Tag Archives: writing

Who Did It Better? Coming Out with J.K. Rowling and Overwatch Lead Writer Michael Chu

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.

rowlingchuStorytelling 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:

brooke

The user has since deleted their blog, so no direct link, sorry!

This caused a minor hubbub and then faded away, as all news does. Fast-forward to exactly a week ago, when the Pottermore Twitter page decided to unearth this particular trivia tidbit to an internet that had somehow managed to survive the hellscape that 2018 wrought.

Among the many, many “Tweetus Deletus” gifs was one response that both roasts this (very bad) piece of worldbuilding and helps set us back on topic:

Van Arendonk is clearly addressing the stomach-turning topic at hand, but this was far from the first time that the author had chosen to elaborate on her universe after the Harry Potter series had wrapped up. A decade before the original “Chamber Pot of Secrets” debacle Rowling announced during a Q&A at Carnegie Hall that she “always thought Dumbledore was gay.” She went on to explain that the character had fallen in love with wizard Hitler-stand-in Grindelwald, which turned out about as well as you would expect. At the time of this writing that remains the full extent of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s coming out.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been opportunities to depict him as having been actively romantically involved with other men. Last November’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald featured both the genocidal sorcerer and school headmaster as young (by comparison) men, with many fans assuming this was the time period that Rowling had been referring to.

dumblewald

Dumbledore and Grindelwald as (actually) young men.

The screenshot above is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, not from the aforementioned Fantastic Beasts sequel. As many fans have noted, the two wizards actually share no scenes with one another. If only they had taken Jude Law, the actor portraying him, at face value when he said several months prior to the film’s release that: “(they’re) not going to reveal everything all at once.” Potterheads would discover that this meant no references, explicit or otherwise, to his being attracted to men. Currently the film series’ is slated for release on November 20, 2020.

“We’re All LGBT+ Now”

This past Monday lore-starved Overwatch fans were surprised by the delivery of “Bastet”, a short story penned by lead writer Michael Chu that progressed the game’s treacle-slow narrative, the kind of rare occasion that results in the generation of dozens of “i owe you my life” memes. Although it focused on 60-year-old Egyptian sniper Ana Amari, what really set the internet ablaze was a conversation she has with her fellow vigilante-in-hiding Jack Morrison, AKA Soldier: 76.

anajack

Illustration by Arnold Tsang.

After finding a photograph that he’s been keeping all of these years, she brings up the young man he has his arm around, asking about what could have been.

“Vincent deserved a happier life than the one I could give him.” Jack sighed. “We both knew that I could never put anything above my duty. Everything I fought for was to protect people like him… That’s the sacrifice I made.”

“Relationships don’t work out so well for us, do they?” Ana said, unconsciously running her thumb over where her wedding ring used to be.

Given an earlier passage that highlights his inability to convince Ana that he’s pleased about Vincent’s present marital status (happily married), it doesn’t take much to arrive at the conclusion that he’s gay, or at the very least was romantically involved with a man. Some might read them as simply being very good friends, which, I mean, c’mon.

While this may seem like the dictionary definition of storytelling, this falls more in line with Rowling’s approach when Chu, after waiting a few hours for people to have read the story, took to Twitter to respond to what is very likely a deluge of tweets demanding confirmation:

Faithful readers (I’m “back”, did you miss me?) will remember when I briefly mentioned a similar coming out story in December 2016, touching on an Overwatch comic called “Reflections” which featured face-of-the-game Tracer kissing another woman named Emily. As he did earlier this week Chu once again came forward on Twitter to clarify for fans who might have been confused about their relationship.

In addition to that, a Blizzard representative provided a statement to IGN, which has to at least be on par with comments made on the head writer’s personal (his bio says: “Opinions are my own. Unreliable narrator.”) Twitter account.

“Tracer is a lesbian on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world. As with any aspect of our characters’ backgrounds, their sexuality is just one part of what makes our heroes who they are.”

The narrative of Overwatch deserves a multi-part series of blog posts in and of itself given the varying opinions on the rate, method, and quality of its delivery, but all I’ll say right now is that there is no readily apparent progressing story within the game itself. Gameplay consists primarily of six-player teams going head-to-head to (violently) accomplish objectives, and both heroes and villains can be chosen regardless of whether or not they would ever canonically team up. There is a seasonal event which thus far has provided a way of playing through past missions, but as far as “current events” that take place in Overwatch‘s present nothing currently exists.

