Iron Fist: Big Trouble in Little China.

I am not happy with the casting of Finn Jones as Iron Fist. While the choice of a Caucasian actor for the role adheres to the character’s origin, I think the selection of a biracial actor to play the part of Daniel Rand would have improved upon the story told and enhanced the overall quality of the cinematic Marvel universe (and Hollywood in general) in multiple ways.

Finn JonesFirst and foremost, depending on the actor’s phenotype, a biracial actor of European and Asian descent would have provided a visual signifier of Daniel Rand’s existence as a warrior trapped between two worlds—that of a modern Western city and an ancient Asian village. To watch billionaire adventurer Wendell Rand and the Chinese businesswoman who captivated him enough to become his bride work to build a life for Daniel that included both of their cultures would excellently foreshadow Daniel’s later struggles as an adult to do the same. The existence of a biracial Iron Fist would also act as a bridge, tempering the woefully appropriative nature of the Caucasian martial artist Daredevil and paving the way for the later introduction of well-known Chinese hero Shang Chi. (One could even argue that Daniel Rand’s presence was not needed in the Marvel cinematic universe at all, for every role he plays could have been neatly divided between Matt Murdock and Shang Chi.)

A biracial Iron Fist, hot on the heels of the black Luke Cage, would have provided instant (though minimal) racial diversity to Marvel’s overwhelmingly white line-up of leading men. Given that we are at a point where Marvel has been repeatedly and publicly admonished for its non-existent efforts at diversifying its slate of films, one would think that the selection of non-white leading men would be a priority. And yet an Arab actor is not playing Doctor Strange and a biracial actor was not chosen for Iron Fist. This is a shame.

The substandard depiction of men of Asian descent in American films is a longstanding problem and has driven many to seek proper representation in foreign films. But why should Asian Americans have to look outside of their country to see Asian men shown as masculine, heroic, and sexually desirable? This is absurd—and must be terribly frustrating to young Asian American men. Not only is there a dearth of material in which one is mirrored, but one must endure a glut of projects showcasing white male action stars playing dress up in costumes cobbled together from the culture of one’s forefathers.

While the selection of Finn Jones as Iron Fist extinguishes yet another opportunity for a male actor of Asian descent to step into the limelight as an action hero and heartthrob, I must admit that my disappointment stems from the fact that black women of darker hues may perhaps be robbed of the rare opportunity to be seen as romantically desirable as Marvel adjusts Iron Fist’s history in order to deflect criticism by increasing the number and importance of supporting female Asian characters.

Simone MissickWhen in doubt, swap the secondary characters out. While Marvel is clearly disdainful of altering the races of its leading white male characters, the studio seems more than happy to add diversity where supporting characters are concerned. I would not be surprised to see Marvel replace Misty Knight with the biracial Colleen Wing as Daniel’s primary love interest—cribbing from Iron Fist’s histories in the House of M event and the Ultimate universe. However, it would be frustrating to lose Misty Knight as Daniel’s companion given her status as the only woman in the Marvel universe who is not fair-skinned and is also depicted as attractive and desirable. Who would be depicted as a woman deeply loved–first and exclusively. The physical changes made to Storm, Cecelia Reyes, Claire Temple, and Reva Connors would be glaring in Misty’s absence and would lead one to question if colorism were at the root of it.

Oh, so many missed opportunities! Many critics have argued that Iron Fist must be white to provide a cultural counterpart to Misty Knight and Luke Cage, but a biracial Daniel Rand would still be wealthy, would still benefit in certain ways from his father’s white privilege and mother’s “model minority” status, would still find wonder in modern technologies—providing a perfect contrast to Misty and Luke. The inclusion of whiteness is not necessary in every exploration of race relations and inequality.

But the choice has already been made and Iron Fist is white. So how does Marvel move forward from here? By taking cues from the title of this post and the second season of Daredevil as well. Jack Burton is the star of Big Trouble in Little China, but Wang Chi is the hero. Marvel could do the same with Shang Chi, inserting him into the series as a foil to Iron Fist as Punisher and Elektra initially were to Daredevil. How fun would it be to see Shang Chi as Elektra’s inverse, a weapon of the Chaste stolen and raised by the Hand, only to return to his true heroic nature! How fun would it be to see Shang Chi emerge as the star of the show as just as Punisher usurped Daredevil’s throne!

The fight for representation is an ongoing battle, and we must be as creative as possible in exploring every loophole before Hollywood can sew it shut.


Daredevil 2: Social Justice Punisher.

In my excitement I have started this essay four times. This is the fifth. I am not certain I can do the character of the Punisher justice with my analysis. I am too giddy for reasoned observations—too enraptured with Jon Bernthal’s performance. I have a soft spot for “hard” men like the Punisher—tough men who have had almost everything ripped from them but would gladly give the little they have left for family. For retribution. For some semblance of justice.

The PunisherPunisher is not alone in fitting this description. Marvel possesses other bruisers and brawlers such as Luke Cage and Wolverine (both characters I have long adored). And Frank Castle is certainly not the only character to suffer a great loss. So what makes Punisher the perfect foil and counterpart to Daredevil? What sets him apart from his peers? Why is he uniquely qualified to be a part of the upcoming Defenders team and perhaps lead his own show? It is simple. Frank Castle is white.

(I do not care how many issues of Origin Marvel produces. Wolverine is indigenous and I will continue to argue with anyone who says otherwise! But that is a matter for another time.)

That said? Marvel certainly does not want for white men. They are everywhere—from square-jawed patriots to cerebral playboys—saving the world from certain destruction as the rest of society watches in awe. For decades we have been provided with project after project of white men displaying feats of superhuman strength and uncanny intellectual prowess while women and people of color are there to provide assistance, but are rarely allowed to have their stories and desires take point.

A few years ago, David Brothers penned an excellent series on the trinity of black male representation in comics: the fantasy, the reality, and the ideal. I followed up later with one on black female characters. I believe this trinity extends to other groups, its balance wholly dependent on the group’s status in society. For white men, we have been presented overwhelmingly with an ideal not rooted in reality. Moreover, we have been presented with an ideal that is erroneously reinforced as reality via its ubiquitousness while the power fantasies of others are sublimated in response. Trinities work best when they are balanced. When they are not—as is the case with our entertainment industry’s depictions of white men—this is damaging not only to those who do not get to see themselves as heroes, but also to those who are told that they must always be heroes—that they are incapable of failing. In reality, perfection is unattainable. Perfection is Godly. The best of us are those who rise once more after they falter. For every Black Panther there must be a Luke Cage. And for every Superman there must be a Punisher.

