Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Whitewashing, Super Bowl Ads, and Other Atrocities

I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat things today. I am seriously bummed out. I was furious before, but my blood pressure spiked so many times in the last couple days that I think even it has given up. I don't even know if I have the energy to go into detail about all this junk, when so many others have done so and done it eloquently and--miraculously--without expletives, which is more than I could manage.

Let's do what I do whenever the world gets too suffocating. Let's make a list, shall we?

Things That Are Currently Bumming Me Out

1. Book Cover Whitewashing: There was a huge uproar over Bloomsbury's initial cover design for Justine Larbelestier's YA novel Liar, which features an African American narrator who is described on Larbelestier's blog as being, "black with nappy hair, which she wears natural and short."

So...nothing at all like the cover. If you missed the controversy, you can read about it on the author's blog (link above) or at Publisher's Weekly.

After a very loud public outcry, Bloomsbury finally changed the cover, selecting a lightskinned black woman with non threateningly curly hair. It didn't really satisfy me, but it was a huge improvement.

Weeks pass and Bloomsbury releases Magic Under Glass, a book featuring a Middle Eastern protagonist. And again, the cover depicts a white girl with brown hair. Susan at her blog Black-Eyed Susan's does a great job discussing the issue. You can see the second cover there as well.

Bloomsbury's argument through all of this seems to be that books with African American, Asian, Middle Eastern or other non white characters won't sell enough books. Which, said another way, means that people white people won't buy them.

Um. Excuse me. Did a publishing company just speak for me and my shopping habits? Because I don't even remember the last time I was given the OPTION of purchasing a book with a non white character on the cover so how do they know I won't buy it!?

This makes me sad. And yelly. And the only way this is going to change is if people (especially white people, in my opinion) stand up and say, yes I would buy a book with a non white person on the cover. In fact, watch me do that RIGHT NOW.

2. Movies with Ensemble Casts: Valentine's Day--that stupid movie that women are supposed to drag their boyfriends and girlfriends to for that stupid "holiday." The movie features an "all-star ensemble cast"....almost entirely made up of white people. Sure there are a couple minorities thrown in--Hector Elizondo and Jessica Alba for the latinas, though inexplicably Jessica is blond again. And Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifa for black people. Do you think Queen L will actually get a guy or will she just be the curvaceous, wise black friend who doles out advice to the skinny blond girl? But four minorities in a sea of white people does not a diverse cast make.

And that's just a lack of diversity within an entirely (I assume) heterosexual cast. Imagine being a gay Korean American, for example. Good luck finding any character in books (certainly not the cover!), TV, or movies that is remotely like you.

But getting back to the subject at hand...

I'm so sick of these ensemble movies that are either entirely white or entirely black (Tyler Perry). It's like these movies exist in imaginary worlds where there are only white or black people--latinas are okay if they are exceptionally attractive and can pass as white (Alba), while Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern people DO NOT EXIST.

Write a script about people. Write them however you want. Don't write them white or latina or whatever. Then cast them based on performance, not looks. Then maybe we'll have ensemble movies that actually represent a cross section of society.

3. Vanity Fair: Vanity Fair's latest cover features the actresses of the "New Hollywood." They are all extremely thin and extremely white. When I first saw the cover I rolled my eyes. I mean, give me a BREAK. More than that has happened as a reaction to Vanity's Fair's insulting decision. People are understandably upset, but many--re: creepy white supremacists--are applauding the decision.

And I can't help but think if people would cast minorities in more roles--not just Roles Written for Minorities, just your average romantic comedy, then this wouldn't be such a big deal.

Side Note: While googling for the cover image, I noticed that Vanity Fair REALLY likes their cover girls to be as white as possible. Whiter even, than I thought was in fashion. I don't mean just racially white, I mean powdered Baroque white. Google it and see for yourself. Most of the covers are white white white. This is nothing new, people.

Case in point:

Salon.com discusses it well here. The language used in the Vanity Fair article to describe these actresses is, I think, the most worrisome part of all.

4. The Super Bowl Ads: The ads for this year's super bowl were so incredibly insulting that it took all of my willpower not to snarl at the TV. I only managed it because we were watching it with our new neighbors and their family and I didn't want to make a scene.

This is the one that made me want to smash my neighbors' beautiful flat screen TV

The incredibly talented author Catherynne Valente discussed the ads on her blog, managing to say everything I was thinking in a completely coherent way, without using expletives. So I suggest you read it.

So that sums up my crummy mood today. I feel insulted as a women and as a white person. And the only way any of this is going to get better is if we speak up. (Of course, getting more women and minorities into the jobs that make the cover art decisions, the casting decisions, and the commercial decisions, would sure as Hell help.)

1 comment:

  1. Note: my friend Gabby emailed me about this post but couldn't figure out how to leave a comment. so here is her comment. (I've shortened it to omit spoilers, which means I've left out all of her examples, so you'll just have to take her word for it!)

    I read your article and I agree with most of it. Especially items 1, 3, and 4.

    However, I think it would be prudent if you saw the movie Valentine's Day before passing judgment. On the cover it does look like another ensemble cast/romantic chick flick like Love Actually, He's Just Not That Into You, etc. with a sea of white people.

    There were a lot of "white" characters or people who appeared "white." I really liked how not everyone lived happily ever after in the movie, some people ended up alone. I liked how race was not explicit in the movie especially in regard to latinos because the fact of the matter is it is harder to tell if someone is latino or caucasian. I would have been more offended if the only latinos in the movie were only dark skinned and together with one another. There could have been more dark skinned people in the movie, especially characters represented as racially black, but the term "skinned" in general (light or dark) harkens Jim Crow rhetoric for me and I find it kinda offensive even though I know we're trying to use it to point out inequalities in this case.I found this movie mildly progressive for Hollywood in regard to age, race, and sexuality. Body type however, was extremely skinny for the young women and "ripped" for the young men... very disconcerting.