Posts Tagged ‘Diversity’

Guillermo del Toro’s films are very much like Tim Burton’s films: there’s a distinctive feel and style to them that sets them apart from other films. A tendency towards the strange and the dark, creatures not oft experienced by man nor treated that much in modern fiction, etc. And such is the case with his latest venture, The Shape of Water, which del Toro says was inspired by when he saw Creature from the Black Lagoon as a kid and was disappointed that it wasn’t a romance between the Creature and Julie Adams.

I have to say, all these decades later, the concept has aged well.

The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a mute custodian at a government facility in Baltimore in 1962. One day, the facility receives an amphibian-man creature from South America, which is kept in a room that Elisa cleans. The two start interacting and romancing, leading to a plot to save the creature from the facility and those who would do him harm.

There’s a lot going for this film. For one thing, it’s beautiful. Everything from the sets to the costumes looks right out of the late 50’s, early 60’s, the lighting is used in different ways to highlight moods and atmosphere, and there are even throwbacks to classic films from that period, including a short musical number that I feel like was inspired by the ones American Horror Story does every couple of seasons. The acting is also pretty stellar: Sally Hawkins as Elisa is wonderfully expressive through facial expressions, body language, and sign language. Octavia Spencer (can that woman do no wrong?) and Richard Jenkins as Zelda and Giles, Elisa’s friends, are full of pathos and charm. And Michael Shannon as the antagonist Strickland, while feeling like a hammy caricature at times, is entertaining to watch on screen.

And oh my God, the make-up on the Amphibian Man (which is his listed name in the movie, I checked). That is award-winning stuff. It looks so real, and as far as I know, mainly CGI-free. That’s really impressive.

All that being said, there were a couple of issues I had with the film. For one, once you kind of understand what sort of film you’re watching, you can kind of guess the plot. It’s been done before, though not with Amphibian Men. So if you can guess the story archetype, you probably will guess where the story is going to go.

There’s also this theme of tolerance and the difficulties of otherness that pervades the film, which you would expect. There’s the Amphibian Man, which isn’t even human. Elisa is mute, Zelda is black, and Giles is gay. Obviously, the filmmakers are going to bring this up. And I’m not opposed to that, I love stories that explore the difficulties of being on the outside for no other reason than being who you are. The problem is, the theme is handled differently from scene to scene. In some scenes, like a scene midway through the movie at a diner, it’s handled very well. But at other times, the handling feels kind of clumsy, which kind of brings down the impact of the theme.

Regardless, this is a wonderful film. If you’re going in for a science-fiction/horror story, you won’t get that. But if you go in for a visually appealing and well-done love story with some sci-fi elements, you’ll end up getting your money’s worth at the theater.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Shape of Water a 3.8. Take a dip into a strange new world, and see for yourself if there’s something to love here.

Now if only del Toro could do an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, which he tried to do a few years ago (but only after I’ve read that particular HP Lovecraft story). That would be awesome.

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Well, I’m doing that thing where authors look at the year before and be hopeful about the year to come. And I have to say, 2016 was not the easiest year to deal with. Even the people who called 2015 shitty say 2016 was worse. Many people we cared about, from celebrities to icons to just ordinary loved ones, died. The world was rocked by a number of incidents, big and small, that showed that hate and prejudice is still alive and well in many countries one would consider tolerant (let alone the openly-intolerant countries). Groups like ISIS, and events like Brexit and the American presidential election left people the world over confused and terrified about the future. Illnesses and conflicts and starvation raged, and people suffered.

And movies that were supposed to be great, like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and Ghostbusters, either were terrible or didn’t make the money they should’ve (stuff like that bums me out).

Yeah, this year has been tough. But there have been some amazing things, good things, that have happened this year. We have comedians like Trevor Noah and Jon Oliver and Samantha Bee, who are using their platforms to educate people about existing issues and even find ways to do some good. Thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and other areas have found homes in more stable countries, and have started rebuilding their lives. Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson are using their fame to fight for issues like feminism and equal pay. Hollywood is putting out more movies and TV shows that reflect their viewers, including black-ish, Speechless, and the Fast & Furious movies, to name a few, and while there are still missteps here and there, this shows that the makers of our media care about our opinions. And we nearly had our first female president! It didn’t happen, and it would’ve been cool if it did, but it still shows how far this country has come in terms of women’s rights. And the world got Tape Face from America’s Got Talent. I swear, I could watch his video every day, he’s so clever with the visual gags!