“You must be something when you’re not wearing the long johns, right?”Frank Castle

In America, a man will never suffer the vicious inequities of institutionalized racism if he is white, but—as Frank Castle’s tale illustrates—whiteness does not prevent one’s life from going to complete shit. The existence of the Punisher is a novel acknowledgement of the suffering of a particular subset of white men, which is why I believe his popularity has undergone a rabid resurgence. The Frank we are shown in season two of Daredevil is not only very different from your average Marvel hero, but initially parallels the lives of so many working-class white men in Northeastern and Midwestern districts who are disillusioned with the American Dream. Both Frank Castle and Matt Murdock come from the same lower-middle-class white ethnic urban background. Matt is Irish American. Frank’s ethnicity is not given, but context clues place him as Italian American. What is so wonderful about the inclusion of Punisher as a foil to Daredevil—and that pivotal scene where Matt questions Frank about his upbringing—is that we can deduce the exact moment where the lives of Matt and Frank diverged.

Matt received an influx of cash and went to college. Frank went to war. Matt studied concepts of liberty and justice in classrooms where his worldview was questioned by multicultural multitudes. Frank was told what liberty and justice were by a lone man richer and whiter than he was. And was then ordered to kill for it. He made a living out of killing. Matt, foregoing the footsteps of his father, made his living with ideas. With words.

“You know you’re one bad day away from being me.”Frank Castle

Frank isn’t as wealthy as Tony, as smart as Peter, as worldly as Matt, as powerful as Bruce—but he was able to build a life for his family with this country’s help, just like any other white man a couple of generations deep into the GI Bill. Like so many others who went to the plants and the police stations, Frank buttoned that blue collar, albeit a camouflaged one, and went to work.

And then it all went to shit. And Frank went to pieces. But white men in America are not allowed to be broken. After all, we have been told time and time again that white men are the ideal. So broken pieces must be swept under the rug to keep said illusion in place. Frank suffered. Alone. With nothing more than the shattered remains of his home and his gun. The White Reality is that men who are not allowed to acknowledge their pain, who are not allowed to give voice to the truth that their American Dream has become a nightmare, lash out. Frank is bottled sorrow. Frank is unchecked anger.

Punisher is death.

Frank Castle’s reintroduction to the public could not be more perfectly timed or placed. The character is rooted in revenge, a ‘70s film sub genre made popular by Death Wish—making his gunplay the perfect bridge connecting Daredevil’s martial artistry and Luke Cage’s Blaxploitation exploits. His violent rampages are also therapeutic for white men who are similarly awash in a groundswell of anger. But unlike the vehement displays manifest in hate crimes (and occasionally political rallies), the Punisher’s actions are as subversive as they are frighteningly cathartic. And that subversion comes from the fact that Frank Castle does not blame his woes on some random invented outgroup that happens to be browner than he is, but on the actual individuals responsible for his suffering. Men he thought were his brothers. And in delivering his own personal brand of punishment to them he finds the first member of his new family along the way—Matt Murdock.

“I think I’m done.”Frank Castle

The Punisher 2The Punisher’s introduction via Daredevil is vital because Matt gives Frank space to commit another subversive act for men: the act of grieving openly and passionately. And only Matt can do that because he represents home—a completion of the circle—in a way that no other character in the Marvel universe can. Matt Murdock, Daredevil, is just another boy from the neighborhood. As close as you can get to family without sharing blood or spilling it.

Next up: What I’d like to see in a Punisher series, why Misty Knight should be Frank Castle’s platonic ride-or-die (and vice versa), and why the two characters are the perfect bridge connecting Matt Murdock and Luke Cage.


Daredevil 2: Elektra Boogaloo.

The second season of Daredevil provides two separate tales binding together to make for an even stronger whole. I enjoyed it—thoroughly—though it is plagued by themes that one would call problematic.

ElektraDamned if you do; damned if you don’t. I was delighted by the casting of Elodie Yung as Elektra. To finally have a woman of Asian descent take the female lead in a story that leans heavily on Asian martial arts and East Asian myths allowed Marvel to make a bold statement: it would not be following Hollywood’s insulting lead in erasing Asian people from their stories.

To be honest, I was deeply concerned that Marvel would do just that. (The casting of Finn Jones as Iron Fist does not do much to assuage those concerns.) I was afraid that Marvel would cast a white actress as the originally Greek Elektra Natchios—that a white woman would be the face of Asian martial arts in the Marvel universe, to be surrounded by a slew of nameless Asian lackeys that would be quickly mowed down by Daredevil’s superior skill. I was fearful that we would see white men and women bringing justice to the overwhelmingly Asian American areas of New York via their mastery of Judo, Karate, and Muay Thai. I was afraid that all the heroes would be white, all the villains would be Asian, and all of the cultural elements cribbed by Marvel would be Asian as well. I was afraid that Asian people would be reduced to set pieces in white fantasies of Asian myths.

To be fair, we were provided with an ample sampling of the above. Daredevil’s depictions of the Hand and the Chaste—two mythical warring factions originating in Central Asia according to Marvel lore—were frustratingly unbalanced. The protagonists were a multicultural band of men; the antagonists were Japanese. In fact, if not for Elodie’s Elektra, none of the protagonists in a story about good versus evil—one spiraling out of ancient Asian cultures—would be Asian. That? Is both insulting and absurd.

To reiterate, damned if you do; damned if you don’t. What if Marvel had decided to cast an elderly Asian American actor as Stick, leader of the Chaste? While it would have been comforting to have a second person of Asian descent on the side of “good”—that choice would have certainly opened Marvel up to criticism. Is inclusion worth it when the role is that of an elderly “mystic Asian” who teaches the white hero to be all he can be?

Indeed the change of Elektra from white to Asian adds uncomfortable elements to the love triangle established in the second season that would not exist were all the actors of the same race. But instead we have a woman of color in the position of a succubus, tightly wrapped in red and black, dragging Matt Murdock further from his lofty position in the Western world. A woman who we are told inherently possesses a darkness within her. A woman who in every scene is set as a counterpart to the plucky—and white—Karen Page. A Karen Page who is draped in ivory and blue. A Karen Page who tries her hardest to bring both Matt Murdock and Frank Castle back from the brink. Back to her world. Back to a New York City where people of color exist on the fringes as civil servants, villains, and victims—but never heroes.

“Immigrant Africans, Caribbeans, and African Americans make up 25.1% of New York City’s population.”

“Asian Americans make up 11.8% of New York City’s population.”

“Hispanics and Latinos make up 27.5% of New York City’s population.”

A lot is riding on Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

The Marvel universe is split neatly into different factions, a clear (and wise) attempt by Marvel to appeal to fans of other genres while remaining safely nestled in the superhero realm. The Avengers and Spider-Man provide consumers with standard superhero fare; mutants, cosmic characters, and space explorers such as the Fantastic Four lean heavily on science fiction. Blade and Doctor Strange allow Marvel to explore horror and fantasy; street-level characters allow Marvel to explore neo-Blaxplotation, martial arts, and noir.

