2015: The Year of Diversity

When I was in elementary school, we did a lot of role-playing during recess. One game we played was “Spice Girls.” All of my (mostly white or at least passing) friends would pretend to be the five Spice Girls and I would be their maid. Because we were 10 years old and you had to look like the character or it wouldn’t make sense. And the Spice Girls were all white. Where do you put the Asian girl? You make her the side character, cleaning up the mess.

Tonight, I was watching the pilot of “Supergirl” where a random character uttered this phrase: “Can you believe it? A female hero! Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.” Yes it’s a bit too on the nose but the same thought raced through my head while I was watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The film featured not one, but a whopping four female characters, one of whom (Rey) was the chosen one that was strong with the Force and the first speaking character in the Star Wars movie universe to hold a lightsaber. (There was a midriff-baring blue female alien in the prequels who I recall didn’t have any lines) And the female characters were in leadership roles where their gender was hardly mentioned: general (Leia), captain (Phasma), bar owner/seer (Maz Kanata).

Rounding out the leading players was a black Stormtrooper with a full-fledge story arc and character development (Finn), and a brown pilot (Poe). For all of the criticisms of how derivative Episode VII was, it had something that none of the other films had. It had diversity. It had equality. It was unapologetically feminist as hell and John Boyega rightly dismissed all of the racists who could accept green aliens but couldn’t accept black men as heroes.

Watching the movie, I was reminded of that perfect moment when I first watched “Battlestar Galactica,” where I realized that this was not a universe occupied by just white characters, and where the heroes weren’t just men. There was a mixed-race Admiral, a female president, a female pilot, and Asian Cylons and pilots. All of them got an individual spotlight, with character arcs and fully rendered backstories. They were all heroes. And their race and gender were non-issues.

“Battlestar” and Episode VII created a science-fiction universe where gender and racial norms were nonexistent, where a woman can be the chosen one (or Jesus, in the case of “Battlestar”) and a black man can save the day (in the case of Episode VII). They portrayed a world where men are allowed to be emotional wrecks (Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums being the most effective showcase). For once, it is not the woman with tears on their faces, it is the men as well too.

Science fiction as a genre invites us to imagine a more perfect, more advanced world. And with Episode VII, perhaps we finally, consistently have a world where its individuals are being truly judged not on their appearances, but on their abilities. It’s an inclusive world, one that can finally accommodate everyone: white, black and brown, blue and green.

Now they just need an Asian Jedi and I will die happy.

"Look! POCs are everywhere right now!"
“Look! POCs are everywhere right now!”

It’s not just Star Wars. 2015 was the year that diversity dominated the conversation. Just look at how many think pieces were written about the colorful casting in Hamilton (mine included). Or the rain of praise on Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” and its truthful representation of the immigrant experience or of casual racism in the entertainment industry.

It was the year where Viola Davis said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” And opportunities were aplenty for women and actors of color, to play against type. You can’t have two Indian characters occupying the same screen in the fictional “Master of None” universe. But you can today. Not even Indian, but East Asian (“Fresh Off the Boat,” “Dr. Ken”), black (“Empire,” “Blackish”), all the races (“How to Get Away with Murder,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), and shows that actually pass the Bechdel Test (“Jessica Jones,” “Supergirl”).

It was the year that we all called out the entertainment industry on their racist, sexist bullshit, from the wage gap, to casting controversies in theater, to Aloha. It was the year we were introduced to black Hermione.

So for all of my frustration with the entertainment industry, I do know that a better world is ahead. Because people of color and women are no longer sidekick or servant, girlfriend and mother. We can just be people.

Can we go farther? Absolutely. I’m looking forward to seeing what other genderqueer stories surface now that The Danish Girl is out. One of the best plays I saw this year was about a transgender character (by a genderqueer playwright) and January alone promises two more works about trans* individuals.

I’m excited and one thing’s for sure, kids of color and girls won’t be servants or damsels in distresses any longer. To borrow a phrase from David Bowie: They can be heroes. We all can.

