Archive for the ‘Multiculturalism/Social Justice’ Category

In browsing Facebook today, I came across an interesting article in relation to the recent Universal release Lucy. The article asserts that the film is a prime example of what is wrong with Hollywood…whitewashing of casting options. While I think this may be a little unfair to single out this film, there were some interesting points and it does spotlight this challenge with Hollywood…diversity.

Full Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-cole/lucy-why-im-tired-of-seei_b_5627318.html

Focusing on Lucy first, the casting of Scarlett Johansson to play the lead character in itself is not really a problem. The reality is that she has been accepting a lot of roles recently that take emotion out of the requirements for her on-screen presence, and she seems to revel in it. She also seems to be taking on this somewhat action oriented roles, with The Avengers, Captain America, and Iron Man included in that list. Why should this be a problem? In the context with the rest of the film, there are a few challenges. Lucy is considered the oldest discovered hominid from Ethiopia. Being that she was discovered in Africa, why was she appearing in the film as living in more of a temperate climate amongst a North American-like landscape. While the location was never specifically stated, it seemed odd that the film’s depiction of hominid Lucy was not in Ethiopia. The have Scarlett’s character named after this hominid then seems out of place but not necessarily a problem.

So let’s broaden the scope a little more…

The article also talks about Hercules, which is just one in a long line of films to take African and Middle Eastern representations but have white actors portraying the characters. There cannot be a shortage of possible actors out there of African and Middle Eastern descent to fill these roles. Dwayne Johnson in Hercules is fine, but the lack of represented diversity in the rest of the cast is wrong. Prince of Persia ended up starting Jake Gyllenhaal and a cast of a similar lack of diversity to Hercules. Another strong example is The Last Airbender. Besides the film being a poor adaptation of the story, the cast was mostly white when the populations should have been from more Asian descent. Title characters have encountered this treatment for years. John Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. Rob Schneider played an Asian/Canadian minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. And while the film was supposed to be offensive to the point of somewhat making a statement, Robert Downey Jr. dressed up in blackface to play one of the leading characters in Tropic Thunder.

Added to this issue with misrepresentation of characters through casting, actual diversity in film seems to lack attention to quality opportunities for actors/actresses of color. There are some successful films that have diversity represented well, but the overall issue is that many great films are passed over and outproduced by the Hollywood standard.

So let’s look at the facts…

Academy Awards Infographic 18 24 - FINAL - REVISED 2-24-2014Courtesy of the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/24/diversity-gap-academy-awards_n_4838536.html

There have been some strides in film. In the last 15 years, there are four people of color who have won either Best Actor or Actress (Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, Denzel Washington in Training Day, Jamie Foxx in Ray, and Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland). During that same time, there have been five winners in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories (Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby, Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls, Mo’Nique in Precious, Octavia Spencer in The Help, and Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave). Steve McQueen became the first producer to win for Best Picture with 12 Years a Slave in 2013. Though the graphic above depicts this information in a more negative light, it does also represent the entire history of the Academy Awards as opposed to more recent successes. There has been a slightly more significant amount of representation in the nominees and winners.

Unfortunately, there are few other populations that can talk about even the success that the Black community has experienced. In the Asian community, only Ang Lee can represent recent success in major Academy categories for his work with Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi. The Hispanic community in nominations and winners is nearly nonexistent. The graphic above also goes more in depth with actual representation of the voting members.

I am not saying that Hollywood needs a complete overhaul, but it does need to take a long look at how it promotes growth and representation. We as consumers should be more interested in seeing more diversity, even if it is to get more variety in our films and storytelling. Talent is out there and we need to embrace it. Tyler Perry does not represent the only diversity that can grab attention at the box office, even if he has broken some ground for consistent box office success. Of this year’s films, new talent is emerging. Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Hotel showed off his quirky, comedic, and touching acting talents. The Raid 2 is an action-packed thrill-fest that is of much better quality than many of the action films that are still to come out this year, including The Expendables 3. Ken Wantabe continues to get more roles to provide better exposure for what he can do.

Let me know what you think…do you believe it is time to embrace more diversity in film?

 

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This is not my first blog post on this topic and will likely not be my last, but the narrative has officially gone too far. It is time to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

Two posts gained broad attention in the past 24 hours and neither of them are the types of stories that Washington should be promoting or that fans should be dealing with.

