Monday, December 16, 2013

A Colorful Subject

For a long time now, the newest Disney film "Frozen" (which is an outstandingly brilliant animated movie, BTW) has created controversy over it's main cast pictured above. Namely that the four human characters are all very, very white. Social Justice Warriors of all kind all cried out "White privilege! Racial discrimination! No representation for People Of Color!" Of course, it's been pointed out that this is fairy tale based on a Danish story by Hans Christen Anderson, set in a Scandinavian area where the people there are typically...well, white. Now that the movie has come out and proven to be a phenomenal success both critically and domestically, the SJWs of course cannot stand to see the thing they'd hated on for so long doing so well: as if racism and white supremacy was being rewarded. So now they continue their claims of racism by pointing out that the people at the start 
of the film are clearly based on the Sami culture, the Sami being non-white folks. And yet they, particularly Kristoff (the guy next to the reindeer), are white in the movie. They claimed this was misrepresenting the Sami or outright stealing their culture to give to white characters. Now I would counter this claim with - people, Arendelle is a fictional kingdom. These people are not the Sami, even if their culture was loosely inspired by them. The fact is, Disney chose to make them look white. They didn't need to be, but they are. So I say we just let them look white and enjoy the movie.

Now this brings me to a bigger issue - while I don't get all the mass hysterical clamoring for "POC (People Of Color) representation" in things, I don't get the overuse of POC as a positive term, and I've begun to think "The Princess And The Frog" might have spoiled some people when it comes to race representation in Disney movies....I am fine with people of different races, ethnicity, cultures, and skin color than me, I loathe racism, I love diversity, and I am all for representation of many different kinds of people as possible if it can be done in a work. BUT really, a big rule about characters and characterization in stories that I believe in is that at the end of the day...we shouldn't give a crap about race. If racism and race issues are big themes in a story, then it's okay to really address the subject. But if not, then the focus should remain purely on the character's character. On what's inside this character, not outside. On who they are, not what they are and what race they belong to. A truly good character transcends race and gender and is just a strong character, period. That's why I find all the riot over "POC representation" in some story to be silly. Would there be a problem with changing Kristoff from white to dark skinned? Not at all. In fact, I'd actually think he looked better!  But the big question is: what about his actual character would that fix? What would changing his race do for his story and characterization and role in the plot? Absolutely nothing. And that's the point I'm trying to make. If he's a good enough character, it's not damaging that he be made not white, but at the same time it's equally not damaging that he IS white. The audience's focus should still be on the characters words and actions that come from who he is inside. That's how you can identify a solid character - by their actual character, physical attributes such as the color of their skin be damned!

Need elaboration? Then let me discuss characters with whom it don't matter if they're black or white:

Roderick Kingsley is one of my favorite examples of what I'm talking about. As the one, true Hobgoblin, he's a great villain in the comics. He made only one appearance in "The Spectacular Spider-Man" and he was changed from a white man to a black man. It made absolutely no difference. He was still a great character destined for future greatness had the show not be cancelled too soon. (I'm still praying for a renewal in one outlet or another) I didn't care that he was black while his source material counterpart was white. He was still Roderick (and/or Daniel) Kingsley, a fabulous character.

Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin is another one of my favorite examples. In the comics, he's a large, bald white guy. In the mediocre live action "Daredevil" film, he's played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, a large, bald black guy. He's undisputedly one of THE highlights of the film, he just owned the role so much. He captures the character's stature, presence, and personality perfectly. So basically, if anyone complained about this casting decision purely on the grounds that he's black while the character in the source material is white, you know that person is racist. 'Cause who the Hell cares what color his skin is? What other big name actor do you think of who could nail the character better? Our dearly departed Duncan had literally everything needed to play Wilson Fisk and he did so brilliantly.

Nick Fury is a well known example. Originally, he was a white dude. In the Ultimate Marvel comics, he was based on Samuel L Jackson, who agreed to let them use his likeness only if he would end up actually portraying the character on film, which he has ended up doing in the MCU. Since then, the Jackson Fury has become more and more popular to use in stories, to the point where he's considered arguably better than the original white Fury. And it's not because he's black or white. 
It's because he's Samuel L. motherfucking Jackson, who just happens to be black. 'Nuff said there!

Superman is traditionally drawn as a handsome, black haired, square jawed, muscle-bound white man. But really, you could change his skin color and there'd be no sacrilege in my eyes. Why? 'Cause he's a Kryptonian. He's not of any Earthly race, therefore there's nothing saying that he absolutely HAS to have white skin! Change his skin tone and the character stays exactly the same. 

Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm's blind girlfriend in "The Fantastic Four" was originally white too. In the mediocre live action film, she was played by a black actress. While much of the film is disregarded, this case was similar to Nick Fury in how black Alicia became more popular to use in versions.

Harvey Dent was also a white guy. In the Tim Burton "Batman" movie, he was played by Billy Dee Williams. I did not care. In fact, I would have loved to see Billy Dee Williams' take on Two-Face! 

