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?
Shakespeare: “This is just the theatre!”
The Doctor: “Oh yeah, but the theatre’s magic, isn’t it? You should know. Stand on this stage, say the right words with the right emphasis at the right time. Oh, you can make men weep.”
Cowkillers’ has a very finite number of Earth natives in the world - about forty - and I spent a lot of time thumbnailing them, because even when they’re not going to be important for a while (or possibly ever) there’s such a finite number of them that I want to know who everyone is. While I was doing this, I put together some randomization charts so I could randomly determine gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and a few things about them, and tried to use those charts whenever these aspects didn’t matter to their role in the story - which was often. I feel pretty good about the cast’s diversity on the whole.
But it was a pretty unsettling experience, because so many times I’d get a character put together, and I’d have the immediate urge to reroll. And I’d stop and I’d ask myself why, and somewhere my brain would be saying, “No, that makes no sense.” But there was nothing wrong with the character. They just weren’t what I expected. If I stopped and thought about it, there were generally just one or two gender/ethnicity combos that felt right for any given role. And let’s be honest: That is fucked up.
The manager of Cowkillers’ is a very business-oriented, grumpy alcoholic. He was originally going to be a mid-forties, maybe early fifties caucasion male. Instead, she’s Renée Cabrera, a mid-forties, maybe early fifties hispanic-american. And she’s that much more awesome for it. And let’s be clear: I want my stories to have a diverse cast, and if I don’t sit down and specifically say “let’s diversify this shit” I end up with a bunch of white people. And then when I do it feels off, and I have to power through and say, no, that’s just you not being as unracist as you want to be. It sucks.
And even so, I have to watch how I’m using the cast I have. There are a few scenes where it doesn’t precisely matter which characters are in a given situation yet, and sometimes I’ll pick someone at random, and when they feel like the wrong character for the situation … again, I have to ask why. Is it because the Attachments stocker is actually the wrong person to have in this scene, or is it because he’s black? Even after going to all that work to diversify my cast, if I don’t police myself, I end up defaulting to the white cast members when I have a choice.
I imagine this will get better over time, but only if I work on it. The point of this isn’t to say, “Hey, look at me working so hard to be not racist, give me kudos.” The point of this post is that, all those people who say that there’s no such thing as race blindness? They’re right. Racism is insidious.
Badass women of the future:
- Malavath Poorna, the youngest person ever to reach Mount Everest’s summit at the age of 13 years, 11 months
Ann Makosinksi, Canadian inventor of a flashlight powered strictly by body heat at age 16
Mo’Ne Davis, first girl to throw a Little League World Series shutout in history, with fastballs reaching speeds of up to 70mph, at age 13
Alia Sabur, youngest university professor in the world, appointed to Konkuk University in South Korea at age 18
Asia Newson, owning and operating a candle sales business alongside her father, is Detroit’s youngest entrepreneur at age 10
Asked by digitalmoriarty
Okay, so this is a thing I have explained before, and I now need to explain again, and I am doing it publicly because I feel that maybe I have not explained it clearly enough here on Tumblr. This is not meant to single any one person out. But:
I have clinical OCD. One of the ways it manifests is that people cannot give me permission not to answer things. The only one who can declare comment amnesty is me. Otherwise, the unanswered asks and comments will literally gnaw at me. They will haunt me. They will render me physically unable to sleep at night. I will start having panic attacks because of the unanswered email and messages with “please don’t answer this” worked into the text, because everything I am says “answer it,” and everything I am says “don’t break the rules, don’t go against what people ask.”
Do you see the problem?
When I said “please do not message me about the death of my cat,” I meant “please do not message me about the death of my cat,” not “please do not message me unless you also give me permission not to answer.” I still have to answer. I cannot help it.
I am so, so grateful that other people are sorry for my loss. It doesn’t make the pain stop, but pain shared is pain lessened. At the same time, having people go directly and explicitly counter to what I have asked makes things worse, because now I am heartbroken and dehydrated and not being listened to.
I am not trying to be harsh, even though I understand that I may sound that way. But please, do not message me about Lilly’s death. Please, do not give me permission not to answer you. Only I can give myself that permission.
Please, be gentle with me right now.
So hey, using this ask and response as an example (not to single out either of the primary participants), this is just a general reminder:
When someone asks you to not do a thing, and you do the thing anyway, you are being disrespectful.
When someone asks you to not do a thing, and you do the thing anyway, even with the best intentions, you are being disrespectful.
When someone says “Please don’t message me about this topic” and you message them about that topic in spite of their request, you are being disrespectful.
Your desire to do the thing does not trump their desire to not have the thing done unto them, regardless of who or how or why the thing is being done.
This goes for talking to people who have clearly stated their desire to be left alone; reblogging posts which have “do not reblog” in the body or the tags, demanding that random bloggers who belong to marginalized groups educate your non-marginalized-along-that-axis ass about their marginalization after they’ve posted about how they want people not to do this, harassing people online or off, and a host of other topics. If someone has clearly stated their preference for the level of interaction they prefer and/or are capable of dealing with and you ignore that preference, you are being disrespectful and you need to stop.
my blog is like this fucking grab bag except you never exactly know what you’re going to get in said bag
is it fandom???
is it feminist rants???
is it food???
who knows you could probably find a fucking crocodile in there
Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees cited the Hobby Lobby decision to argue for their clients’ rights to perform prayers during Ramadan. However, federal courts have argued that the detainees didn’t qualify as persons under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Wow.
I swear this just reminds me more and more of Animal Farm.
RE: Henry Davis. There is much more to the story than John Oliver reports here, although I don’t blame him for not getting bogged down in it.
Henry Davis was an innocent man passing through Ferguson who was mistaken for a wanted man with the same first and last name (not the same middle name or social security number). Police pulled him over and then arrested him and took him to a one-person cell already occupied by another person. This was around 3 AM. His only choice would be to sleep on the concrete ground or share the cot. When he asked officers for a mat to sleep on, they beat him up, including kicking him in the head while he was handcuffed on the ground. Paramedics were called and said that he needed to go to the hospital for his injuries.
The officers signed a complaint for destruction of public property, stating that the man had bled on their uniforms. They held Davis for several days until he could post bond for four counts of destruction of property.
When Davis sued them, they denied having gotten blood on their uniforms, despite the presence of the signed complaint and the fact that Davis had been held for several days on those charges.
Also, as soon as Davis filed suit alleging violation of his rights and excessive force, the police involved said that he had assaulted them and filed counter-suit for this alleged assault more than a year after the fact.
Of course, the prosecutor dropped the charges after police voluntarily denied that any blood got on their uniforms whatsoever.
The police “lost” camera footage of the incident in question: it was recorded at many times normal speed so that all movements were a blur. They couldn’t re-record it because it had been disposed of in accordance with normal record keeping policies.
Davis’s lawyer tried to obtain use-of-force records from the police’s personnel files, but that failed when he found out that as long as the officer didn’t kill anyone, no records were kept.
The judge ruled in favor of the city.
That is what the system of law is like in Ferguson.