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Saturday, February 14, 2015 

Inclusiveness today is selective only

A few weeks ago, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates told everybody that comics have a "broad, inclusive canvas" and said that "Hollywood adaptations don't come close to the transgressive diversity of the genre." First, it's not a "genre". It's a medium/industry. Unless maybe he's just talking about superhero comics, yet even then, it's a serious flaw, since it overlooks a lot of less mainstream comics that don't rely so much on costumed superheroes, and if diversity is so important, they don't force it on established heroes like the mainstream publishers are now.

His article is short, and mostly limited to a few of the women in Marvel's comics, so it's pretty superficial. But, at the beginning, it does have something to comment on, namely, his discussion of Matt Fraction:
I took a five-hour train ride this weekend and spent most of that time on a Matt Fraction binge. Fraction writes comics—big, beautiful awesome comics—including Uncanny X-Men, Hawkeye, The Immortal Ironfist, and many more of his own creation. I mostly confined myself to Fraction's run on The Invincible Ironman, specifically the Dark Reign arc wherein our hero, Tony Stark, attempts to erase whole swaths of his brain. Stark knows too much—specifically, he has in his brain a database of secret information on virtually every superhero on the planet. His enemies, with the help of the American government, are determined to extract that info, along with the secrets that power Iron Man's armor. And so Stark spends several issues trying to wipe his brain, the way one might format a disk.
And what was so great about an arc that led nowhere? Since that story, he's been depicted more like a villain, little different from how Fraction may have depicted the US government there - as a conservative-style outfit, all from a leftist viewpoint - and the idea Stark would keep information about every single hero in the MCU is honestly laughable. That Tony spends several issues erasing his brain is testimony to what's wrong with today's story formats - written for the trade, padded out so badly it's not even funny, and a problem that Brian Bendis precipitated.

And, there's another item worth noting too:
[...] After finishing, I started thinking about the last casting news in the world of Marvel—Alexandra Shipp as Storm—and the fact that Hollywood can't bring itself around to cast someone who looks like the Kenyan woman Storm actually is. This isn't a matter of fanboy accuracy, but white supremacy. In another world, where Lupita Nyong'o's dark is unexceptional, where her speech on beauty isn't needed, this discussion wouldn't be necessary. In this world, the one where we can accept Nina Simone's music but not her face, it matters.
Oh please. It is not whether she's lighter or darker complected that should matter, but how great her acting talent is. Coates also overlooks the fact that, as established in the late 1970s by Chris Claremont, while Ororo Munroe's mother N'Dare was Kenyan, her father was an American born news photographer, David Munroe. What if it were established that he had ancestry in the family tree with lighter complexion? Some blacks do, so that would make it easy enough to buy that Ororo could be seen as lighter complected.

Of course there could still be supremacists in Hollywood. Not many seem very keen on tackling the issues of modern day slavery rampant in Muslim-dominated countries on the African continent. But that doesn't prove indefinitely the casting choices have anything to do with racial discrimination.

Soon afterwards, Noah Berlatsky, a leftist himself, said on The Daily Beast that the comics canvas isn't so inclusive, yet even he doesn't do much better. Here's a bit from his item:
I don’t have any desire to defend Hollywood, which does in fact have a long history of white supremacy. What else can you say about an industry whose highest grossing film remains Gone with the Wind? But bad as Hollywood’s history on race may be, are mainstream superhero comics really substantially better?
I can concur with that. Of course we can't expect superhero comics to be better in every way. Today, they've plummeted so badly, you couldn't possibly expect them to tackle the issue of drug abuse and trafficking with tour de force writing. They probably don't even consider North Korea's communism a valid subject for scrutiny. Not that Berlatsky seems especially interested in acknowledging that though.
Coates doesn’t make much of a case for it. He cites Monica Rambeau—a minor character who took the Captain Marvel identity for a while—and James Rhodes, who wore the Iron Man suit in the films as well as the comics. As for Storm, in the comics she has white hair, blue eyes, and is only half-Kenyan—her Dad is an American. She’s not usually represented with especially dark skin either. Coates’s Storm—an unambiguously dark-skinned, Kenyan Storm—would be a great character, and you can see why Coates created her. But Marvel didn’t. Instead, their Storm, their most prominent black character, is deliberately distinguished by non-black features. And that’s not even getting into the fact that when Storm first joined the X-Men, her tribe was worshipping her as a god. Because black people are superstitious and think superheroes are gods, get it?