Heimdall is drawn as white in the "Thor" comics. In the movie, he's played by a black actor. Like Superman, he isn't human. He can have whatever skin color he wants and he'd still be awesome.

Perry White is, well, white in the comics and most adaptations. In the dismal "Man Of Steel", he's played by a black actor, despite the character's name. He's a dull character regardless of race.

In the Japanese crime drama thriller manga "Black Lagoon", Revy is very clearly of Chinese descent. She is in the anime adaptation too, yet her design is changed up a bit to look much less Asian and more...tan-ish white? She's got burgundy hair instead of black hair and her face is a bit different. But either way, the chick is a stone cold psychopathic killer. What does her skin matter? 

In the "Fullmetal Alchemist" manga, the one-shot character of Rose looks to be white, but the anime adaptation gave her dark skin. Then the second anime, "Brotherhood" came along and changed her skin back to white! It really makes no difference. (Though I personally prefer her dark skinned look.)

Baxter Stockman was a black scientist in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comics. The famous Fred Wolf cartoon series of '87 changed him into a nebbish white man instead. Then the 2003 4Kids show made him black again, as did the recent CG animated series. The character goes through changes in each version, but none of them really have anything to do with his race. 

Bane is of Mexican/Latin descent in the comics and most adaptations. The Blockbuster Buster infamously called him "the pride of all Latin fanboys everywhere" for this reason. (Yeah, you got an evil, cold-hearted, murderous mercenary representing you, but as long as he's a badass...yay?)  But in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises", he was played by Tom Hardy, a white Brit. Fanboys raged, despite the fact that this Bane is easily the more interesting character, ethnicity be damned.

Professor Emil Hamilton was white in the comics. In "Smallville", he's played by the Latin Canadian Alessandro Juliani, who has a darker skin tone but played what's he was given very well.

An odd case here: Khan Noonien Signh is meant to be of Indian descent. Yet he was played by the Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban. Then in the recent reboot film, "Star Trek: Into Darkness", he's played by Benedict Cumberbach, one of the whitest men on the planet. Both actors, regardless of their race, portray the character masterfully. (I actually do have a complaint with white Khan, though: why must he be Khan? Why not just keep him John Harrison and take a new direction from there?)

Katniss Everdeen is described as having olive skin, which led to many believing she was a person of color and that it was a crucial part of her character's struggles for some reason. In the movies, she's played by the white Jennifer Lawrence. And she does such a fantastic job at portraying the character and making her compelling and endearing, that I have no problem with her inaccurate skin color. Many others do have a problem though, despite the fact that the book's author has no issue.

Catwoman went from the white Julie Newmar to the white Lee Meriwether to the black Ertha Kitt 
in the 60's Adam West Batman series. For the record, I think Kitt's rendition is the weakest not because of her skin color or performance, but because the show had gotten a bit TOO heavy on the camp at the time she came on to the show. And we shall not even speak of Halle Berry...

April O'Neil was of some different ethnicity in the original mirage comics, but she certainly was not white. The Fred Wolf cartoon changed her to white and possibly of Irish descent due to her name. Unlike Baxter, the 4Kids show did not reverse her back: they made her really white. I mean Joker white skin! Yeesh! In general, the colors of her design on that show (chalk white skin, very red hair, purple shirt) is what really bugs me about an otherwise fine design for a perfectly good character.

The Mandarin, Iron Man's most iconic nemesis, is a really weird case. He's obvious a "Yellow Peril" racist stereotype of an evil Asian man. To avoid this racism, the 90's cartoon made the radiation from his magic rings give him emerald green skin...which kind of made it more racist. In "Iron Man 3", the white Sir Ben Kingsley plays the Mandarin...literally. His character, Trevor, is an actor playing the Mandarin. The real Mandarin turns out to be the even whiter Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian! This caused a lot of fanboy rage, but since China is such a big market, is this really any surprise?

There are some characters who are created as great characters who just happen to be of color, so there's no need for whitewashing. Or some such characters need their race left alone because it has no bearing on who they are and it's great that we can see that. Elisa Maza from "Gargoyles" is technically like three different races and has a mixed family, which we clearly see onscreen. No attention is drawn to this: it's just there, perfectly normal. Why can't more shows follow that example? Of course, there is whitewashing and reverse whitewashing (POC-ing?) that I don't particularly agree with if I find it to be gimmicky or lacking in any logical sense. I cannot think of much at the moment, but there's a whole trope on TV Tropes about it: Race Lift. Feel free to check through it and see which examples you're fine with or not. But the bottom line is that a character should be weighed and measured by the strength of their character regardless of what race, color, or nationality they are. If the character is good or bad enough, than a Race Lift shouldn't positively or negatively impact a thing about them. On those grounds, race, POC, and whitewashing should not be made a big deal of....

...okay, some Race Lifts are just flat out BULLSHIT.

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