How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

jla

The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

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Spirituality is not a Cop Out

Over the summer, I read a fantastic Justice League comic book and was amazed by the genuine interactions between Superman and Batman because when they spoke they spoke to each other as Clark and Bruce. They were witty and imaginative and personable and human. I knew I wanted to create my own interaction between the two heroes and cobbled together an idea based on a question of Batman’s religion.

I don’t see Batman as being religious. I cannot imagine Bruce Wayne following the structures and dogma that comes with religion. I do, however, see him as being spiritual. The premise of my story is that Clark calls on Bruce to go to dinner as friends, but interrupts Bruce when he was about to go pray. As the author I imagined Bruce lighting candles and praying that his parents went to a safe place and were happy in death.

I posted my story on fanfiction.net and one of the first reviews I got told me I had misinterpreted Bruce’s character because a man of Bruce’s intelligence could never deny the existence of God. In claiming Bruce was spiritual, I had copped out of a legitimate story.

Now, I understand that this is fanfiction, it’s about comic books, and all in all shouldn’t be so influential to my life. But I’m writing this post to explain why it has to be so influential. The reviewer touched upon a problem prevalent with religious understanding that has nothing to do with fiction. There is a strict dichotomy of Religion vs Atheism that is damaging to our understanding of God. If, as this reviewer claimed, spirituality is just taking the ‘easy way out’ from being religious then God is being put into a box.  Either one believes in God  and ties his or her faith to organized religion- and only to organized religion- or he or she does not believe in God at all. Where did this split come from?

God has become synonymous with religion. No other interpretation is allowed and any concept of a God that differs from the norm, leaves the believer ostracized between those who would call this belief heresy and those who would call any belief in God not worth consideration.

I do not mean to generalize about any groups of religious or atheistic thought, I only wish to point out that a person’s understanding of God should never be considered a cop out, even in fiction. Fiction is a window into the world of the times, and if spirituality is being critiqued as lazy, uneducated, and atheistic, it says something about how spirituality is treated in real life as well.

 

Sexism: The Bane of Dark Knight Rises Review

I was phenomenally impressed when I went to go see The Dark Knight Rises, but even before it was released I knew there would be complaints. While most complaints I heard focused on comparisons to Heath Ledger’s performance in the previous film, a few had legitimate merit. The movie is not perfect and to uncover what could have been done better I’ve been reading various reviews of the  final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and came across one particular review in the New Yorker that struck me as sexist.

In the article, “Batman’s Bane“, writer Anthony Lane writes a scathing review that does nothing to critique the movie on its themes or plot or attempts. Instead, Lane only shows a sexist viewpoint that affects both the male and female characters of the film.

At the start of the review, Lane asks the audience:

Be honest. How badly would you not want Bruce-or Batman-to show up at one of your parties?”

Lane describes a Bruce Wayne who is dull and worse yet, awkward in his playboy role, a Bruce Wayne who when he

“…enters a reception with a girl or two on his arm, he looks deeply uncomfortable”

This point is only made because Christopher Nolan’s version of Wayne does not fit the masculine stereotype. Because Bruce is not perfect at portraying the role of womanizer he loses points on his masculinity. The counterpoint is never brought up as to whether this awkwardness around sexualizing Bruce is either a character choice by Christian Bale or a directing choice by Nolan. Lane instead attributes it to Nolan’s own sense of shame over such scenes insinuating that Nolan too is un-masculine. The solution to this problem of Bruce’s dull nature is an either or notion. According to Lane, the best way to bring out Bruce’s masculinity is either for him to have kids to “pull him out of himself” or get drunk with Iron Man.

These points are filled with sexism against men. Lane believes the film is lacking because Bruce Wayne is not a strong enough contrast to Batman (an argument which could be made), but his reasoning behind this is an attack on Wayne’s character for not being a proper man. This attack becomes worse when the solutions  are presented not only as jokes, but as harmful jokes that do little to address the issues being raised. It is meant to be amusing to imagine the stoic Bruce/Batman as a father figure and imagining this as a cure for his being a bore removes the legitimacy of fatherhood in child rearing. Getting drunk with Iron Man is an acceptable means of fun solely because the character is male and such action is excusable. Ironically, for all Lane argues that Bruce is the same exact character as his alter-ego, Batman’s sexual prowess and masculinity is never questioned. Batman is already masculine because he has gadgets (which Lane praises as a highlight of the film) and can beat people up.