That said, there are details within the game that provide evidence of both Soldier: 76 and Tracer’s respective same-sex relationships.

sprays

The Soldier: 76 spray “Jack and Vincent” and the Tracer spray “Emily”

As seen above, there are sprays unique to each character which depict significant others, both past and present. When playing on the King’s Row (London, where “Reflections” partially takes place) map Tracer has the chance to utter one of several voice lines, one in particular being “Wonder if I have time to visit Emily? … No, better stay focused…” Another has her responding to an invitation from another character asking about her and her girlfriend.

It’s a far cry from seeing these relationships play out in-game, or have any kind of significant impact, but these acknowledgements are there.

When Did It Happen? (And a Lot More How)

Without having seen any evidence to the contrary, both J.K. Rowling and Michael Chu are straight, as both have spouses of the opposite sex (the latter was married just last October). To be clear, I firmly believe that anyone can write for any character (the time and effort and sensitivity needed varies). It does bear mentioning, however, that their personal orientations mean that neither are writing their respective stories from a place of personal experience. I should also state that I’m choosing to think the best of them.

In other words, I have no intention of entertaining the idea that either writer, to use a few buzzwords, lazily shoehorned in LGBT+ characters into their work in order to pander to the SJWs (my thoughts on that last word here). The alternative is to consider their intentions to be pure, which begs the question of what their intentions were, exactly.

A straightforward response would be that they’re simply providing backstory, fleshing out characters that their respective fanbases already know and love. The differences to highlight would be the way that Harry Potter and Overwatch told, and continues to tell, their stories, as well as when these characters came out relative to their creation.

dumbt

Dumbledore, as portrayed by Richard Harris in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Albus Dumbledore was first introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) over 20 years ago in 1997. The film adaptation of that book was released in 2001, with sequels and corresponding movies dropping in subsequent years. With Pottermore still a twinkle in Rowling’s eye (limited registration began in 2011), books and film were the author’s primary means of crafting her universe.

To simplify things, Dumbledore was “born” in 1997 and “came out” in 2007. This event also took place 91 days after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the septilogy, was published. At that point there were still three films left to be made, with the seventh being split into two parts, though none followed up on the knowledge that Rowling had shared.

As far as its timeline is concerned, the Overwatch beta, open to a limited few in order to test the game before its wide release, began on October 27, 2015. The game was officially released on May 24, 2016. Tracer “came out” in December 2016 and Soldier: 76 did the same just this month (January 2019).

As mentioned, and for better or for worse, there is no currently existing, consistent, effective in-game storytelling in Overwatch. That said, the game’s narrative has, since its announcement at Blizzcon 2014, taken the form of cinematics (as seen below), comics, and most recently, with “Bastet”, short stories.

Overwatch also launched with a website that provides for each hero, in addition to their abilities and difficulty level, a short bio (here’s Symmetra’s, one of my personal favourites). From the beginning the team behind the first-person shooter has taken a multimedia approach to worldbuilding, though admittedly not on a schedule that many appreciate. As an online game Overwatch also continues to be patched with content (typically in the form of new maps and heroes) and as such has no easily discernible “end date.” This is a story that continues to be told.


Both Harry Potter and Overwatch are reigning champions in their own right, having amassed awards, accolades, and millions of faithful fans. A number of those fans identify as being LGBT+, or haven’t yet. They have family members or loved ones who are members of the LGBT+ community, or who don’t yet know any at all, possibly even as a personal choice. The point is that queer stories matter and have always mattered. The fact that these two fanbases are able to see gay characters in beloved media is a very special thing.

How those characters come to be, however, is another matter entirely. In Rowling’s Wizarding World coming out is magical. Words are spoken and changes occur, but not all of them can be perceived by the eyes of the untrained and ordinary. In Overwatch coming out is the future. It’s both imminent and right now and, to paraphrase a scientist cautioning a young genetically enhanced gorilla, not accepting people at face value and daring to see yourselves reflected in them.

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Girls: 2 Broke and One New – A Retrospective, A Eulogy, and An Announcement

Way back in early 2012 I posted a three-part series about two sitcoms that had premiered the previous fall. Covering 2 Broke Girls‘ and New Girl‘s respective casts, styles of humour, and approaches to race, these posts exist as a window into their first seasons as well as an unfortunate snapshot of some embarrassingly unrefined writing from yours truly [with some unrefined opinions as well, as my perspective on Morgan Freeman and Black History Month has certainly shifted since then].