It is the latter that concerns me. And it is the latter that I see heading down a narrow-minded, well-worn path. And that path contains omnipresent white male heroes, a less competent man of color providing support, and a scrappy but beautiful white woman with a well-timed kick or pithy comment to show that “ladies rock too.”

Dear God, am I tired of that. But it seems to please Hollywood considerably and I have the option not to watch. I’ve been exercising that option a great deal lately. I don’t have to settle in for another Avengers movie. Or Ant-Man. Or Fantastic Four. Make a million movies in that vein and I won’t be troubled in the slightest (or found in the theater).

Daredevil and NobuBut Netflix’s slate of Marvel shows is different. Why? Because the shows are set in New York City. Because the comic books that the shows pull from are overwhelmingly influenced by African American films and television shows, Chinese action flicks, Japanese manga, and African American and Chinese American ethnic enclaves. To reduce black and Asian characters to sidekicks in these stories, to roll out with a Defenders team that includes one lone black man as the only person of color? Is decidedly racist. A New York City where the stories of people of color are subordinate to the stories of white people is a lie and a travesty. I want the truth of equality. I was born there. I know New York City’s reality. My family is a part of it. My friends are a part of it. And a large percentage of them are not white.

A chunk of them are however! So, once more, what I what is equality. Marvel has done a fabulous job weaving a thread of the story of the Irish in New York City into Matt Murdock’s tale. I am crossing my fingers that they do the same with Frank Castle’s Italian American background. (Don’t let the last name fool you. If you think for one moment that the Punisher isn’t Italian I’ve got a bridge to sell you.) But I would have much preferred a series featuring Angela Del Toro to one featuring Jessica Jones. And I am disappointed that a biracial actor was not chosen to play Iron Fist. Moreover, Luke Cage’s introduction in Jessica Jones has me skittish in regards to how African American culture in New York City will be showcased.

As I’ve said, a lot is riding on Luke Cage and Iron Fist. And we’ll discuss that a bit later.


Me and Mrs. (Jessica) Jones.

The Marvel-Netflix series of shows has been a success both financially and creatively. Daredevil and Jessica Jones have not only remained faithful to the core attributes of its lead characters but have also stretched the notion of what the masses expect from a superheroic tale. Both works are darker than other fare from Marvel—clearly indicating comic heroes aren’t for kids anymore—utilizing quirky examinations of adult themes rather than juvenile titillation to make said statement.

Jessica JonesJessica Jones in particular has connected with an adult white female audience—a group woefully underserved where action projects are concerned (though inroads have been made with projects like Mad Max: Fury Road). However, where both Daredevil and Jessica Jones take great pains to examine the role of the white vigilante (or in a broader capacity, whiteness in urban society) and how it has morphed since the glory days of Batman, depictions of people of color suffer greatly for it.

It is both frustrating and exciting to watch. Jessica Jones dives headfirst into the topic of consent and its requirement for a true and healthy relationship. Jessica’s abuse by the hands of Kilgrave, and Patricia Walker’s dysfunctional romance with Will Simpson highlight the patriarchal need to dominate and diminish the role of women. However, unlike a by-the-numbers Lifetime movie, a tale of empowerment is woven using elements of science fiction as connecting threads. Kilgrave’s mind-control abilities push his tormenting above and beyond that of the average anonymous social-media bully, causing not only mental anguish for his victims but physical pain as well. Simpson, a rogue cop fueled by pharmaceuticals, attempts to control the movements of the women in his life via superhuman abilities. The character is perhaps even more frightening than Kilgrave in that Simpson shows that an abuser can wear a mask of kindness and can easily be a man one has been willingly intimate with.

Jessica’s physical strength saves the day, but not without the assistance of two very important things: smart women working in tandem and a higher socioeconomic status than others. Trish’s and Jeri’s money and notoriety provide access that would be otherwise impossible to obtain—from a favor from a morgue attendant to classified corporate documents to a speedy and medically sound abortion.

Luke Cage and EmmaIt is here where Jessica Jones shines and also falters. The familial bonds between Jessica and Trish as well as the snide working repartee between Jessica and Jeri are a delight to see. The show glorifies both sisterhood and women who are exceptional at their jobs. Women are shown in leadership positions in entertainment, in medicine, in law, and in criminal justice; the capability of said women is not questioned by the show—only by male characters who are rebuffed for doing so. Women do not need men to take care of them in Jessica Jones, but they are willing to exploit the white-supremacist society those men have built to aid them in their goals. Male characters of color suffer to serve Jessica; female characters of color are utilized to move the story along (and provide the show’s fleeting glimpse of lingerie-clad female objectification), but they are given little to no characterization or voice. Jessica Jones’ sisterhood welcomes members of only one type.

The treatment of Luke Cage is perhaps the most egregious given the character’s history as a Blaxploitation-era figure of empowerment. That history is gone in Jessica Jones—the character becoming a tabula rasa to aid in Jessica’s story. Luke’s cultural ties have been severed. No longer situated in Harlem, he runs a bar in Jessica’s integrated neighborhood. His past as a private investigator—one more skilled than Jessica herself—has also been taken from him. It is Jessica who shows him the ropes as a PI and compliments him for being a quick study. Luke Cage, a character with deep roots in northern African-American subcultures and an origin that highlights the racism of the prison industrial complex and the need for black people to work independently for their own justice, has been changed into a character wholly dependent on a white woman for instruction and closure in the case of his dead wife—a wife killed by the woman whose bed he routinely occupies as an emotional and physical salve. He is a private dick in the worst of all possible ways.

Malcolm Ducasse, a young black man twisted into a junkie spy by Kilgrave, does not fare much better. Jessica turns society’s irrational suspicion of black men against itself by using Malcolm’s presence as a distraction in order to steal items that will aid in her client’s release from prison. To reiterate, she offers Malcolm up to the system to free a young white woman from the same. Moreover, she extends Malcolm’s time in mental bondage to Kilgrave because it is advantageous to her. To Jessica’s credit she feels guilt regarding these actions, but what help is her guilt to a man railroaded into the system? Once Malcolm is freed from Kilgrave’s mental grip he does not return to his promising career, or to his family, but instead remains by Jessica’s side—fielding calls for her company and showing concern for her sobriety. And that is where we leave him, waiting for season two.

Would I recommend watching Jessica Jones or Daredevil? Yes, depending on the individual asking, for both works send different messages to two distinct groups. Unfortunately, as a black woman I am not in the group that is championed or empowered. I can hope for that to change with the addition of Luke Cage and Iron Fist to the Netflix slate, but I am still wary. And given Marvel’s history? I have reason to be.

