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Notes from your favorite Super Villain: A Weekend Ruthless Rant on Black Fantasy Films

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You wanted a rant from the Ruthless Wonder? Game on. I know some folks were expecting the post about DRM. But unfortunately for you I check my sources, and my so called inside source is a verified liar. So that is on hold for a little bit longer. So Sorry.

I want to talk about something that is sure to turn from reasoned and logical objective blog post into dangerously reasonable and viciously logical rant. Also known as A note from your Neighborhood  Super Villain. Today I want to get on the subject of the double standard that appears in cinema. A while back(2012) I was wasting time not paying attention in a class I had no desire to actively pay attention to and I ran across this article on Cracked.com http://www.cracked.com/article_19549_5-old-timey-prejudices-that-still-show-up-in-every-movie.html and then this one (http://www.cracked.com/article_15989_hollywoods-6-favorite-offensive-stereotypes.html) (Don’t worry you don’t have to read all of these, but it does help.)

I found myself angry. Incredibly so. So angry that I began workshopping a novel series project that subverted the only white people exist in fantasy stories stereotype. You might say. “Ruthless why do you care?” And that gets us to the subject of today’s post. I care a lot about how certain parts of my lifestyle are portrayed in the broader culture. If you haven’t figured it out I’m a black man(Seriously how did you miss that?), and part of my lifestyle are habits like reading, watching movies/flicks/films, and because I’ve always had an active imagination fantasy, and sci-fi tend to be in there with philosophy, thrillers, and the like. Nothing tends to upset me more than feeling left out when these things hit broader audiences via TV or film. Was I pissed that the TV shows I grew up with lacked people who looked like me in them? Yeah.

And I’ll tell you exactly why. Before we get a black power ranger in the 90’s someone please let me know who exactly you remember from sci-fi/fantasy that was black. I bet I can drop the same names. Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, John Amos as Seth in Beastmaster, Grace Jones as Zula, Wilt Chamberlain as Bombaata, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom and the voice of Darth Vader. Now I dare you to tell me some others. Don’t worry I’m not going to wait. You can’t because they don’t occur. Hell those of you who aren’t nerdy enough to have seen Star Trek or Star Wars probably had no idea they were the only black people in them. And yes I’m aware that George Lucas was the producer behind Red Tails. I’ll save the rant about white legitimacy for black subject matter for another rant.

My point with that is this lack of characters I could personally id with as a small child was problematic for me. I was a bit of an intellectual know it all even then. Yes you should have an ability to identify with the characters regardless of their race. That is the mark of a good director. But a general white-washing of a film genre is a slap in the face. And I say this knowing full well many a black nerd or geek lived the same life to some degree. I used to love Comic books. But I wasn’t just reading Black Panther, Blade, New Warriors, and Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern. Batman is so much my favorite that’s one of my nicknames. But back to movies. This rant is about double standards. And that is where things reach far into an angry place I may not slip out of for the rest of this rant. Though you may be surprised at where it goes. The one I want to talk about is the cloud atlas moment. For those not in the know it has a few of its actors being made into other “Ethnic Classifications” via the use of makeup and a bit of CGI in some cases. There was outrage, and the defenders of the film said that it was filled with daring choices and amazing stretches for the characters. The same outrage and support came in the wake of Mad Men doing the blackface routine with Roger Sterling. But let’s stay with Cloud cause that’s the standard I’m dealing with.

This little piece of insipid crap is a major annoyance of mine. Why? Because it denigrates a group of people? No, because its faux outrage. I was more mad that people were missing the point with cloud atlas(Its not as great a movie as it should be, but Roddi does most of the reviews here so I’ll stop). You don’t care. I don’t care.  If you wanted to see Cloud Atlas you are going to see it. If you don’t like it you aren’t going to. Don’t complain. This wasn’t directors taking what should be a role for non-white actors and facepainting the whites. The narrative of the story called for a selectively small group of actors to be the souls of people being reincarnated over and over again. There was infact no better way of doing this than to cgi all the faces and end up with Tron Legacy’s 2 Jeff bridges problem. And by taking shots at this legitimately complex story you make it harder for stories like it to exist. Why? Because the studio doesn’t see the issue you have with the way they did the ethnic classifications. They see the lack of attendance. They see the lack of ticket revenue. And they say the film was critically successful but too risky to do more of.

You heard me right. I’m getting on the people drumming up outrage and support about racial issues in movies because I have an issue with the race in movies. Actual outrage should be served on things that deserve it. Heimdall being played by Idris Elba does not in fact count, and I think you just might be a racist prick for bringing him up. No, outrage should be served up for these movies that supposedly make up for the lack of certain types of characters by turning them into caricatures or tokens. This does include every white guy in a “black” movie just for the sake of balance.

The reason I take such issue is because black characters outside of the usual suspects of headliners like Will Smith, Denzel Washington, and the greatest actor with the greatest range of the last 40 years Lawrence Fishburne; there aren’t the dirth of random mid level “hey I know that guy” black actors outside of signature black films. And if your name isn’t Kerry Washington, Zoe Saldana(Sidenote: If anyone reading this has a way to get me one date with that woman I will write you into my will, and marry her on the spot), Gabrielle Union(though let’s be fair she’s not really all that mainstream bankable), Angela Bassett, or Miss finer than a B herself Halle Berry, Halle Berry(in my hurricane Chris voice), you are not someone anyone outside of the Tyler Perry Spike Lee and Scary Movie 8 crowd knows. And that’s insane. I know by name a ton of random actors, male and female, that I like when they just pop up in a movie. Not stars mind you. These are people I look for to show up in the latest comedy and then on the newest Law and Order SVU.

