigger year for the actresses than expected. 2016 did not quite match it, perhaps, in buzz, but at the same time, it marked a genuine shift and momentum that has been developing since 2012. Actresses are still struggling with blocks to their participation in film, but have firmly established themselves in action and big budget, a trend much less likely to reverse at this point.

A good chunk of that is again due to the folks at Star Wars/Disney. Needing a placeholder movie for 2016 to tide people over till Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the end of this year, the Star Wars machine planned their first supplementary prequel film for December 2016 — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which covers the desperate mission to obtain the plans for the Death Star taken out in the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. That was a bit special and the filmmakers did some rather special things with it. They first off made the story a grimmer, tragic, bitter war flick along the lines of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone (which let’s face it, always pleases critics and fanboys.) They CGI-wizarded one of the late great actors of the original Star Wars films, Peter Cushing, into a useful cameo and made excellent use of Darth Vader, (nice to hear James Earl Jones having fun with the voice again.) They came up with my now favorite robot, K2, voiced by the beloved Alan Tudyk in full snarky form.

And they decided, even though Force Awakens had been a woman-led story, to have Rogue One be one too, with Felicity Jones playing Jyn Erso, daughter of the designer of the Death Star, who leads a rogue platoon to go get the plans and try to reach her father. They expected the film to do well in December but not quite in Force Awakens territory. But the dramatic caper was a huge hit, coming in as the second most successful movie of the year, with over a billion worldwide box office and still going. Even if you argue that Star Wars has a bit of a built-in safety factor as a franchise, that the new SW movies have both been women led and done phenomenally does more than trickle, trickle erode the argument that women can’t open big movies well. And Rogue One is also set up to have solidified the change in the toy industry after Rey in Force Awakens forced the issue – lots of Jyn action figures and related merchandise, doing very well.

“I rebel.”

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Tired of This

No, not the other bigger political and life stuff, though I’m more than tired of that too. I’m tired of the nitpicky stuff. I’m tired of Hollywood and western film white supremacy and how deeply ingrained it is.

Also not so long ago, I read the best-selling SF novel The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey. The novel is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, set in the ruins of Britain, and it takes the time-honored SF approach of evolution, kind of like the original I Am Legend novel by Richard Matheson. It’s a well-written book with some interesting dynamics, although it feels a bit like what would normally be a novella dragged out to be longer. The novel centers around an unusual girl named Melanie and other children kept at a bunkered school where a woman named Helen Justineau is their teacher.

The novel has been made into a film in a joint UK/US production. (Don’t know if they changed the setting to the U.S. or not.) It’s starring Sennia Nanua as Melanie and Gemma Arterton as Ms. Justineau. The movie is scheduled to come out this year in September, which means I missed it in my round-up of women-led films and such for 2016, but you know, yay for another one!

In the book, Melanie’s exact appearance is a bit unclear. It seems like she is somewhat pale but also has kind of golden toned skin, so she might be a white girl or a black Briton or have Mediterranean or South Asian ethnicity. So any young actress might have played her and Sennia Nanua is a black actress. But also in the book it is quite clear that Helen Justineau is a black woman. It is in fact a key undercurrent in the story, related to some of the themes of the story. I like Gemma Arterton quite a lot, but that didn’t change the fact that it was ridiculous that she was playing a Persian princess in the game-based movie The Prince of Persia, and it doesn’t change the deliberateness of this switch here in The Girl with all the Gifts.

Now the filmmakers and the studios I’m sure can claim that they are just shifting things around, since they took a main character, Kieran, a soldier who in the book is a red-haired Irishman, and instead are having him played by black actor Fisayo Akinade. They also took another minor character who is indicated as South Asian in ethnicity and have her being played by black actress Dominique Tipper. But Kieran is mainly a sidekick character, so essentially it’s just having the black actor play support to the four leads, who except for Melanie, are played by white actors. Helen Justineau is a main hero/focus of the story. She is its questioning moral center. And what the film is putting forth is that such a hero role needs to be played by a white woman, not a black woman.

Add to that fact that Melanie, played by a young black girl in the film, spends the first part of the story strapped to a mobile chair with a mask on her face, controlled mainly by white people, and it gets more than a little symbolically problematic. You could say that it’s meant to function as a symbol of historic slavery related to the story, but so is switching out a black role for a white actress. The very strong possibility is that having decided to cast Nanua as Melanie because they liked her for the role, the filmmakers probably felt that they could not have two black acting leads in their movie. Because that’s how this kind of thinking works as well. Justineau also in the book has something of a romance with another lead character, a white British military commander played in the movie by Paddy Considine. While films have had inter-racial romances and it might not have been an additional factor, it does again contribute to the regular Hollywood approach of having only two white people bonding together as leads.

The reality is that white people play 80% of the roles in film, even though that’s not near their percentage of the population. It’s hard enough for actors of colors to get on screen at all, even when filmmakers are willing occasionally to racially change a white character in an adapted work. When lead and key roles in adaptations or that fit ethnically for non-white people are then given to white actors, it continues an industry-wide discrimination that visually helps fuel discrimination in the wider world, certainly in the Western world.

The logic that filmmakers use to apply to these things has slightly improved (trickle, trickle,) after lots of screaming, but they still regularly switch heroic roles, major and minor, of non-white characters to white actors and will now switch out other non-white roles of one ethnicity or race for another for seemingly strange reasons.

Take the film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The film was a good adaptation of the novel overall and had a number of non-white actors playing key roles. But one very pivotal supporting role, Mindy Park, the technician who spots that the protagonist astronaut is still alive on Mars and who is one of his main contacts, would seem by her name and slight indications in the story to be Korean American and instead in the film is played by a white actress, Mackenzie Davis. Again, I like Davis as an actress, but it’s hard not to see this as switching the heroic role to a white actress to be on the safe side.

