#LWB is an Honest Look at Everyday Life as a Young Black Woman

Brittany Boyd, writer and producer, believes in “art that promotes equity,” which is why her YouTube serious, #LWB (Living While Black) centers a young Black woman dealing with an onslaught of microaggression in nearly every space she occupies.

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These small slights are ones rarely addressed by a main character on screen. Nia, the main character in #LWB, navigates her job, her home life, and her mental health all while being racially targeted by well-intentioned people. Centering a Black woman’s experience offers equity and autonomy to a perspective that needs to be witnessed. This series is an honest look at life from the point of view of a woman living while Black, which Boyd hopes will begin “honest conversation that brings honest change.”

Still from #LWB

#LWB, which debuted in 2017, still resonates the importance of racial discussion and delivers it right to your computer screen and streaming device. Within 7 episodes, #LWB addresses the psychological effects of being Black in America, which have yet to be diminished or reduced by 2020.

Watch #LWB, available now on YouTube, to see the ways even small biases and misunderstanding can carry heavy weight on the health of Black people, alongside a touch of sarcastic humor.

The TV Shield: How Policing on TV Needs to Evolve

Crime procedural have long been a staple of prime time television. In a crowded TV landscape like the Peak TV we’re in now, crime shows remain a familiar draw for viewers. There is an easy-to-tweak formula that networks can replicate over and over again. This formula is how we end up with so many TV police tropes, including ripped-from-the-headlines police, psychic police, detectives in a certain location, crime scene unit officers, law enforcement teaming up with mathematicians, federal agencies enlisting cutting edge technology, and goofball police all crowding the TV Guide with their antics.

But as the political climate shifts more and more divisively, show runners need to start being more aware of the moral predicaments their heroes are thrown into — and what that means as a reflection (or not) of modern policing.

Law enforcement procedural have always walked a fine line. They’re bizarrely close to the front lines of political demagoguery even as they shrug off any affiliation. What results is often a quixotic look at crime enforcement, always dipping its toe but never diving into the intricate place law enforcement has in our society. “24” famously blossomed under the Bush administration, only to finally swear off torture techniques when Obama took office. “The Fall” delves into questions of consent and sexual assault, while sometimes indulging viewers’ dark sides by portraying them on screen.

However with criminal justice as hot-button an issue as it is now (not to mention another monumental shift in presidential administrations), “police officer” is no longer just a simple occupation to give characters. The U.S. — though always working through some aspect of our relationship with law enforcement — has seen more and more high-profile shootings by and demonstrations against militarized police presence. For many, sadly, it’s the first time they’ve had to face the truth that “protect and serve” has never been a universal slogan.

With the state of police and the state of Hollywood in 2017 we are left with a weird dichotomy. In 2017, citizens take to the streets to protest police brutality, only to turn on TVs and be swarmed with narratives that center on law enforcement’s goodness (as well as, frequently, their high-tech tracking gadgets that would be terrifying in real life).

Don’t get me wrong; any narrative has two sides, and cops can be just as deserving of humanizing as anyone else. The difficulty is that these staples of prime time have a plethora of shows that inherently frame the audience’s sympathies around the struggle of the average officer. A show like “The Wire” remains the heavyweight champ for weaving social issues into both sides of the narrative. Its peers are few and far between.

What’s more, studies have shown that watching TV crime dramas affects public perception of how effective the police are. 

“A lot of the shows were showing police officers engaging in force and the way that force was portrayed was such that it was necessary: the suspect is a bad guy, we just need to beat it out of him,” Kathleen Donovan, professor of political science at St. John Fisher College and co-author of the study called “The Role of Entertainment Media in Perceptions of Police Use of Force,” said in an interview. “It’s almost always portrayed in a justified light. Again, not to say that the police department is not doing that, but that they’re engaging in force a lot more in these fictional shows and it’s shown as an appropriate approach.”

That doesn’t mean that police procedural will or have to shrivel up and vanish. But it does call for some decorum around the matter. Shows like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which situate crime-fighting and policing in a workplace comedy set-up, will have to step more carefully.

On the whole, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” usually eschews easy punchlines of old — prison rape and rough treatment by police — for smarter narratives. Perhaps the closest the ensemble comedy came to acknowledging that despite all the lovable antics of the fictional precinct there were serious law enforcement issues was in season three’s “Boyle’s Hunch.” In the episode, Captain Holt endeavors to design a new publicity campaign for the NYPD, featuring exemplary officers (like Amy Santiago) as poster-children for the good they can do. After receiving negative feedback (in the form of Hitler-mustache graffiti) Holt and his team rethink the campaign and come out with a new slogan. “We know we can do better,” the new poster reads. “Tell us how.”

