bossymarmalade: blue eye with lashes of red flower petals (putting the "cauc" back in "asian")
miss maggie ([personal profile] bossymarmalade) wrote2010-06-30 08:15 am

but we must always be polite about it

So The Last Airbender is opening this weekend. You already know through how racist the damn thing is; if you read jedifreac's review you'll also see how misogynistic it is as a bonus. Possibly you've read M. Night Shyamalan's contempt for the protest.

Now let me tell you a story (one that may be triggering for racism).

After my weekend trip to the Scottish Heritage festival, we stopped to get fish & chips for lunch. [personal profile] glockgal and [personal profile] 21freckles went back to the car while I waited for my order, seated next to a young black man who'd just come in on his lunch break -- obviously, because he was wearing a TD Bank pin on his shirt. So, y'know, nicely dressed and polite and everything.

I can tell a lot of you are wincing already. Just hang on.

This child comes in with his white grandparents; kid looks biracial to me. Eventually his white mom finishes her smoke outside and comes in. The kid runs over to her and in this loud, piercing voice, goes, "Look at the scary man!" and points at the bank guy next to me. "Shhh," says the mom, but the kid repeats, louder, "LOOK AT THE SCARY MAN!"

"That's not nice," the mom says. At this point I'm hoping to hell that somehow my body has acted as a sound barrier, because what the fuck -- this poor bank teller comes in for some lunch, and has to hear this bullshit. Coast Salish/BC as a rule doesn't have a lot of black folk (we ran them out back in the day of the Pullman trains) but New Westminster, where we were, has a pretty good number of (mostly) Somalian newer residents.

So, this kid, with his brown skin almost the same shade as mine, his hair in light brown tight ringlets. He looks at this quiet black man next to me and his mind says, "SCARY".

Where did he get this? Say we're generous and assume the mom didn't teach it to him, or the grandparents. Say we assume they're not from New West, they're from somewhere in Metro Vancouver with even *less* black people. Say all that.

Do you think this kid even understands that when he's a grownup, skin maybe darker than in its baby stages, people are going to be calling *him* the "scary man"? Do you think he even recognizes that he's not the hero and never will be? He's already learned from the media and society that the darker you are, the scarier you are; when will he start recognizing his face reflected back only as villain, as joke fodder, as exotic backdrop? When will he realize that other people -- people like me included -- don't see him as white, even in the middle of all his white family?

This is why it matters for kids, for adults, for *anyone* to see themselves in stories. And I don't mean as nameless creatures with no agency, or as a nation of genocidal warmongers. And there are overlaps with the racefail; there's the character Teo, whose father builds him a wheelchair after he becomes disabled, who's also been removed from the movie (to make place for a traitorous Asian character). There's the elders like GranGran, who has been reduced from a competent and vital woman to a faint ancient-wisdom shadow. There's Suki and the strong female Kyoshi Warriors, cut from the movie without even a credit.

We're the scary people on the screen, and we're the scary people in life -- even to a child who's at least partly one of us. Don't ever tell me that it's just a movie. These are the stories that tell people who we are.
cereta: Flowers (Flowers)

[personal profile] cereta 2010-06-30 04:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you. Do you mind if I link back to this?
brownbetty: (Default)

[personal profile] brownbetty 2010-06-30 04:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I admit, I'm taking a bit of vicious comfort in the sheer badness of the Avatar movie, since it's been so stubbornly failful. When it's apparent even from your trailers that half your leads can't actually act, at least I don't have to lament the good movie ruined by aversive racism.

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scrollgirl: shen mei-ling (hl mei-ling)

[personal profile] scrollgirl 2010-06-30 05:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh God, that kid makes me so sad.

My (white) friend's kids really wanted to see ATLA, but she made sure to sit down and talk to them about the racefail. The kids understood, and from what she tells me, her son is noticing how often the black character gets killed in movies/tv shows. This is what we're giving kids.