All credit where it’s due, both have come a long way since their inceptions, and in generally positive ways. While not shying away from their trademark “classy-dirty” style of comedy, 2 Broke Girls eased off of the racist humour and began giving their secondary cast members more screen time and character development. New Girl had Hannah Simon’s Cece join the primary cast, with Damon Wayans Jr. even returning for a lengthy stint after his departure following the pilot. I feel fairly confident in saying that neither show every truly dipped in quality, which is saying a lot for the medium and genre they share. I would even go so far as to say that both managed to improve with each passing season.

Now, in 2017, there were a few weeks where the fate of these two sitcoms was in question. To address them consecutively…

2 Networkless Girls?

After months of reviews in which I mused on the future of the show I finally penned a post in April asking “Is 2 Broke Girls Cancelled?”. It has since garnered more comments than anything else on this blog. In it I catalogued what the creators and industry insiders had to say about its future, as well as my personal opinion as someone who has reviewed 101 episodes of the show. I felt like, as someone who stuck with 2 Broke Girls longer than the contributors to its very own wiki even did I was allowed some say.

It was Deadline that pulled back the curtain on the fact that CBS was airing a sitcom that was produced for Warner Bros. That same outlet also broke the news that the network had axed 2 Broke Girls. CBS scheduling director Kelly Kahl is quoted as saying that, as far as she knows:

“it was a creative decision more than anything else. It was not a show we own but we picked up (new comedy series Me, Myself & I and By The Book) from Warner Bros. So I don’t think it was a business decision, I think it was creatively we felt it was time.”

It’s noted that the show made Warner Bros. a very significant amount of money per episode. In spite of being a key players in their weekday lineup, CBS appears to be searching for something else they can wholly own, distribute, and profit from. Kahl even says in the same breath as “was not a show [they owned]” that it was “a creative decision”, but as with all art it comes down to profits. Continue reading

For Your Consideration: The Happiness and Wellbeing of Minority Characters

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 Secret Empire]. 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:

Continue reading

2 Broke Girls, S6E7 “And the Sophie Doll”: A TV Review

sophiedoll

So first thing’s first, and just because it’s the first thing you see when you open up one of these reviews, the header image is very clearly of subpar quality. The best I could find as far as promos was this one video on YouTube which, as you can see, isn’t great. I’ll try to to step it up moving forward but I can only really work with what’s available.

Given that this week’s episode actually fell on my birthday I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Were my expectations made that much lower due to my having to watch and review it when I could be doing almost anything else? Or were they perhaps on the higher end due to last week’s surprisingly decent installment? Regardless of where my expectations actually ended up falling, 2 Broke Girls served up a decent enough episode that more importantly continues to keep things fresh.

The highlight of “And the Rom-Commie” was the decision to pair Oleg and Han together, a coupling that ended up paying off surprising comedic dividends. While I don’t think that Matthew Moy deserves all the credit for how enjoyable the show has been lately, his performance opposite Kat Dennings is what I want to shine a spotlight on this time around. While his cherubic looks and high-pitched voice have more often than not been openly mocked, which in turn helps perpetuate the stereotype of the effete, sexless Asian man, they also end up adding a genuinely funny mischievous quality to his performance in “And the Sophie Doll”.  Continue reading

Asian Comic Book Fan Watches Doctor Strange…: An Addendum

Even though I wrote a little over a thousand words last week on my experiences with Doctor Strange [required reading for this blog post] there were a couple of additional criticisms I wanted to level against both that specific film and the industry as a whole. While I covered pretty thoroughly how Asians were poorly represented in Marvel Studio’s latest offering, what I didn’t really touch on was why.

When Diversity Means Painting With All the Colour of the Wind

In the months leading up to the release of Doctor Strange the conversation about the Ancient One’s casting began heating up. With mainstream news outlets picking up on the controversy there were many waiting to hear from the creators themselves, which brings us to the episode of the Double Toasted podcast that guest starred screenwriter C. Robert Cargill.

