Thursday, June 19, 2014

Diversity in Geek Culture, Part 1: A Black Man (!?!?!)

I'm going to do a series of an as-of-now undetermined  number about diversity in Geek Culture. 

I hate how during debates over having a woman or a POC as the lead in the next comic movie franchise, dudebros end up saying they "don't want diversity for diversity's sake." It's such an oversimplification of a highly complex matter, but they're categorically dismissing a very simple solution when doing so. A knee-jerk reaction like that, without considering the merits of the proposed character, is about upholding the status quo. And as I've said before, oppression thrives on its facade of normalcy and neutrality, as its position as the "status quo." And objectively and in a vacuum, I can agree with that statement- I want quality diversity, otherwise failures will be used as examples of why it doesn't work. (I know I'm always talking about Catwoman and Elektra, but they're the pinnacle examples of that crap.)

The thing is, when I or anyone else is asking for a female lead, or a Black person, or an Hispanic person, to be the star, we aren't just asking for that. We're asking for something of quality, something that's as close to objectively "good" as any mainstream, straight white male cis thing. 

So my first big stab aimed directly at diversity is about making a Black man lead a franchise. Why? Well, I think the fanboys will take to a Black man before a white woman, and it's pragmatic to go for the easy sell first. When you consider the hierarchies in society when it comes to actual, active power, white men rule the day, but they're followed by men of color. Then it's white women, and  last, women of color. Within this hierarchy, non-straight is devalued over straightness in any category, and for reasons I don't have time to get into, trans women of color are at the VERY bottom of the totem pole. So picking a Black man is the easiest argument to make, and I've actually been sitting on this piece for a good month and I think it's time to let it out.

This isn't to say that there isn't normative value in a Black man being the star of a superhero movie/franchise. I think it's really important to include any and all people doing the saving, beating the odds, overcoming personal hardship. Importantly, though, we need stories about minorities that are about them as people, and not centered around their minority status. Tragic stories of the inner city or slavery, movies all about the queerness of the lead character, or where the entire story revolves around a disabilty... they do more to fetishize the plight and not enough to relish the humanity outside that plight. I get tired of the "look at how bad they have it" stories about marginalized people. True equal representation is when they're just part of the group, or the central character because they're the central character (not the central character because of their status). In other words, the movie shouldn't be about a "poor Black kid, struggling with racism and poverty," but "a young boy growing up in our messed up world." And I don't see why "Black" movies can't just be, y'know, movies. And this goes for any group- and it's not to say that minorities shouldn't have their own art, but rather they shouldn't NEED a "specialized" market in order to MAKE that art. Their art shouldn't be regulated to an offshoot. It's like the "go be diverse over there" problem that can arise with centers made by those in the majority, meant to serve particular cultural or ethnic needs. It's good they have a place to feel safe, but it becomes a form of de facto segregation once that becomes the only place those people can feel safe.

I guess what I'm saying is, part of the big reason to have a superhero movie star a Black man is because we need more mainstream movies starring minorities, and a Black man would do just fine for me.

So that being said, I'm going to go about this a little differently. Before I've focused mostly on characters or franchises first. This time, I'm going to start with an actor I kind of dare the fanboys to sneer and turn up their noses at.

Taye Fucking Diggs. 

That's right. I went there. And allow me to give you a list as to why I think he'd be a great lead in a comic franchise, or at least a solo film.

1) He's a solid actor. Check out his IMDB page. You prolly forgot he was in a lot of those things, but I'm going to argue that that's okay- most likely, the movies you forgot he was in were all really good and had phenomenal ensemble casts that it was easy to get lost in. Like Chicago- he did a great job there, proving he can do everything, really. Because, like another constant lead in comic movies, dude's been on Broadway. But now think about some of the more mediocre movies he's been in. Like Dylan  Dog: Dead of Night. Or Equilibrium. He steals every scene, even though the scripts he's working with are kind of terrible. It's hard to do that- I mean, I love me some Christian Bale, but in Equilibrium, I was kind of "meh" about him most of the time. But Diggs's character, my gosh, Diggs did so well, I was on the edge of my seat whenever he was onscreen, anxious to see what he'd do next. He can be funny, scary, romantic, intimidating... He's on a new show, Murder in the First on TNT that just started. In the pilot alone, he demonstrates his ability to be convincingly funny  and  sarcastic, as well as demonstrating some  pretty high-volume vulnerability. Go watch it now. (It also has Tom Felton playing, once again, a rich asshole.) I got sniffly, and it was just ONE EPISODE. He's WAY better than his  opposite, a kind of annoying (fake) blonde (go figure- that's a terrible trope to be addressed some other time).