Okay, you poor souls have suffered through enough Marvel thinkpieces for one day! Of that I’m certain. Next up? I play Daredevil’s advocate.


My Spider-Man is black.

Spider-Man #2You speak your truth. The following panels, taken from Brian Michael Bendis’ and Sara Pichelli’s Spider-Man #2, irked many—myself included. I’ll be painfully honest, my first reaction upon seeing the panels was to smirk and to dismiss the work as the result of a naïve white author who had once overheard a black man exasperatedly proclaim that he did not wish to be a black writer (or artist, or actor, or musician) and proceeded to weave the experience into a story without any knowledge of the history behind such a statement. The scene rang false to me. Given my own history, I simply could not imagine an Afro-Latino kid from similar stomping grounds as my own who would not immediately recognize the importance of representation. I could not imagine a black kid from New York in the age of #BlackLivesMatter who would not wear his blackness and his heroicness like a badge, streaming across the avenue with all the bravado of Jeezy and the defiance of Kendrick.

Spider-Man #2These kids are better than we were. We made them better. Dragged them out of the Bushes with battered bodies still broken by Reaganomics. Built them ladders from our bowed spines.

And so black and brown blanched at the sight of those panels. Social media quickly ignited—journalists and critics fired back with lists of what Bendis should have done and what he should no longer do. In my opinion? Bendis did what he was supposed to do. He did what countless other white writers who overwhelmingly dominate the mainstream marketplace do.

He spoke his truth.

Spider-Man #2And his truth is different from my truth. His truth comes from a place where race does not have to matter. His truth comes from a place where one can innocently proclaim that one doesn’t “see color” or question why the world deems it so important.

Because he is white. And no matter who a white writer embraces at night or who he tucks in, he cannot step into the shoes of another and speak as them. He can only imagine and describe what their vantage point must be like from his own.

And that’s okay. And that is what writers are supposed to do. And beautiful works have been produced from that. What is not okay, what is unbelievably harmful, what we have in the marketplace right now, is a massive block of writers from one sole vantage point describing everyone else’s. A truth that is not multifaceted is distortion. A publishing marketplace where black voices are muffled and Bendis, Waid, and other white writers are given heavily promoted platforms to speak upon the topic of race is distortion. This is a long-standing problem. And it is one that will not be resolved with advice to white writers. Because all the advice in the world will not make them black.

I don’t want to be a black writer. I don’t want to be pigeonholed and only (rarely!) considered for stories featuring black characters, stories I will not get to write should a non-black writer have a desire to write them. I don’t want to be told that I can only write for characters who share my vantage point while non-black writers are given free rein to produce work from any vantage point they can imagine—including my own.

And be championed for it. And be paid handsomely for it.

But, oh, do I want to be a writer that is black. Oh, do I want to see writers that are black. I want black and brown and white children to know the worlds that are inside of us. I want them to know the beautiful way the brick and mortar of a brownstone changes the way one can see a sunrise. I want them to know how the heat of the jungle is described by one who knows the heat of the comb.

There is a difference. Another facet of the diamond. And aren’t diamonds at their most beautiful the deeper and more intricate the cut?


This bitch right here.

I’m losing my softness.

Unfortunately, not physically! Anyone who I’ve roped into a hug can attest to that. But the inner core of who I am—quiet, demure—has been changing. The world isn’t a safe one for soft black women.

America prefers its black women angry, aggressive, and entertaining. And if a woman is not all three, mainstream American culture will do its level best to provoke and ridicule her until the desired result manifests. And then sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

For hardness and aggression in black women is beloved, so long as no ire is pointed in the particular audience’s direction. Black men look on in amusement as black women clap back at white feminists who dismiss their contributions and curtail their advancement. And those same white women will dry their eyes days later and clap for joy as those same black women hold black men accountable for sexist behavior that denies black women agency. Watching Mammy read someone for filth is fun as long as one is safely tucked within her enveloping skirt—blameless, cherished, protected, and deferred to.

The world of DeConnick’s and De Landro’s Bitch Planet is an exaggeration of our own, where women are told that they must fit within extremely rigid boundaries or face severe punishment. But in our world, and I suspect in DeConnick’s and De Landro’s as well, race impacts those boundaries. And what is demanded of one group of women is often frowned upon in another. Bitch Planet examines the need to be compliant—to be docile, to be demure. But what of those for whom being demure is deemed noncompliant? For black women, softness and stereotypical femininity is unexpected—and seems to elicit vicious anger and displeasure in others. When we are labeled as that which is desirable, that which is to be cherished, that which is to be protected, a pushback—cloaked in the lie that black women are inherently unacceptable, brusque, masculine, animalistic—is immediately enacted.

A black woman who is soft, carefree, hyperfeminine, reserved, and demure is radically noncompliant.

It is interesting to note how acceptability plays out according to the two most notable members of Bitch Planet’s ensemble—Kamau Kogo and Penny Rolle.

Kamau is a fighter. She is tough, smart, athletic and more than willing to put herself on the line to protect weaker individuals around her. She adheres to the importance of the truth even in the face of punishment. One would think that feistiness, the refusal to back down, is what results in her incarceration and engenders mistreatment. No. The powers that be see her—those traits—as potential entertainment. And yet in a white woman in that same world an inkling of those traits results in expulsion and death. But Kamau? Well, we are not even certain Kamau is a prisoner and not the lone volunteer mentioned by guards in issue one.

Though the last of Penny Rolle’s crimes is “wanton obesity,” her weight only seems to be an issue when she refuses to accept ridicule or hate herself for it, when she refuses to “prioritize how others see” her. The mockery of women of size has been a longstanding source of amusement in the States. It seems to bring joy to the men of Bitch Planet as well. We see from the jovial (and bigoted) conversations of men Penny has served in the past. Her weight draws derision and laughter from white men, but her presence as a caretaker is accepted and her body considered a joke or a delight reserved for a group of men referred to as skins.

“Skins. They like ’em big like that. It’s in their animal nature—big asses, big lips.”

It is when Penny finally lashes out, refuses to accept her role as a state-sponsored servant and source of amusement, that the law comes down upon her. As a black woman it is not her weight, but her rejection of her weight as wrong that is inexcusable.

The Fathers will love you as long as you hate yourself.


NYCC here.

