It’s the Year of Our Lord 2019 and storytelling is still important. In some cases the stories are the same, like the age-old tale of good triumphing over evil, but they’re being delivered in increasingly more novel ways. Comics are drawn and fan fiction is written and YouTube sketches are filmed, and sometimes the collaborators aren’t even in the same city, let alone country. In other cases the stories, while nothing new, are finally being given the opportunity to be told. The idea of finding yourself isn’t an original one, but the narrative of coming out as gay or lesbian or transgender or any other identity has only recently found a foothold in popular media.
Storytelling and identity are crucial building blocks to our culture, and both are heavily intertwined (as are all things, these days) with the internet (it would be remiss of me not to mention that I chose to do so in a podcast I co-hosted). This is certainly as true for a multi-award-winning online first-person shooter as it is for a series of books that wrapped up a dozen years ago. The Overwatch and Harry Potter universes are like ours in that they are populated by a myriad of different characters, some straight and some LGBT+, but I want to delve into how the similarities, and ultimately the differences, of their respective coming out stories (in both cases the term “coming out” feels accurate, as none of the characters discussed were initially introduced as being anything other than straight).
“Yer a Gay Man, Dumbledore”
Before touching on her approach to revealing one of her characters’ sexual orientations, it’s worth making note of how the billionaire author has reentered our collective conversation. Two years ago a BuzzFeed writer was one of the first to report on a shocking revelation found on Pottermore, a site Rowling created for her legion of fans to learn more about the Wizarding World. Most people online will have come across this by now, but the page in question was about the Chamber of Secrets, and explained that wizards once vanished their excrement in lieu of using toilets. It resulted in one of my favourite Tumblr posts:
The user has since deleted their blog, so no direct link, sorry!
To say that the relationship between a child and parent is fraught with emotions, most of them far from easy to put into words, is putting it lightly. Yet this is the subject of Mum, a short film that captures a visit from a trans woman to her aging mother. Having already won a handful of accolades, it began screening as part of New Irish Shorts 3 at the Galway Film Fleadh just this past Thursday, July 13th.
Mum is the creation of many talented individuals, chief among them being director Anne-Marie O’Connor and actor and star Kate O’Donnell. In addition to being able to review the short film I was also offered an interview with the two of them that allowed me to gain a better understanding of how this particular work came to be.
First off, congratulations to the both of you on the awards that Mum has won so far, at both the London Independent Film Festival and Global Shorts. To springboard off of that into our first question, as it’s screened as part of “New Irish Shorts 3” at the Galway Film Fleadh, what helps to make this an Irish film outside of the talent involved?
O’Connor: The song that is played and sung throughout the short is Black Velvet Band. It was important to me for this to link the film as it was a song that Kate’s mum used to sing to her and a song that my dad used to sing to me as a child. And although geographically it isn’t set in Ireland, the relationship between Kate and her mum feels very Irish to me and in writing this I felt that Linda was second-generation Irish and that Kate was a product of that upbringing.
I noticed in the credits that Mum was created by the two of you, but that it was only written by Anne-Marie. Could you both go into some detail regarding the creative process?
O’Connor: Kate and I are good friends and have been for years, and as she’s a leading trans actor and activist I’ve always wanted to work with her creatively. We often discuss the way that transgender people are portrayed in film and TV (the fascination with the transition, the no-one-will-ever-love-me storyline, sex workers or outsiders) and wanted to make a short that didn’t fall into those familiar tropes, to have a transgender central character in a universal story.
So I met with Kate and I asked her what story she would tell if she could and it simply came from her saying she’d love to go home and paint her mum’s nails; something she used to do when she was younger but is impossible to do because her stepfather makes life difficult (he’s always been difficult, way before Kate transitioned!). And so we built the story around her own story. It was very important for both of us that Kate was acknowledged in the creative process. So that is why it is created by both of us.
This is short [and quite late] even as “For Your Consideration” posts go. While past instances have been particularly research heavy, this installment really leans into the gist of those three words. I’m here to present all of you nice people with a little something to ruminate on, and this time I don’t even have a particular stance on it myself.
Jeremy Whitley is a comic book writer that Marvel appears to be actively grooming, and who I first read due to his penning one of a handful of short stories in the Secret Wars: Secret Love one-shot [a truly excellent Danny/Misty Knight romance].
Secret Wars: Secret Love – “Misty and Danny Forever”. Written by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by Gurihiru.
Since then he’s also written a tie-in issue of Champions, and is currently on the ongoing The Unstoppable Wasp as well as responsible for another upcoming event one-shot [this time for the summer’s SecretEmpire]. Suffice to say, Whitley is swiftly making a name for himself at one of the two largest publishers in the industry.