But wait, there’s more! This from YouTube and Vine star Thomas Saunders on reasons to smile:

God, that’s a lot of good, isn’t it? I wish he would’ve added Lucifer on that TV show listing though. That show makes my day!

On a more personal level, 2016 actually went pretty well for me. Yeah, all the nasty stuff I mentioned up above bummed me out, but there were many good things this past year. For one, my mother got married to her partner of several years, which was made possible by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage nationwide. That was a blast, and something I was glad to see finally pass. My mother and stepmother are so happy together, and I’m glad they get to be together in the eyes of the law as well.

Around that time, I got offered a couple of jobs/internships! One of them was here in Columbus, and it translated into a full position that I’m still working at right now. It’s a great job, where I’m promoting diversity in my organization with an office full of good people, and getting great pay and benefits while I do it.

In addition, my job has allowed me to move out of my dad’s house and into my own apartment, and even to buy new furniture and a new laptop. I’m paying all my bills on time and still have money to save, which is huge for me! And if things continue to go as they are, who knows? I could even get a cat or save up for a dream vacation to the UK and Ireland! I would love for those to happen.

My sciatica has improved! Yes, for those of you who don’t know, I have sciatica, a condition in which a nerve in the back is squished by spinal discs, causing severe pain in one leg and the lower back. I’ve had this since some time around graduation, but over the summer and through fall and beginning of winter, I started doing some new exercises and other stuff to improve my condition. At the time I’m writing this, I feel only mild discomfort, and sometimes not even that. By next summer, I could be completely cured of it!

This got published!

This got published!

But that’s not all. I released a new book, Video Rage, back in June, and it’s finally started to get some reviews! In addition, nearly all of my books have received new reviews this yer, and more people are discovering them every day. Heck, even my coworkers are reading my books! And on the social media side of things, my blog has grown, accruing nearly 900 subscribers, and passing the five-thousand like milestone. And pretty soon, I’ll be passing the fifty-thousand views milestones. One of my posts actually went kind of viral, garnering over nine-hundred views in the first five weeks of being published, and receiving more views since then.

But there’s more! I started the final book in the Reborn City series, and as of the most recent chapter, I’m a sixth of the way through the book! I could have it released sometime next year! I’ve also written several short stories, and I’ve had some great ideas, both for stories and for strategies to make sure more people discover and read my books. I can’t wait to put some of these to work.

Look folks, this has been a tough year. But for everything I’ve said above, and stuff I haven’t said, it’s been a pretty good one too. And while a lot about 2017 looks scary, we can do a lot to make it a great year. It’ll take some work, but we can make 2017 suck less than 2016 did (I can even post about some of my ideas on how to do just that in another post if you guys want), and to achieve all that we ream.

So will I make a thousand followers? Will I publish another novel and some short stories? Will I get an agent or a contract with a publishing company? Will I get a cat or that vacation? Will we cure AIDS, or improve education, or save the environment? Will the new American president be good at his job? I can’t say with any certainty. But it’s what I hope for. And if not, I’ll do all I can to improve that situation.

Happy New Year, my Followers of Fear. May 2017 bless you and leave you with plenty of reason to smile.

So I’m sure many of you are wondering what it’s like to work for the US Army in Europe. Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

Okay, how many of you laughed at that, and how many of you took that seriously?

In reality, I can go into a bit of what I’ve been doing here, as long as I don’t give away anything that could even remotely threaten national security (and that doesn’t give any information to stalkers. Yeah, you know who you are. I know you’re out there. Especially you!). So without further ado, here’s what I’ve been doing in the office lately.

