Tag Archives: television

#NoLaurelNoArrow & The Quest for A Good Story

My name is Rod Thomas and for four years I was enamored with a T.V. show with only one goal: Tweet Live. Now I can fulfill my friends’ wish, to right Marc Guggenheim’s wrongs. To use the list of grievances comic book nerds have left me, to bring down the Olicity Trolls that are poisoning our fandom. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.

 

GENERAL WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! 

For those who are unfamiliar, the CW’s Arrow is a tv show that was inspired by the stories of DC Comics’ Oliver Queen i.e., Green Arrow (2012-present). When DC Comics and Warner Brothers announced they were going to replace the Superman-related series Smallville (which lasted 10 seasons 2001-2011) with a weekly crime drama centering the Green Arrow, initially I was on the fence.Then, I started to borrow, buy, and read most of the Green Arrow’s important story arcs, like his team-up with Green Lantern (an absolute classic!), Green Arrow: Year One, Longbow Hunters, Hunters’ Moon. After experiencing the awesomeness of Kevin Smith’s directed episode of The Flash, “The Runaway Dinosaur,” I dusted off my Kindle copies of Smith’s Green Arrow run, “Quiver” volumes 1 & 2, and finished them in two sittings. I grew up as a kid admiring Batman on Batman: The Animated Series as well as the Tim Burton film version of Batman played by Michael Keaton. I absolutely infatuated with the idea that an ordinary person, well financed of course, but still without any powers could go toe-to-toe with powerful villains such as Man-Bat, Clayface, Killer Croc, and Red Klaw every week. Superman, Marvel’s X-Men were okay, they had powers and saved the day, but I as a lower-middle class A/B honor roll Black pre-teen, saw myself in Batman. He was always the smartest man in the room.

The one thing missing with Batman as I grew older was that Batman became sort of a Mary Sue, as DC Comics used him as some wish fulfilment for every nerd out there. His story lines were pretty dark, and focused more on just how terrible his opponents were. What if Batman made snarky jokes? What if he wore brighter colors and still had awesome sidekicks too? This is why I became a die hard Green Arrow fan. One example of the DC Comics portraying Oliver Queen as a Social Justice Warrior is in Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow: Year One, of which the CW’s Arrow (which I will address shortly) is supposed to be inspired by.

Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow Year One contains a few empowering images of women of Color. While Oliver is alone and stranded on an island, faced with danger and on the run from China White and her employees, Queen is rescued and depends on Taiana for protection and sustenance. After Oliver Queen joins Taiana’s revolution to overthrow China White and her drug empire, Taiana tells Oliver, “Thank you, we owe you our freedom.” Oliver replies, “You don’t owe me a thing sister. You freed yourselves. I was just along for the ride.” By participating in a freedom movement lead by Women of Color, Ollie gets to experience true liberation: joining the struggle of the marginated. The island changed Oliver Queen as he rejected the narrative of White Saviorism because he was more committed to justice than he was his own White privilege.

The first 2 seasons of CW’s Arrow brought so much joy and excitement. Every Wednesday for work, I would wear green and make sure to change my facebook status proclaiming my impatience for that night’s new episode of Arrow. There were the obvious references to Green Arrow: Year One as well as a unique synthesis of Christopher Nolan’s realistic tone in the Dark Knight Trilogy films with Green Arrow comic book lore. Oliver befriends John Diggle, an Operation Afghan Freedom veteran and Black man who resides in the impoverished part of Starling City, The Glades. As I note in a forthcoming essay on Arrow, Green Arrow and Race for an anthology the CW’s Arrow, the faces of the Glades in the Pilot are people of Color. The Glades is considered the wrong side of town that rich socialites such as Oliver Queen and Tommy Merlyn work purposefully to avoid. The season One episode, “Savior,” Oliver and Diggle discover that wealthy antagonist Malcolm Merlyn’s evil plan had something to do with leveling the Glades. Arrow season one is an allegory for social justice struggles versus gentrification, and season two deals with the aftermath.

