Today in unapologetically Black art, Black creators Kwanza Osajyefo, Jamal Igle (Molly Danger), Tim Smith 3, and Khary Randolph take on police violence against Blacks in their new comic book “Black.”
Telling the story of Kareem Jenkins, a young Black man who is gunned down by the police, but miraculously survives, “Black” isn’t shying away from the tough topics. The world Osajyefo et al. have created looks a lot like our own — a world where young Black people are feared and dehumanized, where wearing a hoodie can be a death sentence, where cops are more likely to shoot you than protect you — only in the world of “Black,” Black people have superpowers.
Osajyefo explains his motivations for this story in his Kickstarter video: “A lot of people are drawn to comics as a form of escapism or power fulfillment. They identify with characters who are outsiders in society, because they reflect things that are going on in the real world. The metaphors about race are obvious, but in the world of the fantastic, mutants, metahumans, evoos… are not plausible reflections of a demonized minority. Most of these characters that are presented as outcasts, they can take off their masks, not use their powers, and live among normal society. Black folk don’t have that luxury. And that’s when I had a thought: what if only Black people had superpowers?”
Osajyefo launched a Kickstarter for the project on February 1st, with hopes of raising $29,999 fund a 120-page comic to be released in six chapters by mid-2016. The campaign has already reached its initial goal with just over 1,000 backers. Now, the creators are pushing for stretch goals that would allow for more pages and more backstory.
In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Jamal Igle (of Molly Danger fame) described the comic as a story “of [African American] survival in America”: “The one common thread is a deep, penetrating need within African American society to be recognized as human beings and carve out a place for ourselves within American culture. We also have a need to be recognized for our individuality amongst our own people. So when Kwanza and Tim first approached me about drawing the series, I immediately saw the potential of telling a different story that touched on the theme of survival in America.”
Dear All Frustrated Parties, including White Allies:
The past week has been… so many things —heartbreaking, disorienting, painful, numbing… It’s starting to look a lot like the stages of grief, only this grief is centuries old and never really goes away; it just cycles over and over again.
At this point in the cycle, you might be trying to claw your way out of the numbing stage into some version of yourself that can get past the hopelessness and try, against all hope, to do something productive about all of the pain you’re feeling right now.
For me, time and a night of bourbon and re-watching The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 was enough to reignite a semblance of…if not hope, then certainly a more productive rage. But now it’s time to deliver on that rage.
As much as we’d all like to organize a massive boycott or protest that would magically garner the right attention and change all the minds and fix everything, the fight is a struggle that takes place on a daily basis. The protests and big events are crucial, but they mean nothing if we all just go back home and do nothing until the next call to arms. We have to change our own lives, act on a daily basis if we want to see change reflected.
So, for all of you who are angry or sad or hopeless or numb and feel that there is nothing you can do besides post another iteration of that “Take Down The Confederate Flag” petition.
Here are three simple things we can all ALWAYS do to support the cause:
If you have money, put it where it counts. Support Black-owned businesses and organizations. But don’t just support Black-owned businesses, you’ve also got to stop throwing your money at big corporations. The idea behind this call to action is to prove that Black lives matter by using the language that America speaks — money. Prove that #BlackLivesMatter by showing that #BlackDollarsMatter. Yes, this means you too, white allies. You don’t have to be Black to throw your money in the pot. Don’t know where to find those Black-owned businesses? Google it. Doing your homework is part of the work. And remember, this ish is work. But also, Support Black Owned (SBO) is a nice sit for finding Black-owned businesses.
It’s not enough to just “be down” with the cause, you have to know your shit, which means not just trying to get by on your 5th grade unit on the Civil Rights Era. You might be able to throw around some of the names and dates, but there’s a whole lot more to Black history and racism in this country than slavery, the Civil Rights Era, an the Black Power movement. Believe me, your history classes left out a lot, oversimplified everything, and flat out lied about quite a bit.
So, time to crack open some books and watch some films. If you don’t know where to start Google it! There’s no hand-holding in self-education. That said, here… try this lovely list for starters. And venture your way over to the “African American” section of the bookstore. Or better yet, since you’re on the supporting Black businesses tip now, do some of that book shopping at the Hue-Man Bookstore, one of the largest African American bookstores in the country (which, btw had to shutter its physical store a few years back… But maybe with more folk buying from them, they could come back with a vengeance). Now, go know something, so you can…
This one is particularly important for white allies. Most Black people think about race on a daily basis. We have to, we’re Black. Race hits you in the face everywhere you go. Ignorant white people, for some reason, don’t seem to think race has anything to do with them. But race is as much, if not more, of an issue for white people as it is for Black people. So, dear educated white allies, now that you’ve done all that reading, go forth and make other white people confront and talk about these issues.