The first was what appeared to be a 50-year celebration photo of the Washington Cheerleaders. In poor taste, the costumes ranged from the more common style of cheerleader uniforms we see today to dressing up in stereotypical clothing representing Native Americans. When the cheerleaders were first introduced to the team in the 1960s, the stereotypical costume was something that barely attracted any negative attention. Interestingly when considering that this was during the time of civil rights, Washington ran with the cheerleader uniforms until sometime during the 1970s. There was a fringe element that was maintained over the next couple variations, but this style of uniform would never be accepted by the public with today’s social climate. In comparison to other challenges with the team image, this falls more toward the poor taste side of the continuum compared to the outright offensive.

The second article came straight from the organization’s playbook. With pressures coming from 50 US senators and countless other groups, there was bound to eventually be a more marquee supporter outside of the Washington organization. Enter Democratic Virginia senator Chap Petersen. Leading the charge, he has developed the group Redskins Pride Caucus, aimed at defending the use of the name and images. Claiming the representations as “symbol[s] of unity,” he blasted the recent climate as socialist and the attacks on the team as unjust. The article seemed to be missing one very important element…actual discussion of the name. As much as they talked about wanting to defend it, there was no defense provided for the term’s actual meaning.

Outside of these two recent posts, there are plenty of other discussions, videos, and blogs highlighting the issue. The ones that demand a change are more direct and poignant about why the name is offensive, citing definitions and historical use of the term. There is some flaws with these posts, at the same time. One of the things that Washington has been able to do relatively effectively is craft a narrative where Native American support is strong and a large majority of surveyed Native Americans have supported the continued use of the name. ESPN’s First Take took on this debate, where Stephen A. Smith discussed this challenge and how his resistance to the continued use of the name was fading in light of the strong documented/reported support from Native American representatives and with consideration of the early history of the team. The team was the Boston Braves for the first year and turned into the Boston Redskins, with 4 players identifying as Native American. Because the team has maintained the Redskins name for the vast majority of their history and with Native Americans associated with the organization, there are elements of a case for their name support.

But then you have to think about the definition of the word and the potential true impact of the name publicly. While many supporters of the name abhor the idea of going to the encyclopedia definition, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as American Indian (dated or offensive). The definition continues to discuss that there were three variations of the name (redskin, Red Man, and Red Indian), none of which are positive or remained neutral. The first two were originally used to distinguish the native peoples living in North America and their affinity for using face paint, but the terms eventually were used in a disparaging fashion. The final one was more of a British term but quickly turned negative in line with the other challenging terms used in the US. There are records that highlight the use of the term in treaty negotiations during the early centuries of the US and would support a more accepted use of the term, but more examples exist of the negative representation of Native Americans with Redskins as a slur in printed announcements that document the hunting and killing of the population during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some references actually attributed the term to the scalping of Native Americans in the collection of bounties. Persecution and discrimination tend to be intertwined with the narrative of the term’s history.

During the history of the team, the term has more broadly been considered a racial slur but was used to distinguish between the Boston Braves baseball and football teams. When the team moved to Washington, the Redskins label followed it. Throughout the team’s early history, there are few records that highlight public attention to the term, but that started to change around the Civil Rights movement. There have been judicial battles, conflicts between students and school administrators, and discussions in the public forum over the past 40+ years. High schools and colleges have mostly moved away from the use of the name and some courts have banned the use of derogatory terms, including the term Redskins. Meanwhile, Washington has refused to make the same change because of their commitment to the tradition and the blinders-crafted story of the honor and pride behind it.

So there are a few big questions that remain…

  • How many people (or what percentage of the population) of Native American heritage have to be offended for the change to occur?
  • Because the likelihood of the change will be determined by the economic impact during the social and political battle, is this the only way to make change or is there a preponderance of evidence that would overrule the economic impact?
  • Would the NFL owners ever step up the way the NBA did in the Donald Sterling situation to put the issue to a vote?

I do not have the answers, but there is something else that I do believe could be a difference-maker. The news about the team over the past 2 decades has not been that great with regards to the performance. Since 1992, the team has been to the playoffs only 4 times. They have only won the division twice in that timeframe. In addition, there have been 8 different coaches, not including Jay Gruden and 21 different starting quarterbacks. In the past 10 years, the offense and defense has fallen below the league average more than above. RGIII has provided some excitement, but the overall optimism levels have diminished and are tempered until tangible proof reveals itself. Fans are loyal enough, but performance needs to improve soon before…the only narrative about the team is the name controversy.

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One of the possible consequences of this situation is that regardless of the performance, the team may be hammered in the media about the name from both sides. When the team played against the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, a protest of hundreds of people took place on the Thursday prior to the game. This was not the first and it certainly will not be the last. If the team does well and goes to the playoffs again, more protests like this could continue to sprout up. Many of the protestors are not of Native America heritage, but the vast majority in the protests are. If this is not enough to get attention, the team is in for more and more turmoil for its foreseeable future. Performance will take a backseat, as it has during this offseason, to the continued outrage over the stubbornness of an owner and organization.