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The Consequences of Free Labor

I’m going to be slightly hyperbolic in this post because this is something that’s been bothering me for a while.

In April, I saw a play called “The Mysteries” at the Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan. It was a 5.5-hour adaptation of “The Bible.” Afterwards, I left feeling a mixture of rapture and guilt. It was a magnificent, ambitious piece of work that is rarely seen in the theater these days. And at the same time, I also felt immensely guilty afterwards. I felt drained and yet, if I was feeling like I’ve been marathon-watching “Lord of the Rings,” the cast probably felt like they were marathon-ing “Harry Potter.”

Not only did they perform for 5.5 hours for my enjoyment, they were also playing gracious hosts: serving me dinner, posing for Facebook photos and making conversation with me during intermission. It was well beyond your typical actors’ duties at a theater. The Bats (the Flea’s resident acting ensemble which perform in all of the shows at the theater) acted for 5.5 hours and then entertained the audience before, after and during intermission. Add that to getting ready for the show, cleaning up after the audience leaves, the actors in “The Mysteries” probably put in close to 7+ hours a night, 4 times a week. That’s almost a full workday.

And they don’t get paid for any of that time. Continue reading

A Woman’s Right to Sex

If this post is too long for you, just read this comic from the Daily Kos for the short version of what I want to say.
If this post is too long for you, just read this comic from the Daily Kos for the short version of what I want to say.

When Sandra Fluke spoke on the floor of Congress about the values of birth control in 2012, I noticed she left a valuable talking point out. And with the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, I’ve noticed the same omission.

Why is it, when defending access to birth control, the primary reason that many women (99% to be exact) use (to prevent pregnancy) is avoided? In Fluke’s testimony to Congress, the crux of her argument was that birth control can be used to treat many health risks to women:

One woman told us  doctors believe she has endometriosis, but it can’t be proven without surgery, so the insurance hasn’t been willing to cover her medication. Recently, another friend of mine told me that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome. She’s struggling to pay for her medication and is terrified to not have access to it. Due to the barriers erected by Georgetown’s policy, she hasn’t been reimbursed for her medication since last August. I sincerely pray that we don’t have to wait until she loses an ovary or is diagnosed with cancer before her needs and the needs of all of these women are taken seriously.

Why is preventing pregnancy not as important as preventing cysts, ovarian cancer or endometriosis? If you are a normal, human woman like me (who wants to have sex with my boyfriend whenever I want) having stress-free, no-risk sex is a damn important priority. And for a majority of women, being able to receive the same sexual privileges that men have, is one step closer to equality. Continue reading

Dream Jobs, the Lack of Long-Term Goals and Turning 26

lena-dunham-cake
My birthday will probably include me and a whole cake.

 

So tomorrow is my birthday and I’m turning 26. Which, if I was feeling terribly morbid, indicates that I’m one year more in that long march towards death. And if I was feeling optimistic, I’m one year wiser. I go from one to the other on an almost daily basis.

A few months ago, I started online dating on OkCupid and one of the questions they ask you to fill out on your profile is, “What I’m doing with my life….” It’s the obligatory, “What is your job question,” from which you discern what the person’s income probably is (if they don’t state it in their profile). And what I filled out is, “I get paid to write all day. It’s pretty awesome.” The man I’m dating right now, in one of our initial messages, he wrote, “It sounds like you found your dream job.” Continue reading

“Game of Thrones” and the Myth of the Evil Rapist

Game_Thrones_Jaime

I’ve been thinking about rape lately. It’s mostly been spawning from finally getting a TV, which means I can watch all my favorite TV shows on a big screen, from my couch. And it’s been inspired by the conversation around a incestuous rape scene in this season of “Game of Thrones,” and, since this past Sunday, the lack of punishment for that rape. Now don’t get me wrong, “Game of Thrones”‘s unequal depiction of male and female nudity, and it’s willingness (even reveling) to depict sexual violence against women is what makes the show such a conversation starter, and I have no doubt that creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss know that. Continue reading