So, if you haven’t heard lately, I’ve been working in the Equal Employment Opportunity office at the base in Wiesbaden, which is actually central command for US Army Europe. And guess what else? My office is the top EEO office for all of Europe. I’m not kidding, if the general needs advice on EEO stuff, he goes to the head of the office, Ms. Moya, to discuss policy (apparently she’s written the book on EEO in the Army, and is a major reason why I can even work in the Army when technically I have a disability). Besides Ms. Moya, there’s Mr. Vitiello, who is my direct supervisor and is considered one of the top EEO specialists on the continent, and there’s me. The new guy learning the ropes and contributing any way I can. It’s a small but extremely important office, and we’re busy each and every day.

And speaking of offices, I have one of my own. Yeah, I do. At the moment we’re moving some things around the larger EEO office, so mine’s become the designated storage space for all our supplies till we’re done with the moving. But yeah, for the next two-and-a-half months (perhaps longer, we’ll see) it’s my office. And I’m pretty psyched about it. I got my own key and a computer with two monitors and a nice view out one of the windows. It’s not too bad.

As for what I’ve been doing…well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on diversity. There’s not a lot of coursework that can be taken in that subject. Well, maybe there is. It’s kind of an HR job in a way, so maybe go to business school with a focus on HR and…I’m getting off track. Anyway, it’s a big topic to talk about, especially in regards to the Army, so I’ve got a lot of reading to do. I’m happy to do it, of course. It’s not horror novels, but it’s interesting and informative, so there’s a plus.

I’ve also been writing, specifically I’ve been writing an article on the benefits of diversity in the Army that will appear in a newsletter that will be read all over Europe. I did a lot of research for the article, and now it’s going through editing phases. I’ve also been filling paperwork out and taking online courses for work (when the Internet is actually working for me. We’ve had problems with that. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another” has become a common refrain for me lately).  And in off moments, when there’s nothing to do, I find time to write, which can be scarce during these busy days.

As for the rest of the base…that’s classified. I can say that the buildings and layout are not what I expected. At times it reminds me of a camp I once visited as a teenager, where nothing seemed to be near anything else, and at other times it seems like a small community in a desert town in Arizona or the Mojave (and there’s the writer in me). When I head outside, it’s often warm and sunny, which means I sometimes sweat off my sunscreen (and that’s why I put it on three times a day). But it’s a nice place to work, and I’m figuring out where everything is slowly but surely.

Me at the office.

Me at the office.

Well, that’s all to mention right now. I’m sure as I get through the paperwork and as the Internet gets fixed and all that other stuff, I’ll get into some sort of routine and learn quite a bit more on the subject. And if I stay longer…who knows? Maybe I’ll even get my driver’s license! We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, tomorrow I go on a trip to Frankfurt through the USO (and this time I know exactly where we’re meeting), and if I get the chance after I get back, I upload a ton of photos and write a blog post about it. Sunday I’m planning on chilling at home and finishing up this short story I’ve been working on before diving back into editing Video Rage. So wish me luck, everyone. I feel I might need it.

Guten nacht, mein Anhanger der Angst!

[Writer’s Note: The following post does contain some slight spoilers about the new Avengers movie, but it’s all very minor stuff, nothing that would ruin your viewing of the film if you plan to go and see it. Just wanted to let you know.]

So last night I went with a friend of mine to catch Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was fantastic, great action scenes, some really dark moments of character development, and plenty of that humor we’ve come to enjoy from the MCU films. If I were to give this film a rating, I’d probably put it between a 4 and a 5.

However, there were some things that bothered me, and I want to talk about them here. One of those things, as said by Maria Hill during that party (which we’ve known about for months, so it’s not a spoiler): “Where are all the women?” Yes indeed, where all the women? If you think about it, while there are plenty of women in these movies who hold their own against the men, the women are still underrepresented in the MCU. Black Widow has shown up in four films so far and set to appear in the next Captain America film, but a solo film isn’t even in the works (though a treatment apparently has been written) and she’s only got 24 action figures compared to over a hundred various Iron Man toys.