While his explanations regarding the character have since been championed by those defending the casting decision, even after his rescinding all comments made, and in spite of them being refuted by others, in particular by Shaun of the No, Totally! podcast, what I want to focus on are what he says right after that:

 

Now if you don’t want to actually listen to him, which I find perfectly understandable, I’ve also transcribed the relevant quote [emphasis added]:

“But when you start to see this film you’ll see that what we were able to do with Kamar-Taj, we made one of the most multicultural films most people have seen in years. Like this film is [. . .] I’m not certain that there’s a single major race that isn’t represented with a speaking role in this film. It allowed us to bring in, even as small characters to build upon later, a lot of characters from the Doctor Strange universe who come from all over the world. We were able to play with a lot of things and it gave us a lot to work with.”

Continue reading

In Ophelia‘s Seat: Anthony Garland Explains the Film’s Name, Length, and Even Its Genre

opheliaposterThis past Friday the short film Ophelia
began screening at the 2016 LA Shorts Fest. The piece touches on fear, expectation, pressure, and ambition through a the first few minutes of a job interview with the title character. I was able to view and review the film for myself not too long ago.

Answering a few questions himself is Anthony Garland, the director. Garland has acted in a number of small film and television roles, and assisted other directors in filming such music videos as Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness”.


garlandWhat did you want to be when you were seven-years-old?

THAT question! … A superhero. Super strength and invulnerability would be preferable but I definitely had to be able to fly. I was obviously past the age where you know that powers don’t exist, but I remember being pretty sure that I’d be the exception. I grew up reading comics before the characters had this cinematic renaissance; that was really my education in storytelling, art direction and frame composition.

What was the strangest question you’ve ever been asked in a job interview?

I’ve actually been relatively safe in interviews and auditions thus far… I feel like I’m the one asking the strange questions a lot of the time, but that’s deliberate! Just the nature of status and hierarchy, we forget that we’re all just individuals, regardless of position, and a job interview is as much for you as it is for the people that might hire you; so questions, however wacky, are a good way to set up a back and forth rather than sitting through an interrogation, which is what most bad interviews feel like.

Do you have any strategies when it comes to interviewing for a job [or auditioning for a role]? [How do you deal with pressure?]

Sure, and maybe this comes from having a background in acting, but so long as the focus is on something external, like engaging with the person opposite you by asking those questions, or really taking them in, then there’s no space to be self conscious. Continue reading

Why I’m Thankful I Had the Opportunity to Write For CWR and Why I’m Stepping Down Now

A little over three years ago, a close childhood friend contacted me because their cousin (Evan) was looking for another writer to become a regular contributor on a blog called Culture War Reporters. I jumped at the chance and, after a very serious interview with Evan and Gordon, became a regular contributor here at CWR.

I’m feeling more than a little nostalgic rereading some of those early posts and conversations with my co-writers. It’s even making me question my decision to stop writing for the blog. Despite my second thoughts and feelings of nostalgia, I’ve considered stepping down for some time now, and I’d like to share a few reasons why I feel the time is right.

1. I haven’t been dedicating the time needed to create quality posts

When I first started writing for CWR, I was so excited and nervous about my first blogging opportunity that I would write my post early in the week and return to them throughout the week to do more editing. Luckily, I was also a full-time student, so I was already spending several hours a day at my computer screen writing. It was a welcome break to stop working on homework and spend a few hours writing about whatever topic I was particularly interested in that week.

This year my schedule began to shift. I was only in school part-time and began balancing several other jobs on the side. While I still enjoyed taking time to write for CWR, I was spending much less time at my laptop and it took a conscious effort to remember to get my posts up on time. The week would often slip by and I’d wind up writing last minute, which inevitably meant lower quality writing and less time spent researching my topic. I’ve come to realize that writing just hasn’t been on the top of my priority list, and, consequently, I haven’t produced the quality of content I want to put out into the world.

2. Other passions are drawing my attention

I’ve always loved to write, and I suspect that I always will. But lately, I haven’t felt nearly as passionate about writing as I’ve felt about some of my other interests. This summer I’ve had several opportunities to teach programs or courses that took up a large portion of my time. This September, I’m going to be starting the teaching post-degree program. As I feel myself getting more and more excited about this new career direction, I can also imagine myself spending less and less time writing (especially while I continue to work on the side). Rather than produce lower quality content, I’d rather take time off from blogging until I once again feel passionate enough about my writing to spend the time needed to produce quality content. Continue reading