And I’m talking about the black and white ones but lets talk about the black actors here. How many of them have made it on Game of Thrones? None. How many have shown up in the Lord of the Rings? None. The Hobbit? None. Star Wars prequels? None of the black ones, though admittedly the white ones were in wide shots and generally not known until I looked at IMDB. But let’s go smaller screen. How many were on Battlestar Galactica? 2. Andromeda? 1(I realize Lexa Doig looks like she is mixed with some black something, but nope.) Stargate SG-1? 1. Farscape? As awesome as Lani Tupu is, and as many feels as that show gives me 0. Donald Glover isn’t the only black nerd with the ability to act out there. There has to be actors male and female who want these spots. But unless they’re the afterthought, or a major star cameo, or a blockbuster shot, the days of getting a Lawrence Fishburne in Othello like performance seem to be gone and that is bullshit. And yes I know that by design any black man who plays Othello is required to be the only black face in a sea of white characters. Its still bullshit. If the worlds of these places can be so varied. If video games like Skyrim can vary character’s complexion. How is it that movies can’t pull it off? I just saw today that Black Panther is going to be more than likely left out of the next Avengers movie. And Luke Cage you can forget about entirely. What’s the consolation prize? Jamie Foxx as fucking Electro in that shitty non-marvel produced Spiderman. Unless Electro is going to be the secret son of Django “Catcher” Freeman, I am at ZERO fucks given.

And that’s where we are now. Major black stars are playing crappy villains in crappy reboot sequels. But maybe you think I’m overreacting. Maybe you think that is the case for mainstream flicks. Maybe you think that there are still no plans for a black member of The Avengers, The Justice League, or the Star Wars sequel is a good thing(in which case get the hell off my blog.). SO lets look at a much less important character from a movie I hate personally for ripping off Battle Royal. I say less important because she gets murked like a red shirt. And that is Rue as played by Amandla Sternberg in Hunger Games. You would think they said Josh Gibson had more home runs than babe Ruth…You need me to wait while you look up to see if that’s true don’t you? Go ahead. Anyway people lost their minds. And why? Because it wasn’t like that wasn’t apparently in the books. You want more? Oh I got more. How about every time anyone brings up having a black Doctor Who? The racial hate is strong enough to bring Galifrey back into space time.

Why is this? Well mostly because racists exist even in nerd/geek culture. But it also happens because black characters aren’t common unless they are old school racist savage stereotypes. Why are they not common despite being in situations where they should be? For now the answer is “because reasons” and that is not only bullshit, but it is unacceptable. I hate Tyler Perry and I respect Tyler Perry. He is both part of the good things about movies and a part of the worst things about movies. Does formula have its place? Yes. Should other directors get a chance to bring their perspective? Yes. Is it great that he is employing so many black actors? Hell yeah. But the problem is he makes the same shitty black romcoms as his white counterparts. Stop me if you’ve heard this plot. A funny relative gives levity to an otherwise serious look into the lives of 20 to 30 somethings and the relationships that occur. 90% of every romcom ever right? Yeah using that same common denominator Tyler Perry has kept many of those same actors out of more legitimate roles because LOL-typecasting. “I don’t want to see most of the other projects those actors get involved in” is a common thought process because you start to believe they can’t handle the range needed. And in some cases that’s right but it isn’t always.

SO you’re probably wondering when this oddly out of order at times, and weirdly ragey rant is going to end. Well this is the last I want to say. Someone seriously talked to me the other day about my two projects. She hasn’t read a page of the workshop for the novel series. She hasn’t seen a line of any of the short stories in my noir series Darkland. She just wanted to hear about what I was doing, and wanted me to describe it. And before she could ask me a question I asked her what she thought certain people looked like based on the description of them, which I made sure didn’t contain skin tone. She gave a variance of complex races. I did the same for the protagonist of Darkland, Lucian Cool. She thought he was entirely different from his actual heritage. I’d consider her the average movie goer. She isn’t a nerd. She isn’t a vapid consumer. She doesn’t even go all the time. But she was really into it. I think most movie goers would respond the same. If the idea hits you the characters and story for them you can attach to. In a genre where story is all that matters because you can literally make people any “ethnic classification” you want, why would you make it all the same?

Why isn’t there a black incarnation of The Doctor in Doctor Who? Why was Samuel L. Jackson the only black human looking Jedi? Why aren’t there more black people in Game Of Thrones? Why can’t we get some black sci-fi and fantasy characters in a higher ratio? For now I say its because people aren’t brave enough, and black people act like they can’t get into it. We need change that. Basically what I’m saying is I wanna play the son of the Doctor(Call him The Lawyer), some random Wakandan who’s related to T’Challa in the Black Panther movie, one of Felix Leiter’s underlings assigned to monitor Bond for him, and a spot in Guillermo Del Toro’s Mountains of Madness adaptation would be nice too. Pipe Dreams? Sure. But that’s how I end rants. With what would make me happy. Because repeating how Zoe Saldana would make me happier than actually quantifiable in words seems redundant.

/end rant

The Son of The Doctor's 12th incarnation. "The Lawyer" Yeah you want this.

The Son of The Doctor’s 12th incarnation. “The Lawyer” Yeah you want this.

You think I’m wrong? You want to point out something I have said incorrectly? You want to debate the issue with the other readers? Comment below folks. I can take it.

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  1. […] truly long time readers remember me and black people in films. And of course podcast listeners to The WRATH of Ruthless already have experienced my opinion about […]

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