By Vanessa Verduga
A lot of actresses say idiotic things because we create them to be models, beauty queens, TV and movie faces rather than thespians. Thespians are typically educated people, such as the late Leonard Nimoy, who brought so much education about the world to what could have easily been a one dimensional role if handled by anyone besides Nimoy and Roddenberry, two clever minds. Artificially crafted actors are not paid or even encouraged to be educated…they’re paid to look beautiful and hopefully say a bunch of stupid things to ignite the press.
The latest artificially spawned controversy, conveniently timed to distract from yet another serious Net Neutrality issue that everyone is quickly dismissing and moving on, is that iconic action star Michelle Rodriguez upset the world and her own culture with racist statements.
Naturally, following the outrage from fans, she apologized for her “foot in mouth” remark, though it was too little too late. The idea was already posed and it was offensive.
I doubt any suspects that Michelle Rodriguez is a “White Supremacist” as some in the press have vilified her.
It was simply an angry statement, and not what the mainstream wants to hear—since mainstream Hollywood is investing so much in “token” minority characters in their big budget epics. No, it’s not a bad thing that there is an African-Americanized Honeymooners, or that Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., has been reinvented as black. It’s not even a big deal if a Latina were cast as the Green Lantern, because all of these concepts are just interpretations of the original author and artist’s work. The author gets paid for them, fans debate on whether they like the actor’s work, and life goes on.
I don’t know about you, but I think following Italian-Cuban-American legend Cesar Romero’s Joker from the Batman TV series was an epic challenge. Jack Nicholson, son of an American and Italian, did a great job with his interpretation. Heath Ledger, with English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry, did a great follow up on Nicholson. I don’t even know if you can choose a definitive favorite Joker that is not purely opinion based. Different times, different generations, a different direction in each actor’s work.
The issue is not with race in this matter, but in our obsessive love for our favorite comic book characters. I took huge issue with Watchmen’s Ozymandias’ interpretation at the hands of Matthew Goode. Not because he was white or British, but because my expectations of the character were so humongous being a big fan of the graphic novel, that anyone even attempting to play this great character was just bound to fail on some level.
We live in an age of free sharing, of fan fiction, even of “slash fiction”—some crazy interpretations of copyright characters that creators probably never even want to see! But that’s the joy of comic books. There are a million different interpretations and the only one that matters is the one that you like.
Find Your Own Superheroes? We Have!
The PROBLEM with this whole scandal is not about who’s playing who or what races have the “right” to play the characters of another race. The problem is with the implication that Latinos, or African Americans or Asians, should “find their own characters” to play rather than stealing white superheroes from American culture.
That’s an insulting statement because we DO have our own characters straight out of our own culture. To imply that we have never exercised our imagination to the extent of white comic book creators is ridiculous because success in the mainstream depends on many different factors like individual circumstances, marketing, advertising, public demand, and yes, just a little bit of luck. Chances are, if you’ve seen Spiderman, Superman, Luke Cage, Katana or Team Tejas, then you’re seeing only a select group of characters that have risen up from the ranks of MILLIONS of unknown but great creator-owned characters thanks to MILLION DOLLAR marketing campaigns Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and others have invested in their success.
Whose fault is it? Where should all this misdirected anger be going? Is it the fault of Michelle Rodriguez for saying what some people are thinking?
Or is it the fault of producers who are throwing bones at minorities, letting us join in the feast of their mass market blockbuster film, giving a cameo appearance to a Latino here, an Asian there, a gay character there?
Is it the fault of Hollywood producers, agents, and even the editors of DC and Marvel, who have consistently ignored new voices and stories in favor of recycling the same characters that make the most money?
We are indeed living in a new age of viral sharing, DIY publicity and a so-called free Internet market and we don’t need the “opportunity” to audition for white Hollywood the way we used to. We just need the same support system that comes naturally for white creator-owned projects, but seems to stall when Latinos or African-Americans are asking for the same treatment.
The good news is that we do have the power to tell our own stories through YouTube, website marketing, self-publishing, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Now more than ever, comic book fans of all races are having the opportunity to discover Latino superheroes, Black superheroes, Asian superheroes, Native American superheroes, and everything far and in between.
