All Representation Matters or Nah?
Now you may be wondering exactly where I’m going with this and I will touch upon two issues that I’m combining. I have noticed the need for positive imagery for young black women and girls, a few forward thinking women have decided to tackle the issue and they have made me very proud. Black Girls Rock, which was founded by Beverly Bond, has been instrumental in putting various individuals in the public eye. Ms. Bond has filled a space at a time when there seems to be concerted attacks upon the esteem of black women not only from outside the community, but some of my very own brothers, that is another issue that I will jump into at another time. Also as I look at the latest controversy online brought to us by the casting of the movie “Ghost In The Shell”, this topic really makes sense. The casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi, (who for the movie is simply titled the Major) had caused others to speak out about the pick. The Asian American actresses Ming-Na Wen and Constance Wu were some of the more vocal in opposition to the casting, coincidentally actress and director Joan Chen looked at it as a situation where the filmmaker had the right to cast their movie as they saw fit. Strangely some in Japan had no issues with the pick either because they stated that they had expected someone white to take the role. Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division at Kodansha's Tokyo headquarters (the company that holds the rights to the series and its characters), had this to say, "Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place... this is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world." Of course the director Rupert Sanders has justified his decision. Johansson has recently given an interview in Marie Claire where she stated that she approached the role with a focus on gender not race. She made a claim of doing it for feminism. Interesting. I would like her to really explain that in detail to better understand where she’s coming from. The role is only possible because a Japanese man, Masamune Shirow created this storyline. From what I can recall “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” did just fine with Michelle Yeoh as the warrior Yu Shu Lien. So does all representation matter or nah?
I do not hope to offend but to create a dialogue, from my vantage point, it seems as if defeat has been accepted with the “Ghost In The Shell” matter from some. Anytime you come out and say that you did not expect one of your own to portray imagery that came from your own, that to me is conceding. I could be wrong. That perception of mine, which I admit could be wrong, is why I feel that imagery of one’s self is all-important.
For myself from historical matters to fictional portrayals, we must make sure that the imagery we project is one that our children as well as fellow adults can relate too on a visual level. The positive reinforcement that you can get from seeing yourself is a tremendous boost to one’s self esteem. Talk with those who saw Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura for the first time on screen for clarity, Astronaut Mae Jemison, i.e. The feedback and responses from the movie Hidden Figures is more proof that representation matters. The proof was seen all across social media platforms. As Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles captured the attention of the nation during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, our young were inspired. As the live broadcast of the Wiz highlighted, representation truly does matter.
Very soon a show that I enjoy despite the reservation of some, Underground, (which airs on WGN by the way), will return to the airwaves. This season they introduce Harriet Tubman, I have no issue with this new mythologizing of her. Just as I see nothing wrong with the new comic book series by David Crownson, “Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer.” Others have taken their historical figures and made them even bigger in life than they already were, why shouldn’t we. The new myth making of Harriet can open the door for others who have not been discovered by the vast populace of black people not only here in the good ole US of A, but globally. From Spartacus to 300, the Tudors, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, etc, these stories have been given to us repeatedly. Now it’s our turn to give representation for our people. If Milla Jovovich can appear in “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”, surely Nicole Beharie, Danai Gurira, Sonequa Martin-Green, Florence Kasumba, Lupita Nyong’o, Kerri Washington, Sana Lathan, Viola Davis, Zoe Saldana, Tessa Thompson, and a few others that I could name who have shown that they can take on roles where action are required could play the people I will name. I could very well see Kerri Washington or Liya Kebede as Queen Yodit/Gudit/Judith who is known for her war against the Axumite Empire. Queen Latifah could pull off Stagecoach Mary Fields, Sonequa Martin-Green or Sana Lathan as Cathay Williams. A whole series could be done on the Kushite Queens and their battles with Rome as well as the Hausa warrior queens. Just as the Game of Thrones has become must watch tv, why not the Rain Queens of South Africa? The possible shoots in South Africa alone would sell that story. If JK Rowling could include the Mountains of the Moon and the Uagadou School of Magic in her Harry Potter universe, we definitely could do the same with creating a unique space. Imagery does matter right? From Africa to America the history is rife with women whose stories could be mythologized. From scholars to warriors, the stories are there for us to tell.
In 2017 we have no reason for our young women in training to have issues with the imagery that they see. What mainstream media won’t provide to fill the vacuum, we should with glee. I have witnessed Beyoncé open the door to those that don’t know or aren’t familiar with Yoruba traditions. That’s a whole another pantheon with images that can be used in the same way that those of the Greeks have been. Out of them we have the iconic Wonder Woman, which has been used as an empowerment tool. Why couldn’t a character based off of Oshun, Yemaya, or Oya serve the same purpose? Especially Oya the warrior goddess, with the climate of these perilous times, one based off of her could serve a much-needed purpose. Coincidentally DC Comics Wonder Woman is linked to Athena who was originally a black goddess.
Fortunately a few have already decided to take matters into their own hands and produce work that can be our very own propaganda that empowers. Where those who brought us all of the various anime images failed, we can succeed. Those individuals may look at my words as being misguided, but the fact that I look at the characters and see blonde haired blue eyed drawings consistently means that I’m right. When I look at the art of anime I’m often confused because from my bird eye’s view the heroes often do not resemble those within the culture that the artwork comes out of. I could be wrong I must say once again. The reasons given as to why the protagonist often favor outsiders to the Japanese culture really do not hold much weight with me, but they like it and I love it. If they want us to believe that Disney is the reason for the look of the various anime characters and that they see them as Japanese, I’m not one to argue with them. There are enough articles littering the web with admonishments and denials on the topic. I’m pretty sure that if anyone from Japan were to see my thoughts they would have a swift reply about my lack of understanding. I’m ready for it. With that being said, although my curiosity has led to my becoming informed on various matters, my concern is about the establishment of representations of our own for years down the line. I want us to get to a point whereas whatever looks of ours graces the screen we are the ones to craft it so that we embrace it, be it from the lightest to the darkest among us, a matter that must be dealt with. However our women chose to wear their hair, another issue of contention that needs to be solved because it has caused another unnecessary divide. Once we’re at a point where we fully embrace us and write our own narrative, those on the outside influence will wane because of the options that we present to counter them. This powerful tool that is the Internet has changed the paradigm considerably. The Grammys that was just broadcast showed us this with Chance the Rapper being awarded on there. The ball is in our hands now, it has been for a while, we’ve just been slow to pick it up and run with it. Anyone that has a desire to embrace the world of art or literature and they’re not sure of what subject matter to tackle, they can go to their search engine and find inspiration. If fiction is the lane that they want to fill, social media can definitely provide source material. A lot of our folks have very vivid imaginations and are missing their callings as becoming our very own James Cameron, George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg. I’m prone to embrace stories told from the historical aspect. The pride that the stories of the past instill can’t be measured at all. As they say when you know better you do better. I very much desire to see a Queen Nzinga on screen; a Dahia Al-Kahina (another historical giant hijacked from our illustrious past) in all her gloriousness, dark skinned with her “mass” of hair (afro or locs perhaps) and big eyes as the Arabs described her in their seventh century writings. I want to see Marie Maynard Daly or Latanya Sweeney…who you say…I just gave your daughters and son’s individuals to do a book report on. Do not just read this, look up some of my talking points and discuss them among yourselves. Pass the word of what you find so that we can plant the seeds for the next wave of possible artist, authors, filmmakers, painters, sculptors, and tastemakers who push our image out to the world. This conversation is just the beginning…
Twyon T is a guest writer. He is the founder of Blerdsunite.