2) He's badass. Again, that IMDB page has a few action movies on it. And he's good at that- I mean, replace this gun  with whatever power the superhero has,  and voilla!

3) Given some of the weird-ass movies he has been in, and the fact that he was able to shine in them, he'd be able to adapt to whatever wonky backstory he's presented with just fine. Again, he sells it in Equilibrium and Dylan Dog, and I'm giving  this its own category because it's a distinct thing. To do well in a story that is just plain bizzare or unrealistic, that's a different kind of acting chop, separate from being a sultry romantic lead or a funny, sensitive dude (I'm thinking of The Best Man). Sean Connery is a great actor, but you could tell he wasn't buying into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at all- and while I'd like to think that had more to do with him being dissatisfied with how they changed Alan Moore's original comics, let's be real and admit he probably just thought the script was too ridiculous. Taye lets it go in his "weird" roles, so he'd be able to sell whatever origin story or powers the character he plays has. 

4) He's easy on the eyes. I'll just let the evidence speak for itself on this one:



Look at the first one in this set. Dat body, right? But think about this in terms of superhero movies. Dude's already built for it. If they'll give a hulky lead role to this guy, why not one that's already donning  the physique? One less thing to deal with in production, right?

5) Another one that may seem like repetition, but look at his smile, in those, and here's a link  to a search for itSee, I think this is actually really important- HOW can you resist that smile? And I think that would be GREAT for a dude figuring out his powers. Imagine a grin like that on the face of a dude flying or shooting energy for the first time- it'd be pure elation and infect the audience with the same joy the character, as played by Diggs, is feeling. 

6) He's done a little comic stuff already. Again, back to Dylan Dog, but he was also a voice for Black Panther once. And there have been a few times where people have kind of double-dipped- Chris Evans was in The Fantastic Four and is currently Captain America, and Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson were a duo in The Spirit (bet you forgot about that one- I don't blame you, it's terrible) before joining together in Iron Man 2. There's obviously no rule saying a person can't be in more than one comic movie, and I think experience in one can help with another. 

So now the question is, Who could Taye Diggs play? I can think of a few roles because they're Black men, but I don't want to make it seem like that's all I care about. Because switching a role from white to Black isn't just about diversity for diversity's sake- but it can send a positive message and be a source for more progressive attitudes about race in the media. But I think I coincidentaly have them in order from easiest-to-most-difficult to convince people about. But keep in mind, I'm listing characters I think Taye Diggs could be- not just characters I want to see in movies. 

1) Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg

He became most famous through Teen Titans, but the DC studios, actually listening to the fans for once (unlike in other cases), picked up on that and decided to make him a founding member of the Justice League of America when they rebooted it in the New 52. This is huge, people. Before, Martian Manhunter had been a founding member (we'll get to him in a few, don't worry). But this time around, Cyborg's origin story is a key part of JLA's founding. Cyborg is newer and more modern, and his character would be a great outlet for a lot of conflicts we have in the real world today. He's basically Robocop, right? In this upcoming Batman v. Superman movie, Dawn of Justice*, DC really missed an opportunity to set up another side-franchise by not including him (as far as we know- movie is still two gorram years away). But it's not like it'd be impossible to come up with a way for Victor to become Cyborg. But I think this character is particularly an easy sell right now because of his recent popularity. He made the cover of Injustice: Gods Among Us, over staples like Green Arrow and Aquaman, and his role in that plot is pretty important- he gets one of a handful of little semi-cut-scenes where you have to do a Thing (I rag on those in my review**, but that he has one says a lot about how DC views him as a character and his importance to the family). I think fans right now would say, "Oh yeah, that guy, he's pretty cool." 

2) John Stewart, AKA Green Lantern.

Stewart is arguably as famous as Hal Jordan's Green Lantern, at least among comic fans- I actually think I know more people that say he's their favorite, come to think of it, than Hal. And he was one of DC's first Black heroes, so why not give him his due? His origins, as Hal's backup, are a little tricky to deal with, but there are good stories about kids filling their parents' shoes all the time, setting his up like that could work- kill Hal off in the beginning ala The Comedian in Watchmen and give us some tension with John trying to become his own Lantern. There's potential for lots of drama, there. And while I really don't like the idea of his wife getting killed, there's some potential for some good romance between him and Katma as she's training him to use his Ring. Or, alternatively, work him in via the JLA- have Hal bring  him along as a helper in one movie, have Hal die somewhere in there, then give him  his  own movie. Again, another missed chance for DC/Warner Brothers, but it's not insurmountable. 

3) Martian Manhunter.