NYCC was surprisingly short on groundbreaking announcements this year—which I find to be a shame. While SDCC has clearly been overtaken by Hollywood (announcements regarding film and television projects in the science-fiction and fantasy realm are often reserved for the event), NYCC had been able to increase in size (and importance) while remaining largely about publishing. It’s where major series were once publicized, new companies and imprints were revealed, and contracts with celebrity creators were made known. This year, however, presented little to the public beyond an event logo or two and the revelation of a few new minor titles. NYCC’s loss of exclusive announcements removes what made the convention unique. It is now a grand spectacle and a boon for networking opportunities—phenomenal for professionals, but fans who are not locals have no need to attend. NYCC, like all major conventions, will only grow larger or stabilize, but the nearby hotels that once benefitted from gouging throngs of attendees may find only a limited number of professionals occupying rooms as fans simply get in their cars—be they automobile or subway—and go home. For me, NYCC (along with SDCC, ECCC, and DragonCon) has been scratched off the list of conventions to attend, but I’d advise any fan from Manhattan or Brooklyn to buy tickets for 2015 as soon as possible.

That said, NYCC did have a revelation or two. Let’s take a look!

Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple

Many fans will wonder why Dawson did not go for a meatier role such as Elektra, Misty Knight, or Kirsten McDuffie. Honestly, given Marvel’s propensity for making certain that all of its heroines of color pass Hollywood’s paper bag test, I’m relieved that Dawson is not playing Knight. However, while the role of Claire Temple is not a substantial role in Matt Murdock’s life; it is an enormous role in the life of Luke Cage and Goliath. Temple was the first love of both Cage and Goliath, and was a major component of two long-running love triangles in Marvel comics (Cage-Temple-Foster and Temple-Cage-Young). By selecting the role of Claire Temple, Dawson can now be inserted in four Marvel television shows (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones) and one Marvel motion picture (Ant-Man). Wise choice. Dawson may not be playing a superheroine, but Claire Temple is a role that guarantees her a great deal of screen time and dramatic material. Get money, Rosario.

The Battle for Independents

There are a few independent comic companies nipping at Image’s heels by producing comics that are similar in tone to the work put out by Image. What these companies fail to recognize is that you cannot topple a thriving organization by imitating it. Image was able to best Vertigo by excelling where Vertigo had grown weak. It provides a home base for popular “counter-culture” creators who feel constrained by Marvel and DC and wish to broaden their creative horizons and perhaps cement a financial future by working on properties that they themselves own. Yes, this can be done at other companies or via self-publishing, but Image has name recognition and conjures up notions of literary celebrity and alt-glamour. Point blank, if you are a white male in your late twenties to early forties who occasionally eschews the mainstream and has an established fan following? You need to be at Image. And if you are not at Image? It is likely because another company foolishly thinks it can become Image by throwing substantial amounts of money in the direction of you and your peers. No. Image has a brand, a clear voice, and a steadfast determination to not repeat the mistakes of its forerunner. One can survive feeding from their leftovers, but one cannot thrive or build a brand of one’s own.

What an independent company (or alternative imprint such as Vertigo or Icon) needs to flourish is a unique voice that serves a specific mission or caters to a specific audience. And if said company cannot create one? Cribbing one from a company that clearly does not have its ducks in a row works just as well. Yet fledgling companies continue to crib from Image, which is neatly aligned from beak to tail.

Some, however, have moved in a new direction. BOOM! has created a welcoming space for female creators that has yet to be replicated elsewhere (though other companies should note that said creators could likely be wooed away with adequate monetary compensation). Dynamite and Zenescope have embraced and improved the bad girl trope popular in the nineties, and serve an audience that has drifted from companies no longer as focused on providing “cheeky” fantasy material. Moreover, Dynamite (along with IDW) has wisely picked up popular licenses that fall outside the superhero realm, and will benefit from the boost nostalgia provides without having to compete with the behemoth that is the “big two.” And finally, Archie Comics continues to aim for the irreverent to capitalize on past success. In order to make headway in these times a company must ask three important questions: whose stories aren’t being told? What popular genres are not being properly explored by the comics medium? Which companies have dissatisfied creators?

Ladies First

The rise in the number of female creators and female characters was considerable—and quite frankly, necessary. Not only did talented mainstream staples like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick announce new projects to compliment their work at Marvel and DC, but Marvel and DC also relied on established methods of finding and developing talent to bring in female creators from other arenas, double the workload of existing female talent, and increase the number of titles starring female characters. While I’m a bit wary of the ability of the characters selected to find an audience (I would have asked the creative teams on Silk and “Spider-Gwen” to lend their talents to Spider-Girl and Jubilee), the fact that Marvel and DC are willing to work to recapture the success of Ms. Marvel and Batgirl is encouraging.

Yet the inroads made by Marvel and DC are miniscule compared to the presence of women in the world of self-publishing and small press. I was elated to see the immense line for Regine Sawyer’s Women of Color in Comics panel and women were also well-represented in Prism’s Women in Queer Comics.

Back to the Future

I am curious to see what the future holds for NYCC. As large as the convention is, the event still seems to center around comics—in marked contrast to SDCC. Will this change when Marvel is the only large publisher located in the Northeast? After all, it will be much easier for a convention like WonderCon to assume the mantle of the largest comic convention about comics given its location. Moreover, should DragonCon take great care in cultivating its comics track and unite with Atlanta’s SCAD division, it could possibly lure exhibitors away from NYCC. It provides legions of fans, promising new talent, celebrities, and tourist traps at a cheaper price point than New York City. Then again, the DragonCon showrunners do not know how to successfully embed the culture of Atlanta within geek realms in the same way that Reed is able to infuse geek markets with the flavor of New York City. Missed opportunities for one and a blessing for the other.

Next year, as I did this year, I will happily watch the events of NYCC unfold from the comforts of an easy chair—scrolling through interesting links on a tablet. May 2015 be even more successful than the last!


The A-game.

“I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e., hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e., that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”Bruce Levenson

The poor attendance found at Atlanta Hawks basketball games makes a great deal of sense after reading controlling owner Bruce Levenson’s letter decrying the team’s inability to convince corporations and white men aged 33-55 to buy season tickets. Levenson’s own bigotry, his dismissive attitude toward African Americans, led to inadequate marketing tactics—which then led to poor ticket sales.

Atlanta is a black city. Black people make up 54 percent of the population as of the 2010 census. To target your marketing to middle-aged white men in a city that is majority black is woefully inept. And if your product can be enjoyed by all nearby residents? Racist. Levenson erroneously targeted white residents due to the belief that black residents do not possess the disposable income required to purchase tickets and other Hawks-related material. His beliefs were off base. Atlanta is home to a large number of affluent and famous African Americans—Americans Levenson should have been targeting instead.

Atlanta is the home of black celebrity, and celebrity sells tickets. The Knicks, currently excelling only in their ability to be mediocre, routinely play to packed houses. Knicks ticket prices are astronomical. Why? Because celebrities attend on a regular basis and the stadium is safely nestled within the city’s largest tourist trap. The rule of celebrity remains even when the coasts change. When the performance of the Los Angeles Lakers slips in quality, fans still attend Lakers games to see and be seen. A Lakers home game is an event—fashion show, networking conference, photo opportunity, and speed-dating service in one.

