Tag Archives: The Martian

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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Having Put The Martian on Blast, Let’s Talk Briefly About Intersectionality

Last Friday was such an outpouring of emotions [alongside a fair amount of research] that even with roughly 2,700 words there was bound to be something I missed. While I had initially planned on making room for it, an omission was made starkly apparent to me once I began sharing the post. As those of you who read it [and you should, before continuing on with this one] it ended with a call to action: kickstarting the discussion about diversity and representation through asking others to read what I’d written [or however else they felt led].

That’s a risky thing to ask of anyone, for obvious reasons.

ahaRbz4 - Imgur

One of my friends shared the post on Facebook, and was immediately faced with another friend of theirs who had an issue with a small section that I’ve since amended. Here it as it was originally written:

“Chiwetel Ejiofor is an Academy Award winning actor. He’s also a Black [not African American] man, part of a demographic that has not struggled in Hollywood compared to many others.”

Going back you’ll notice that it now refers to Ejiofor as being “Nigerian English”, which is of course much more accurate. The issue that the person had with the original was that by going so far as to state that other actors were “Asian” and even “East Indian” I was snubbing Ejiofor’s own background. I was even accused of doing racebending of my own by overlooking this fact. Continue reading

Putting The Martian On Blast – Racebending, Whitewashing, and the Last Straw

The Martian is Guilty of Whitewashing

Last Thursday the Media Action Network For Asian-Americans [MANAA] issued a statement criticizing director Ridley Scott for the whitewashing of Asian roles in his film The Martian. Their judgements are twofold, namely citing that:

  • NASA’s director of Mars operations Dr. Venkat Kapoor as an Asian-Indian character who identifies religiously as being “a Hindu.” The group pointed out that in Scott’s film, his name is changed to Vincent Kapoor, and he’s played by British black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who says his father was “a Hindu” but that his mother was “Baptist.”
  • Mindy Park, described by Weir as Korean-American, is played in the movie by Mackenzie Davis, a white, blonde actress.

Now I wish I could proceed on to the rest of this blog post, but people have asked the question as to whether or not this is, technically, whitewashing. It’s going to take a few paragraphs, but let’s get that out of the way-

Okay, The Martian is Guilty of Racebending/Whitewashing

Let’s start from the very, very, very top. The Wikipedia entry for this can actually be found under “racebending”, with “whitewashing” cited as being [citation needed] a more archaic term. Their definition of this practice is:

“when the race or ethnicity of a character, in a story, is altered to an ostensibly more ‘palatable’ or ‘profitable’ ethnicity.”

The reason people have been asking the question as to whether or not this did in fact take place is that The Martian is a film adaptation of a novel by author Andy Weir. As such the source material is devoid of any visual aids in regards to the explicit ethnicities of its characters. Weir himself had a number of things to say about this with MTV News at the Toronto International Film Festival where the film debuted [the interview occurred before MANAA’s statement]:

In regards to writing and describing his characters’ ethnicities-

“So unless a physical description is somehow relevant to the plot, OK, you know he’s missing a leg — something like that, but unless it’s like really important to the plot then I don’t physically describe my characters at all.”

“You can imagine them however you like. Like, for instance, the ethnicity of Mark, I never told you.”

In response to criticisms of Chiwetel Ejiofor being cast as Vincent Kapoor-

“He’s an American. Americans come from lots of different sources! You can be Venkat Kapoor and black.”

In response to criticism of Mackenzie Davis being cast as Mindy Park-

“Whatever ethnicity she has, she’s an American and her family has been in America forever, which is why her first name is just Mindy, but her last name is Park. But Park is also a British surname so the casting people [could have] thought Mackenzie Davis looks like someone descended from Brits. And she did a great job! I’m certainly not complaining about anything related to casting.”

mindyparkWhile not a direct quote, MTV News also shares how Weir envisioned Park while writing the novel:

“He did admit that he’d always pictured Mindy Park as of Korean lineage, but emphasized again that he had never actually explicitly written her as Korean.”

This is all well and good, but problematic in that it doesn’t jive with an interview that took place in May of this year with the blog domesoph. When asked by blogger Sophie Milam about how he approached writing his extensive cast, Weir responded [emphasis added]:

“I didn’t set out to deliberately balance the crew. For the most part, I just wanted them each to be unique enough for the reader to tell them apart without prompting. It’s a real problem in written fiction. You don’t have the face on-screen or voice being heard to remind the audience who’s who. They need to know it immediately from the name.
So there are no two people on Hermes who are the same demographic. There’s one white American guy (Beck), one Hispanic guy (Martinez), and one German guy (Vogel). There are two women of undefined ethnicity (presumably white) but one of them is the Commander, so you won’t get them confused either. Especially since they all call her ‘Commander’.
So it wasn’t any deliberate attempt at diversity. It was really just a shortcut to making sure the reader knew who was who. You’ll find I pulled the same trick with the NASA characters: Teddy (white guy who is in charge), Mitch (white guy who isn’t in charge), Venkat (Indian), Annie (white woman), Mindy Park (Korean woman), Rich Purnell (African American).”

Now I want to be fair and admit that not every author is [or can be] Alan Moore, who has very publicly denounced all film adaptations of his own work. Weir is currently working on his sophomore novel, with The Martian making up the entirety of his current bibliography. As an author with his first-ever book being adapted by Hollwood, and with the film rumoured to be nabbing an Oscar, there are more reasons against than for when it comes to rocking the boat. So let’s discard what Weir has to say, separate from his novel, completely.

All art is open to interpretation regardless of the creator’s intent, so without Weir’s opinions here’s what we know about the characters:

That being said I’m willing to make the concession that free of Weir’s intentions Mindy Park certainly could have been either White or East Asian. When it comes to Venkat Kapoor, on the other hand, most signs point towards him being South Asian, more specifically East Indian. Let’s pull up the definition for “racebending” again:

“when the race or ethnicity of a character, in a story, is altered to an ostensibly more ‘palatable’ or ‘profitable’ ethnicity.”

vincentkapoor

Chiwetel Ejiofor is an Academy Award winning actor. He’s also a Nigerian English man, part of a demographic that has not struggled in Hollywood compared to many others. Comparatively speaking I would run out of American films headlining East Indian talent before I ran out of fingers. Are Black men more profitable than Indian men? Everything I know about North America answers a resounding yes. So this is what we’re left with:

Venkat Kapoor was racebent for The Martian.

Mindy Park [given the author’s intent] was whitewashed for The Martian.

To be fair [and I think I have been thus far], East Indian actor Irrfan Khan had been in talks to play Kapoor but had to decline due to another commitment. It’s worth noting that the role had been intended for Khan, and it’s also commendable that- Continue reading