It’s even more sad when you consider how she’s such a great, well-rounded character who can be a great role model for girls, and Scarlett Joahnnson’s costars make fun of her and call the character “a slut” and “a whore”. Yeah, they did that. Women are so much more than their sexuality and gender, and yet these guys reduce a character to being sexually promiscuous just because she’s comfortable around a bunch of testosterone-high males. Seriously, half or more of the audiences of these films happen to be female, as I understand. At least half the people in the theater with me last night were women, and I don’t think they were there just for Captain America and Thor’s good looks. You’d think the people making these films would remember that more often before saying something so hurtful and wrong.

Seriously, where’s her time? Where’s her solo film?

 

Now, there is a Ms. Marvel film in the works, Agent Carter was a real hit when it came out as a TV miniseries earlier this year and AKA Jessica Jones is being made into a series on Netflix, but the Ms. Marvel film isn’t due out until late 2018, a full year after DC plans to release a Wonder Woman film. Really Marvel? You’ve been doing this for way longer than the other studios, and you’re going to let DC get a superheroine flick out before you? I’m ashamed. You could’ve at least put more priority on getting more female characters out there.

Another thing that gets my goat (and again, this won’t ruin your experience of the movie, so don’t bite my head off), is that while Nick Fury, James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/Falcon make appearances, the latter two’s involvement in this film is minimal at best. War Machine shows up near the very end but ends up contributing very little. And Falcon is maybe in the film for a little over forty seconds, making me wonder why he was in the film at all if they weren’t going to really use him.

Really? Look, by 2050 minorities are going to be the majority in this country, and shows like Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder and movies like the Fast & Furious franchise are popular partially because of their extremely diverse casting. People like seeing characters like them that they can look up to in these stories, and these franchises and shows give that to so many people who have been shut out of the entertainment industry for years. Yet the most diverse casting so far in these films is the group from Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think with so many different non-white heroes in the Marvel universe, the filmmakers are making a big mistake by not trying to have more diverse casts in their movies.

Then again, there is room for hope. A Black Panther film is in the works with Chadwick Boseman as the character, there are rumors that the new Spider-Man might be black or Latino*, and hints from Age of Ultron that the next couple of movies will feature more diverse casts, which I can only say is a good thing. And with Marvel planning on putting out more of these films at least through 2028 as long as people are still willing to see them (my God, this franchise will never end!), so there’s still opportunity to make sure the women of the MCU get their chance in the spotlight as well.

They’ve got plenty of time, so I hope thy use that to put out a few films with more diverse casts.

 

We just have to hope that Kevin Feige and the folks producing these films take the hints their audiences are sending them.

What’s your take on this? Is it a big problem, or are critics taking this issue way too seriously?

Which character would you like to see given a solo film?

*I’m sorry, I’m going to take the end of this post to rant a little and blow some steam. I kind of liked the Marc Webb Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield. He was funny, they were clearly setting up a cinematic universe of their own, and I liked the characters very much. But Rise of Electro makes less than $750 million at the box office and what does Sony do? Cancel all immediate plans for a sequel and sell out to Marvel so that Spidey can join the Avengers! I mean really! Why even bother making the films in the first place? I just hope Spidey 3.0 is funny and engaging, otherwise one of my childhood heroes is going to be ruined for me.

About a week and a half ago, Variety reported that the Ghost in the Shell live-action film, which had been in development hell for years, was underway and had Scarlett Johanssen in the lead after Margot Robbie turned it down. Not only did this impress upon me to actually read the manga, but it excited and angered GitS fans across the world. The former is understandable, but the latter is a bit more complex. Why? Well, the main character of GitS is named Major Motoko Kusanagi, and she’s Japanese. Johanssen, while a great actress, is white. Why didn’t Touchstone Pictures ask any Japanese actresses?

And this isn’t the only live-action adaptation based on a Japanese franchise where Hollywood has looked at only white actors. The Akira film, which once again is in development after many years in and out of development hell, has been notorious for its producers trying to get white actors in the roles of Japanese characters. Justin Timberlake, Robert Pattinson, and Andrew Garfield are the latest names to come up. George Takei has been vocal about this, warning producers they will upset fans and have a repeat of The Last Airbender (an adaptation of the American anime Avatar: The Last Airbender) if they don’t cast Asian actors. Remember the latter film had a mostly white cast, and, although the film was problematic on a number of levels, the fact that the very diverse characters were all played by white actors upset many fans.