The episode isn’t the strongest, from either the expert comedic minds that write or act the show. But it does manage to get real with the complicated place in society these goofballs hold. And it’s a quietly revolutionary moment for the sitcom to take. They’re not just another workplace comedy; they’re no full-blown anti-hero drama. And “very special episodes” and social commentary hasn’t been the style of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” either. But “Boyle’s Hunch” demonstrates that the writers aren’t ignorant of the complexities of police public image, and they’re able to call upon it when they feel they can do so responsibly.

It’s that kind of attitude we’ll need more of going forward. Something that reflects cops as humans, but also as a fallible institution that has room to grow. We can no longer afford to pretend law enforcement has an easy place in society, and it’s time TV really started thinking about how to reflect that. 

Where The Man in the High Castle Dodges Reality

“The Man in the High Castle” should be the program on everyone’s lips after November’s election. After all, the show takes place in an alternate universe in which the U.S. has lost World War II, leaving the Nazis and Japanese empires to divvy up the states. Streamed through Amazon, the show isn’t beholden to any strict network guidelines around language and content. Instead of saying the pledge of allegiance in the morning, school children turn to a picture of the Fuhrer and perform a Nazi salute. The show’s premise is eerily close to discussions and debates rolling around the American zeitgeist now. And yet, it’s about as soft as the “Edelweiss” cover that opens its episodes.

Set in an alternate 1962, Juliana Crain gets sucked further and further into the resistance after her half-sister Trudy is killed, leaving behind an old newsreel — which somehow depicts a news broadcast where the Allied forces won World War II. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Frank is hiding his Jewish roots to avoid being extradited (or worse) and wants nothing to do with it, Juliana believes the reel holds the key to the alternate dimension and seeks to bring it to Canon City, Colorado, with the help of Joe Blake (a rugged double agent, unbeknownst to Juliana).

man-in-the-high-castleThe show is based on a book by Philip K. Dick, a man whose interests often lie in the bewildering twists of moral philosophy. His work is so often appealing to Hollywood as a series of premises: what separates man from robot? If we know a crime is going to happen does that make the perpetrator guilty?

Philip K. Dick adaptations often mutate into something else in the hands of American pop culture: edges sanded down and philosophy traded for splash.

“Man in the High Castle” as a series initially seemed like it could be a combo breaker. The long-form storytelling had the potential for deep exploration of this mega ‘what if’ – more so than the original 1963 novel, which focused instead on the idea of a parallel reality, rather than about the ideological clash. Season one (at least abstractly) built itself and its world along a series of impossible situations — the Jewish mechanic who would like nothing more than to keep his head down, even as his girlfriend gets deeper into the cause; the high-ranking American Nazi officer tasked with killing his own disabled son to comply with the eugenics laws… all the ways people can be tacitly indoctrinated by the regime they live under even as they ‘disagree’ with it.

However, all too often, the show gets in its own way. It dallies with its science fiction elements too infrequently for them to be the pillars that hold up the overly elaborate plotting. Though its world is so well-built, full of visual detail, the show’s focus is too fractured to follow-up on any one point strongly enough. Its cast is vast, its players all over the map (literally and figuratively) and its makeup is a pastiche of genres that never seems to smooth out the seams. Though its take on American Nazism is interesting (a saturated white-picket-fence world where neighbors greet with a hearty “Sieg Heil!”) the key narrative driving the plot — of rebellion and fearlessness in the face of fascism — gets lost in the scuffle.

Perhaps “The Man in the High Castle” makes the mistake so much of pop culture has by sinking all its eggs into the love story basket, inadvertently anchoring the show in all the wrong places. Joe and Juliana are the characters tasked with some of the most dramatic shifts in the show’s history, but they’re also the ones who are the most aimless and indecisive. There’s little room for humor in the show bible and so Joe and Juliana’s actions feel perfunctory. They go where the plot needs them because the plot wills it to be so. There’s no inspiration to their fight other than the fact that the audience knows Nazis are pop culture stand-ins for pure evil. 

Essentially, the show doesn’t feel like the relevant mirror it needs to. On the other hand, it comes as close to a worst-case scenario as we can get to right now. It depicts indisputable Nazis who run the country, and tacit endorsement from an alarming number of American people. But its disinterest in truly engaging with those concepts robs it of any urgency, which is odd since the discussion of nazism is so rampant in American politics. It’s no longer a safe statement to say you’d punch a Nazi; it’s all complicated by the American-ness of it all. Suddenly the enemy isn’t some far-off, built up entity. They’re our friends and neighbors. They’re our government officials. 

