Why Stories Matter: A Conversation With Dylan Marron

“I am the default man.” Quipped Stephen Colbert. While It may be a joke to him, It’s not really funny much as it is a fact. Technically he is the default in the human race. He’s white, affluent and male. What else do you expect?

How would one break the cycle?

By Stories.

Check out the following panel on why stories matter by Every Single Word Spoken creator Dylan Marron. Because, really, in the end – stories are all we have.

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Feminist Cinema – Intersectionality Please

Er… Meryl….

Lately, more and more of our cinematic offerings are female-led. Which is great by any other standard, other than race, the sex gap in Hollywood is the other social problem it should fix.

But have you noticed that these feminist films have lately not been intersectional at all?

Feminism – while focused on females – have lately all been told through the lens of white females. Intersectional Feminism is basically the call to action against this kind of thing, it is defined as:

“The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”

So basically, if you fight for female equality – you gotta be aware that women of other colors/sexuality/classes are simultaneously fighting the same thing but are also influenced by  racism/phobias/classism within the female group.

But lately, these movies have been so focused on the white woman, that we forget – where the minority women at?

The latest in this white feminist train is biopic film Suffragette – a Meryl Streep led film that chronicles the female struggle in gaining independence.

Suffragette recently showed its stars wearing a Tee shirt saying “I’d rather be a rebel, than a slave.”, a quote attributed to Streep’s character Emmeline Pankhurst.

The problem? Well, Pankhurst isn’t exactly friendly to minorities – and what she said, likely refers to actual slaves – an exaggeration that is actually quite unfair to ACTUAL slave living at the time.

The Mary Sue defined intersectionality brilliantly here:

“The tough thing about intersectionality is that you feel like you’re stuck in this weird liminal state of having to always add a qualifier, or asterisk to feminist movements and campaigns. While I might defend Suffragette against gendered insults that call it “unnecessary” and “overreacting,” I can’t defend these shirts.”

For shame, Meryl.

The Asian Question : Why Not Us?

Does he look white?

Hollywood, you did it again.

Just when I was psyched with the great representation news from Moana. You went and pulled this stuff.

Hollywood had just announced an adaptation of super popular Japanese comic Death Note. It features high schooler Light Yagami who comes into possession of a powerful notebook that kills anyone he writes his name on, with this, he eventually takes the law on his own hands – with devastating consequences.

Sounds good right? So what’s the problem?

He’s going to be played by a white dude. Paper Towns heart-throb, Nat Wolff to be exact.

This is coming also from the news that Hollywood is going to be adapting anime masterpiece Ghost in The Shell, and guess what?

Its going to star basically the most Caucasian actress ever,  Scarlett Johansson.

This seems to be a problem with Hollywood in general. They want Asian stories and Asian narratives. But they don’t want the skin colour. Why? Is it skill based? Because there are no actors of colour that could pull it off?

What about Ki Hong Lee? Or Daniel Henney? Yoshua Sudarso? Ryan Potter?

Or Arden Cho, Tao Okamoto, Bae Doona, Fan Bing Bing, Malese Jow, or hell, even Lucy Liu?

That’s even from the top off my head. What about the others that would come from a casting call?

Don’t they deserve a chance?

This seems to be a precedent that seemed to stem from Tom Cruise action vehicle “Edge Of Tomorrow”, where the main character of that story – Keiji Kiriya is renamed Will Cage and he’s been aged up. Despite the clear white-washing of the issue, Edge Of Tomorrow ended up being the No. 3 top grossing opening film of the time and got $ 369 million dollars of revenue.

Of course the same would be reflected in all these movies. Scarlett Johansson is going to play a renamed Motoko Kusanagi and Wolff playing a renamed Light Yagami.

Its frustrating that this still happens because it’s unfair. These are their stories, geographically and narratively locked to their experiences as a culture and as a people. Why would they take it away? Is there not enough stories already populated by a white lead? There are literally no acceptable answers to this question and its depressing that Hollywood keeps on doing this.

Its shameful practice, and it shouldn’t be the newest trend.

Ever.

The People on The Background : The Importance of The Writer, The Producer and The Director

Viola Davis’ Emmy nomination and subsequent win was an insane plus for minority actors and what they can do in regards to the cinematic medium.

Not to take credit from Ms. Davis and her amazing speech. Of course, minority actors are the forefront of the battle of more representation on cinema screens.

But what about the people not on the spotlight?

Currently, there are still loads of untapped story potential hidden in every writer, every producer and every director choosing to go into the cinematic medium. Each of them has their own story to tell, but they can’t tell them due to the heavy restrictions that comes with getting it out there in Hollywood.

