Before I go ahead with my list, I’m going to answer a question that I feel that someone might have right now.
Yes, I DO make my own characters and stories. I’m an author, you know. If you’re curious, you can check out some of my works at these links:
Free/pay what you want books @ Paste/Noisetrade: https://www.pastemagazine.com/noisetrade/books/cmbbell
Now moving on…
Given this current climate, I thought it would be good time to make another serious Top 7 list. I know they haven’t been as fun like some of my previous ones like underrated anime villains or non-actors who should act, but I feel that another list like my last one is in order. Now, I talked about my experiences as a critic, but I wanted to talk about a different angle and that is a viewer. I have my doubts about how any of this could happen, but one can still dream, right?
Let’s get started.
7: Seeing any POC character who isn’t just the main character’s best friend.
This is straight up tokenism when it comes to these portrayals. I’m not against any non-white character being someone’s best friend on principle, but if they’re just there to be a blank slate to the more dynamic leading protagonist, then it feels so shallow. I also see this a ton with superheroes. Just look at War Machine with Iron Man, Falcon with Captain America, or the times when Steel teamed up with Superman for example. They don’t feel like their own characters more often than not. I would like to see them with their own personalities and are shown as equal to their best friend instead of just a blank slate, weaker sidekick, or god forbid comic relief especially when it’s a counterpoint to a white hero of sorts. Make them unique and dynamic in their own right, dang it!
6: More POC lead characters who don’t play up stereotypes or to fill some kind of “diversity quota”.
This one should be so obvious, I don’t even need to go into too much detail as to why it’s important. Viewers do want to see someone like them on the screen and to show them in a good light. However, I get tired of seeing certain characters in leading roles that just feel like pandering to certain communities. In hindsight, I though Black Panther was like that when it came to the MCU (yes, I’ve seen that movie). Like the previous part of this list, I want to see them as their own unique and relatable character in their own right. When you create characters, make sure they are a character who is a certain ethnicity as opposed to just a [insert ethnicity here] character. Trust me, there’s a huge difference in the presentation.
5: If something is being remade with characters that have questionable original designs, then revamp any POC characters to make them appropriate and NOT just as damage control/PR spin/etc… (assuming if the character isn’t going to be deleted)
I’ve actually had a few cases of covering something with this topic before on Iridium Eye. The most obvious examples would be when I reviewed a couple of iterations of the Cyborg 009 series on here with the Devilman crossover and Call of Justice. As pointed out on there, the Kenyan 008/Pyunma character looks just fine and you can even go back to the early 00s remake that was on Toonami, but his original design from the manga and original TV series is straight up Sambo/minstrel show fodder. I could see this as a sincere apology if they want to bring a character back to vastly improve them from their racist origins assuming if they don’t erase them. Tezuka Productions has even made several notices on some of Osamu’s work about how the older series have portrayed characters in certain facepalm-worthy lights while also apologizing for these portrayals. Trust me, reading some of his manga where those caricatures show up is cringe-worthy to say the least and it’s something I mentioned in my review of The Astonishing Works of Osamu Tezuka with some of the shorts in that anthology. Speaking of Tezuka, there was certainly a quantum leap from what little I’ve read of the Kimba manga compared to the original 60s anime (For the record, I watched the anime first, and I haven’t seen Susume, Leo/Leo the Lion yet at this time) and especially Jungle Emperor Leo (1997) which features a very positive Black character with Mary in that movie. Funny how Tezuka Productions had the decency to show a well-written Black character in a movie that takes place in Africa unlike Disney who’ve never had a character like that in their movies that take place in that continent. Don’t even get me started about that attempted Princess of North Sudan movie. [shudders] Still it showed effort on their part and I haven’t seen anything bigoted from their more recent offerings, so I appreciate the company legitimately doing their best to improve from some of their earliest incarnations of certain works for example.
Seriously, the creators need to keep that in mind if they want to update certain characters.
4: Don’t insert ethnic stereotypes with non-human characters.
It annoys me how people try to be slick with this and it’s disgusting. Fortunately, you have characters who’ve been criticized for doing this such as Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels, Skidz & Mudflap from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the crows from Dumbo (need I remind you that the lead one’s name is Jim?). Trust me, I can go on with more and I swear I’m not going to repeat a very certain Disney example, but you already know what it is if you really know me. I also can’t stand when defenders of this trope push their opinions on how PC culture is ruining everything or how they can’t be racist because there are some non-white actors in the same production. Dude, that’s race buffering. Get that strawman out of there. Just because people don’t see the bigotry doesn’t mean it isn’t there if one really pays attention with how it was portrayed. It’s just sneaky and coded bigotry like some cinematic dog whistles when creators do this. It also annoys me when people call others racist for calling out said racism. That’s self-projection and denial.
3: More stories involving Black people that AREN’T just about the Struggle.
This is is definitely racially specific, but it really needs to be said. Yes, I certainly like movies that deal with that issue if they’re done well such as Black Girl, Birth of a Nation (2016), or Camp de Thiaroye to name a few, but not everything has to be either a slave movie or a movie where racism is the main part of the plot. One could argue that I want things to be more Deggans Test-compliant which has truth to it. I want to see more stories about Black people just living life, doing awesome things, or being their own heroes in their own right. Also, I don’t want to see any dysfunctional families or ghetto dramas. Just NO! Say what you will about Second Coming or Lunch Time Heroes, but at least they did something awesome with their respective plots and race doesn’t become an issue with their stories. Is it too much to ask for something like this to become the norm? There’s a time and place for stories involving the Struggle when done right, but I want to see stories in different genres like slice-of-life, fantasy, or sci-fi to name a few. It’s not a difficult process, people.
2: More POC content creators in the forefront with the right reasons.
It’s easy to find other faces, but it’s tougher to weed out the sellouts. I’m not saying everything needs to be automatically controversial, but we need to see creators stepping up who want to do something positive and dynamic. More directors and creators would be amazing to share their stories and to have their voices heard in movies or series.
1: More POC creators with their own studios, companies, creative firms, etc.
In the words of Jello Biafra: “Don’t hate the media, become the media!”
It’s one thing to have directors of multiple races around, but to have them actually own their own studios whether how big or small is a huge step in the right direction. There needs to be more independent artists to do these things with these stories and not to be under the watch of major corporations dictating their every move. I want to see creators make their own lanes when it comes to getting their voices heard, crafting unique characters, and engaging stories for anyone to check out. Hollywood isn’t going to be the be all end all for everyone. It’s no wonder why I cover a TON of works not associated with the mainstream movie industrial complex and watch lots of international fare. To see more creators of color (of ANY race) doing this would be a godsend with the right talent, stories, and ambition to get this done.
Hope you enjoyed my list. What are your thoughts about this issue?