Arguments about fighting Nazis no longer feel like distant what-ifs, or duties left to Captain America. They feel like they’re encroaching and corrupting so many of the pillars of our democracy. The questions our society is now forced to grapple with should align with the subversive world shown in “The Man in the High Castle.” Instead, the show feels almost as unconcerned with these questions as anything else on TV.

Orphan Black: The Feminist Show We Need?

Not so long ago, I stumbled upon an excellent post about how to make a non-sexist show, from the blog The Cutprice Guignol.  The post lays out some of the major elements needed to truly make a feminist-worthy tv show.

One of my favorite shows is Orphan Black, a sc-fi show, created by John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, starring Tatiana Maslany. This show is slowly (finally!) starting to gain attention and has many of these elements.

Warning! Spoilers ahead. If you plan on watching the show, then I recommend going and watching it, then coming back here. I repeat, do NOT read this post if you haven’t watched the show yet and don’t want it ruined for you.

Set in a city that’s Canadian-like, the first episode opens with Sarah Manning (aka Tatiana Maslany) who has returned to reclaim her daughter and reunite with her foster brother. Unfortunately, her plans don’t go so well when her foster mother refuses to let Sarah take her daughter Kira. First, Sarah must prove that she is ready to be a real mother. Soon after, Sarah witnesses a woman commit suicide by jumping off a train, leaving behind her personal belongings. Weirdly enough, the woman looks just like her, but with a much better life. Sarah assumes her identity and inadvertently discovers that she’s one of many clones with a complicated history. The series first aired in March 2013 and has been getting better and better ever since.

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Here is Orphan Black’s answer to a non-sexist show:

1. Have You Presented Either Gender’s Sexuality as Dangerous, Manipulative or Deceptive?

This show has come a long way since Season One. In the first season, Sarah, posing as Beth, seduces Paul to distract him from becoming suspicious of her, as Beth. However, later on, she develops an attraction to him, which creates a confusing love/hate relationship with Paul. He’s working for the enemy, but also cares about her. It makes them both more human. Sarah isn’t just using her sexuality to continue to deceive Paul. Even though they were strangers at first, through Paul’s intimacy with Beth, he and Sarah grow close.

After Rachel’s monitor is killed, Paul replaces him as her monitor and lover. In Season 2, we witness them having sex, while Helena is attempting to assassinate Rachel. Not only is this scene intense and so well orchestrated, but it shows this primal side of Rachel. She uses her sexuality to control Paul. Yes, it is manipulative, but this is entirely what Rachel’s character is comprised of. She uses people to her advantage to benefit herself first and then the DYAD Institute. She has been raised in an environment where she is aware of her use as a scientific experiment. This makes her cold, clinical and narcissistic. Everything about Rachel is calculated. The only vulnerable side we see is when she is with her father, Ethan Duncan. However, because they show other views of sexual expression, besides Rachel’s it’s slightly more acceptable.

2. Are All Genders Being Paid the Same Respect?

The cast of OB is mostly female, which is a nice change from the regular all-male cast we usually see in mainstream media. All of the clones have their own conflicts and ideas. Sarah wants to repair the relationship with her daughter, Kira, who she left with her own adopted mother, Mrs. S. She also wants to help protect her sisters and her brother, Felix. Cosima wants to help protect her sisters from the DYAD Institute and the  Proletheans. At the same time, she’s intensely interested in learning more about the clones’ DNA, both to understand her identity and as a scientist. Alison, reluctantly, is willing to help her sisters, but, above all, values her family. Helena, the “evil” clone, is trying to fulfill her mission of destroying the clones who are (she believes) copies of herself. Tatiana Maslany does an incredibly job in the role of Helena, managing to make her completely terrifying at times, while endearing and hilarious at other points.

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Felix, Sarah’s adopted brother, is an an artist and partner-in-crime to Sarah. With most of the focus on Sarah and her sisters, this doesn’t leave much room for character development for him. He has his moments, like when he leaves Sarah with Cal, Kira’s father, because he feels as if there isn’t any place there for him. He is learning to separate himself from Sarah, as much as he can, despite her complicated life. However, I do think there is more that could be explored here, such as how he creates a life for himself, outside of Sarah.

Art, Beth’s partner, is completely skipped over. Here, the show definitely fails. He is purely used to push the plot forward. His divorce is mentioned one or two times, but he appears less and less as the seasons go on, which is disappointing because he is one of the few people of the color in the show.

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3. Are Your Relying Entirely on Stereotype for Characters of One Gender

This show excels in not giving into stereotypes. Cosima is an unique character. She is one of the few queer characters on the show, who doesn’t fall into a stereotype. She’s smart, but sexual. Nerdy, but not socially inept. She appreciates her body chemistry not only because it helps her understand herself but also, because she appreciates the science of it all. She is looking for love and finds it (in all the wrong places). But, she is as she says, “more than her sexuality.”