Hawks home games must be events in the same manner. If black celebrities routinely attended Hawks games, and pictures of their attendance were disseminated on various gossip blogs, fans—of all races—would follow. And ticket sales would increase. Perhaps it is even worth the investment to pay Atlanta-based celebrities to appear initially—real celebrities, not reality stars. The third Captain America movie will be filming in the city soon. Footage of Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans appearing regularly at Hawks games would do more for ticket sales than a Hawks winning streak.

Finally, celebrity must not only be found in the stands, but on the court as well. Sadly, we are no longer in an era where simple skill is enough. Americans want quality hoops, yes, but they also want showmen. LeBron and Kobe are more than players; they are personalities. The Hawks need a player that fascinates fans off the court as well as on—a charmer worthy of “Black Hollywood.”

All eyes are on the Hawks now due to Levenson’s antics. Perhaps a new owner with a vision unclouded by racism will be able to see the potential in the Hawks and craft the quality franchise Atlanta’s residents deserve.


An immodest proposal.

I am honestly wary about putting forth this idea due to recent current events! The harassment of critic Anita Sarkeesian and the theft and release of stolen pictures from notable actresses and singers shows an undercurrent of misogyny and immaturity in geek circles that does not allow for whimsical and balanced depictions of sexuality. Frankly, the anger of mainstream audiences towards women and the lack of female artists at mainstream comic companies might make the idea I am about to put forth impossible. But I will share nevertheless!

It is evident, even with the recent furor over Milo Manara’s variant cover for Spider-Woman, fans of all genders and sexualities enjoy well-rendered pin-up art. The success of a wide variety of artists—Touko Laaksonen, Matt Baker, Olivia De Berardinis, and even Manara himself provides evidence of that. It is often not the existence of pin-up art that angers critics, but that companies use pin-up art to objectify one group in particular—women—singling said group out and removing its agency.

I had joked to friends that while Marvel is in the hot seat over its Spider-Woman gaffe DC should plan a lingerie-variant month. Kidding aside, the idea has merit—and DC is the one company possessing the iconic characters necessary to make it successful. However, said success is nestled within a public-relations minefield. The only way to maneuver that minefield safely is to make sure that the project as a whole celebrates equality, healthy depictions of sexuality, and consent. Male and female characters should be used as subjects; lighthearted scenes should be encouraged. For example:

  • A variant cover for Superman could show Superman in boxer briefs hanging his costume on a clothesline behind the Kent farm. He winks mirthfully at the reader.
  • A variant cover for Harley Quinn could show Harley in her underwear looking over her shoulder at the reader. Her skin is white save for a small patch of peach skin on her back. A gloved hand—meant to be the reader’s—is poised in the air, about to paint the last portion.
  • A variant cover for Batgirl could depict a scene from a pajama party. A group of young women have hogtied an intruder and are blithely explaining recent events to an amused Batgirl while they eat ice cream.
  • A variant cover for Grayson could depict a shot of Dick Grayson from behind as he approaches a seated woman in a business suit. The woman gazes at him seductively. 50 Shades of Grayson, perhaps?

The point is that the project should aim for a wider variety of readers—readers with varying interests and from various backgrounds. It can be done and it can be successful should DC take great care in hiring artists with open-minded views regarding sexuality and a firm belief in equality. But, no pun intended, can DC rise to the challenge?


Too black, two strong.

Tim Hanley’s “Gendercrunching” articles are always of interest to me because while the perception of the impact women and people of color have upon the “mainstream” comics industry can be molded via marketing, numbers do not lie. This month, Hanley has added his yearly statistics regarding creators of color to his monthly presentation on gender. The results are far from surprising.

Race and Gender Statistics

Though for the most part they are not working at the “big two,” black people are working in comics and in related entertainment industries such as animation and prose publishing. It is important to reiterate because the reaction to the periodical release of the miniscule number of black creators working at DC and Marvel (1.4 percent) compared to the percentage of Americans who are black people (12.6 percent) is often anger followed by a rattling off of potential black creators to be hired and various methods DC and Marvel can use to find black talent.

DC and Marvel are well aware of methods such as hiring individuals from independent comic companies, inviting self-publishers to pitch, pairing established writers from other genres with comic writers in order to acquaint them with the comics industry, reconnecting with creators who have left the industry, and providing artists with back-up stories in order to gauge their ability. DC and Marvel routinely use these methods to bring creators who are not black into their companies. DC and Marvel are aware of the methods used to increase one’s talent pool. DC and Marvel are aware of black creators. The dearth of black pencillers, inkers, writers, colorists, and editors at DC and Marvel have nothing to do with a lack of available talent or an inability to communicate with said talent.

What is frustrating for black fans of Marvel and DC is the unfulfilled desire to read about their favorite black characters and hear black voices within the same work. And those fans will never be happy until they expunge that desire. DC and Marvel have little interest in hiring black talent. And until fans disturbed by that basic truth accept that fact, the lack of black voices will eventually poison the enjoyment of mainstream black characters. Trust me—I speak from experience.

Black readers can have it all—popular black characters and talented black voices—if only they are willing to commit to the simple task of buying two quality books instead of one. Of course, one can save money and forego mainstream books entirely, but I do realize that for some fans pastiches are just not enough. And for only a few bucks extra they can enjoy a great book featuring the “real thing” (though we should examine which characters are deemed “real” and why).

I will admit it is bizarre that mainstream heroes are not voiced by black people, that DC and Marvel routinely explore concepts such as government corruption and institutional inequality sans any input from African Americans, but we are not experiencing the silencing of the past where black people were denied means of distribution. Kickstarter, Patreon, and independent companies are available and black comic creators can be found there. Quality work can be found there. Instead of bemoaning the paths that are not available, let us celebrate (and widen) the paths that are.


To market, to market!

If your product makes a segment of your audience feel inherently less than another group, you’re doing it wrong—be it creating or selling. This applies to comics, to movies, to television, and to literature—any form of entertainment.

How can my statement be true? Gendered marketing has proven effective in the past, no? And there is direct evidence that marketing a product to young men while snubbing young women has led to a segment of women consuming the product nevertheless. In addition, it has allowed for those companies to create a “girls’” version of their product, essentially crowding the women who felt ostracized—due to being deemed inferior consumers of the “regular” product—into a new lucrative market, a pink ghetto. If this method has worked so successfully in the past, why should it not continue to do so in the future?

Why? Because this type of marketing—essentially insulting a segment of potential consumers—only works in a society where inequality has already taken root. To reiterate, telling your consumers that they are inferior will only make them want your product (in order to prove their worth) if they truly questioned their self-worth to begin with. With a rise in parity and self-esteem old marketing methods are slipping into obsolescence as certain companies find their products no longer sell as well.