Bruce’s emasculation at the hands of Nolan is brought up again when Lane voices the question as to who, or what, does the rising in The Dark Knight Rises. His answer is just as immature as one would expect and voices jokes I had been hearing ever since the title of this last installment of the series was made public. In a voice of extreme class, Lane argues:

“Carnally…[Bruce] seems about as risen as flatbread; over three films we waited for him to have Bat-core sex, hanging upside down from a rafter and emitting cries of sonar, and what has he given us? Not a squeak. “

It is apparently now a staple of good cinema to have extravagant sex scenes. This argument is no more impressive than the last one. In fact, Lane makes his stereotypes of masculinity quite plain and quite sexist. The film as a whole suffers in Lane’s eyes because Bruce’s one sex scene is “laughably chaste”, further diminishing him as a masculine character.

But I don’t disagree with Lane on all of his points. We both agree that Anne Hathaway was stunning as Cat Woman. Where we disagree is the reasons for her success. In a jab at Christopher Nolan, Lane makes the point:

“Christopher Nolan…wants to suck the comic out of comic books; Anne Hathaway wants to put it back in. Take your pick.”

I am thoroughly impressed that the parts of the review about Cat Woman were so tame, especially because it is all too easy to sexualize the character. What I take issue with is that nowhere does Lane give any hint that he knows comic books. As such he is using the term comic and the idea of comic books to mean less serious. By this interpretation, Cat Woman can save the film because, as a woman, her character can be less dark, less serious, and lead the audience away from the brooding canvas of Nolan’s Gotham City. It is accepted, that as a female character she will be seen as more comic booky, which although used as a compliment implies taken less seriously. This notion is entirely one of Lane’s as Nolan and his brother wrote a fantastic well rounded female character who was not sexist in the least. It is Lane who takes her character and fits her to female stereotypes to give the movie some credit as a film. Cat Woman is a fun foil for Batman, but it was not because she is a woman. Lane never talks about her witty dialogue exchanges with both Bruce and Batman or how complex her motivations and characterization were. To Lane, she is his version of a comic book: fun to look at and not as serious as other mediums of storytelling.

By Lane’s account, the movie was not good, though he never expressly says so despite almost all his comments being negative, because Bruce Wayne is not a proper man. But don’t worry, the movie was saved from total destruction because Cat Woman brought in the fun of a female fictional character.

This review is sexist to men, implying that real men have sex and are impressively confident about it, and that women are there to make up for the flaws of men as accessories. In response to Anthony Lane’s review, I tell him: either review without sexist points or don’t review at all. Take your pick.

“It’s a Man’s World”

Six months ago I would have denied that statement. I would have explained how the feminist movement of the past generated equality, and even if it wasn’t perfect I would not have admitted that it was a man’s world. Coming to terms with the inequality and sexism around me would have been acknowledging my own ignorance and silence. Two months ago I would have agreed that it’s a man’s world but been too afraid to say so.

Yesterday I told my grandfather that he was right: it is a man’s world. And that’s why the feminist movement is necessary.  So long as we live in a world controlled by one sex and a world that is gendered we will need feminism.

When I discuss feminism with my brother, as I have been doing long before I worked up the courage to call myself a feminist, his understanding of feminists is women who are too ugly to get a man and so whine and complain about the unfairness of the system. To him, and myself for a long while, women had already achieved enough equality that feminism had no purpose.  It couldn’t be a man’s world because that realization was too painful.

But by understanding the truth of the situation that the patriarchy exists is the first step toward building true equality. This post is a reminder as to why feminism is necessary and why being a feminist is such a powerful tool.

My mother has been told in debates that she’s too emotional. My friends have been told the same. I do not want to let this happen to anyone else.

For all the women who have been told feminism is no longer necessary, that your worth depends on your beauty and for all the men who have been told emotions are for women and that real men look like Superman and act like Batman, this is for you. Men and women should not live in a ‘man’s world’ but a world of the people.