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One of my favorite moments in Season 3, was the introduction of Krystal. At first glance, she appears to be a dumb blonde, who is tricked by a male clone, who murders her boyfriend. She is traumatized, but returns to her life as a nail technician. However, we learn more about her when Felix goes to meet her and attempt to steal her bank information. She reveals that she is investigating what happened to her. It’s clear from the way she speaks about it, that she understands something strange was going on. She is more perceptive than we think, not just some Valley girl.

4. Are You Disproportionally Representing One Gender as Overtly Sexualized

Despite this show being made up of mostly women, they are not as sexualized as they could be. Cosima and Delphine fall for each other, but the show focuses on their complicated relationship, rather than the sex. Sarah is easily the most sexualized character. She has sex with Paul out of deceit, then love. She also sleeps with Kira’s father when they are reunited.

Rachel is definitely sexualized; from her outfits to the way she controls her monitors through sex. I see this more as a part of her character than of objectifying her though. She owns her sexuality and uses it.

We often see Felix’s bare ass, but these moments are not so much sexual as him just hanging out at home, painting. It’s where is he most comfortable and proves that nudity doesn’t have to be sexual.

5. Are You Giving One Gender Power By Taking It Away From The Other One?

Ultimately, no. The show does a good job of creating characters of both genders with powerful characters and strong dynamics. I think that often, Sarah uses some of the men in her life to get ahead. She relies on Felix to help her with whatever plan she has. Often this gets him into trouble, like when he winds up in jail, falsely accused of murder or is harassed by Vic, Sarah’s ex. It makes Felix seem a little bit of a weak character at times, which I think the show could improve on. He has such a strong personality that it just doesn’t fit.

Bonus points: The show later introduces a trans clone, Tony. Tony’s character is complicated and multi-faceted, which makes him so much more than a character that the show creators stuck in for diversity’s sake. Here’s hoping they bring him back!

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You can watch Orphan Black on BBC America, Itunes, Amazon, Google Play and On Demand. Season 1-3 is also available on DVD.

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton: The Feminist President We Need?

The October 15th Democratic debate raised the bar considerably. There was no name calling, no bickering and even some show of support between the candidates. This was also the most watched Democratic debate in history, with 15.3 million viewers, as well as almost a million people watching CNN’s livestream. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders dominated the debate—quite literally, with Clinton speaking the most out of any of the other candidates, at 31 minutes and 5 seconds. As a feminist and cis woman, it would bring me the greatest joy and sense of triumph to see Clinton be elected as the first female president of the United States. But, as with any other politician, or human for that matter, she is flawed, giving me pause for thought. Is she the strongest, best feminist choice?

On the one hand, she was the only candidate during the debate to make a reference to reproductive rights. When asked to respond to Carly Fiorina’s concerns that federally mandated paid family leave would lower job growth, Clinton said, “This is typical Republican scare tactics…We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small businesses. I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court because I was practicing law..we need the join the rest of the advance world in having it.

When further questioned by moderator Dana Bash, that some taxpayers wouldn’t be open to yet another government program, Clinton had this to say, ” When people say that, it’s always the Republicans or sympathizers who say you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care. They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and try to take down Planned Parenthood…They’re fine with big government when it come to that. I’m sick of it. We can do these things. We should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, ‘big government this, big government that’ except for what they want to impose on the American people. We’re going to make the wealthy pay for it. That is the way to get it done.”

The fact that, unlike almost the entire Republican debate, reproductive rights were only touched on once, was almost a relief. But Clinton managed to remind us that this is still an important fight and managed to steer the conversation to a more intelligent discussion. Bringing it around to the issue of family leave is so important because the US is just one of three countries that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. By offering paid leave, mothers are more likely to return to their job and end up with raises. Compare that to the 40% of first-time mothers who are forced to take unpaid leave, a quarter of whom either quit or are fired after their children are born. This is not just a female issue—this is a feminist issue. What’s left out of the conversation and what the US is a long way away from, is paid leave for mothers and fathers. Fathers have a right to take time to be with their children, just as much as mothers do. What’s more, studies have shown that fathers who are able to spend more time with their children not only report having greater confidence as a parent, but results in them being more involved as their children grow up.