I have my own Latina superhero in Justice Woman, as well as her gay partner-in-crime-fighting “Roberta”, because I was tired of mainstream comic books always using Latino sidekicks and having gay minor characters. I wanted to tell a story about my Latino identity, our culture, and how the legal system needs to be changed so that justice really can be served.
I have won awards for my web series and comic book tie-in, and I’ve done all these things thanks to the support of my fans, not because a white producer gave me the opportunity. Justice Woman on the web has had over 2 millions views, demonstrating a large fan base. I’ve been to comic cons – was even a speaker on one of the most popular non-celebrity panels at the NY Comic Con 2014 – over 700 people waited in lines to cram in to hear Women Of Color in Comics talk about their experiences in the industry.
Justice Woman’s fan base has been found thanks to this new world of free ideas and publishing. And I am grateful for that. As much as possible I try to help many voices of diverse cultures and races send their message to the mainstream.
Hollywood, DC and Marvel Agreed: Segregated Superhero Bathrooms!
HOWEVER, I don’t see Hollywood showing much interest in this series, and probably because it lacks a strong white lead character. I really hate to speculate on how mainstream the series would be by now if Justice Woman were played by a white woman focusing on more white-friendly legal issues!
If Hollywood and mainstream comics continue to ignore a huge part of their racially, culturally and lifestyle-diverse comic book fans then YES there is a problem in the system.
So no, it’s not a big deal when an actress says something stupid—the problem is with the Old World way in which Hollywood still works. What Michelle did was point to the elephant in the room and inadvertently expose the real problem: It’s the motivations of show business and comic book publishers. It’s not about comic book fans being racist or politically correct.
To tell you the truth, it does seem at times that Hollywood is too afraid to invest in properties created by racially diverse creators. I mean, how many Latino superheroes can you think of that have the full support of a studio or even a comic book imprint?
No, everyone just continues the status quo. They invest solely in DC and Marvel comics because they’re the ones that have always been—that have already succeeded in the market. And yes, these are all characters pioneered at a majority white audience when America was primarily interested in “majority” white stories.
So, why are they not giving us the time of day? Where’s the “American Idol” booster of the comic book world?
True, there are characters that are ethnically diverse, but that’s just DC and Marvel “changing up” the identity of the character just to appease audiences or seem more hip—more hip in this age when diverse populations are NOT the minority anymore. They do this thinking they’re so charitable when in fact they are NOT actually supporting diversity, by backing diverse writers and stories. That’s what we ultimately want, but are not getting.
For example, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Kyle Rayner, the Mexican/Irish Green Lantern, or John Stewart the black Green Lantern, but these are certainly not the characters Hollywood wants to make a movie about. Hollywood would much rather focus on using the whitest versions of these characters in films and then maybe throw a bone to someone like Samuel L. Jackson to “jazz up” Nick Fury.
Do we see the problem here?
Ultimately, we all know Hollywood is just after money. And I do still want to believe that the first breakout diverse superhero that goes mainstream and gets millions and millions of supporters is going to make it and rock the world. When that happens, I do hope Hollywood will make amends with us and give this character the FULL studio support that the story deserves.
It’s going to happen, but we all have to stick together in this critical time. So, are YOU paying attention? Are you supporting your favorite “minority” characters rather than paying big bucks only to see white superheroes doing their same old thing?
We the people are the ones that create a blockbuster. If we support our favorite new superheroes rather than insisting that all of these old characters become Latino or Black or Asian then WE are the ones taking charge of the situation. We’re not waiting to be placated or humored with a token sidekick. We deserve more than that.
So Michelle Rodriguez’ statement was really a nothing-story that posed a bigger issue that we’re all afraid to confront. When are WE going to give a platform to fresh new voices in storytelling, rather than griping about who’s black, brown, yellow or white?
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go fight crime!
About Vanessa Verduga
She is an American actor, writer, director, producer and lawyer committed to examining social issues for their impact on the underprivileged and disenfranchised. She is the creator and star of the popular award-winning web series “Justice Woman”, which follows the story of an Assistant District Attorney, by day, who becomes a defender of truth and justice at night. Vanessa also stars and produces “H.O.M.E.”, a feature film that examines the loss of communication told through the immigrant’s perspective, and is in pre-production for a comedy feature film she wrote and will star in entitled “The Implications of Cohabitation.” For more on Vanessa, visit: http://www.VanessaVerduga.com