I'm Not Saying It's Racist... But It's Racist.

Welcome back to my distinctly non-political blog where I post about weird things I built and review Asylum movies.  Today, for the second post in a row, I'm posting something political.

 

The internet is up in arms about some of the internet being up in arms about Zendaya being cast as Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-man movie.  (Just remember, folks, Kirstin Dunst wasn't a natural redhead either)

 

It's the same old song.  Some guys say "Hey, we hate that!  It's not like the original!"  Then a bunch of other people say "You guys are racists!"  And I feel bad because I totally feel those original guys, and yet I strive not to be a racist.  You guys are my brothers in nerdery.  I go through the same thing every time Hollywood makes a casting choice I disagree with. 

 

It's actually the same thing I go through when Hollywood makes ANY change I disagree with.

 

When Hollywood says "We're making a movie adaptation of [Property David Loves], there’s a deep, primal part of my brain that interprets that statement as "We're going to hook David up to a mind-imaging device and pull all the details of this project out of his imagination."

 

Hollywood never means that.  Never.

 

Jackson's Lord of the Rings was amazing, but it didn't so much take liberties with the novels as just ignore broad sections of them while doing something completely different.  Only two Star Trek movies ever really had the kind of flavor the series had.  Wizard of Oz got the freaking SHOES wrong*.  They screw up everything.  It ticks me off every time.

 

But not all changes are equal.  There are basically three reasons you'll see changes to the material.

 

1) Technical requirements.  Sometimes what the author wrote just won't translate well to the screen.  Most frequently, this means abridging the material.  A motion picture script is 90 pages.  A novel is 300.  Even allowing for the fact the novel spends longer on scene description, the math is harsh and unalterable.

 

2) The director has a preference.  I hate this.  If you don't want to adapt the material, direct something else.  I will stand till the walls burn with you on these changes, my brethren.

 

3) Lately, inclusiveness.

 

And here's where racism comes into it.  I'm not racist.  Most of you are not racist (I hope.  If I'm wrong, I need a better class of blog reader).  But from the outside, particularly from the view of color, this looks like a race issue.

 

And it kind of is.

 

Wait.  WAIT.  Don't click away yet.  I just got through telling you I don't believe you're racists.  Hold up there, Hoss.

 

The initial impulse to hate seeing, oh, say, a black James Bond or Mary Jane isn't racist.  That comes from your love of the material.  You want to see it on the screen the way you imagine it, and here someone is telling you "no, actually, we're doing it differently."

 

But holding on to that resentment is racist, because, without meaning to, you're hurting people.  A lot of racism in America isn't directed by hatred.  It's carried full out of habit.  And we can be better.  One of our forefathers wrote the words "All men are created equal."  It wasn't true when he wrote it, but he also wrote "To form a more perfect union."  That's our job.

 

So anyway, inclusive casting.

 

If you're a white guy, the setting for normal in your world is that almost all the heroes are white guys just like you (only, you know, with washboard abs and massive martial arts skills.  So the you you'd be if you'd been born a billionaire and your parents were killed in front of you when you were eight.  And you got a lightsabre.)  You identify with them.

 

Having identified with heroes all your life, you don't have much trouble identifying with the occasional black guy or woman hero.

 

You also think subconsciously that everyone's experience mirrors yours.

 

It doesn't.  To people who aren't white guys, racial and gender identity are a big deal.  They face all kinds of crap you don't-- in addition to all the same kind of crap you DO face.  And when they see the white guy hero, they don't always see an echo of themselves (if only they were test piloting on the same day an alien space-cop died and gave up his power ring).  They see the dudes who oppress them day in and day out.  (And it's kind of worse that those dudes don't even realize they're oppressing anyone.)

 

I used to think all this inclusiveness crap was stupid until I gamed with a woman who said she'd always felt like an outsider until she found a game with gender neutral language.  Until I knew a few mixed-race couples and got to hear from them about the different perspectives on all kinds of things, including pop culture.

 

It really matters.  It's HUGE for them.  And for us, it's not really that big a deal.  Yes, it's a little annoying that Mary Jane won't have glorious red hair, but so what?

 

In all the comics, Mary Jane will still be the loveable Irish-descended WASP we all know.  (Not the actual Wasp.  She's Dutch-descended.)  Does it really hurt us to let our friends look up at the big screen and see their own heritage represented as the hero?

 

Think for a minute about the rush you get when Superman saves the day, or Captain America stands up to corruption and fascism.  Just thinking about it gives you a little rush, doesn't it?  You feel a little warmth in your heart.  Sometimes you think "what would Batman do**" or "With great power comes great responsibility," when you face life's troubles.

 

Now imagine NEVER feeling that.  Imagine that you could never look at a cultural icon and say "that guy's like me."

 

Don't you think the occasional Black Mary Jane is worth letting some of your fellow humans, your fellow nerds, have heroes to identify with?

 

And even if you don't, don't you think it's worth it to keep quiet on the subject so as not to lend any extra weight to the voices of pathetic racists?  (Cause seriously, guys, I'm sure you're not the ones who hounded Leslie Jones off of Twitter.  That's a small, ugly subset none of us want to be lumped in with.)

 

* They're supposed to be silver.  Red looked better in Technicolor.  You have never read the original Wizard of Oz, so you should be ashamed.

** Don't do what Batman would do.  In real life, that would get you arrested, hurt, or killed.