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.
Leave it to CNN to report on ideas that have been circulating in the blogosphere for years like it’s news, and to further treat those ideas with the kind of insipid, uncritical patina that suggests that the article is the end-result of maybe two hours — tops — of online reading. Leave it to CNN to give a complex and nuanced conversation a Monday morning rush job on an otherwise “slow” news day.
The basic premise of his op-ed? Televised speculative fiction is awesome right now because there are people of colour doing things next to White people.
If [Martin Luther] King clicked on TV today, he might shout that we’ve reached the Promised Land. A racial revolution is quietly taking place on the small screen, and zombies, witches and headless horsemen are leading the way. There’s been an explosion of multiracial casting on science-fiction, fantasy and horror shows, and the people powering this trend say it is here to stay.
Popular shows such as “The Walking Dead,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Arrow” are giving us a sneak preview of a post-racial America that can still seem far away, fans and creators say. The most eye-popping elements are not the special effects and supernatural creatures but the multiracial casts and the casual acceptance of racial differences. These shows routinely feature actors of color in nonstereotypical roles, and interracial relationships are the norm.
Yes, according to Blake, we have arrived at King’s Promised Land: we have built a post-racial world, and it has zombies in it.
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.
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.