One of the most common sadnesses that so many of my Black friends and family faced shortly after the horror at Charleston’s AME church was that when we went into work the next day at our predominantly white offices, no one… not one single person was talking about Charleston. So we’re sitting there full of sadness and anger and barely able to keep it together, meanwhile Dave and Linda are having a conversation about how they binged on adorable cat videos last night. It’s a slap in the face, another reminder of how devalued Black lives are in this country, that a tragedy like Charleston can happen and people aren’t even acknowledging it… at all (but the Boston Marathon Bombing was at the tip of everyone’s tongues at the time).
“The brutality with which Negroes are treated in this country simply cannot be overstated, however unwilling white men may be to hear it.” —James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
The point is forcing people who would normally do a damn good job of ignoring these issues and certainly don’t have to confront them on a daily basis aren’t gonna just start caring, much less learn or change their minds. You have to force it into their faces. And, white allies, you have access to these spaces that many Black people do not. Even if they do, conversation about race with a white person coming from a Black person is often seen as hostile or hysterical or delusional. So, step up and correct that. Also, white allies, get your people. Y’all just need to start talking to each other and confronting race on your end. Racist and ignorant white people is a white people problem.
Or in other words…
Whatever changes you make, however you act on a daily basis to end white supremacy, the important thing is to keep on. The struggle is a lifetime fight. You gotta live it every damn day.
Because let’s face it, your mom is a superhero. Here’s some of the company she keeps!
Raquel Ervin had only been a superhero for a short time when she found out that she was pregnant. Still a teenager, she stepped up and decide to have the child and be an awesome mother. She put her heroics on hold for a time in order to raise her son well, but soon returned and kept a beautiful superhero-mom balance. Hardcore. Besides, she named her son Amistad Augustus Ervin. Awesome.
It’s hard to be original in the “zombie” movie genre these days. The zombie-film lovers among us even have nerd-raging debates about how to categorize zombie films and even the types of zombies. And once you’ve gotten through the sequel of a movie boasting fast-running, treasure-hunting Nazi zombies… you might start to think that’s the end of the line.
But Super Zerois a breath of fresh air… Or, rather, fresh rotting-corpse-smell air, because, as our unlikely hero reminds us, “you never hear about how the apocalypse smells like total ass.”
This is the zombie movie for the zombie-film lover who rooted for the geeky dude Erlend in Dead Snow to be the one who makes it to the end through sheer nerdery and zombie fandom. This is the zombie apocalypse for the comic book nerd, the science geek, the Cheeto-stained-fingers gamer who’s used to killing his zombies with a joystick and a X button.
The only thing you could probably fault the film for is an overuse of the word “dickweed,” but can we even call that a fault? I mean… I get it. It’s too fun to say… “dickweed”… “dickweed.” Try it. “Dickweed”… Anyway….
From director Mitch Cohen, Super Zero is a brilliant, sarcastic, nerd-tuned take on the zombie apocalypse, so just watch it.
But here’s the brief in case you need a little more enticement:
Your standard nerd, Josh Hershberg got the shitty end of the gene pool stick. And it’s not just the lack of cleft chin and bulging muscles that screwed him over; he just found out he has terminal brain cancer… He’s ready to give up completely when the apocalypse hits. Suddenly the very thing that was going to kill him might be the only thing that keeps him alive. Well… that and apparently a knack for physics turns out to be just the thing an unlikely hero needs in the zombie apocalypse.
As unlikely hero Josh tells us “you may not be a naturally skilled athlete, brilliantly creative, or just the whole package…” but that doesn’t mean you can’t be “the baddest motherfucker in the world.”
It used to be if you wanted to turn on the TV and actually see non-white characters, your options were telenovelas, BET, or whatever all-Black cast family show was the Black show of the decade.
Seriously. Half of the history of Black folk leading TV shows looks like a bunch of awkwardly missed high-fives, or like the passing of a fairly unheroic torch. It looks a lot like the #ThereCanOnlyBeOne Rule of Black men in The Walking Dead.
Just as The Cosby Showdared to add a little more color to TV land in 1984, The Jeffersons called it quits a year later. #ThereCanOnlyBeOne Black family movin’ on up.
On the tail of The Cosby Show‘s wild success, comes Family Matters with the all-too-adorable Steve Urkel in 1989, 3 years later… Cosby who? #ThereCanOnlyBeOne quirky Black Guy with a funny voice.
Then, you get the “glory days” of the early 90’s…
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Colorbring us some funny, some color, and some dope soundtracksin 1990.
Then in 1992 & 1993 Martin and Living Singlefinally stop futsing around with that big, middle-class family shit, and dare to talk about Black people dating and *gasp* even having sex. Finally it looks like we’re gonna get some diversity of experience in these Black TV shows!