A lot of Clinton’s fault lies in the fact that she often picks the popular position, rather than the right one. Until 2013, she opposed gay-marriage. She could have changed her mind of course, but from the past she comes from, it is more than likely that this was partially a political strategy. Now that the wind has changed, so has she. That being said, she has supported LGBT equality for a number of years. In a December 2011 speech in Switzerland, she stated, “Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

One issue that Clinton has been throughly supportive and outspoken about is the issue of prison reform and a call for more body cameras on police. Two days after the Baltimore riots, she spoke up, saying, “There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts…There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.” Clinton has noted the is a connection between unfair law enforcement practices and unfair prison policy. Though this may seem obvious, many politicians refuse to acknowledge the connection. 

Hillary is a great politician. She has the experience it takes to run the country, her delivery and communication is infinitely more polished than other candidates. She would make an exceptional president, more to the point, our first female president. This would set a new standard for the US, showing we have matured infinitely as a nation.

But, just because Clinton is a woman (as she repeatedly reminded viewers during the debate) doesn’t mean she should automatically get elected.The other cause for concern is that Clinton comes from a place of privilege. She is part of a legacy and much of her campaign is funded by big banks. My worry is that she is not for the people as much as she seems to say she is, but more for Wall Street. Will she truly try for an increase in minimum wage, more affordable health care for everyone and (dare I say) free college tuition?

She leans to positions that will make her look better, even if they are not the right ones. She is not always very clear on her stance, because she is trying to remain within the popular vote. Perhaps because of this, some of her ideas are less progressive. She is less willing to take a stance in case it’s too much of a political risk. She is a politician who makes promises, as all politicians do. If she can step beyond those promises, see them through and be willing to stand forward, ahead of the crowd, she will truly shine.

One standout moment, was when the moderators touched on the Clinton email scandal. Clinton stated that “the House Select Committee on Benghazi was ‘basically an arm of the Republican National Committee’, calling its investigations into her use of a private account a ‘partisan’ drive to take down her poll numbers.”  Bernie Sanders, supporting her, spoke out against the press’ focus on this topic, “…the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails…Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.” At which point, Clinton thanked Sanders and shook his hand. It was moments like this, where candidates were willing to support one another, instead of strike each other down, that truly made the Democratic debate stand out in stark comparison to the Republican one. If we could pick and choose, maybe we should have Clinton for president, with Sanders as her vice president. Clinton would bring the experience and Sanders would bring the ideas.

Villians We Love to Hate

got-finale_0-1Without the many complex, dynamic characters that exist within the plot, Game of Thrones would not be the popular show it has become today. Throughout it all, Cersei Lannister has been one of those great characters. From secretly having her husband poisoned to helping a religious extremist rise to power as way to throw her son’s fiancé in jail, she knows how to hold her own and get exactly what she wants. She is a villian we love to hate. But, in the season finale, we saw Cersei at her most vulnerable, a side we have never seen before.

Born an older twin by a few minutes, from the beginning of the show, Cersei makes it well known that she despises the drawback to being born a woman. As a man and the older son, she would have been heir to the Lannisters. But, because of her gender, she is used as a pawn in marriage over and over. She certainly likes the taste of power and takes advantage whenever she can.

What makes her more than simply an evil character, however, is how she thinks. Every move she makes has a purpose, though her anger often gets the better of her, leading her to make rash decisions. She knows when to lie in wait and when to make her move. She is ruthless, and like all good Lannisters, always pays her debts. Everything she does, she does for her family, especially her children.

 But what makes her such a complicated character is the rare moments when she shows her vulnerabilties. When it comes to her children or lover/brother Jamie, her true feelings show through. When Joffrey’s life appears to be in danger or Tyrion sends her daughter away, Cersei tries to protect them.

The season finale shows us this more than ever. In the last episode, Cersei has lost control of the High Sparrow, who arrests Margery, then turns on Cersei. The finale begins with the question— “Will Cersei break or stay strong?”

Though she does confess, it is only to the sin that Lancel Lannister has accused her of—the very thing that has driven him to his newfound religion. Even in her weakest moment, she is calculated. She understands that confessing to everything would only drag her down further. The scene in which Cersei is absolved of her sins is one of the most powerful moments of the season. The sheer humiliation of being forced to walk naked among the very people you once ruled over would humble anyone, much less the Queen. In this moment, her worst fear is realized—she is powerless to speak up for herself.

This is what makes her human. No matter how many terrible deeds she does or people she has murdered, she still has wants, needs, desires and fears. She’s not pure evil, like Joffrey or Ramsey Snow. Where Joffrey is cruel (like making Sansa look at her beheaded father), she is calculating and cold. She knows the game that’s being played and knows that, “When you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.”

During what become known as “her walk of shame”, Cersei finally breaks down, collapsing in the street and then again later on, when she finally makes it inside the Red Keep. This is a reality check for us, showing that under her armor and her fierceness, she is still human. The look in her eyes as the recreated Mountain carries her away is clear- she may be down, but she is certainly not out. She will have her revenge.

