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In The Force Awakens White Women get Representation, but Black Women get CGI

I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I loved it so much that the first thing I thought about doing when I walked out of the theatre was hash out everything that this Star Wars reboot had done right.

Like including legitimately humorous dialogue rather than slapstick CGI sidekicks.

Unfortunately, everyone on the blogosphere had already come to the same conclusion long before I was back from my Christmas break. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the film, or reading articles about it. So I’ve decided to write about one of the few things that bothered me about the film, rather than many aspects of the film that I loved.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you probably already know that we at CWR were excited to hear about the diversity of casting in The Force Awakens.

I was especially excited when I heard that Lupita Nyong’o had been cast. Ever since she won best supporting actress for 12 Years a Slave and was declared the most beautiful person of 2014 by People magazine, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for Nyong’o. After witnessing her sudden rise to fame, I was curious to see if she would continue to find roles in major films, or if she would slowly be pushed out of Hollywood because of her dark skin. As Gregg Kilday explains in his article about Nyong’o, few black actresses have ever managed to secure a spot as a permanent Hollywood heavyweight:

While the stage would appear to be set for [Nyong’o] to ascend to the A-list — just as Jennifer Lawrence did after her best actress win for Silver Linings Playbook last year — it’s not that simple. For while there have been a handful of African-American actors, from Sidney Poitier to Eddie MurphyDenzel Washington and Will Smith, who have reached that status, there’s never been a black actress who has become the equivalent of a Julia Roberts or Angelina Jolie. Whoopi Goldberg came closest, following her best actress Oscar nomination for 1985’s The Color Purple and supporting actress win for 1990’s Ghost, but despite an occasional hit like 1992’s Sister Act, she didn’t maintain that momentum. Hollywood also flirted with Angela Bassett, Thandie Newton, Halle Berry and, most recently, Mandela‘s Naomie Harris, without ushering any of them into its very top tier.

It seems like a habit for major blockbuster films to tick off their diversity checklist by casting a white woman and/or a black man. Meanwhile, actors from other minority groups, especially women of colour, get overlooked because all the non-white, male roles have already been taken. As Evan pointed out in his post about the Martian and racebending, this seems to be the impulse, even when it means casting a white women to play a Korean- American character and a black man to play an Asian- Indian character. Continue reading

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A Brief Argument Against Anti-Piracy

Over the past couple years, the issue of regulating the internet has repeatedly arisen, and while there have been many issues contributing to this, there is perhaps none more well known than the contention over copyright infringement and piracy.

Now for  a brief disclaimer.

I am a Marxist. I do not believe in “property” as the word would be recognized today. Every written work, every film, every piece of art belongs to every human being living. The Godfather series is just as much a part of our legacy and inheritance as the Mona Lisa, and as such, access to it should be enjoyed by all.

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This is all to say that I don’t view “copyright infringement” as constituting any true offense. On the contrary, it’s simply the people taking back what was rightfully meant for them to begin with- but I’m not here to talk about that.

No, I’m here to talk about how the music and film industries’ witchhunt for media pirates is doing them (and everyone else) far more harm than good. Let me break it down for you.

I. Some People Will Never Buy

It’s a strange statement, but a true one. There may be a slim minority of people who pirates actually are keeping from the major industries through their cheaper/free service, however it ought to be fairly safe to say that there are plenty of people out there who would not otherwise listen to certain artists or watch certain shows. We’re living in tough times, and with your average movie ticket running at about twenty bucks (to say nothing of the gas getting to the theater and back), for many of us piracy is the only way we’ll see new movies and shows. Assuming there’s a segment of the population who will never, ever pay to see The Godfather, stamping out free avenues- namely piracy- doesn’t save the industry any cash. On the contrary, it just means that those people who don’t get to see the movie because they won’t pay for it aren’t talking about it, and generating buzz that might well attract people who will pay to see the movie. And speaking of them…

II. Some People Will Always Buy

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Just as some people simply can not or will not pay (such outrageous prices) for entertainment, you will find people who will spare no expense when it comes to it. There are plenty of people who want to see movies on the big screen. There are plenty of people who want to see their band live in concert.The Mona Lisa is a perfect example of this.

