Anyone connected to social media can bear witness to the fact that we live in argumentative times. Whereas the trolls in fairy tale times used to hide under bridges and extract tolls from wandering tourists, Internet trolls demand attention from unsuspecting readers, causing pain and anguish while asking if said reader was mad. The toll is our time and sanity.
Because of such “us vs. them” divisiveness, the science fiction community had to deal with the flare up of certain canines who may be dolorous or rabid depending on their stances but were definitely upset with the state of the Hugo Awards. While their argument could be considered, the confrontational attitude of some of the puppies sharpened the battle lines to the point where anyone involved had to choose sides.
Here in Hollywood, the film community faced its own awards crisis. The 2016 Oscar nominations looked straight out of the 1950s, with no African American actors, writers or directors nominated. In the most glaring example, despite having a black director/writer and lead, Creed’s only nomination was for supporting actor Sylvester Stallone.
As a screenwriter myself, I have seen the industry change drastically in the last ten years. Films are becoming a rare commodity because studios have cut back production. With the rise of plasma screen televisions, on-demand viewing and general comfort, Americans have cut back on their trips to the local theater. Since the box office is the biggest portion of a film’s profits, the majors now invest in tentpole features where spectacle and computer-generated kablooie dominate. Conventional wisdom states that in 2016, you can make a movie for over $200 million or less than $5 million. Those middling features (romantic comedies, social-issue dramas, family films) were where other races and voices were given the opportunity to establish themselves as viable, money making artists. Under the tent, the choices will always be bigger, safer, whiter.
But despite the fact that #OscarsSoWhite, has there ever been a better time to be minority and female minority actor? Setting aside such juggernauts as Scandal (and the entirety of Shondavision) and Empire, television speculative fiction is awash in black female leads. Candice Patton on The Flash, Nicole Baharie on Sleepy Hollow, Meagan Goode on Minority Report, Halle Berry starring in and producing Extant (recently canceled, but still) are just a few of the black and Latin women popping up on the small screen. And this doesn’t even take into account the supporting roles which are a veritable ‘80s Benetton billboard. One agent even had the temerity to complain that there were no roles for white actresses. They may not have booked a television role, but instead got a heaping spoonful of scorn.
At the same time, this year is the tenth anniversary of the death of Octavia Butler, and next year would have been the celebration of the 70th birthday of one of the first black voices in science fiction. The Huntington Library, the Pasadena-based private library which holds Butler’s papers, announced “Clockshop”, a Los Angeles-based arts organization, is partnering with several other local organizations and institutions—including The Huntington, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ ALOUD series, and the Armory Center for the Arts, to name a few—on a yearlong series of events celebrating Butler’s life and work.” The project will be called “Radio Imagination.”
Butler’s vision and style would inspire legions of alternative voices in the highly white, highly male publishing world of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Her groundbreaking career was not just about the color of her skin or the make-up of her body, but for all the thing we praise writers for: voice, characters and style.
So in the spirit of argument and alternatives, we have some strong opinions throughout these coming weeks.
On the political front, the American presidential contest devolves into shouting and finger pointing, and fans of DC comics rage at each other over “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” We throw our hat in the ring looking at the political make up of DC Comics’ towering pair, with Sharif Shakhshir asking the question, “Is Batman a Libertarian and If So What Is Superman?” While he draws deep political lines, the textual proof is solid.
We also delve into who has the right to write gay characters. Emily Veinglory’s essay “Turnabout Is Fair Play” takes a rigorous analytical look at the conflicts created when straight female authors write gay male characters, a trend found heavily in fantasy. This controversy gets the blades swinging and the blood flowing, but Emily holds up a mirror to both communities, revealing how each are flawed.
Finally, on a much lighter note, James Silverstein takes a peak at the Marvel Films Universe to reveal who the real trickster is among the superheroes in “Hiding In Plain Sight.” And, to tease our readers like Coyote or Bugs Bunny would, you’ll have to read to find out who we’re talking about.
What we’ve learned from the social media experiment is everyone thinks they are the put-upon, the minority fighting against the mainstream who is definitely out to get them. While objective oppression remains in our society, the subjective kind is what we’re fighting about. And we won’t know if there can even be a winner while we remain in the middle of the battle.