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monanotlisa: (richter abstract - duh)

[personal profile] monanotlisa 2010-06-30 05:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Like a punch in the gut. Will boost the signal.
littlebutfierce: (utena queer)

[personal profile] littlebutfierce 2010-06-30 05:28 pm (UTC)(link)
We're the scary people on the screen, and we're the scary people in life


This is a very powerful post; thank you for writing it.
enamoured: the starry-eyed emoticon: *_* (Default)

[personal profile] enamoured 2010-06-30 05:32 pm (UTC)(link)
To somewhat tie in with the last point: I think part of the reason why I was so amped about The Princess and the Frog last year (besides the fact that it was an OMG 2D ANIMATED MOVIE JUST LIKE IN YE OLDE DAYS) was because for the first time, it was a movie about a black princess. I was a kid during the whole Disney Renaissance and while I liked Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan, none of them looked like me. And the older I get, I grow more aware of the fact that there aren't a lot of girls/women who look like me in popular media, and more and more I try to seek out books and movies and shows where there are characters who do (which is why I'm kind of thrilled about that show Undercovers that's coming out this fall because A.) I love my spy thrillers and B.) it has a black couple as the LEADS). It's also made me more conscious of the kinds of characters I write in my own fiction too.

I think that's where a lot of my annoyance/anger with A:TLB is coming from: the fact that there could've been an opportunity for a kid who, like me, rarely gets a chance to see someone like them saving the day and there isn't.

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alcesverdes: Soapbox (TCR - Baron)

[personal profile] alcesverdes 2010-06-30 05:32 pm (UTC)(link)
Hello, I read your post through the network page. Do you mind if I link your post? I'm feeling sort of vindicated with those bad reviews.
rhivolution: low-on-spoons girl from Hyperbole and a Half: 'clean ALL the things?' (clean ALL the things?: out of spoons)

[personal profile] rhivolution 2010-06-30 05:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for sharing this post and this story, it bloody broke my heart. Do you mind if I throw up a link later?

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bethbethbeth: (Art  Picasso Girl Mirror (bbb))

[personal profile] bethbethbeth 2010-06-30 06:24 pm (UTC)(link)
This is such an incredibly sad story. Thank you for sharing it, and...yeah, just thank you.
devilc: Still Here (StillHere)

[personal profile] devilc 2010-06-30 06:44 pm (UTC)(link)

"You've got to be carefully taught ..."
Edited 2010-06-30 18:47 (UTC)
vangirl: (Default)

[personal profile] vangirl 2010-06-30 06:48 pm (UTC)(link)
I found this on my network and will be linking. That story is just...heartbreaking.

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heathershaped: (Avatar: Sokka/Suki)

[personal profile] heathershaped 2010-06-30 06:55 pm (UTC)(link)
I want to cry reading this.

Also no Suki, no Teo, oh god. Oh GOD.

[personal profile] ex_ayalesca554 2010-06-30 06:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Uggggh. That is so sad. And horrible. I don't even know. And you're right, it reminded me of the times I watched my fellow Asians saying flippantly: "guys, I'm so white!" and believing it and I just ... kind of flinched.

(Also, if you haven't seen it, I like this piece of criticism: -- apologies if this is a repeat.)

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reflectedeve: Pearl from Steven Universe, in a tux and top hat (frog in my throat - for your own good)

[personal profile] reflectedeve 2010-06-30 06:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Augh, that's a potent example. I'd also like to link to this later, if it's all right with you.

(I need to get better at commenting - this isn't the first of your posts that I've appreciated. Thank you.)
gloss: the avatar is unconvinced (Aang fed up)

[personal profile] gloss 2010-06-30 07:26 pm (UTC)(link)
God, that poor child, not to mention that poor bank guy. *Jesus*.

