Bringing things back around to conversations I want to have, I relate the news that there's to be yet another casting call in Philadelphia (Feb 7th 2009) and Aang Ain't White are trying to round up folks for a more attended (as in more than 4 people) protest against Avatar: The Airbender (The Live Action Movie) and their call for ethnic folk as background extras while all the Asian heroes are now and determinedly white.
I've done two posts on the Avatar Disaster: Hollywood: "We Don't Know What Asian Looks Like" AND All the world's white, the rest of us merely live in it. The latter post is what I wish to somewhat expand on now.
I posted my fears in that entry. I talked about how irritated and frustrating and helpless it feels to realize that I could write a book with minority characters, even specifically black characters, but if I don't stay within the very stereotype caricature/characterization/descriptions that I find troublesome -
any a huge chunk of white people reading what I write, simply won't see colour. They won't see non-white ethnicity. It really is enough to make someone scream.
I have nothing to say to the individuals who've looked at the animated Avatar: The Last Airbender and don't see a non-white fantasy culture filled with non-white peoples.
It's still so odd to me to use the phrase Non-White. I began to use the phrase Non White Peoples because it felt more like a definition of, instead of a definition against. But since January 13th, I've found myself thinking I can see another side of the phrase now, the importance of it - the need to distinguish that I, me, my culture, my family, my peoples, my history, a solid portion of my ancestry - ARE. NOT. WHITE.
I'm not you. I am not just exactly like you. My experiences shape me. And my experiences involve NOT BEING WHITE. It's amazing how a phrase that used to make me feel so uncomfortable, has become a phrase of empowerment - a phrase to shout.
[ I had a mention of this somewhere on this blog before, as an apology to someone I'd had conflict and misunderstandings with over the phrase. But I mention it here again, because I think they might be reading now and because I can feel the meaning (possibly, I'm not in their head) behind it now. So hey Spiralsheep - I think I got 15 percent of it now and why we crossed wires.]
Because, Dark Blue Heaven Looking Down , I'm tired of the Mr./Mrs. Potato Head Assumptions. I'm tired of people not taking the time to research people because they don't believe that people can differ from one another. And I'm tired that they also don't seem to look or are too ignorant (or is it laziness - or is ignorance + Laziness = Privilege) to grasp the concept that there are groups of people all over the world who're not like them and it's important to accept that, respect that, observe that and INCLUDE that in their presentation of the world. You know, Earth. This little ball of air and mud and water balanced in the dark blankets of the sky.
The world of fantasy should not be all White People + Various European Architecture + Magic (possibly dragons). The world of fantasy also shouldn't be White People + Various Asian/South Asian Architecture + Magic. It's not White People Gaining Power From Kachina Dolls. It's not White People + Dark Savages + Magic. It's not White People + Voudoo (Hoodo, Obeah, Santeria). It's definitely not White People + All 4 of the previous mentioned practices, mixed up and rolled into one.
Seeing things that way, is what has lead to Avatar: The Last Airbender (Clorox Movie Remix).
I was watching a Britcom last night. And something hit me harder than it would have if the last few weeks had not just happened. Someone was coordinating a visit to the Caribbean for the protagonist couple; a villa in Barbados. And they said "And I've arranged for a car to pick you up in Bridgetown." For the record? That's like having a flight arrive at LAX and someone arranging a car to pick you up in Oakland. The physical distance is not the same - but relativity wise? Oh yeah. The Airport and the City of Bridgetown are in two different parishes. The airport is far enough away to almost be on an opposing shore (but it is near a perpendicular one to Bridgetown). Yes, the island is small - but it'd still be a walk, in the hot sun, into town to get that car.
I sat there watching it and had this slap in the face moment of shock. Barbados is a former colony of Britain. When I was in school, we had to learn a whole lot about England because Independence was only 30 odd years away. Barbados' nickname Is 'Little England'. And yet someone couldn't find a map, make a phone call to ask a question - to care about their facts. It's just a little island somewhere in the Caribbean that gets mentioned as a place British people go to for sun and fun.