What does this mean for traditionally “geek” markets that catered to white men such as comics and video games? For companies that did not choose to produce material or advertising couched in inequality? Nothing at all. They will continue to cater to a shrinking, but fiercely loyal and dependable audience. There is nothing wrong with a company narrowing its focus. However, to narrow focus by insulting those who fall outside the intended market endangers a company’s health. It will result in a vocal groundswell of women and people of color who will push back against the products and marketing tactics they have been insulted by.

Those who are only able to enjoy products that glorify racism and misogyny will grow furious as companies scramble to placate the growing number of female consumers and consumers of color unwilling to accept such packaged hatred. In fact, their fury has already been felt in the harassment of notable female creators and critics. However, their fury is no match for the sheer number of women who have entered—and are continuing to enter—the market.

Screw you! You social-justice warriors won’t take my pin-up art and shooters from me! Sugar, for the love of God, sit down. No one is trying to. Women and people of color enjoy them just as much as you do. I’d assemble a keyboard army with the quickness should Empowered be pulled from shelves and I love the Grand Theft Auto series more than any reasonable person should. (However, let’s be honest, Houser and Humphries are incapable of writing an interesting and well-rounded female character.)

What female fans and fans of color want is parity. Luckily, parity is created via addition—new products, new characters, new creators, new markets, new points of view—not subtraction. Let us be clear, the only thing being removed is bigotry. And that is something no man who considers himself a human should believe is worth fighting for.


Oh, what a web!

If a company markets one product to two diametrically opposed groups within the same arena, said company should expect a spectacle as those two groups angrily vie for the sole attention of the company and dominion over the product. The spectacle will be a boon to the company as those not even interested in the product will flock to the spectacle to witness the clashing of the two groups—promotion via chaos. It is a deeply exploitative form of marketing that I find distasteful, and it is a form that Marvel has recently used with greater frequency, causing me to shy away from its products.

The rapid growth of the number of women involved in geek circles has sent various entertainment industries that once catered wholly to men scrambling to find material to sell to a new and untapped market. In comics, Marvel has wisely made space in its roster for empowering and entertaining works featuring female characters that are helmed by female creators. Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are notable examples. However, two books and two female creators are not enough to service the growing number of female readers. Demand has clearly outstripped supply.

One way Marvel has countered is by upping the number of books featuring female leads. The upcoming Spider-Woman was announced at Marvel’s Women of Marvel panel at the well-attended San Diego Comic-Con (the panel amusingly stated by Melissa Molina of Comic Book Resources to have dispelled stereotypes). It was here that Marvel marketed to its first group—men and women frustrated with poorly conceived, sexist, and sexualized material that objectifies solely women.

spider-woman-1-coverAnd it was here, in the cover created by erotic artist Milo Manara and in the choice of the notorious Greg Land as series penciller, Marvel marketed to its second group—men craving sexualized images of women to objectify—a group that is in direct opposition to the men and women who were in attendance at the panel. It is a group that is frustrated due to the belief that they are being stripped of the ability to enjoy erotic art featuring Marvel characters as an increasing number of female characters are used to create empowering works for women. These two groups were bound to clash—and clash they did in several notable places, which drew the attention of the mainstream media. And with the attention of the mainstream media Marvel got exactly what it set out to obtain when it first championed Spider-Woman to female audiences and then hired the industry’s most infamous “cheesecake” artist and its most talented erotic artist for the project. And it only had to gaslight its female readers, a group already battling sexism and harassment in an industry that is hostile to them to do so.


Multiversity.

This is for writer David Uzumeri. The rest of you may ignore. You will not—for curiosity gets the best of us—so come on in.

Uzumeri has launched a series of annotations dissecting the work of beloved “comics god” Grant Morrison, examining the freshly released The Multiversity #1 from DC comics. I had planned to skip the series, assuming the work would only be of interest to historians of DC’s lore, but Uzumeri’s annotations have made the work enticing. Of course, the work of Morrison and Reis helps considerably in luring one in.

Upon reading the work it is more than evident that Multiversity is akin to a well-written children’s cartoon, providing entertainment not only for delighted youth, but also slipping in tidbits of information for experienced adults chained to the television, enslaved by the whims of their children. Multiversity is a fun read for kids excited by flashy costumes and earth-shattering confrontations. The work also provides a wealth of references to dated DC comics, delighting older fans of Crises past. But even more exciting than that is that Morrison has deftly inserted critiques of the comics industry in its entirety into the series—and that is extremely attractive to entertainment analysts more thrilled by sales charts and editorial changes than title launches.

And so here we are—me, in particular.

The Multiversity, page 10My interest lies in the title’s villains—the Gentry—introduced on page 8 and seen here on pages 10 and 12. Gentry is a loaded word to give to any antagonist in times when American people of color, black people in particular, have raised concerns about the gentrification of their urban neighborhoods by middle- and upper-class upwardly mobile white people. Children simply see a dastardly group usurping a world that does not belong to them. Those interested in the history of comics and the history of America see something more.

The Gentry is representative of the worst of the comics industry. Lord Broken, a demonic house loaded with eyes and composed of haphazardly stacked stories, can clearly stand for a distorted Marvel, “the House of Ideas.” Note that artist Ivan Reis has chosen for each story to be thinner and less stable than the last, perhaps a nod to Marvel’s continued mining and refining of the work of Stan and Jack, producing weaker results with each incarnation—broken visions. Intellectron, a bat-like figure with one eye, is clearly the worst of DC—a single vision dependent on references to Batman—dark and myopic.

The Multiversity, page 12Note that this warped symbol of a company criticized for its lack of staff diversity—a company wholly dependent on a rich, white businessman, striving to tie all books in service to his—demands that two young black heroes, American and Aboriginal, give up their dreams to become like the Gentry. Instead of bringing their unique dreams—and what is a dream if not a story?—to the table, they are to cast them aside and assimilate in order to belong. For one who has critiqued the comics industry for scrambling to include black characters while shunning black creators, the panel is poignant. The worst of the comics industry wants black images but not black stories. The dearth of black writers today provides evidence of that. The scene is also a nod to the comics industry of yesteryear, which effectively chased out black creators like Orrin Evans and frequently used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White to draw interest and delight white children with misshapen imps while reinforcing the idea that black people are decidedly different and inferior.

I do not believe the other Gentry members are direct correlations to companies, though Hellmachine could perhaps be a quick nod to a distorted Dark Horse—Hellboy becoming the sole engine that keeps the company afloat. Dame Merciless is no one company but indeed a symbol of the entire industry’s depiction of women—barely cloaked and deformed beyond belief. She is shown as a zombie—a puppet—voiced by the Gentry with none of her own, her life force robbed from her. Note that Nix Uotan appears in a similar zombie-like form once he has succumbed. Perhaps Dame Merciless was once a hale woman who had also given up her dreams, her stories, to be a part of the Gentry—an emblem of a comics industry where women are seen as monstrous aberrations—the “opposite of everything natural”—but not heard.