Storm’s backstory isn’t some sort of unfortunate racist blip in an otherwise proud history of anti-racism for Marvel. On the contrary, superheroes in general, and Marvel’s superhero narratives in particular, have always had very uneasy racial connotations.
Yes, Coates overlooked everything, and seems to detest that Len Wein, Dave Cockrum and Claremont didn't create her according to his vision. But worst of all, he must think something's wrong with representing lighter complected blacks in superhero comics, or any adventure comics, and that only darker complected folks are suited for casting. Does he realize what he's coming close to doing?

But, Berlatsky begins to bumble when he says:
This is perhaps most obvious, again, with the X-Men. Marvel mutants are (literally) racially different, and subject to racial prejudice. But they’re also mostly white—especially when you look at the highest profile characters. Prejudice against white people effectively trumps all other ethnic and racial difference in the Marvel universe; stories are built around the old, trusty H.G. Wells sci-fi trope of imagining what would happen if some group of whites were treated the way white people have typically treated non-whites. At worst, this racial boneheadedness has led to offensive comparisons of Magneto (a mass murderer) to Malcolm X. Or the really awful sequence in which white Kitty Pryde chastises a black woman for being insufficiently concerned about racial prejudice.
Oh for heaven's sake. Past Marvel stories may not be perfect, but I do not think they ever put white people's concerns too high over black's. And let's note that, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali once said in 2009, people of different skin color aren't innocent. Is he also excusing Malcolm X, who was against whites, thought blacks could not coexist with them, and even attacked Martin Luther King? (Malcolm X's daughter is also a bad lot.) At the same time, does he also approve of turning Magneto into a mass murderer? Because that was probably a grave mistake in writing that reached a zenith in the early 1990s: I think in the first issues of the sans-adjective X-Men, he caused an energy storm that caused several planes to crash. That's when Claremont's writing was beginning to come unglued, and his talents deteriorate. If Berlatsky's so keen on criticizing a comparison to Malcolm X, why doesn't he at least have the audacity to criticize Claremont for turning out what's surely the worst moment in Magneto's characterization?

And I don't see what business a man who's okay with whitewashing Islam has criticizing a time when Kitty chastised her dance teacher, Stevie Hunter, for not being worried enough about racism. That was a product of its time, and Berlatsky fails to ponder that it was probably written as connected with Kitty's own worries about anti-semitism, still a very valid topic to this day. He also didn't mention that if there was anything that sickened Kitty more than racism, it was the possibility that the clod she spoke of could've called her a "n***er-lover". Isn't being attacked for supporting folks of a different race an interesting topic for exploration in fiction?

He also never said a word about how the white cast in Ms. Muslim comes off badly, or how the book is otherwise a propaganda vehicle for denying concerns any sensible person has about Islamofacism. In that case, what's his point?
This dynamic isn’t restricted to the X-Men either. Think about the Hulk, a white man who changed (originally) to a grey/dark monster, and was then shunned and hunted. Or consider Spider-Man. Created by Stan Lee, a Jew, and Steve Ditko, the child of Slovak immigrants, Peter Parker is in many ways a Semitic stereotype—nerdy, awkward, despised. His isolation, his over-achievement, and his very close family connections can be read easily as a kind of immigrant or ethnic experience, and in fact, the prejudice, stigma, and harassment he faces makes much more sense if it is seen as racialized.

But, in typical Marvel style, the racial markers are erased. Parker/Spider-Man is hated for his difference, but that difference is individual, personal—the system of prejudice that would make sense of it is carefully ignored. It’s not an accident that it took Marvel more than forty years to acknowledge that Ben Grimm was Jewish. Only when Jews had for all practical purposes entirely assimilated could the despised, misshapen, loathed Thing be one. For Marvel, to be a victim of prejudice, you have to be white.
Oh, do tell us about it. Peter was not harassed as badly as they make it out to be, but when he was, it was because he was perceived as a shy, bespectacled nerd-type. Not all prejudice stems from race per se. And Flash Thompson cut out much of his hostility and started doing more positive things after they graduated from high school, like fighting the commies in 'Nam and working as a sports teacher.