Next thing you know, 1994 brings us some young Black female perspective in Sister, Sisterwith Tia and Tamara Mowry giving little Mary Kate and Ashley a run for their money. And (it’s possible I’m the only one who actually watched it, but…) Moeshamanages to bring Brandi to the small screen without execs screaming #ThereCanOnlyBeOne Black teen female show!.
But, of course, we speak too soon. The same year Sister, Sisterlaunches, In Living Color goes dark. Then, FreshPrincebails on us in 1996. Martin a year later in 1997. Family Matters and Living Singlein 1998. Finally Sister,Sisterbites the dust in 1999.
Lucky for us, The Steve Harvey Showand The Jamie FoxxShow were kind enough to give us a handful of funny Black characters to last us until the new decade, when they took a dive to make room for The Parkers(1999) and Girlfriends (2000). Since then, there have, of course, been others, and always a few attempts to branch out into other genres. This is clearly not an exhaustive list… but it’s pretty damn close!
I know, I know, that sounds like a lot, right? Like Black folk should be glad we had so much representation on TV. And a few years ago I’d have been the first one to reminisce on the old days of good (okay, maybe not The Parkers). But then, what about all the other brown folk that make up this massive chunk o’ land?
Well…Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, which focused on a Korean-American family, lasted one whole year from 1994-1995 and is pretty much the only show that had dared cast a majority case of Asian characters. Before that the presence of Asian-descent characters on the small screen was pretty much a toss-up between abysmal or painfully offensive. John Cho managed to snag a leading role in Flash Forward in 1996, but that was cancelled after a year too… There are, of course, a couple of odds and ends — a Glenn in Walking Deadhere, a couple from Lostthere. But you get the trend…
While I wish I could bore you to tears with the history of the representation of every community of color in TV, I think we get the idea…
Just a year or two ago, the dearth of brown faces on TV was a regular one of those “too true, *sigh*” conversations I’d have with my friends every few weeks.
But then, a funny thing happened…
It was just me, a bottle of cheap chardonnay, and a TV remote on a blizzardy Friday night. Making my usual OnDemand rounds, I manage to spend 5+ hours (yep, and I wasn’t even done yet!) without watching a single show that did not feature a leading character of color.
And it was all over the map here. I got in my high drama with Cookie (Empire) and Olivia Pope (Scandal). I got my mystery-thriller on with Professor Annalise Keating (How To Get Away With Murder), my supernatural freaky with Angelica Celaya‘s Zed on Constantine, straight horror with American Horror Story, some superhero action with Cisco the West family in The Flash. Some hilarious family antics with Fresh Off The Boatand Modern Family.And, of course, got some nerdy historical fiction on with the Mills sisters and Irving in Sleepy Hollow. If I was really desperate I could even have hunted down some Grey’s Anatomy for some medical drama.
This is the first time that TV hasn’t relegated characters of color either to the margins of an otherwise white cast, as “the brown friend,” but actually has characters of color leading prime time shows. And some are even heroes, villains, love interests… freaking complex, rounded, rich characters!
At this point, I’m dosed on half a bottle of wine and five hours of Mexican psychics, Black detectives, Cuban mechanical engineers, Creole superwitches, and Taiwanese Steakhouse owners. And as soon as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.Dis back on, trust that I’ll be cheering every time Melinda May hands some supposed badass his… um… ass.
Now, despite wine-wasted me fist-pumping and “f*&k yeah!”-ing to my marathon of brown TV, a little sobriety reveals the facts. While we’re making some phenomenal strides, and young brown TV-addled kids everywhere are surely gaining a greater sense of self-worth and possibilities for their life narratives, we’ve got a ways to go.
Before Fresh Off the Boat, ABC’s Selfie was pretty much the only sitcom with a leading Asian actor, and it still qualifies as the only one with that traditional romantic comedy love story we’ve all come to love. But before John Cho‘s character could get laid, ABC cancelled the show, which had garnered a strong cult following. Now Fresh Off The Boatis on it’s own in sitcom land, while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D hasgot to hold it down on the action/superhero side with leading actresses Chloe Bennet & Ming Na Wen.
Selmastill flopped at the box office, while Taken 3 (Taken number effing 3, people!) kicked the box office’s ass times $40 million…There’s something seriously wrong with that.
But let’s stick to television for now. While we’ve got some seriously great shows led by folks of color. People of color are still majorly underrepresented, or worse misrepresented on many of the most popular TV shows, restricted to roles of the sexless side-kick, quick-to-quip Black friend, magical negro native, wise asian man, “thugs”, “homies”, criminals, or victims.