I want to finish this post by stating that I am a huge supporter of the team (minus the name) and will continue to support them. The history and the future of this team does not need to be blanketed by a poor decision back when the franchise was formed and we have an opportunity to return the conversation about the team back to football. I am almost to the point that I don’t even care if the name ends up being something off-the-wall ridiculous with no actual ties to the nation’s capital or surrounding area, as long as it abandons the continuation of racists themes.

Change the name, change the narrative. It is that simple.

Super Mario Bros. for NES introduced the concept in the early 80s. After defeating Bowser in the first castle, Mario finds a one of the Toad people who informs him that his journey is far from over. The Legend of Zelda takes this concept to the next level. Link battles through all of Hyrule just to find that he can save Princess Zelda, but he does not really get the girl in the end. These characters are joined by many as the icons that gamers spend hours trying to save and protect. With the significant influence from their games, does this have an effect on how they see real life relationships and expectations of the opposite sex?

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A couple of days ago, Arthur Chu over at The Daily Beast blogged to discuss this very issue. His article highlighted how the recent actions of one man serve as an example for how men have become misguided in their assumptions of finding relationships, love, and sex with women. Being there to save the princess does not automatically mean that the princess must give herself to the hero’s every whim. Also highlighted were shows like The Big Bang Theory, which portrays its lead character living across from a beautiful woman and finding a way to be her close friend until he finally is able to date her. He highlights how these images have distorted some men’s views and caused them to expect a return on their success and good behavior. When those expectations are not met and some men feel slighted by life, they have taken it out on women through violence, rape, and murder.

Chu’s article covers a lot of related elements, but its main point is definitely strong and true. Men, whether video game players, movie watchers, or otherwise, have come to expect that success leads to whatever they want in a partner. In some cases, this presumption even exists without success as an assumed indicator of relationship likelihood. Take the incident in Santa Barbara, CA. Assuming that women owe any man anything with regards to sex, love, or otherwise is naive and chauvinistic. To act against women because you feel slighted is foolish. To enter into any space to kill woman as symbolism of your vengeance against an entire sex for made-up expectations you created is just plain horrific.

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It does not matter if the guy feels led on. It does not matter if the woman one lusts after has been a friend for their entire lives. It does not matter if the guy feels that he is about to permanently end up in the “friend zone.” None of these scenarios deserve the actions that one man perpetrated in that sorority house. I refuse to give his manifesto and YouTube videos any direct attention, but I cannot help but feel disgusted by his expectations of women and his reactions to feeling rejected. Everyone has felt rejected for some reason or another. Maybe there was a job you really wanted or a promotion for which you thought you would be perfect. Maybe you have a sibling who gets more attention than you think they deserve. Maybe a teacher or professor struggles to see a point you made or the effort you put into an assignment. The answer to any of these issues is not to seek vengeance or enact some sort of violence in the name of your damaged ego.

You know what qualities most women seem to appreciate? What about communication? What about respect? What if a man who was interested in a woman just simply asked her if she was interested too? If she said no, is it not time to move on and hope for better luck with someone else?

One of the important things that Chu took time to highlight was the media’s attention on the shooter’s mental illness. While I studied psychology in college and appreciate the controllable and uncontrollable elements of mental and emotional challenges, they do not make up the entire story of a person’s actions and do not absolve a person of wrongdoing. The reality is that rape culture is still prevalent, women’s rights are still not equal in the eyes of human rights advocates, and social culture still fails to resolve perception issues with entitlements and expectations of men over women. the answer is not to keep women for flirting or dressing provocatively. It is not to teach women how to protect themselves from potential attackers or stalkers (even though those are valuable skills given the current social climate). It is for men to learn what it really means to be a man.

Being a man is about respect for oneself and those around them. It is about being advocates for equal rights and treatment for men an women. It is about respecting the choices of other and being accountable for your own. Save the princess if you choose to…just do not expect her to bow to your needs afterwards. Gratitude is nice, but returning affections is a choice that she deserves the right to make. If your princess is in another castle, then do not give up or blame the one in front of you for your situation. Learn to move on and “fight” for what you want but not expect things that are out of your control.

Chu choose the right words when he says, “He needed to grow up. We all do.” Dream about what you want but do not blame others for how it turns out. You only have yourself to hold accountable.