These two seasons are not without their problematic moments. During the short stint that Helena Bertinelli a.k.a. Huntress works her way into Oliver’s life, police officers such as Detective Quentin Lance and his daughter lawyer Laurel, racially profile Chinese citizens as suspects in the murders actually committed by Helena. John Diggle, far from being a token black, became an anchor for Oliver, and for Blerds like myself, his success as a character allowed us to participate in Arrow’s stories. Diggle calls out Oliver Queen’s hypocrisy for wanting to be a “White Knight” to save the Glades by starting his new business in the neighborhood. It is Diggle who confronts Oliver about failing to take down Helena because she looks more like “Carly the T-Mobile girl” and less like a person of color like Diggle.

John Diggle is a Jiminy Cricket, Oliver’s budding racial consciousness who has an eye for the margins. Diggle’s role grew during Season two; he teams up with a Black woman of color, Amanda Waller and stops a terrorist by teaming up with the Suicide Squad in the season two episode, “Suicide Squad.” Arrow’s version of Shado, a former medical student from China rather than a Japanese mafia member, was featured in the flashbacks and her and Oliver’s relationship became important to his growth in an archer. Teaming up with Oliver and Slade Wilson (played by Manu Bennett who is Maori) presented the Original Team Arrow as a racially diverse collective with a Woman of Color as the leader. Representation is very important to story-telling. If one fails to have a diversity of cultures and mutuality between the sexes in one’s stories, that person experienced a failure of imagination. Story-telling allows us to transcend cultural limits, especially when it comes to race and gender. Stories grant us entrance into experiencing each other’s differences, and invite us to delight in them as well.

Fast forward through seasons Three and Four, and in May 2016, the CW’s Arrow’s ratings are plummeting week after week. What happened? First of all, there was a change of direction with writers Marc Guggenheim and Wendi Mericle being placed at the helm of Arrow as executive producers. There were rumors of promises of changes in tone, Arrow was gonna be funnier, closer to the Oliver Queen of the comics. Then, season three premiere, and they kill off Sarah Lance/ Black Canary, and the first half of season three is this big “Who Dunnit Mystery” ending with yet another “death”: Oliver’s. Arrow’s direction was considered, “bold” because who dared to kill off the titular character and protagonist midway during the third season of a hit show? No one, obviously. Meanwhile, Felicity Smoak in season 3 received more lines of dialogue, more unbearable scenes of her crying as John Diggle was relegated to being little more than being a prop in the background.

The story arcs for Arrow season 3 stalled; actors such as Willa Holland (Thea Queen/Speedy) and the writers and show runners placed the blame on Warner Brothers and DC Comics announcement of the Suicide Squad movie coming this August. The Suicide Squad was supposed to have a prominent role in season 3 and its finale. The producers were limited by the characters they could use, especially Deadshot and Amanda Waller. The use of the highly anticipated Suicide Squad film and the limits of the writers in my opinion is a sorry excuse. In fact, there is a plethora of superhero and supervillain teams from DC Comics mythology to choose from. A natural choice to be used as a substitute for Taskforce X would be The Rogues, who were featured separately on Arrow’s spinoff, The Flash. The producers were the ones who chose to make Komodo a one-off villain and have a depowered, very uninteresting version of Brick and who lasted in a three episode arc. The Green Arrow stories have the source material to provide a compelling narrative to tell for a 23-episode season. The writers and producers CHOSE not to use them. Marc Guggenheim. Wendy Mericle. You have failed this city!