It’s time to color prime time with POC characters who can be goodhearted heroes finding their way, stressed out househusbands, know-it-all law students, hot dudes with daddy issues, nerdy girls with dynamic programming issues…
If we can’t even imagine people of color as diverse, complex, three-dimensional, real people in our stories, how the hell are the people who stay snug and terrified in their homogenous lala lands ever going to believe that Mexican women can be described with words other than “fiery,” or that some Black women aren’t actually just waiting for the chance to show-off their snap-eyeroll-suck teeth combo, or that the woman in the hijab is giddy planning her upcoming wedding not plotting the violent destruction of the U.S…. or that sixteen-year-old Black boys aren’t “demons” who deserve to be shot in the street…
We’re at least doing better in this small screen venue, but we need to do even better, ever better
First, Miles Morales burst onto the scene as the new Spider-man in Ultimate Comics Spider-man, mixin’ it up with his half-black, half-latino heritage. Then, the oft overlooked interracial duo Cloak and Dagger got a romantic revival and joined Team Morales.
And now, we’ve got Silk— a brand new Asian American female superhero written by Robbie Thompson, probably best known for his work as a writer and producer for the TV series Supernatural.
AND not only is Marvel introducing this Asian American hero into the mix, but she’s even getting her very own series!!
A classmate of Peter Parker‘s, Cindy Moon was bitten by the same radioactive spider that bit Parker. However, Moon was then taken and hidden away by Ezekiel Sims for seven years, during which she honed and mastered her new powers. And now that she’s emerged with skills that rival Parker’s, she’s got a lot more than big bad villains to deal with.
Silk was first introduced as a character back in July 2014 as part of the Original Sin arc of The Amazing Spider-man, when Parker helped free her from her captivity.
The new series launch in February 2015 will make Silk one of two Asian American female superheroes leading her own mainstream series right now (the other being Ms. Marvel‘s Kamala Khan, a young shape-shifting Pakistani-American girl protecting Jersey from the big baddies).
Silk and Ms. Marvel are a breath of fresh air in an increasingly diverse, but still overwhelmingly homogenous, comic book industry. Until now, the X-Men‘s Psylocke and Karmahave been Marvel’s most prominent Asian American female superheroes, neither of whom have led their own self-titled ongoing series (although Psylocke (aka Betsy Braddock) headed her own self-titled four-issue mini-series Psylockefrom 2009-2010).
And then, of course, Psyclocke actually started out as a white British model before some crazy story line stuffed her mind into the body of a Japanese ninja named Kwannon, so… anyway….
It’s a beautiful thing to see more superhero ladies of color making their way to the covers of comics.
Silk promises to enrich the Spidey universe with a history tied closely to Parker’s own origin, and a whole lot of catching up to do. Peep the interview with Robbie Thompson over at Comic Book Resources, and support your heroes of color. Pick that ish up in February!
Back in 2004, the Syfy (back then “The SciFi Channel“) released a miniseries “adaptation” of Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Earthsea trilogy, titled Legend of Earthsea.
The main cast was entirely white, except for the character Ogion, who was played by Danny Glover (and apparently some spear-wielding primitives). The problem with that isn’t just that there is a gross lack of diversity in the series (which is a completely legit problem on its own, and one that plagues science fiction entertainment today).
The problem was that the series was based on books in which the majority of the characters were brown or black… (except for a people made up of brutish, war-hungry white men). The main character was described as “red-brown” and his best friend as just straight up “black”.
Somewhere this got conveniently “lost” in translation. Numerous readers (of every hue– I mean, the books freaking sold over a million copies!) were seriously miffed about many of the liberties taken in the series, and the lovely Ms. Le Guin stood up on the soap box herself and took SyFy to town in an article on Slate.
And boy did she lay down the law!
The first book of the EarthseatrilogyA Wizard of Earthsea was published on September 13th, 1968– 46 years ago today. So to commemorate this dope series, and her-geeky-outsiderness Ursula K. LeGuin, here are some of the gems from the magnificent shade she threw at the SciFi Channelsome 10 years ago:
“I had been cut out of the process. And just as quickly, race, which had been a crucial element, had been cut out of my stories. In the miniseries, Danny Glover is the only man of color among the main characters (although there are a few others among the spear-carriers). A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned.”
“My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?”
“I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees—hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one.”
“Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually publishers may be beginning to lose their blind fear of putting a nonwhite face on the cover of a book. “Hurts sales, hurts sales” is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal—a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader.”
“I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.”
The best part of the article, though, and one of her best points, is that many readers of color wrote to her and let her know how important it was to them to feel included and see themselves represented as heroes in a genre that neglects them to an astonishing degree.
Race-bending characters in adaptations is really cool and can be really interesting. But in a genre (ahem… and an entire entertainment world) where characters of color are completely absent or never get to play hero, it’s something entirely different to take the color out of the picture…