It would be easy for the entire discussion of the NBA’s playoffs to be about the play on the court. In a year where five 1st round match-ups go to 7 games and 8-seeds have chances of knocking off 1-seeds, the competitiveness is off the charts. There are few teams that look like they can breeze their way through the conference finals, if they can even make it out of the first two rounds. Unfortunately, there is just as much action happening off of the court, and it happens to be with one of the playoff teams.

The Clippers are fighting their battle against the Thunder, but owner Donald Sterling have caused them to rally against another opponent…owner Donald Sterling. This is not new to the organization, as Sterling has made comments and run the organization in some questionable ways in the past. The element that made the current situation more volatile was his direct and public displeasure for racially-diverse individuals attending his games. The soundbite has been played millions of times by now and it was mostly silence from Sterling after the story broke. Other than saying that he wanted to remain connected with the team, there was no reaction about his actual comments until more recently.

vstiviano-MAGIC-2So what did he say…after posting a picture with Magic Johnson, Stiviano, Sterling’s girlfriend, was told by Sterling to take the Instagram post down. She eventually removed the picture, but Sterling went on to say, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” He went on to make comments about not wanting to have black people brought into his arena. Sterling supposedly was shocked to later find out that he had been recorded and the audio was leaked to the public.

This reveal produced an immediate public reaction of disgust and anger toward the owner. Many were ready to remove ownership immediately, and the NBA was too. Though there is a process that has to be followed, new commissioner Adam Silver addressed the public to announce that Sterling had been given a lifetime ban from NBA activities, a fine, and a forced sale of the team would be decided by the other NBA owners. This tough decision is something that has not been experienced in other major sport, but the NBA got it right. No tolerance for bigoted comments and poor leadership of an organization is the right call.

Sterling decided to break his silence finally with an interview with Anderson Cooper. During this interview, Sterling proceeded to claim that he was sorry for his comments and was in disbelief that he would ever say such hurtful things. He seemed to blame Stiviano for the commentary and proceeded to reinsert his foot into his mouth by dragging Magic Johnson back into the conversation. Now claiming that Magic has failed to be a good role model for people of color, he contradicted himself by trying to insert comments about Magic’s greatness around commentary against Magic’s outreach and example to the children of Los Angeles.

sn_a_cliipers_kh_600x600The impact of this interview and Sterling’s statements only intensifies the frustration with a man who clearly does not understand the concept of racism. You do not need to be a social justice advocate to recognize that Sterling has continued to make statements that are just plain offensive. He shows a lack of integrity and respect for anyone of color. He could not even just give a straight apology in front of Anderson Cooper. He had to interject comments of continued disrespect and return to referencing his opinions of Magic Johnson. If he wants to talk about poor examples, he should just look at himself in a mirror and take a moment to think about what he has been saying publicly. He has perpetuated social rifts between people of different races by failing to own the statements he has made on multiple occasions. Acting like he is shocked at himself, ignoring his past (un-adjudicated) discretions, and continuing his poor public representation do not make a case against his racism.

The NBA and Clippers organization has reacted quite professionally throughout this process. Silver announced the decision against Sterling and immediately pushed for the owners to start the process of the forced sale. The players protested Sterling’s involvement with the team by hiding the Clippers logo on their uniforms around the time of Silver’s announcement. Coach Doc Rivers took the high road and tried to keep the team focused on playoff success and commented only to state his displeasure with the failure of Sterling to understand his impact on the topic of racism and failure to appropriately apologize for his indiscretions.

The hope is that Sterling can be removed completely from the Clippers and we can get back to basketball. The games go on but this wretched situation continues to fester in the background. The NBA has made a bold decision and definitely needs to continue to stand behind it.

It is only fitting that I get to have such a phenomenal topic to serve as my 100th post on this blog. The Supreme Court made some remarkable steps toward real progress with their decisions announced earlier today. Equal rights in relation to marriage are a step closer to actually being true.

DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was officially pronounced to be unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision. Of course Justice Scalia dissented but it does not matter in the end. This is also not the end of the debate. the Supreme Court did not officially endorse gay marriage or equal marriage, but rather denied the block to the future opportunity. This does serve as a real accomplishment but it is also a major moral victory. It allows gay couples and advocates to feel like there is more acceptance of partnerships beyond “traditional” heterosexual ones.

In addition to DOMA, the Supreme Court also dismissed the case for California’s Prop 8, which looked to ban same-sex marriage. While this did not get rid of the bans in 35 other states, it sets a precedent for additional battles with other state bans. This also brings back the rights of people in California looking for love to mean the same thing for all people.

