Tag Archives: movies, music, & television

Forthcoming Essay: The CW's #Arrow, #DCComics, & Race

arrow cfp

A few months ago, on Twitter (that blessed place) I had just happened to come across a friends’ timeline announcing a Call For Papers to submit proposals for a forthcoming book by McFarland on the CW’s ARROW. I don’t think I have made it any secret my love affair for this show, the diversity of the characters, the progressive message, the realism that is now turning into a more fantastic storyline. The Call For Papers was post on the Facebook Page for the Horror Area of the Pop Culture Association/ American Culture Association. My proposal was accepted and is due the first week of next year. Here’s the premise:

Tenative Title: Robin Hood Wears A Hoodie: a comparison of representations of People of Color in CW’s Arrow, “Green Arrow: Year One,” and “Green Arrow: Hunter’s Moon”

From its very inception, the comic book genre and its mythology have had to deal with the issues of race and ethnicity. After World War II with the return of African American veterans wanting to fight for freedom here in the U.S., as well as Japanese-American families being released from internment camps, the Ku Klux Klan attempted to regain its once formidable power in local and national politics. The producers of The Adventures of Superman radio show were contacted by activist Stetson Kennedy who had investigated the KKK’s activities. The producers subsequently wrote a series of episodes where Superman fough the Clan of the Fiery Cross in 1946. Concerning the other half of DC Comics’ Worlds’ Finest duo, Batman, scholar Chris Gavaler argues that Batman’s probable origin can be found in shadow novels that inspired works like the film “Birth Of A Nation.” Comic book historians point to the Comics Code of the 1950’s which began the comic book industry’s withdrawal from politics. DC Comics once again began to address the issue of racial injustice by teaming up its out-of-this-world galactic guardian, Green Lantern with the grounded, fellow Justice Leaguer Green Arrow.

Given the rise in popularity of comic book movies and television shows, it is my intention to examine the ways that people of color are represented in the CW’s Arrow in comparison to two very important Green Arrow story arcs: Andy Diggle’s “Green Arrow: Year One” and Mike Grell’s “Green Arrow: Hunter Moon.” I am particularly interested in scrutinizing the narrative tropes of CW’s Arrow’s take on DC Comic villains Shado and China White, as well as the introduction of the character John Diggle, the first member Oliver Queen’s crusade for justice. With Fanonian lens, I will point out how the character arc of John Diggle both fits and makes significant departures from what Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks, called “the-brave-fellow-who-knows-how-to-obey.” I shall contend that while Diggle was originally introduced as a Magical Negro/the Black Friend, the arrivals of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot and Lyla Michaels/Harbinger have managed to alter Diggle’s character into someone more complex. These changes to Diggle’s character has been well received by DC Comics fans, so much so that he has been officially canonized during Jeff Lemire’s current run of the New 52 Green Arrow comic.

Next, I plan to look at the differences of people of color in two crucial Green Arrow stories, “Year One” and “Hunter’s Moon.” At issue in “Year One” besides China White who I have already mentioned, is Oliver’s relationship with Taiana and how his encounters with her transformed him from being an apathetic billionaire playboy into a social justice warrior. Lastly, I will give close attention to depictions of blackness in the final two books of “Hunters’ Moon,” looking closely at Dinah and Oliver’s friendship with Colin, as well as Green Arrow’s battle versus the WarHogs. My conclusion will involve practical implications for how Green Arrow stories can be used to facilitate race conversations.

postmodern blackness in ABC's #Blackish @black_ishABC

This week I found great relevance in Tony Purvis’ article on postmodernism and television in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. In one of the opening statements of the chapter, he states that television is praised and censured for its ability to be the site of fantasy, ecstasy and pleasure. Ultimately the piece helped me to reflect on the question of whether or not television is still the site through which consensus norms and values are transmitted, as they were in the period of television’s modernity. I recently watched a series on ABC called Black-ish, which by its very titled screamed postdmodernism to me. I decided to use this show as a medium to provide my own analysis of postmodernism and television.

Image from Deadline.com

The very title of the series speaks to the complexities of the present in both the series and in the field of postmodernism. The title refers to a characteristic of not being a stereotyped urban black person or an urban black person with non-urban characteristics. This sets the background for the series. The show revolves around the lead character Andre Johnson and his family as they try to adjust to life in the suburbs. Through its treatment of cultural identity, postmodern subjectivity, and the generic boundaries of hybridization, the show Black-ish can be read in a postmodern context.