On the slightly brighter side, the character of Venkat Kapoor, her supervisor, a South Asian American, was replaced, but by a black actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor. But that may have been because the filmmakers decided that they had too many Asian characters — the chief engineer played by Benedict Wong and several Chinese characters who help NASA, to have another Asian actor in a main role, and that they figured a white actor couldn’t pull off the last name of Kapoor (the character’s first name was changed to the less South Asian moniker of Vincent.) So yay, that increased the presence of black actors in the movie, but only because they didn’t want the number of Asian actors to outshine the number of white ones who play most of the leading roles.

The author of the novel, Andy Weir, pointed out that he doesn’t do a lot of physical character descriptions or had prescribed notions of their appearances, including of his protagonist astronaut, so technically Mindy Park could be a white American and “Vincent” Kapoor could be a black American, though he had thought of Park as Korean American. But if that’s the case, then the lead astronaut didn’t need to be played by a white actor like Matt Damon either. Mark Watney could have been a black man, multi-racial or any variety of ethnicity. But that would have made some people quite upset — that the character wasn’t a square-jawed white guy as they no doubt imagined him to be because they’ve been trained to imagine the hero as white, even when there are no physical descriptions.

This is not a problem that is going to be easily solved, given the old, ingrained myths by which we treat each other (see the anger at The Hunger Games movie having black actors play heroic characters who were described as black people in the book, by those with poor reading comprehension who assumed such heroes had to be white children.) Hollywood is deeply uncertain about whether they can get away with giving the global audience a regular diet of non-white leads, given that they’ve force fed us white leads from the beginning of film’s existence. And despite ample evidence to the contrary, they have clung to white and mainly male leads like a security blanket, even though numerous movies with such leads tank and the income stats are actually better for women leads and lead actors of color. It is, again, partly a social status issue for industry bosses as well.

Regardless, it has in recent years taken a good chunk of enjoyment out of certain films for me when they do this stuff and has influenced my movie watching choices. I love old movies. I mean, I really love them. I’ve grown up on them. I’ve seen probably thousands of movies in my life. But the white supremacy can go now, as quickly as possible. And a good start would be to take characters who are already not white people in the original material and not turn them into white people for current and future films.

Because we don’t need them. We really don’t. Much as I like many white actors, they aren’t the only ones I like, and they don’t always need to be the heroes or the majority group in an ensemble movie. And that’s my big sigh for today.

 

 

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This is All I Have Today

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Stick Aliens Drink Soda

It’s been awhile since I did a post on the trend in advertising campaigns to not just photoshop women in ads into skinny forms, but to literally make them physically alien and insectoid in their concentration camp images, as something that is supposed to appeal to women in purchasing considerations. And not in a SFF sort of approach where it’s deliberately supposed to be strange, but in ads where we’re supposed to consider them beautiful human woman who we’d want to emulate. If we had elongated spines that turned in ways human bodies can’t actually go.

Previously, these ads have not made much sense in terms of the elegant products they were pitching — upscale fashion, handbags, perfume. And that’s what struck me about them. But this time, it’s a product where skeletalization of the body is directly connected to the product — Diet Coke. That staple of acidic corn syrup and artificial sweeteners that the company keeps pretending starving models drink to look the way they do. Sales of Diet Coke are declining, apparently, (along with non-craft soda in general,) so Diet Coke has launched a new campaign called “It’s Mine” with women grabbing after bottles of Diet Coke now packaged in cutsey colorful graphics of the kind they put on kids’ plastic cups. (Including pink and purple!) That pretty much hits the trifecta: women are easily distracted infants, greedy harpies and obsessive shoppers chasing after purchases.

But it’s this image in particular that ultra goes for the stick alien look:

mymo

The dress of course is supposed to resemble Diet Coke itself in a sort of bottle shape. (Hey, they may even have the word “sex” in there subliminally.)

But the woman, oh where to start with the woman. First off, she has one hip that apparently can elongate and swivel outward from her body and around. Her upper torso can twist at a dramatic angle from her lower half, facing forward, while her other leg goes straight back sideways. (Maybe she does yoga.) Her arms are cadaverous and her fingers elongated. Her neck is also elongated, really giving the stick alien appearance, further enhanced by her blonde-ish hair which has been done short and appears in the photo as kind of spiky, in a manner resembling antennae tendrils. (You think they’d do curls for a soda foam resemblance, but I digress.)

She looks, in a word, kind of scary. You would not be surprised to see webbing or ichor or something coming out of her hands and snagging the Diet Coke bottle.

The photo is actually kind of a still shot from a t.v. ad that Diet Coke ran for the Oscars ceremony. (Hence, the ball gown the model wears.) But that ad uses CGI to make the woman’s body like pouring soda with the dress rather than human mobility, and then clearly the image was further photoshopped for print for graphic design reasons over human ones. (In the t.v. ad, when the model drinks the Diet Coke she has caught, her arms are not nearly as frightening.) The print ad is now showing up in various magazines.

Again, it’s one thing to do all the tweaking and glass polishing they regularly do to women in ads. (I can no longer recognize the faces of actresses on magazine covers because they turn them into life-size ceramic dolls.) But to turn a woman in-human, beyond skeletal, does this work to sell the product by just producing a striking image? Maybe it works for something like Diet Coke, but it seems again a fascination of photo editors indulging in surreal art. Rather than selling sex or elegance that might be desired, it’s wiping out the human woman from the image altogether into the otherworldly.

In any case, way to keep it regressive on the product re-packaging and sales pitch, Diet Coke. The soda still tastes awful.

 

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