For any show to gain a strong following, you need stories that keep them hooked. In Game of Thrones, so much of what makes the show stand out is the villains to match the heroes.  It’s the drama and gripping twists that make us love this show. Without characters like Cersei, the show would be flat and lacking color. We love to hate the bad characters and cheer with the good ones. Those “Oh no she didn’t” and the “Oh my god, what just happened” moments can make or break a show. And that’s what keeps us watching, isn’t it?

MCM Comic Con: The Most Girl-Friendly Comic Con I’ve Attended

As someone who enjoys “geeky” stuff, I attended Comic Con on Saturday. The MCM Comic Con in London is special this year, as it contains more female guests than male ones, including feminist television heroes such as Felicia Day (The Guild, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Gillian Anderson (X-Files, Hannibal).

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One thing I really liked about this Comic Con is the large attendance of women and the inclusion of female-friendly stands, ranging from a Hello Kitty station to various independent female comic book artists and vendors.

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Another vital part of Comic Con is cosplaying and the diversity of the cosplayers. It allows people of all genders to express themselves and their love for their fandoms in a way that makes them feel like an integral part of a community, even if their interests vary.

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The main guest and the highlight of the MCM Comic Con this year was Felicia Day. She has been dubbed as the “Geek Queen” and is worthy of the title. Besides playing Vi during the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and making Dr. Horrible show his good side in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, she wrote, produced, and starred in The Guild, a web series. She also is an advocate for feminism and has allowed many male fans to become more informed in the topic of feminism, which helps to change the way women are seen in the media. Her web series The Guild has developed a cult following that keeps growing stronger, even though the series ended in 2013. During a roundtable interview, Felicia told me that she plans to write a new series. “Certainly it’s my intention to write another vehicle for myself, like The Guild. That’s what I’ve been working on the last couple months, ever since my book draft was done. Hopefully, before the end of the year, I can talk about more of that. It’s important for me just to create something that’s true to my heart, as The Guild was, which is kind of hard. It was so close to my heart.”

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She also has a book that is coming out on August, called You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost.)  She shared, ” It’s my journey of how I grew up a weird child, and was home-schooled, and went to college at sixteen, and grew up. I discovered internet videos because I just had something to say and I didn’t have another place to say it. I’m excited. It’s coming out in the UK. I actually have a publisher here, so hopefully I’ll be back to talk about that more, in August when it comes out.” She also discussed how she struggled in her career before gaining success with The Guild, which is something that she discusses thoroughly in her upcoming memoir.  It’s hard to believe that the geek idol ever struggled, considering her level of stardom. However, that’s part of the reason why she’s so relatable and loved by fans. Despite having over a dozen press people in her press conference, she stuck around and talked to everyone, being polite and gracious. She even wore her own Bitchtopia sticker after the interview.

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We need more women like Felicia Day in the media. Although women are starting to be able to have a bit more power in the media, working as writers, producers, and directors, we still have a long way to go. People like her encourage young women who want to be part of the industry to not be afraid of the obstacles they’ll encounter along the way and keep fighting to achieve success. Geek culture is known for being predominantly composed of straight white men. By having more female guests and including women like Felicia, who has accomplished so much in the media and opens discussions about feminism and how to combat sexism, women are able to feel more comfortable being part of this culture.

The Ying and Yang of Claire Underwood

With the release of a third season on the horizon, I have nothing except House of Cards on the brain. The multilayered characters are endlessly interesting and the women are no exception. With strong connections to Shakespeare, it is impossible to argue Claire Underwood isn’t every bit the cutthroat mastermind The Bard wrote as Lady Macbeth. Spoiler alert: Lady Macbeth is a villain, and so is Claire Underwood. However, as her husband Frank is almost a lovable villain, Claire demonstrates she is more than worthy of respect and admiration in her own right while still walking a narrow line between good and evil. Her dichotomy makes her character complex and life-like. Because of this, Claire Underwood is my favorite fictional feminist.

1. She is a bad feminist, but a feminist icon.

Claire is the “Bad Feminist” that Roxane Gay describes in her book by that title. “I have certain… interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.” This is the beauty of feminism; that flaws are embraced as part of the human condition. Through this lens, the viewer watches Claire glisten in the golden rays of self-empowerment. Frankly, she does things that make our skin crawl, like in Chapter 17 when she combines the separate events of her sexual assault and abortion into the same story during a nationally broadcast evening news interview.