One aspect of postmodernity that recognizable in the show is its ability to blur generic boundaries of hybridization. It playfully makes use of self-referential preoccupation with the inner thought of Andre. Truth and falsehood are manufactured in various ways on the show. Thus it scantily totes the line between reality and Andre’s perception of reality. For example, on the first episode Andre feels like an animal at an exhibit as neighbors stare at his family as they pass by. This is clearly an example of how Andre’s thoughtful imagination influences the show. Yet there is no event to counter this reality. Thus it blurs the line between what is real and what is perceived as real by not clearly indicating a difference.

Realizing the plurality of perspectives is evident through many of different voice on the show. Andre and his father have different interpretations on what it means to black in a suburban setting. Simultaneously, Andre’s wife Rainbow and their children also have different interpretations of blackness. Laurence Fishburn’s character juxtasposes yet another example of blackness. Fishburn’s character plays the live-in father of Andre. He represents many of the traditional notions of blackness derived from the Civil Rights movement and its subsequent social impact.

They (the family) struggle to gain a sense of cultural identity in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Black-ish for them refers to the ways that they have to redefine what it means to black in under a different social context. In the very first episode Andre is promoted to the Senior Vice President of Urban development. At first this promotion irritates him because he associates Urban Development with “minority stuff.” For his first project he submits to the other senior vice president his intention for urban development, which fit basically every conceivable stereotype for urban. By the end of the episode however he realizes that there is no one interpretation for the concept of urban. Urban only implies “minority stuff” if that is the way you choose to interpret it. Thus postmodern subjectivity is involved even in how the show defines itself. I think it is critical to understand that the show does not conceive of one definition of blackness and what it means to black under any context.

#DoctorWho: Robot of Sherwood: Justice and Doubt

Image provided by Screen Rant

For the past couple of years, I had been rather embarassed to call myself a Whovian. I felt (and still feel) that Stephen Moffat’s writing is just ruining the show, and that they tried to make Number 11/Matt Smith too much like the 10th Doctor, David Tennant. The raw reactions of Doctor Who fans to antiracist critiques led to even more facepalms by me.

Fast forward to this season. As a fan of “The Oncoming Storm” 9th Doctor, I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi. I love the surly, ironic change in the humor. The show’s cast looks like it is looking to get more diverse with the character Daniel Pink. Through the first three episodes, I am indeed here for Number 12, Clara, and Pink.

We start at the beginning of the episode, the Doctor tells Clara they can go anywhere she wants. She talks about her dream of meeting Robin Hood, Earl of Locksley. At first the Doctor refuses the request because he tells her that Robin Hood isn’t real. Finally, 12 gives in, and when they land in Sherwood Forest with no person in sight for a few seconds, the Doctor brags, “No damsels in distress. No pretty castles. No such thing as Robin Hood.” Immediately after he says this, an arrow hits the T.A.R.D.I.S., and lo, and behold, it’s Robin Hood himself!

Robin Hood stakes his claim to the Doctor’s ship: “Don’t you know that all property is theft to Robin Hood.” The Doctor questions if Robin is serious, and Hood responds, “Robin laughs in the face of all.”

After their comical duel, the Doctor acts on his skepticism even after having won over RH’s trust. The Doctor cuts a piece of Robin’s hair and tries to take one of his sandals. “This sandal isn’t real.” The Doctor is suspicious of Robin for about 95% of the episode. When they both find out that the knights working for the evil Sheriff are actually alien robots, the Doctor argues, “Isn’t it time you came clean with me? You’re not real and you know it. Perfect eyes. Perfect teeth. No one has a jaw like that.” Still sadly, no go. It is not until the Doctor sees Robin Hood bleed from being attacked by the robots does 12 begin to be less skeptical.

Stories about the possiblities of justice are really difficult to believe in. In a fallen world filled with injustices and disasters, it can be pretty easy to give in to all of wrong that need to be righted. Even after 12, Robin, and Clara, team up to become victorious over the Sheriff and his “knights,” the Doctor denies himself the right to laugh and enjoy their feat. The Doctor has placed far too much responsibility as the “white savior” of time and space. Robin, meanwhile, puts everything in to perspective. He asks whether in the future, people will just remember him as a legendary myth, 12 answers in the affirmative. Robin replies, “Good. History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.” [….] “Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”

Indeed, narrative can open up our imagination for us to be open to that which we have not experienced, and motivate us to work for a more just society. A different world is possible.