And it’s not just films based on anime that has had this problem. Biblical films such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings have received a lot of criticism not just for the liberties taken with their stories, but the fact that while the characters being portrayed would have most likely have been from the Middle East and Africa, the principle actors were all white. And in Pan, an upcoming movie based on Peter Pan, Tiger Lily is played by Rooney Mara, who is white while her character is Native American. Surprisingly, the Peter Pan live musical on NBC last month actually had a Native American actress and tried not to be so stereotypical with their portrayal of Native Americans, which was one of the few good things about that disaster. The 2003 Peter Pan film also cast a Native American actress in the role of Tiger Lily, and that film rocked! Why can’t Pan do the same thing?

And here’s something interesting I’m not sure if other people have noticed: when the Harry Potter films were still being made, the first couple of films had two different actresses, both black, playing Lavender Brown. At that point she was a background character for the films, but once the sixth book came out she had a much bigger role. When we see her in the sixth movie, she’s played by Jessie Cave, who was white. I mean really. The HP universe has already shown that the main basis for discrimination is how pure your blood is. JK Rowling has already stated that gender isn’t a big deal in the Wizarding world, and I don’t think race would be a big deal either. What’s wrong with Ron dating a black girl, even if the relationship doesn’t work out in the end? Heck, Fred went to the Yule Ball with Angelina Johnson, who in the books was black, and after the series she married and had kids with George Weasley.

And why the heck wasn’t Selma in the Oscars this year? I mean, I don’t really care about the Oscars, but apparently this year has only white nominees, and of those most are male. I don’t know why. I saw Selma, and it was powerful and beautiful. Why can’t it get a nomination or two?

I’ve been vocal about how, almost 47 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, this nation is still full of racial inequality, most illustrated this past year in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and quite a few others, the trials that seem to have lead to nowhere, and the protests that have followed them. The many roles where white actors have played characters of non-white nationalities may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually pretty big. The media has a great power to influence millions and millions of people. What does it say when the people who go to movies don’t see themselves in the movies that they go to see? Even in roles where they should be seeing themselves?

I’m not sure what Hollywood’s reasoning for doing all this white-washing. Maybe they like to bank on star power or something. But I think that studio execs are making a big mistake by not including more diverse casts in their films.  TV execs are catching on much faster: TV shows like Sleepy Hollow,  Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, which pride themselves on their diversity, are tearing up the prime time landscape, Black-ish and Jane the Virgin, which feature mostly black or Hispanic casts, are some of the year’s best new comedies, and SNL has made it a point to diversify their cast members.

And while I’m still working on getting that sort of reach with my books, I like to use diverse casts in my stories when I can, and I think that that’s some of the best parts of my books. In my thesis novel Rose, half the main cast, including antagonist Akira, are Japanese. In Laura Horn, many of the characters are black or Hispanic, and I plan to keep that in the rewrite. And in the Reborn City series, most of my characters aren’t white. In fact, Zahara Bakur, my protagonist, is an Arab Muslim. And if in an adaptation of any of my works, the white-washing I’ve described above was used in the casting process, I’d be very, very upset.

Because that’s not how the characters should be. We want to see characters who look like us. I’m lucky that I see a lot of white characters. Occasionally I see a Jewish character, though they’re either secular or ultra-Orthodox Jews. But what about others? There have only been two black superheroes in the movies these past couple of years, and they’ve been sidekicks to the white superhero. And what about Hispanic or Asian heroes? Where are the Native American characters?

I think Hollywood is making a great mistake in not diversifying their casts and insisting on the big actors. I’m not saying that white actors no longer have roles in movies. But I do think that there needs to be more roles for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other groups and ethnicities in Hollywood movies. It’s not a moral thing. It’s because the world is becoming more diverse every day. The media we consume should reflect that. After all, the media reflects the world, doesn’t it? So reflect the world as it is, Hollywood. And that’s a beautifully diverse landscape of many different groups and peoples with a thousand different stories to tell.