No ownership claimed...

You can see pictures of Mona Lisa anywhere; it’s one the most widely recognized images in human history. Because it’s available for free most anywhere, no one will actually go see it, right? After all, it’s been “pirated” to death. Yet that room in the Louvre is packed wall to wall with people who want to see the thing for themselves. Why? Because it’s the original. Doesn’t matter that it’s roped off, or behind glass, or barely visible, or that the guards usher you along after thirty seconds- it’s still wildly popular. The same is true of all media. Some people- plenty of people- will part with their cash to see Avatar in 3D, rather than watching some grainy, laggy version taken on a hand-held video camera in Thailand.

III. Anti-Piracy Hurts the Audience

You may not have experienced this in the states, but there was once a time when DVDs were listed by region codes, and could only be played on players that recognized that region. In other words, a DVD from America couldn’t be played on a DVD player from Europe and vice versa. You were granted a limited number of “switches,” but seeing as how you typically only got seven, it just put off the problem, rather than solving it. The goal (one of ’em, at least) was to prevent international piracy of DVDs through cracking down on how far away they came from, but all that just came down to it being a huge hassle for everyone, regardless whether or not their purchase was legitimate. Imagine all the time, money, and manpower that was invested in that venture that wound up solving nothing and quite possibly leading the industries involved to lose more money over that debacle than they would’ve lost to actual piracy. The same could be said for those hyperbolic ad campaigns comparing piracy to car theft

IV. Anti-Piracy Hurts the Industry

And while we’re talking about the industry shooting itself in the foot, let’s not forget the fact that preventing access to one film will very often lead to prevention of access to another. Quite simply, a person who doesn’t see The Godfather is not likely to go see the sequel, whereas someone who has seen The Godfather has a far better probability of winding up trying to see the sequel, either legitimately or through piracy. Is it a guarantee? No, but it’s still a better chance for the industry to make some cash than by preventing the person from seeing the first film at all.

V. Anti-Piracy Hurts the Environment

Lastly, I have to point out that we have free access to most films, music, and TV shows anyways- down at the local library. Only problem with that is when I drive to the library, I’m spending gas money, creating traffic, and spitting out exhaust fumes. Now I can get most anything down there for absolutely free, and no one complains. But imagine instead that I save on gas money, I keep the streets clear, and I reduce my carbon footprint by staying inside and watching the same movie I would’ve gotten free at the library. Suddenly, I’m a soulless criminal. Does that make sense to you?

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What’s to be gained from all of this? Despite the doom-and-gloom prophecies of the industries, piracy continues on its merry path and yet we haven’t seen a decrease in the quality or production values of our movies.

Though "quality" is such a tricky word...We have more music artists now than we did a decade ago (at least, more access to them), in spite of piracy, and two of the most popular genres of our generation, techno and dub-step (I will never stop being ashamed of that) is heavily based on remixing and sampling other people’s work, i.e., piracy.

Look- I’m not asking the media giants to be happy about piracy, but at the same time, I have to question whether it’s really even worth it. All that cash being poured into anti-piracy gambits isn’t workingif it doesn’t already outweigh the revenue lost, wouldn’t all that time and effort be better spent elsewhere? Wouldn’t it be more profitable elsewhere?

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Just sayin’.

“Science” Culture

Now that’s a lousy title, so let me kick things off by immediately clarifying what I’m talking about. This isn’t academia, or the world of contending theories and thirty-page papers on the finer points of psychopharmacolgy in relation to the mating habits of the Atlantic bluefin tuna. While this kind of world certainly does exist, it’s not what we’re talking about here. This is the culture not so much of scientists, as it is of science fans: those who are becoming increasingly invested in the idea that advancements in our knowledge is not only inherently awesome, but the solution to many, if not most or all, of the world’s problems.
“But Gordon, you striking portrait of wisdom and nobility,” you may be asking, “don’t we all fit that category?”