I sat there thinking about Avatar and the Three Major Kingdoms and the obvious Asian Cultures and realized that I had no right to think M. Night didn't have his own internalized colonialism to battle. I sat there and realized the Producers, Paramount don't care, don't have to care, because it's just a culture filled with non-white people, with cool costumes, and interesting weapons, where white heroes go to have fun and daring. I sat there thinking about phrases like 'the melting pot' or 'the salad' and realized that we, non-white peoples are seasonings! Jerk chicken is so fascinating. Sushi is so odd but interesting. Mexican food is something to build a fast food franchise out of. Chinese New Year, is an excuse to eat a lot of chinese food and see interesting acrobatics and dancing dragons.
And I had the really, really odd thought that things are still Separate but Equal. Hong Kong Cinema. Bollywood. J-Pop. Afropop - more than I'm not aware of or I'm not thinking about right now. American Comic Books vs Manga. All the resentment I've heard at how the newer generation isn't reading comic books but are devouring manga - or how girls are devouring manga.
Avatar - Their heroes (white heroes) with Asian dressing. The dressings change, the heroes stay white. Seriously, think of the movie 21. White heroes, Asian original recipe. Think of movies that have predominately black casts - they're made by particular directors, star particular actors and are marketed to... Black Americans.
Separate but Equal - or at least the dogma. Nothing's really equal (it never was, it still isn't). Not when cultures are being used as props and people are being used as flavour and real life stories are good for inspiration but Mina Suvari works better than an actual African Descended Actress. The People of the Middle East are oooh, so scary. But lets shoot a movie with a tanned Jake Gyllenhaal in sand and use the word Persian.
Don't be afraid of writing characters of colour. It's just a piece of white chicken breast with a little; bbq sauce, hot sauce, duck sauce, soy sauce, yogurt, brown stew, ginger.....
So the conversation I want to have now is - what next? How do we start? Do we use the internet and go small press the way various erotica writing female writers have utilized it - making a space for themselves? How do we make space for ourselves? Do we embrace the labeling? Do we embrace the separate little bookshelves in the bookstore? The African American Lit. The Asian Experiences. The Jewish Commentaries? With their little signs? Do we accept those labels? Do we try to burst out? Where do we move next?
Because we're using a hell of a lot of energy on that otherstuff - and that's fine. Not sitting down and taking this Separate and Really Unequal stuff - that's good. But it has to be more than that, doesn't it? Can we start a movement? Are we willing to sacrifice time and energy to that? Do we have leaders to help us with that? Can we have another Renaissance? Can we do for fantasy fiction what happened with Jazz? Can we take instruments but make something new?
Personally I do not want to claim Magical Realism. So if someone wants to start with a good naming....
But do we, can we, have OUR versions of the stories? Our versions of Wagon Train To the Stars? Or maybe it'd be Journey To The New West? Do we have our versions of Hunters of the Paranormal? Do we have our versions of The Clock Is Ticking...!?
I think technology as it currently stands could make this easier, but I don't know. I'm not sure. It's why this is the conversation I want to have. Because I'm tired of being drowned in the sweet, champagne tears of white people making it all about them. We have this conversation about three times a year, every year. We use up so much of our energy on educating - whether we want to out not. Clawing, energy soaking hands diverting conversations like Snow White's Stepmother:
"Mirror Mirror On The Wall - Who's The Hurtiest Of Them All."
"Oh Whitey Fair. Oh Whitey Bright. Your pain in truth's not light, but the pain of the PoC is quite a sight."
"Mirror Mirror On The Wall - Who's The Hurtiest Of Them All?"
"Oh Special Precious Hurting One. Your tears run long and sweet. But nothing yet defeats the pain of PoC verbally beat."
"Mirror Mirror On The Wall - Who's The Hurtiest Of Them All?"
"Your pain is deep, that much is true. But really, it's not at all about you."
"Mirror Mirror On The Wall - You lie!"
I don't want to keep pleading with Huntsmen not to rip out my heart (The Allies Who Aren't). I don't want to have to live in fear of haircombs and ribbons and apples (Minority Cultures As Props For White Heroes). I'd rather move to a whole new kingdom.