[personal profile] arionhunter has collated some delicious links of terrible reviews of the movie. My embittered heart is warmed.
Edited (actual linkage) 2010-06-30 19:26 (UTC)
odditycollector: White text on black background: "Guys! This is not socially optimal!" (xkcd)

[personal profile] odditycollector 2010-06-30 07:33 pm (UTC)(link)
This makes me so, so sad.
ciderpress: default: woman with red umbrella (Default)

[personal profile] ciderpress 2010-06-30 07:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Ugh, ugh, that's terrible and just, ugh. I hate that this is our reality, that this is the reality for even children of this "post-racial, colour blind" world. Ugh, ugh. D:

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nilchance: Picture of a pomegranate with spilled seeds, text "I think you're confused, I'm not Persephone" (Default)

[personal profile] nilchance 2010-06-30 08:52 pm (UTC)(link)
This makes my heart hurt. It's so true. Thank you for saying it.

(Anonymous) 2010-06-30 09:09 pm (UTC)(link)
What a distressing story.
This whole post is one of the many reasons I really cringe when people say things like "it's just a story/movie/show/whatever". Stories are *incredibly important* to every single culture on earth, they're how we pass down values and truths about ourselves, they make up our cultural landscape, from fairy tales, bible stories, legends, myths, etc. Movies and tv shows and modern lit are a huuuge chunk of our cultural transmission, it's how we will prove to future generations that we were here, and show what was important to us.

The fact that our current cultural narrative still shows tons of minorities being shunted to the side or used as props for a white, able bodied man's story shows who we value more. It's not criticizing "just a movie" to see that, it's criticizing our culture. We have to change these things in tandem.

ext_16103: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-06-30 09:10 pm (UTC)(link)
That was me, lol. Too angry to log in.
tielan: (race)

[personal profile] tielan 2010-06-30 10:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh God, that's heartbreaking.

It matters. IT MATTERS.

I went to see Mulan with my housemate at the time and came out raving. OMG. A girl like me! A Chinese girl! Who saves China! WHEEEEE!

I did the same thing with Michelle Yeoh's character in Tomorrow Never Dies (which was his choice of movie).

Both times, when I tried to explain why it mattered that these Chinese women were portrayed as competent and ingenuous, clever and heroic, (and in Michelle Yeoh's case, sensual but conscious of her own boundaries and how far she'd let Brosnan's Bond go) I didn't have the words or the concepts to explain. That I wanted to see myself as the heroine - that I have a basic human right to see myself as equally capable of what he, as a white, het, able-bodied male, got to see himself of in every white, het, able-bodied male hero in every movie billed across cinema screens that summer.

In response to your post: oh, yes, THIS.

edit: I spoke mostly about the positive effects in my comment, but truly, it's about the negatives as well - how we teach people to hate and fear, as well as teaching people to love and worship.
Edited (clarification) 2010-06-30 22:39 (UTC)

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duraflame: (Oui Shosanna)

[personal profile] duraflame 2010-06-30 11:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Minette and I were talking about this recently, how important it is for kids to see themselves in movies and other forms of entertainment, and how white people (IE me, just so my cards are on the table in this comment) take it for granted. And how it's never "just" a movie or TV show or cartoon. It matters.

Your story is just so heartbreaking on so many levels, sigh.
paintyourlunch: (typewriter!colors)

[personal profile] paintyourlunch 2010-06-30 11:29 pm (UTC)(link)
I need to illustrate some of your writing.
ext_21773: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-06-30 11:54 pm (UTC)(link)
God. I just want to copy this and forward it to everyone I know, and don't know. It's tiring trying to explain why non-white stories are so important to us as a whole. It's very easy to say, "oh it's just a movie" when you're in the position to see it as just a movie. It's the the most depressing form of entitlement because they don't realize how entitled they are.

That boy, I feel sorry for what he will realize as a teenager, as an adult. I feel sorry for the self-hatred he will experience. No one should grow up hating who they are. And that man having to experience that ... It's just heartbreaking that as "the other" this experience is a constant in our lives.

I'm depressed. But thank you M. Thank you for this.
himhilien: (Avatar --> Flameo)

[personal profile] himhilien 2010-07-01 01:12 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for this post.
karabou: (Default)

[personal profile] karabou 2010-07-01 01:41 am (UTC)(link)
I'm going to pass this along, thanks for posting about it.

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