Another original  member of the JLA, people forget about this guy a lot. But he's pretty awesome- he's basically Superman Plus- he's superfast, superstrong, has laser eyes, can move himself through solid surfaces and move stuff, and can read/fuck with minds like Professor X from that other comic studio. And his alter ego, John Jones, is Black, so keep it in your pants, fanboys, no race-bending, here, aight? But seriously, he's been around since 1955 for bloody sake. MMH actually is a great response to Professor X- he's basically the JLA's in-house therapist because of his ability to understand people so well. Which of course makes him wondrously compelling, since he's, you know, a Martian. Once past the social norms, he's like a sensei or wisened uncle when it comes to the interpersonal relationships in the JLA. I love the idea of him being in his own movie where he uses those skills as a profiler for the FBI or CIA on the side- one where it's not really made entirely obvious that he isn't even human until at least 1/3 through the movie, even, so that people unaware of him will be surprised by it- blow them out of their seats because the guy who was able to talk down a suicidal person or totally read the body language of a killer was actually a friggin' Martian! A MMH movie could combine good old fashioned detective drama with the superhero spin. And while  yeah, another possible missed chance, this dude I think works the easiest by himself- let someone in his unit figure him out, sure, but I don't think he really needs other superheroes with him. 

4) Oliver Queen, AKA Green Arrow.

Yes, usually a white dude. But what does race matter? Anyone saying it's "unrealistic" for a Black man to be in charge of a company like Queen Industries is being racist- if they argue about how "it's fiction, it's in the backstory!" about bikinis and high heels for women, they can suck it up and accept a Rich Black Man; and saying it's not in his backstory for him to be Black is racist, too. Because again, the status quo itself is racist, and arguing against race-bending to improve minority representation, especially when the color of their skin is the only trait being changed, you're arguing for the status quo, one that keeps POC vastly underrepresented. I've linked this blog before, but here it is again. Shit matters.  This is what I was getting at at the beginning. Sure, it's diversity for diversity's sake, but these assholes that claim they "don't see race" then need to put their money where their mouths are and not care if a Black Man plays a white one- so suck it up and let Taye  Diggs play motherfucking Oliver Queen. He'd do the snark SO GORRAM WELL. And he'd definitely be able to pull off the Rich Partyboy By Day persona- a guy that looks like  Taye Diggs would need to do no convincing the audience that he could very easily take home three ladies at once. As for GA himself, well, Oliver Queen is one of my favorite DC characters. The arc where he loses his fortune and he becomes a legit Robin Hood is so awesome- THAT would make a great movie, where the playboy loses his money and starts helping poor people in his city. I wouldn't even really need to see a supervillain to enjoy it (but,  then again, I'm way into social justice, hence most of this blog).

5)Arthur Curry, AKA Aquaman.

Stop laughing. I mean it, stop laughing.

I've thought for ages that Aquaman deserves more respect, and legit for most of the same reasons this guy lists. If he's so pathetic, why has he lasted so long and always been involved in JLA stuff, huh!?!?!? And yes, he can talk to and control sharks- his mega-attack in Injustice is SICK (in the best of ways). And lightning with his trident- A TRIDENT, by the way. Dude's a badass even in hand-to-hand combat. And there's some precedent, since Aqualad from Young  Justice is Black. And again, sure, dude usually looks pretty gorram Aryan, but again, so what? He's from Atlantis, they could have BLUE skin for crying out loud. My idea for an Aquaman movie, one that would be easily worked in, could be something like this: Just take an example from Justice League: War and have a teaser scene at the end of Dawn of Justice in which Aquaman show up angry at the destruction the Big Battle caused on the  creatures of the ocean. And have the next movie be more about him adjusting to land-life after (in the  first ten-twenty minutes, of course) he forgives Bats, Supes, and WW for the damage. And I think as long as the writers weren't too heavy-handed with the green politics (which I think any Aquaman movie is going to have to include, at least in minor doses), it could avoid being cheesy and just be good. Fact: The CW did, in fact, try a pilot, and even though it screen-tested well, they didn't actually make the show because Reasons. Aquaman is a cooler character than he gets credit for, and a movie with Taye Diggs playing him would draw in plenty of viewers, if only out of sheer curiosity, if nothing else. 

Ok, so I know my list is all DC characters. That's because the few other Marvel characters I'm familiar with either have movies already, or are ones I plan on ranting about on their own. I already gave Black Widow a shot, after all. But if you, dear reader, know of anyone else Taye  Diggs would be great as, let me know!

*Collective groan for that title. I'm telling you, things do not bode well for this movie at all. Uuugh.

**And I actually think I need to re-visit that game, because I've come to appreciate it more recently. 

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