What he was once primarily known for, and which I’m positive he’s very proud of, is Princeless. Starting back in 2012, the all-ages series has released six volumes and been nominated for two Eisner awards. What’s particularly notable is how he has in part been writing the book for his daughter, with the following interview answer explaining a lot about the title hero’s character design:
“My daughter is black and while I encourage her to look for role models of all colors, girls need to be able to see girls that are like themselves in media. They need it even more when it comes to seeing them portrayed with strength. And, unfortunately, I think that’s sort of a symptom of this exclusionary tendency in the self-professed nerd culture circles. I would love nothing more than to change that culture, but barring that, I’ll help create another one.”
With that in mind it should be of no surprise whatsoever that Whitley is very concerned about diversity and representation in media, and has made a concerted effort to include that in all of his books.
Now to get to the actual meat of this post, I began following him on tumblr not too long ago where he’s very active in engaging with his fans. It was a couple of weeks back that I came across the following exchange between Whitley and two such comic readers:
To start with, I hope that the reference in the title is apparent.
If not, let’s flashback to September 2005 and A Concert for Hurricane Relief. It was during this live star-studded benefit concert that Kanye West very famously said:
“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
The following week, on The Ellen Degeneres Show, West elaborated on the incident. Given the immense loss caused by Hurricane Katrina, he explained that “[it was] the least [he] could do to go up there and say something from [his] heart, to say something that’s real.” At the risk of misrepresenting him, my takeaway was that there’s something very pure and genuine about personal emotional reactions that makes them worth expressing. While the facts may reveal otherwise, their having elicited this response speaks for itself, in a way.
What rights have been taken away during Trump’s first 24 hours in office?
The ACA is presently being dismantled, meaning millions of Americans will be deprived of health insurance. Of this number, women are uniquely affected. As explained in The New York Times:
Until now, it has been perfectly legal in most states for companies selling individual health policies — for people who do not have group coverage through employers — to engage in “gender rating,” that is, charging women more than men for the same coverage, even for policies that do not include maternity care.
As deeply flawed a system as the ACA is, outright elimination will result in a sudden and fundamentally arbitrary penalization of women on the basis of their sex. The added cost will be especially detrimental to women in or near poverty (besides sucking for everyone in general).
So this is about Obamacare?
Not necessarily. The dismantling of the ACA is merely one of the many issues being protested by the millions of women marching in the US and around the world. Points include (but are not limited to):
Gay Rights – As the vice president has openly stated that gay marriage signal “societal collapse“, and has actively legislated the exclusion of gays from the military and a number of other civil rights issues.
Public Services – Which have been threatened with reduced funding, if not complete elimination, by high ranking members of the administration.
Defense of Racial and Religious Minorities – particularly people of color and Muslims, who have received ample disparagement and hostility from almost everyone within the administration.
Environmental Issues – The very existence of which Trump has denied, claiming global warming to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
And easily a dozen more…
Bah! These protesters should be grateful for how easy they have it. Now women living in the third world, they experience real oppression. Why isn’t anyone speaking up for them?
I began the first installment of this two-parter making note of the long and ultimately wearying experience it has been, starting with Doctor Strange going into pre-production and continuing on to the recent exposure of the Swinton-Cho Letters. While I spent time describing the ups and downs of casting news what I neglected to mention, and what I’m going to focus on today, is the outset and ultimate resurgence of an argument in defence of whitewashing.
That’s right, an argument defending what Wikipedia helpfully defines as “a casting practice [. . .] in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles.” The very faint silver lining is that the justification here does not revolve around star power and A-list draw, or the idea that “the best person for the role” was hired, the latter of which rarely ever swings in the other direction. In spite of not being deeply rooted in these ways of thinking, however, the argument presented remains deeply flawed.
Before we get into that, however, we should probably get to its origin story.
Like I Said Last Time, “It’s Always Podcasts”
Having to hit all of this again it’s important to be thankful for small blessings, with one being that I don’t need to hear C. Robert Cargill’s voice again due to already having done the research for another post. The person in question was one of the screenwriters for Doctor Strange, and dropped in on the Double Toasted podcast mid-April to answer a few questions about it.
“The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet [. . .] If you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”
In essence Cargill chalked the reasons for the casting decision up to politics and economics, implying that having the character played by a Tibetan would cause Marvel Studios to lose out on Chinese box office sales. He also suggests quite strongly that, conversely, having a Chinese actor play a Tibetan would cause a large amount of controversy. This was picked up by sites from IndieWire to ScreenRant to The Hollywood Reporter, with several using words like “reveal” in their headlines, as if a longstanding mystery had finally been solved.
The justifications he laid out were to become the go-to response for every commenter looking to defend the Swinton’s casting, and why not? After all, as one of the screenwriters of the film Cargill should be a direct and dependable source. The answer to that hypothetical starts with what happened a few short days later- Continue reading →