Berlatsky's also failed to mention the Falcon's ancestry were victims of anti-black racism, which he spoke of a number of times in Marvel history. Or how Luke Cage may have been a victim of racism in prison during modern times. Doesn't that prove blacks in the MCU also experienced racial prejudice? Funny thing about Berlatsky is that the man who says the sequence in X-Men with Kitty is "awful" still must think blacks shouldn't be concerned about racism, and doesn't seem particularly concerned about anti-white racism either. He doesn't do any better by citing The Truth: Red, White and Black:
The status quo, implicitly white supremacist genre default is so strong in superhero comics that even consciously anti-racist work has trouble escaping its pull. Robert Morales and Kyle Baker’s Truth is unflinchingly bitter in its assessment of American racism: it imagines the American military performing unethical medical experiments on black soldiers to recreate the Captain America supersoldier formula. The comic makes the case that American attitudes towards race weren’t so different from Nazi ones; it has its black hero arrested and jailed for decades by U.S. government for daring to put on the (government property) Captain America costume. But at the series’ end, white Cap, Steve Rogers, shows up and puts everything to rights, hunting down the military brass who performed the experiments and personally apologizing for the nation’s failures. Truth and justice triumph in the person of the white savior wearing the flag. America is good, the white guy is the hero, and all is right with the world.
It does not make the case, or it won't admit the Tuskagee syphalis experiment it supposedly alludes to was the product of leftist/socialist thinking. But surely the biggest problem with the mini was the artwork. If Marvel's staff at the time really intended to make a serious statement, would they really rely on artwork so awful and stereotyped? Thinking back on it today, that art by Baker creeps me out. The book wasn't so much an anti-racist work as it was an attempt to depict America as one-dimensionally racist in every way, and rewrote Capt. America history just to suit the modern publishers' standings alone. If I were Kirby or Simon, I'd be disgusted at how they tried to shame the creation of two fine men with such sick politicized trash.
Not that Marvel has always in every way failed in its representation of race. Certainly, it's done better overall than DC. The decision a few years back to make the Ultimate universe Spider-Man black is admirable, and it seems well past time for the ever-rebooting films to try focusing on Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker. I love the current Ms. Marvel comic by G. Willow Wilson, which features a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl, and which consistently presents her as trying to help other folks, rather than as fighting against other marginalized people. And obviously, whatever Marvel comics’ failures, many black people have loved them, and have felt welcomed by them, in one way or another. I don’t doubt Coates when he says, “Outside of hip-hop, it was in comics that I most often found the aesthetics and wisdom of my world reflected.”
"Other marginalized people"? But that only verifies what detractors have noticed about the book - that it portrays specific groups poorly, while Islam itself is otherwise not held to any standard. Not even by Berlatsky himself. He probably can't even grasp that while all races are created equal, all religions are not. Again, I'm not sure what this guy's business is commenting on racial issues.
As Coates says, superhero films approach race without much imagination or courage, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm notwithstanding. But that lack of imagination and courage seems like it’s fairly consistent with the Marvel comics source material, which has rarely been adventurous in confronting racial issues, and has often been actively dedicated to erasing or denying them. If anything, the larger, more diverse audience of the films seems to be pushing Marvel comics to try to focus a broader range of heroes. The diverse Marvel that Coates praises is more notional than actual; it’s a potential, rather than a reality. Hopefully, someday soon fans will see that diverse potential fulfilled, both on screen and on the page.
While changing racial background in films may be okay provided that it doesn't affect the established heroes back in the comics proper, race should still not have to be a big issue, because then they're politicizing it. In a way, this is very much the same matter the Gamergate campaign was launched for, because some computer game players felt this was all critics and commentators were concerned about, not whether the games were playable and well programmed. And it sounds like this is all Coates and Berlatsky are concerned about with comics or movies adapted from them, not whether the script is written well enough. For two guys supposedly worried about "diversity", they're also the umpteenth example of those who cannot bring themselves to cite Armenians and Macedonians as races who could be great for casting in fictional stories. That's one more reason why their critiques don't work out.

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The Human Torch is black now? Was he adopted, or is Sue as well? It's so dumb when they change the race of a character for the screen, even if it's a separate universe. Will we get Arnold as Luke Cage? The ensuing hysteria would be fun to watch.

Millions of kids are growing up thinking Nick Fury is Mace Windu. Booo!

These hatemongers don't even realize that they're rabidly racist and bigoted against Whites. they aren't overly fond of Christians or Jews, either. They seem to think "diversity" means Black and moslem. I didn't read a single word about the 1.3 billion Chinese, or any other so called minority. They only mentioned women because they weren't authentically "Black" enough. Women make up the majority in America and oppress men but all they care about is dark skin and a Black Johnny Storm. (Why put Wyatt Wingfoot in the movie when they can replace an established White character with yet another overrepresented Black character. Yea, that'll sell movie tickets.) No surprise that one of them is a tardbot who thinks "hip hop" expresses aesthetics and wisdom.

And of course, NONE of them have a problem with the pasty faced, half Kenyan Obama, who is an American horror story. They practically worship him.

If they really want to promote "diversity" I suggest they go to a Black American neighborhood or ISIS held territory and show their solidarity. They all deserve Darwin awards.

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