Thor, Blaptain America, and the Perils of Cowl Rental

July 23, 2014
The new Thor is a girl.
The new Thor is a girl.

Last week, Marvel blew the lid off the Internet when they announced two major changes to beloved Avengers heroes, both of them clearly a nod to fans demanding increased comic book diversity.

Just over eight days ago, Marvel allowed The View, a day-time talk-show with an overwhelmingly female audience, to break the news that Thor — the Asgardian Thunder God played by Chris Hemsworth in the Marvel Studios movie franchise — will now be a woman. Although the details of the storyline is unclear, in an upcoming arc, Thor will presumably no longer be able to wield Mjolnir (the hammer that serves as the symbol of his power); instead, a female peer will take up Mjolnir and adopt the name of Thor. Although fan reception was largely positive, many fans were perplexed at the news since — as my friend Will pointed out — Thor is not a title like “Superman” or “Batman”, but the character’s actual name.

Then, just a few days later, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada appeared on Colbert Report to announce a major storyline shift involving the launch of a new title All-New Captain America: long-time sidekick Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie in the most recent Winter Soldier installment of the Captain America movie franchise) will become the new Captain America, making him a contemporary African American Captain America, and the second African American Captain America in history.

Response to Blaptain America (credit to Will for that name) has been largely mixed, possibly because the timing of the announcement immediately after the announcement over Thor, along with the clear “where’s our pat on the back for our diversity initiative?” tone coming out of Marvel, has led many to conclude it’s all gimmick and publicity stunt. Like Snoopy Jenkins and Will (who podcasted about it over the weekend — go watch!), I have no particular love for superficial diversity that fails to challenge the inherent failings of the superhero genre; last week’s announcements seem like yet another skin-deep comic book diversity initiative that focuses on the appearance of diversity for its own sake.

But beyond that, I have some specific issues with the tactic here. I have specific issues with what I’m dubbing “Cowl Rental”.

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Seattle Rep issues statement, will host townhall on race & art regarding yellowface #Mikado

July 19, 2014
Actors from the Seattle's Gilbert & Sullivan Society revival of "The Mikado". Photo credit: Greg Wood / Getty Images.
Actors from the Seattle’s Gilbert & Sullivan Society revival of “The Mikado”. Photo credit: Greg Wood / Getty Images.

Much of the Asian American community is in an uproar over this year’s production of “The Mikado” by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, which features unabashed yellowface. Yesterday, I published a wonderful guest-post by LA-based activist Sean Miura (@seanmiura) about the production.

Both the Gilbert & Sullivan Society and the theater where “The Mikado” is playing — the stages of the Seattle Repertory Theater — have found themselves thrust into the spotlight. Today, in response to the controversy, the Seattle Repertory Theatre issued a public statement clarifying their relationship to the production. The Seattle Rep writes that they have no relationship with the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and that the Bagley Wright Stage where “The Mikado” will run this month is rented to the Society by way of a contract between the Rep and the City of Seattle. Thus, the Seattle Rep clarifies that they did not authorize the Society’s yellowface production of “The Mikado”.

The Rep also commits to hosting a community townhall on race, art and cultural representation that can address some of the issues raised.

Full text of the press statement after the jump.

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The price of our silence in the deadly occupation of Gaza is too high

July 19, 2014
Protesters in the Phillipines protest in solidarity with Palestinians. Photo credit: Facebook.
Protesters in the Phillipines march in solidarity with Palestinians. (Photo credit: Facebook)

There is a scene in And The Band Played On where Matthew Modine’s character explains the origins of the phrase “The Butchers’ Bill”: a phrase coined by British Admiral Lord Nelson when asking for the daily casualty reports of soldiers lost in the Napoleonic wars. In the film, Modine’s character creates his own Butchers’ Bill for the AIDS epidemic, and it remains one of pop culture’s most poignant visual reminders of the devastating cost of the disease in human lives.

The Butchers’ Bill in the ongoing violence on the Gaza Strip is equally heart-breaking. In less than two weeks time, Israel has launched airstrikes against Palestinian residents of Gaza targeting over 1500 sites; Hamas has also launched over a thousand rockets into Israel that have all been largely ineffective. As of today, the Butchers’ Bill for Palestinian residents of Gaza nears 350 after 11 days of fighting, nearly fifty of those dying in the last 72 hours at the hands of invading Israeli ground troops. The United Nations estimates that three-fourths of Palestinians killed in Gaza by Israeli offensive actions this month were non-militants, and approximately 50 — a third of them killed since Thursday — have been children. An additional 2000 Palestinians have sustained serious injuries in the attacks. The UN reports that yesterday the number of Palestinians displaced by the violence has nearly doubled to 40,000 — all seeking refugee status in one of 34 UN shelters.

There are no words to describe the rage and grief I feel in watching this senseless killing unfold. But the price of my silence — and the silence of too many of us in America — is also far too high.

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Undoing “Mikado”: Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor

July 18, 2014

seattle-g-s-mikado

The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of comic-opera “The Mikado” has caused controversy due to the nature of the show and the production’s use of White actors to play Japanese characters.  LA-based community organizer Sean Miura (@seanmiura) reflects on his experience with the “The Mikado” and the society’s response to the backlash.

I hold a special place in my heart for the people of Seattle.

Seattle is the city where my great grandmother settled after leaving Japan, going on to raise four daughters as a single mom.  Seattle is where my great uncle crossed the Bainbridge Island pier to board boats to buses to trains to concentration camps in the wake of Pearl Harbor hysteria.  Seattle is where my mother moved after law school, became chapter president of the local JACL, fought for redress and reparations, and fought to right the conviction of a man who resisted being imprisoned in a World War II concentration camp.  Seattle is where my mom met my dad.  Seattle is where I was born.

Seattle is not where I grew up, but Seattle was the closest I had to an Asian American community with the International District, Uwajimaya food court lunches, and the salmon my uncle Tike would catch fresh in the mornings.  My mom drove me, 10 years old at the time, from our home in Vancouver to see David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child” at the Seattle Reparatory Theater, the first time I saw Asian Americans telling our own stories live.

I saw The Mikado a couple years later.

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Proof that UCLA’s race-blind holistic review admissions is inadequate for campus diversity

July 17, 2014

ucla

Earlier this week, The Daily Caller – a national conservative website — reported on the work of UCLA professor Tim Groseclose. Groseclose is a conservative-leaning professor of political science at UCLA, and he recently set out to prove a very specific and inflammatory charge: that UCLA’s post-Proposition 209 holistic review process was actually race-based. In a book called “Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA“, Groseclose presents his data purporting to demonstrate widespread use of holistic review to make determinative decisions in favour of minority applicants to UCLA. The Daily Caller summarized Groseclose’s findings as follows:

[Groseclose claimed] that the research is proof that UCLA accepted more black students than if they had followed the law, which negatively impacted white and Asian applicants.

He claims that the racial preferences were used when the university would review applications that were marked for further consideration. In those instances, black applicants with incomes over $100,000 were around twice as likely to be accepted than white and Asian applicants with incomes of $30,000 with similar test scores.

Groseclose’s charges are pretty serious: he alleges that UCLA is violating state law. But, two things also make this article particularly interesting: 1) Groseclose made the full dataset he received from UCLA’s admissions departments available, and 2) he makes a testable hypothesis.

Groseclose’s book is not peer-reviewed and even before embarking on this analysis, I noted some incorrect statements made by the DailyCaller article. So, I took it upon myself this morning to download Groseclose’s dataset and test his central assertion — that UCLA’s holistic review process is covertly race-based affirmative action — myself. Sufficed to say, Groseclose’s conclusion did not hold up.

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