Talking with Selma director, Ava DuVernay, she likens the whole industry as a series of locks to many minority creators.

Take it away Ava,

“Sure, that’s all Hollywood is, is locks. A whole bunch of closed doors. Any film that you see that has any progressive spirits that is made by any people of color or a woman is a triumph, in and of itself. Whether you agree with it or not. Something that comes with some point of view and some personal prospective from a woman or a person of color, is a unicorn. Because truly the numbers that were just announced by [the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism] are dismal when it comes to women filmmakers, even worse, horrible, horrific when it comes to women of color filmmakers.

When you just imagine that there’s one type of voice that’s really being pushed to the forefront is the white male voice. In terms of cinema, it’s really clear that the rest of us are locked out. So it becomes imperative that people—audiences that want to see that, fight for it, push for it. Support it when it comes, but also artists just become really vocal. So, yeah, it’s a whole bunch of locked doors.”

This kind of restriction is also why many of industry professionals feel like they don’t have a voice in the industry. Much like Effie Brown, who actually feared that Matt Damon reaction in HBO’s The Greenlight.

“That was the nice cut. I couldn’t go head on against the biggest movie star in the world—I want to work again. This is a thing we all have to think about. I’m a ballsy chick, but he has a number one movie and an Oscar. I’m trying to pay my mortgage,” she continued. “What was brilliant is that on social media, there was an immediate call and response. People tweeted and were on Facebook. This is clearly no longer OK.” Brown said.

So continue to thank the Viola Davis’ of the world, but don’t forget, give the DuVernays and the Browns some love too!

Animation : The First Step in Cinematic Representation

Disney have just released new promotional art for their newest Disney/Pixar venture, “Moana”, now under production in the award-winning animation company.

The upcoming musical adventure CGI animated movie will tell the story of the titular Moana, a pacific islander princess traversing to a fabled island with her hero, the Demi-God of legend, Maui.

Fully voiced by a Pacific-Islander cast in Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Moana and Maui, respectively,  the movie is the latest female-led film in the Disney repertoire and the newest to feature a new princess to add to its Disney Princesses line up. 

Why is this important you say?

Because Moana is Disney’s newest Princess of Colour, joining in within the ranks of other Princesses such as Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan and Tiana as their newest compatriot.

Animation has always been important in regards to helping out representation within the cinematic medium. Even before the roles of the most iconic characters of color was produced in reality, animation has already laid groundwork for it before.

Disney’s greater push for diversity had started in the nineties, an era more commonly known as the Disney Renaissance. In trying out more diverse characters and diverse stories – Disney has created a new perspective that helps people of color all over the world finally see themselves for the first time on the big screen.

And as someone who has personally felt that – let me tell you, its a big feeling.

Despite their less than stellar track record on this thing (Try Googling: Frozen Inuit Whitewashing), Disney have been making leaps and bounds on diversity in perspective and storylines on the background – with many of their animators and writers being people of color themselves.

Animation is a key stepping stone in cinematic representation, often being many people’s entry point to how little representation exists in actual movies and also being many directors/actors/writers’ source of initial inspiration when they enter the cinematic industry.

An article on the Daily Dot writes:

“What’s happening on screen is reflective of changes behind the scenes. Today, a visitor to a major animation studio will see men and women of every ethnic background going about their work. “At Disney and especially at DreamWorks, they seem to go out of their way to find international talent,” says [How to Train Your Dragon 2 Director, Dean] DeBlois. “I think there’s a recognition that animation travels the globe and affects people of all countries and all cultures. There’s a universal quality to the films that we make: They cross borders and take us to lands that we might know little about.””

Crossing borders and taking us into lands, giving new experiences and gaining new perspectives. Ultimately, isn’t that what cinema is supposed to give us?

Racism Is Over: The Martian

Seriously, Don’t.

Welcome to Racism is Over! A weekly post into the best cinematic offerings in current Australian theatres that offer diversity in cast and diversity in character.

This week’s movie is Ridley Scott’s Sci-fi feel good space movie, The Martian!

Based on Andy Weir’s novel, the film shows the trials and tribulations of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as he is left on Mars after a freak storm hit his team following a manned research mission on the planet. Watney’s efforts are supported by the ground NASA team and also his crew in transit back to Earth. Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, Watney is forced to rely on his creative problem solving, the ground team’s fast thinking and the technology left behind by his mission team to survive the harsh conditions of life-less Mars.