One can infer she does this in an effort to justify her decision to terminate the pregnancy to the viewers. Though manipulative, who is to say she doesn’t have all the right to harness what power she can from her experience? Had the truth come out, would she be made to apologize to her rapist for defamation of character? No. Fuck that guy.The hurt she felt became the fuel that drove her. In addition, her announcing her attackers name publicly allowed another woman he victimized to come forward. Claire attempts to use her to climb the ladder further, which is where the “bad feminist” label works its way in. Forcing another victim forward is by no means something to condone, but she is human, and Claire’s flaw is her ruthlessness.

2. She and her husband are partners while still maintaining independent goals.

While Claire does things (like forego her desire to have children) in effort to progress her husband’s political career, she does it with a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality. In Chapter 25, when Claire drops the sexual assault bill she had been championing, it is for the purpose of manipulating the Majority Whip (Jackie Sharp) into backing an impeachment of the President, which would segue into Frank becoming Commander in Chief.

It could be said she is a traitor to victims of sexual violence—and it would be true. Claire is no hero, and she shouldn’t be held to the image of one. She wanted Frank to become President knowing the First Lady has more opportunities for influence than she currently had as V.P.’s wife. In the same interview where she speaks about her assault, the interviewer and her have an exchange about her role as the Vice President’s wife.

“Ashleigh: Is it hard being a politician’s wife?

Claire: It’s thrilling. Not without its challenges.

Ashleigh: Always In the background. Subsuming your goals for is goals.

Claire: I don’t see it that way. We’re two very independent people who have chosen to live our lives together. I support him. He supports me.”

They are a team, and it goes without debate that they are equals despite Frank’s position in government. When Frank undermines Claire early in Season 1, she turns on him and sides with a rival who promises her the funding her NGO needs, which Frank has been dragging his feet on obtaining. She reminds Frank his word is not gold. This, however, becomes a more rare occurrence as the series progress, for she does not want to interrupt Frank’s (and her) ascent to the Presidency.

3. Sometimes her sexuality is a vulnerability, other times it is a source of power.

The classic trope of “all’s fair in love and war” holds true to Claire’s politics, but she isn’t an unfeeling monster. Though this is still speculation on my part, I have come to the conclusion that Frank Underwood is homosexual (maybe bisexual, though his only sexual encounters with a woman, other than once with Claire, are to manipulate Zoe Barnes, the journalist.) We are given evidence in Chapter 8 when Frank reminisces with old male college friends, one of which he had a relationship with. I think we can all agree Frank isn’t above playing heterosexual to progress his career and that were it true, Claire wouldn’t be in the dark about it. In Chapter 24, she asks Frank if he is “satisfied.” He indicates that he is not, and by the episode’s end, Claire initiates a threesome with Meechum, their bodyguard. This is the only instance in the series it is implied the husband and wife have sex.

While she uses her sexuality to maintain Frank’s ruse, Claire falls victim to emotion as any feeling human would. After sacrificing an offer that would benefit her clean water initiative for Frank’s good, Claire goes to visit Adam Galloway, a photographer and former love. She stays with Adam as they rekindle their romance, only leaving once her disappearance jeopardizes Her and Frank’s career. Though it is apparent she has feelings for Adam, her priorities are with her career and husband/business partner.

In the trailer for the third season, a fission seems to be developing between the power couple, which follows Shakespeare’s structure flawlessly. My palms are sweating in anticipation of how Claire will take on her new role as First Lady and if she might unravel like her predecessor, Lady MacB. Regardless of the path she follows now that they have reached the top, Claire Underwood is and forever will be my spirit animal.

#LessClassicallyBeautiful and the Backhanded Compliment

Show runner Viola Davis, star of the new ABC drama How To Get Away With Murder is breaking down many different barriers on network television. She is a woman over 40, a dark skin black woman, and not a size 0 and proving that those tagged as #LessClassicallyBeautiful are not only sexy, but also beautiful.

Part of the ShondaLand Thursday night lineup, How To Get Away With Murder, is show about a defense lawyer and who is also a law professor. So far the show has only been on for a couple of weeks. The pilot broke DVR rating records. Coming on right after Scandal, another show with a black woman lead, has made the show an instant hit.

According to the New York Times however, Davis is considered less classically beautiful:

As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series “Extant.”

This was seen as compliment by the writer. What this writer doesn’t understand that these comments still perpetuate colorism. To describe a dark-skinned black woman as less classically beautiful is just as demeaning as saying they aren’t attractive. Yes, Viola Davis being a lead on a network television show is different from Kerry Washington or Halle Berry carrying their own TV shows. Both Washington and Berry have the privilege of being both relatively lighter in complexion, straight hair, thinner noses, and slimmer bodies. While Davis features are more in line with what more black women tend to look like: dark skin, wide noses, wide lips, and curvacious.

