Playwright Takes Stand Against White-washing of His Play

Clarion University student actors Sam Atwell and Kiah Harrington-Wymer in a rehearsal photo from the school's planned production of “Jesus in India” published to social media. (Photo Credit: Clarion University)
Clarion University student actors Sam Atwell and Kiah Harrington-Wymer in a rehearsal photo from the school’s planned production of “Jesus in India” published to social media. (Photo Credit: Clarion University)

The theatre world is embroiled in controversy right now over the attempted White-washing by Clarion University of Lloyd Suh’s cutting-edge play, “Jesus In India”.

Suh’s play — an irreverent exploration of popular conceptions and misconceptions of historical religious figures — includes several characters of Indian descent. However, when Professor of Theatre at Clarion University Marilouise Michel decided she wanted to put on a student production of the play this year, she seized upon a quip by Suh in one of the play’s liner notes (wherein he describes the play’s appeal as “universal”) and interpreted it as license to cast non-South Asian actors as characters named “Gopal”, “Mahari”, and “Sushil”. Michel also decided to make dramatic rewrites to the play (which originally contained only two or three songs). She commissioned a full songbook, transforming the play into a musical.

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Want real diversity in superhero comics? Meet Grace Choi.

Michael B. Jordan (left) and The Human Torch (right).
Michael B. Jordan (left) and The Human Torch (right).

Yesterday, I wrote about the news that Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale StationChronicle) would be adopting the mantle of The Human Torch. I talked about my enthusiasm for integrating diverse story-telling into comics, and my reservations that trans-racial casting in the absence of varied and complex writing is literally skin-deep diversity.

On the other side of the argument, some have celebrated Jordan’s casting, arguing that cross-racial casting of major superhero properties is the path of least resistance towards the goal of diverse superheroes. They argue that the road towards introducing superheroes of colour to the major publishing houses — DC and Marvel — is rife with red tape obstacles; the solution, therefore, is to encourage the seamless and casual transracialization of existing characters.

I disagree.

If the purpose of diversifying comics is to introduce minority fans to relatable superheroes, then while seeing an empowered brown body shoot lasers from her eyes is fun, seeing an empowered brown body shoot lasers from her eyes and who is also brown when she takes her cape off is far more relatable. Cross-racial casting doesn’t dismantle the pretenses of an industry that  has since time immemorial treated race like window-dressing while it is also viewed as an unseemly subject best left out of comics.  When comic writers and publishing houses are encouraged in the fantasy that writing a superhero is race-neutral until an artist puts blue pencil to paper (or a casting director taps a talented non-White actor to play the part) it perpetuates a system that has historically ignored, disrespected, and devalued Blackness and race in general.

If we want to inject diversity into comics, the solution isn’t to offer the appearance of race while ignoring its impact on the people behind the mask. The solution is to tackle race head-on.

Want an example? Meet Grace Choi.

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I’m concerned about Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm… and it doesn’t make me racist.

From left to right: Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm) and Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm). (Photo credit: Variety)
From left to right: Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm) and Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm). (Photo credit: Variety)

Nerds the world over lost their shit today when Fox confirmed rumours circulating in the wind since last year that the studio had finally found their new Fantastic Four in a scheduled movie reboot that will likely be based on Marvel’s Ultimate universe iteration of the superhero team. In particular, nerds were shocked at the confirmed news that Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Chronicle) would be cast in the role of Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch.

More specifically, they were horrified that a Black actor would be playing a character who is both White and Sue Storm’s brother in the comics.

On the flip side, enthusiasts are quick to argue that anyone who’s upset about this news are clearly racist. And, to be true, there’s plenty of racism flying around the interwebs today over Jordan’s casting, most notably on Twitter.

But, let me be clear: I’m somewhere in the middle.

And, more importantly, that make me neither someone who doesn’t give a shit about diversity in comics, nor a seething racist. Yes, people, there is a third position to have here.

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NOC: How “The Avengers” is ruining the superhero movie

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Originally posted at The Nerds of Color

As of April 2013, The Avengers had grossed more than $600 million dollars in the US, a box office performance that has nearly tripled its (already bloated) production budget. It would be fair to say that if you’re a Hollywood movie producer, The Avengers makes you very, very, very happy. In fact, you’re hoping to make as many Avengers franchises as you possibly can.

Against this backdrop of undeniable success, it seems major Hollywood production companies are hoping to do just that. For the last few months, the Internet has been a-buzz with casting rumours for Man of Steel 2: first with news that Ben Affleck was being tapped to play an aging Batman, and last week with the announcement that virtually unknown actress Gal Gadot (of Fast and Furious franchise fame) was assuming the mantle of Wonder Woman. Although fans have long clamoured for a live-action Justice League adaptation, the fact that all three members of the heralded DC Trinity will be making an appearance in Man of Steel 2 — a movie that we all expected would be just another Superman solo vehicle — is clear indication that WB/DC has drawn inspiration from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is looking to fast-track the Justice League movie by rapidly introducing other characters to the silver screen. Fans have since speculated that while Gadot might make a minimal cameo in Man of Steel 2, it’s likely that she will subsequently headline her own Wonder Woman movie that would further stoke the fires for a full Justice League film.

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