But all is not lost! This is comics, folks, where the good guys eventually win and there’s an assembly of heroes from “the rainbow of worlds” to battle the Gentry back from whence they came. If the Gentry is the worst of comics, the collection of heroes that have come together is its best. Multiversity is clearly a love ballad or ode created by Morrison and Reis to celebrate the industry. What the team appears to adore is diversity of race, gender, religion, body type, and sexuality; the inclusion of humor and child-like discovery; and the pioneering spirit of independent creators. There is also a deep love for the history of comics and the inspiring tropes created at Marvel and DC that we all hold dear. It is interesting to note that while comics history is represented in the Gentry and in the team of heroes gathered, the best of comics allows for the inclusion of one’s own personal history; the worst of comics demands that what makes you you be stripped away.

The battle of the multiverse will be a battle of multiple realities—multiple verses, multiple visions—fighting against one lone vision that has surrounded itself in facsimiles to provide an illusion of growth or change. And via annotations we can add our own realities as well.

Join in.


Ferguson.

I forced myself to go to sleep at a decent hour last night. I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since Mike Brown’s lids had closed forever—every waking moment since his last spent refreshing screens and consuming information and caffeine in likely dangerous quantities. A complete abandonment of any kind of long-form writing occurred; my words, angry and erratic, were quickly shot off via Twitter and Tumblr.

I’m still angry—for the obvious reasons. I’m angry that black life is worthless to people who are not black in America (and to some who are). I’m angry that Americans believe that we deserve the inequality heaped upon us for the crime of simply being black. The murder. The harassment. The silencing. The erasure. The blackballing. The punishment. I’m mad that many Americans still view black people as solely an inexhaustible resource to exploit, leeching from black communities and black cultures while promoting anti-blackness and purporting to speak for while speaking over black people.

But for the first time in a very long time I am also grateful. Because for all the comparisons between Ferguson and Selma, Ferguson is very different. Technology has provided black people the ability to burrow past the mainstream media and allow for black people to have a voice. And that voice is strong and unfiltered on Twitter and on Tumblr and in personal journals. And yes, the voice contradicts itself because black people are not a monolith and have a beautiful and infuriating and brilliant array of ideas.

We have never had a situation where black voices could not be crushed or warped beyond their meaning before. The television stations are owned by white people. The movie studios are owned by white people. The newspapers are owned by white people. The music labels are owned by white people. The radio stations are owned by white people. The publishing houses are owned by white people. They are owned by those who have been taught that black life and black cultures are worthless. And their teachings show in their word choice. It shows in the promotion and overexposure of negative depictions of black people. It shows in the dearth of positive voices. It shows in the selection of only black employees and clients who will mimic the tropes regarding black people that they have come to hold dear—the big black buck, the Jezebel, the tragic mulatto, the Sapphire, the Mammy, the minstrel—or it shows in the selection of no black people at all.

And for a very long time? It worked, churning out anti-black propaganda for centuries like a well-oiled machine, with black people having little recourse to combat it because we owned next to nothing. We stood on soap boxes, screaming to anyone who would listen that we were human and of worth, while those who opposed us controlled screens and airwaves across the nation.

That is thankfully no longer the situation we find ourselves in. When the mainstream media erroneously claimed black looters had taken control of Ferguson last night, black people were able to effectively use modern technology—affordable to most Americans—to show young black people protecting stores, not looting them. Pictures of black men using their own bodies as barriers with police nowhere in sight or on site to provide assistance, popped up across Twitter, gaining power with each reblog, barreling into the public consciousness. While Fox News is able to alter reality for a segment of old, technology-averse people salivating for tales of the black savage, their children and grandchildren are pulling up apps to hear directly from black men themselves. That is new and so very necessary.

And it is not just the news that affordable technology has altered. Black art is now able to reach the masses in an unfiltered state via online organizations such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, allowing black creators to obtain the funds necessary to compete with the output of major publishing houses and movie studios that shun or subvert them. Square allows creators to sell directly to the people. WordPress and Tumblr allow black writers to reach an international audience in seconds. The means of distribution are no longer solely owned by white people; black art cannot be papered over mere moments after its creation. The mainstream media will most certainly continue to attempt to drown out or alter black voices, but those voices have been amplified by technology and sharpened by fury and determination. The task won’t be nearly as easy.

And I’m glad.


Gawker mediates.

Jezebel, the women’s-interest dominion of the Gawker Media empire, is in the midst of a regime change. Former editor-in-chief Jessica Coen has vacated her position; young upstart Emma Carmichael, former editor of The Hairpin will succeed her. But what of the immensely capable Dodai Stewart, who has not only deftly assumed Jezebel’s day-to-day operations as deputy editor (assuming increasing responsibility during Coen’s absence), but has been a member of Jezebel’s staff for nearly the length of its existence? Why was she not picked as Coen’s successor? Is this snub an example of ageism? Or perhaps another example of the painful reality of white privilege, where loyal employees of color with key skills and experience are passed over for “greener” white candidates?

To be fair, Jezebel has a brand and reputation that Carmichael closely fits. She is young, white, urban, educated, and upwardly mobile. Should the Jezebel site have a “face,” it should no doubt be hers. Does it reinforce our culture’s clear bias that white women and white women alone should be the ambassadors of feminism and control gender discussions? Yes. Does it send the message that black women, no matter how hardworking or skilled, will watch white women climb over them to stand on a floor created by their glass ceiling? Well, yes. It does send that message. But the Gawker Media empire is not in the business of increasing diversity or creating an equal playing field. It is in the business of business. Its goal is to make money. And often one makes the most money by adhering to the existing biases within our culture. We hire those with not only the right skills, but also the “correct” look to make clients “comfortable.” And often what makes clients comfortable is what is white.

I should rephrase. White faces make white clients comfortable. But not all the clients are white. There is a clear and large market Gawker Media has not tapped. And, as I’ve stated previously, the goal of Gawker Media is to make money.

I have to wonder if Greg Howard’s excellent piece on Jason Whitlock’s “black Grantland” struck a chord with Nick Denton. Why should Gawker not attempt to grab a share of the market enjoyed by sites such as The Root, Black Voices, and Racialicious? After all, race in general and blackness in particular is America’s oldest and most lucrative obsession. And who better at the helm of a Gawker Media site dedicated to either than Dodai Stewart? Perhaps what we are witnessing is not one woman’s snub, but two women being hired for the highly influential positions that best suit them.

Only time, and Denton, will tell.