Colorism is still a tricky conversation to have within the black community. It’s something that’s been going on since the concept of race was created. To get a better idea of the long and painful history of colorism, check out the documentary Dark Girls. It gives an in-depth look on “deep-seated biases and attitudes about skin color particularly dark skinned women, outside of and within the Black American culture.”

Many others believe this was a backhanded compliment and rightly so. Just like the whole “angry black woman” comment, Viola Davis and plenty of other black actresses spoke out against these comments, time and time again. On Twitter the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful was trending with black women responding to the New York Time’s ill-advised comments.

What does less classically beautiful mean?

The term can be used to describe anyone who is not “moderately” attractive by a certain standard of beauty . White actresses like Elizabeth Moss or Kristen Schaal would be considered less classically beautiful by mainstream standards. Yet, their looks are rarely mentioned in the media. Their talent tends to overshadow their looks, thanks to their whiteness. Both Moss and Schaal are both extremely talented and beautiful women, but let’s not pretend that if they were both black they wouldn’t have the same success they have now.

Though we all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we know that looks play a huge role in women’s lives.

Remember the study that was done two years ago about who the most attractive woman in the world looks like?

Yup, you guessed it. She was a thin white woman, with blonde hair and blue eyes. The world is made up with over 7 billion people, many of them brown or black, yet a “scientific” study still compiles a white woman as the most attractive woman in the world. There was also another study done that has now been discredited that black women are the most physically unattractive group.

So only imagine what it’s like for a woman like Viola Davis; a talented, Oscar nominated actress who does not look like “the most beautiful woman in the world”?

The Fall 2014 TV lineup is one of the most diverse lineups we’ve seen in a while. Not only of black women as leads, but we’re starting to see more women of color leads as well. Thanks to the success of shows like The Mindy Project, we not only get to see more women of color on TV, but also more women of color behind the scenes (writing, producing, filming, etc.)

I want all women ranging from Viola Davis to Kristen Schaal to have a voice on television. These are talented, dynamic, and beautiful actresses who are bringing something new and different to a very white male dominated field. We need to scrap this idea of less classically beautiful and just say beautiful. It’s our differences that make for better television. In a media landscape where television is finally catching up to a diverse audience we still have a long ways to go.

 

I Wanna Be Conned

I had this idea, and I want to pitch it to you.
Ready? Okay, so, everyone loves surprises. Surprise birthday parties are great; all of friends “forget” your birthday and then surprise you to show they love you tons. Now, let’s change that scenario to something more interesting… maybe along the lines of your lover confessing that they lied about everything they’ve told you. Have you ever seen the train wreck after people find out their lover has been lying to them? That’s grade-A reality show heartbreak, so it’d probably be a smash hit. I would definitely cash in on this if I was a producer – and soulless.
Unfortunately, as with all my big ideas, I dragged my feet, and someone stole this gem. Except because they have a bigger budget, FOX is blowing up my idea with their new show, I Wanna Marry Harry. The concept is similar to the Bachelor (which is perplexing on its own), except this time the women participating are lead to believe the potential groom is Prince Harry himself.
The concept is elevated to its extreme, including living in a countryside castle, extravagant dates, and a full serving staff. It is implied the female participants are never outright lied to about with whom they are dating. Instead, they are pushed to draw the assumption together, where they will not be corrected. It sounds a lot like lying in my opinion, but hey, I’m just an average American female, not unlike the ones who had the misfortune of participating in this joke-gone-too-far.
Now, I don’t hate surprise parties. Please throw me a surprise party, because the lingering sentiment after is “these people love me, they did all this to make my birthday memorable.” I struggle to see the lingering sentiment after participating in “I Wanna Marry Harry” being anything positive. I would go so far as to say that the leading-most cause of lasting trust issues is deception by a loved one. Given I am similar to them, I can only assume these respectable women will feel embarrassed, hurt, and lonely when they are told the nasty little surprise. Is this all for the “ha ha, you are so dumb, I would never have been fooled like that” factor? I beg to differ, sir or madam, but yes, you would be fooled just like this, too.
Every figure of authority surrounding these women is encouraging them to believe this is the genuine Prince Harry. If they don’t believe at first, maybe it’ll be a date on a luxury speed boat that will convince them. Not sure, yet? How about a helicopter ride, or a dinner on a private beach? You would believe he is Prince Harry, too. The participants do not stand a chance discovering this fraud, and therefore are never given the opportunity to shield themselves from the reality-shaking revelation that awaits. What kind of society enjoys watching forcibly un-empowered people having their reality dismantled, purely for the viewer’s enjoyment?
 Oh, I guess us.