This movie is super good. The narrative is consistently engaging and doesn’t really bore you with exposition that is the norm of the whole Sci-Fi genre. Close collaboration with NASA enabled a real-world take on an actual space program, which made the overall movie believable despite its larger-than-life characters and storyline.

So, where do we start? Seriously. This movie almost brought a tear to my eye with all the color I saw on screen. The film brought together a message of hope and humanity that actually reflects on reality. The movie felt real because the background of characters that it reflects is real. NASA and the JPL is filled with researchers and scientists of colour – just like the real world is filled with people other than caucasians. Without ground team heroes Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Astrodynamicist Richard Purnell (Donald Glover), Pilot Rick Martinez (Micheal Pena) and Director Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong), Watney would’ve died there – which would make for a terrible movie, I’m sure.

Honestly, I was a bit reluctant to watch this film because the marketing team had put much emphasis on the Watney character – so I had thought that it would be another “resourceful man escapes with the glory of his mind” kind of movie. But the NASA ground team are the real heroes of this movie, with their interactions having way more screentime and affecting Watney’s story – and survival – when it really counted.

Sadly, the Hollywood machine did have its hand in changing the race of Satellite Communications Officer Mindy Park (who was supposed to be Korean here, played by Caucasian Mackenzie ) and also the aforementioned Director Kapoor (he’s supposed to be Indian). While it does have this problem, I’d have to still begrudgingly admit that the movie is still what it is – a film with the best diversity in the mainstream. (Sad isn’t it? Check out this blog post to see why!)

To recap:

In ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Tom Hanks had saved Matt Damon. In ‘Interstellar’, Matthew McConaghuey did. So, who saved Matt this time in ‘The Martian’?

Humanity did.

And I couldn’t have it any other way.

Why This Matters

There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?”” – Junot Diaz

At the crux of it, all of this might not matter to you. It’s just a few characters in films right? Why would people make such a big deal about this?

Because it matters to us.

Representation is a mirror into what society thinks of you, their initial prejudices into what you would act like. We can dance around the notion that people don’t do this anymore but that would be denying that the whole idea of race relations is non-existent. So what do you do when people just don’t think of you at all?

The lack of representation within the film industry shows that we are constantly the other, the invisible audience to the grand stories that the industry pumps out starring people who are not us. Would you find it fair to see people say “I’m such a (Character Name)” but you find yourself worrying if you’re allowed to be that fictional character because of your skin colour? Its not.

The invisibility of minorities kills mirrors into our culture and makes our stories irrelevant to the great stage. People think that minority stories are just that, a minority that has no connection to the mainstream at all.

If people think that about stories, imagine how would the extrapolate that into real life? Imagine feeling invisible in the media, and being treated as such in the real life.

I’ll avoid being too heavy handed, but here’s Donald Glover with a story about how representational invisibility hurts culture.

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Racism is Over : The Scorch Trials

Seriously, don’t.

Welcome to Racism is Over! A weekly post into the best cinematic offerings in current Australian theatres that offer diversity in cast and diversity in character.

Our maiden post for this week is : The Scorch Trials!

Scorch Trials is a sequel to the 2014’s The Maze Runner, you can get caught up pretty quickly in this movie, you can just straight up jump on this one without watching the last – they do a pretty good job of explaining the basic premise of the film’s universe.

This YA movie isn’t like the others, where minority characters often gets shafted in order to fuel the dystopian future’s super depressing state of affairs.

Story-wise, don’t believe what the other reviews tell you. It’s action packed, full of drama and will keep you at the edge of your seats. You actually feel for the characters and their struggles don’t seem as petty or as annoying as other YA films when compared to the dystopian society that they live in.

But let’s talk characters though.

Despite the familiar YA tropes (the Caucasian main character, the love story, the teenager focus), Scorch Trials really shone in its honest portrayal of different characters of color existing and being as balanced as their Caucasian counterparts.

HE EXISTS.

Characters such as Minho, the Asian deuteraganist who completely DESTROYS the Model Minority trope by standing side-by-side with main character Thomas. He’s qualified and his friends and the main character know it, so he’s essentially leads with the main character at HIS side. Standing in equal position, if not higher, Minho is the strategic, survivalist mind of the group. And the group wouldn’t survive without him.

Damn, Brenda.

The second hella cool character Scorch Trials have is Brenda. The Latinx friend who they meet on their quest are integral to the plot. She doesn’t become  a damsel in distress or the oversexualised Latinx love interest. She’s cool, badass and really practical about the situations her and main character Thomas gets into.  A breath of fresh air in comparison to other Latinx characters in mainstream films.

So? What are you waiting for? Go watch the Scorch Trials now while they’re still in theatres!