This was a good day!

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/26/politics/scotus-same-sex-main/index.html?hpt=hp_inthenews

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For as long as I can remember, the Washington Redskins have been under fire for the organization’s refusal to change its name. One of several nationally-recognized sports franchises to use a Native American pseudonym for its name, being placed in the heart of this nation’s politics makes it a high target for social justice advocacy groups.

I am a proud supporter of the team, its history and its future, but I am also deeply troubled by the name. The word is derogatory. It negatively classifies a selection of our population in the same way as the n-word or other stereotype and discriminatory slang. No amount of symbolism that gets thrown into the mix can hide the fact that the word is not one synonymous with anything appropriate.

Dan Snyder is probably one of the most hated owners in all of professional sports but he continues to find ways to get more and more people angry and upset with him. He is not the only only to receive a name change pressure but he has public said, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” Besides the concepts of tradition and history, may question is why not?

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In comparison to the Redskins drama, you can look at examples of other Native American-based teams and how they have handled the controversy. The Florida State Seminoles met with their counterpart tribe and were able to come to a mutual agreement over the use of the tribe’s name and likeness in their festivities related to the campus and its sports. This is a situation where the tribe provide the acceptance for the use of their name. The Redskins cannot make the same case. There is no Redskins tribe. It is just a derogatory name used to classify all Native Americans. There is no one available to get approval from.

The Golden State Warriors used to use Native American imagery in their promotions but were pressured enough in 1971 to remove the Native American influence and switch to something representing the state of California. The Atlanta Braves eliminated the human imagery with their logos but retained the tomahawk chop cheer and image of the tomahawk on their uniforms. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians eliminated some of their imagery but retained some logos on parts of their uniforms, as well as the names. The Washington Redskins have no ability to just change the image (which they tried once before with the spear) because it is still the name that is the main focus. The Indians and the Blackhawks still have some work left to do as well.

There is a part of me that wants to get behind Snyder (*cough*) and VP Karl Swanson and say that you can change the meaning of the word to something more sacred and acceptable, like courage, dignity and leadership. Part of me wants to fall back on the concept of history and tradition. But the reality is that it is not up to me to decide this. In the same way that other populations have chosen which words offend them and which can be reclaimed in positive ways, I to have to respect the Native American population’s right make the choice for themselves. If they deem the name to be racist, then it is racist and needs to be changed.

But still, there is one other problem…what do you change it to? I think the biggest challenge in this fight and why it has been so difficult for the organization to accept their role in continuing to discriminate against a selection of our population is the fact that they have not exerted the energy to and no one has provided a compelling name for the team to be changed to. Unfortunately, a number of great names have already been taken that would be perfect for a team in the nation’s capital (Eagles, Patriots, Nationals, Capitals). Using a name like the Senators would fall flat with the public’s distrust of Congress’s ability to get things done. Maybe these are possibilities…

  • Skins: The abbreviation of the current name may just be a little too ridiculous to justify, though.
  • Warriors: Snyder already trademarked the image for another team but used it in 2002.
  • Braves: Similar to the baseball team, there would have to be a sense of care for the imagery used but this could be one of the best options.
  • Federals: This is just too hokey with the Capitals and Nationals already around…though at least it’s not the Wizards.
  • Natives: This could be similar to the Warriors and Braves but lacks the catchy-ness needed to rally a fan base.
  • Hogs/Warthogs: Another nickname for the current team, it would be a shift but I also don’t think people would get on-board with making this the featured name.

It probably comes down to the Warriors or the Braves, which could both keep the colors and most of the imagery but make the biggest change needed (the name). The Braves would pay tribute to the original Boston Braves. The Warriors could also take on more of a tribute to the military, which the NFL has a great affinity for. The colors could remain and be representative of the army and marines, while the logo could be altered to include elements of all branches. My vote would be for one of those two.

Check out this other commentary if you are interested in reading more about this issue.

I was flipping through channels this evening when I came across the Guys Choice program. I happened upon the show when they were getting ready to honor Vince Vaughn with the Guycon award. It all started off with a performance by Snoop Dogg and a group of dancers in Girl Scout uniforms. While I understand that the uniforms were supposed to mimic one of the scenes from Vaughn’s movies, the image of adult women dancing around in uniforms for underage girls feels a little dirty and pedophile-ish. I can only hope that this was not the intention, but I have to believe that a better choice could have been made to not project an image of women in an inappropriate costume that is not just simply sexual but underage sexual.

I may be over-thinking this just a bit, but it felt wrong the instance I saw it.

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