And to some extent, yes, we do. Even the most hardcore Luddite or primitivist will applaud the polio vaccine or HIV medication, but even so, there is a growing number of people who take things to the next level entirely. Check out this trailer:


Kind of a crazy premise- guy transfers his consciousness into a machine body. But still not too far off from the way many people believe we’ll eventually be living. “Transhumanism”, they call it, which, to grossly simplify it, is the general idea that the best (or even inevitable) course of human existence is to “evolve” beyond the confines of our biology. That with the progression of science and technology we’ll stop the effects of aging and be capable of improving upon our own minds and bodies. If you wanted to find a decent illustration of this kind of issue, try watching Battlestar Galactica (the new ones), or better still, Caprica. Now this is an extreme element of this culture, but a contributing element nonetheless. Major advances in prosthetics over the years, as well as films such as Surrogates, GamerAvatar, The Matrix, I, Robot (heck, any film or media dealing with the whole “what makes a person a person?” question) have all been instrumental in introducing transhumanist ideas. But of course, it’s more than just that.

It also has a lot to do with these guys:

These guys right here are arguably responsible for popularizing this entire culture, breaking down even dry subjects and making them compelling and (relatively) easy to grasp, even if only on the most basic level. You probably won’t go off to revolutionize the world of astrophysics after a few episodes of Cosmos, but chances are you’ll come away amazed. Would the recent Mars landing have had the same widespread popularity as it did without these guys? Would the cutting of manned space-missions have been met with the same outrage? Almost certainly not.

To some extent, the decline of religious adherence in the West may also be a factor in this culture. A growing number of individuals in the US are simply reporting themselves as being “without religion,” and the “science culture’s” emphasis on altruistic humanism (more on that in a minute) and skepticism offer a sympathetic atmosphere. The fact that many leaders (or at least, poster boys) for the culture are atheist (Mythbusters’ Savage and Hyneman, for example) or agnostic (Neil Degrasse Tyson) is also certainly a factor.

And perhaps the most fundamental element of all in this culture is the concept of “post-scarcity.” Quite simply, it’s the idea that we have progressed to a point where we no longer have scarcity of resources. E-books are typically used as an example, with adherents of the idea pointing out that with almost everything ever written in human history accessible in digital form, we could potentially give access to everything ever written to every man, woman, and child who will ever live without ever cutting down a single tree. The same logic is applied to film and music as well.

All of this combined creates and fuels a culture based ultimately on values of human welfare. In many respects, it’s the polar opposite of the “manly” culture discussed last week, emphasizing interdependence rather than independence, cooperation rather than competition, and progressive and postmodern social norms rather than traditional ones.

So what are the pros and cons of the culture?

Positives:

  • The fundamentally altruistic and humanistic elements of the culture are certainly something to be admired.
  • Money goes into scientific research, and cures and advancements come out; you can explain that.
  • Quite simply, the idea that we, as individuals and societies “aren’t done yet” creates a great atmosphere for experimentation, advancement, and general optimism about our conditions.

Negatives:

  • We could talk about playing God and paternalistic big-government and all that, but ultimately, the issue of the “science culture” is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way things actually are in the world. While it’s certainly true that there’s enough to go around, we simply aren’t a “post-scarcity” world. The vast majority of the planet is desperately poor, and their needs have to be met. The culture’s basic tenets also have the issue of seeming to assume that science is the answer to everything- that we can maintain our (general) levels of consumption and simply have our decadence off-set by the latest, greatest advance in clean energy. Now even if you assert that our problems can be solved by a use of technology to give us a surplus of everything we could ever possibly need, the same fact of the matter is that those technologies do not yet exist. The entire outlook is, quite simply, utopian, and while optimism should be applauded, it desperately needs to be tempered with realism.

And that’s it for today- be sure to check out Tuesday’s “Shame Day” post, and check in next time for our look at “internet/free information culture.”