I purposefully have avoided making the issues of the bad-story telling that Arrow has shown about the “shipper wars.” Marc Guggenheim and company have reduced this debate to simply that, it’s about whoever ships Felicity with Oliver versus whoever ships Oliver and Laurel. This is so far from the truth. Let’s go back to season One, shall we? The shocking death in the season finale, “Sacrifice,” was Oliver’s best friend, Tommy Merlyn. It came as a surprise because commenters noted how Tommy was growing a beard and was becoming a more morally ambiguous character, and probably being set up to replace his father as the Dark Archer. Was Tommy’s death depicted as necessary? No, it was not. It was an act of heroism to save his love interest and best friend, Laurel Lance. In season two, Moira Queen, Oliver’s mother dies at the hands of Deathstroke, and it’s a sacrifice to save Thea. In both instances, could all of the characters move forward without any of the deaths happening? Probably. Tommy perishing leads to Laurel struggling with and overcoming alcoholism while Oliver commits himself to not killing. The events of season four makes Tommy’s sacrificial act all for nothing. Oliver returns to murdering bad guys and thus failing to be a light for Star City. Laurel has a brief stint as Black Canary before she is stabbed to death with arrows by Damien Darkh. Not only is Laurel killed off, but her dying words are nothing but fan service, to appease the Olicity trolls who bully the show’s writers.

There has been a lot of written commentary on why Olicity as a relationship isn’t a healthy portrayal, it is not a display of mutuality but rather an unbalanced hierarchy where Oliver is not only the boss but he is also a lying jerk and Felicity isn’t bothered by it. These problems have been pointed out and I will link to them at the end of this piece. There’s one episode in season four that is entirely fan service for Olicity. Oliver and Felicity pose as a married couple in order to trap the Cupid, and a news broadcast refers to their relationship as “Olicity.” I could literally feel the face palms around the world as that scene happened. Quentin Lance somehow survives being a part of an evil terrorist organization with no consequences. Why? Because Olicity shippers on Tumblr pushed for him to have a relationship with Donna, Felicity’s mom. Centering one romantic couple + killing off a main character from the cast each season is not good story telling. It’s just lazy. Olicity scenes in seasons one and two were fun, they weren’t forced but once Olicity became the whole focus of the show, it went downhill. We see it in the lack of diversity, the silencing of Diggle, the erasure of Arrow’s social justice message from seasons 1 & 2, and in the dismissive attitude of Marc Guggenheim and his response to trends like #NoLaurelNoArrow.

Arrow’s show runners have framed this online debate as “the shipping wars.” I have worked to show that this is simply NOT the case. The #NoLaurelNoArrow online community has passionate fans of the Green Arrow comics, and at one point, CW’s Arrow. #NoLaurelNoArrow is an online protest whereby fans refuse to watch all new episodes of Arrow live and if they do watch, they will wait three days after the eps are made available online to impact ratings. That is called dedication. If you look at the numbers, #NoLaurelNoArrow has had a jolting effect as Arrow has dropped drastically in the ratings, with the showrunners making excuses such as, “oh it’s summer break” or “there was a Cubs’ baseball game on.” They seem to be in denial that there is much dissatisfaction from their targeted viewership. This is more than about killing off Laurel. This is about the disrespectful treatment of Amanda Waller, a top tier Black woman of color character because. #AmandaWallerDeservedBetter. This is about the gross way that Shado was offed from the show, for more of Oliver’s man-pain, because #ShadoDeservedBetter. The #NoLaurelNoArrow movement is MORE than just about Black Canary and Green Arrow being together as a couple, because that’s not the issue. This is about Green Arrow as a story that promotes social justice and inclusion, and Black Canary aiding in that struggle as a mutual partner. Finally, #NoLaurelNoArrow is an attempt to get the show runners’ attention, to save a once beloved primetime show. Though perhaps the best way to save a T.V. show is to pave the way for its cancellation while remembering the good story we once were a part of.

Relevant posts:

The CW’s Black Canary: How Arrow Failed an Actress and a Comic Book Legend– The Arrowverse.com

The Canary Still Criess: Black Canary Voted DC TV’s Best TV Hero– Movie Pilot

Arrow’s Laurel Lance Deserved Much More Than What She Got– The Mary Sue

Arrow: The Disturbing Trend of Fridging Female Characters– Yahoo.

*the featured image is a picture of Green Arrow, a man wearing green with a hat, raising his hand. Entitled “Green Arrow Oliver ‘Ollie’ Queen”. Provided by Creative Commons at Flickr. *

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.