We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. This is the first of a series breaking down, in basic terms, who’s represented and who isn’t.
Here’s Star Trek. I’ve included the credited main cast from all the live-action television series.
Star Trek: Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Checkov, Uhura, Sulu
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Picard, Riker, Data, Wesley, Troi, Yar, Crusher, Pulaski, Worf, La Forge
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: O’Brien, Bashir, Odo, Quark, Kira, Dax, Sisko, Jake
Star Trek: Voyager: Paris, Doctor, Neelix, Janeway, Torres, Kes, Seven, Tuvok, Kim, Chakotay
Star Trek: Enterprise: Archer, Reed, Tucker, Phlox, T’Pol, Mayweather, Sato
Star Trek: Discovery: Saru, Tyler, Stamets, Lorca, Tilly, Burnham
Corrections and suggestions welcome.
In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:
I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
“White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity, including sexuality, language, disability, etc. that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.
In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.
Erik’s random thoughts:
This is the movie that Thor was trying to be: a Shakespearean family drama about an exiled hero coming to terms with the destiny of his people and his father’s failures in the midst of a gorgeous futuristic city-state. (On a side note: does anyone actually remember the original Thor movie or have we collectively agreed that the franchise starts with number 3?)
I love the architecture of Wakanda. It looks like the product of thousands of years of African tradition with the highest of modern technology, just as it should.
Even for a fantasy of African exceptionalism, the story does not shy away from the bitter real history of imperialism, exploitation, slavery, and its modern-day consequences, and the movie is richer and stronger for it.
Shuri is awesome. Her combination of flippancy in the face of tradition, passion for technological tinkering, and powerful love for her family and home make her a delight to watch. I think she’s my favorite character in the whole movie, and that’s not an easy pick in this one.
Could we have T’Challa and Shuri take over the Tony Stark role in the Marvel Universe, please? I appreciate what Iron Man did to kickstart the MCU and hold the early installments together, but I’ve had enough of him now. I honestly don’t think I can handle onemoremovieaboutTony Stark’semotional issues. T’Challa can be the guy in the super suit who cracks wise while leading the fight and Shuri can be the tinkerer who keeps upgrading everybody’s gear.
Even in a franchise that includes a movie about waking up one morning to discover that literal Nazis have taken over the US government, Black Panther feels like the movie we most need in 2018: a meditation on the temptations of division, resentment, and revenge and the hard choice of embracing a flawed and fractured world with hope. As crucially as Black Panther contributes to the representation of black people in genre media—and by Bast it does—it has a lot to say outside the dialogue of race as well.
For the record: as a white man, I have no problem whatsoever identifying with the characters of this movie. I’m not talking about Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, either—Zuri is my guy.
Eppu’s random thoughts:
Note: These thoughts are based on one viewing. I’m fully aware that some of them are just scratching the surface and that I need to see the move (at least!) a second time and mull things over properly.
If I had to use one word to describe Black Panther, on a meta level it would be confelicity: I am so, so, SO glad for those black people who are exited, overjoyed, and exhilarated over seeing a full cast of people that look like them acting with grace and agency, not minimized but celebrated! On a story level, I’d use equality.
I knew from reading non-spoiler reviews beforehand that the movie passes the Bechdel test, so I didn’t even bother tracking it. It was very nice not to have to care.
If it was nice not to have to care about whether the Bechdel test passes or not, it was outright GLORIOUS to see that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE in their own right, with their own interior lives, not just breasts and posteriors for men to ogle. And such a spread of different women, too, each doing their thing according to their interests and skills. Because that’s who we are, and what we do, and have done for millenia, and it’s damn time that the self-absorbed, able-bodied, white cis hetero men in Hollywood respected that. (Yes, I know that the Black Panther team behind the camera included many, many people of color, including women, but that’s not the default, is it.)
And of course it’s not just that women are people in their own right, but that there are so many diverse black women. Have you any idea what a disservice (to put it mildly) your typical Anglo-American fiction does to women of color, especially black women? I didn’t until I started paying attention. It’s atrocious and shameful.
Black Panther was visually beautiful. Beautiful! It was so beautiful my brain experienced a moment of “this looks wrong” when stepping out of the movie theater into the dim and snowless February evening in Massachusetts.
Also, the sets and costumes were breathtaking just like I thought. Everything looked like it was produced by a living culture, with layers of history and development alike.
OMG, the tech. Those dragonfly helicopters! Attack rhinos! I kinda want those 3d phone calls! No—scratch that. The maglev trains and über-advanced health care. Like now.
The opening sequence (T’Chaka voiceover telling a story to young T’Challa) and the end credit visuals I thought nodded back to the superhero fight statue end credits for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yet neither ever lost sight of the fact that they were for and about Black Panther.
A superhero movie with a male lead confident and mature enough to listen to others ROCKS! (Hat tip to Justina Ireland for pointing out T’Challa’s ability to listen as a core personality trait.)
I liked Martin Freeman’s character Everett Ross in this movie. He started with “I know what I’m doing, piss off little people” claptrap. In Wakanda, however, he quickly—and without too much whining—realized how out of his depth he was and spent a good while looking and listening and learning. In the final battle, he redeemed himself to some extent in my eyes when he hopped back into the fighter jet holo-interface to destoy the final cargo plane after he’d discovered that the base he was sitting in was under attack and that there was less than a minute before the gunfire broke through. And never, ever was he written or played as a Mighty Whitey.
It was also good to see a thoroughly accomplished man (T’Challa) grapple with impostor syndrome (not ready to be King). We don’t see or hear much of that; mostly it’s women who are saddled with it in the public discussion.
I liked T’Challa’s relationship with the rest of his family members, but I LOVED every moment between him and Princess Shuri. They so clearly love and respect each other as equals—with different skill sets, sure, but equals nevertheless—plus jostle around like real-life siblings.
Finally, all of the acting was so good. I won’t miss Andy Serkis’s character. At. All! Props to Serkis, his incredible performance made the dude truly terrifying and disgusting, but I’d rather watch the competent and kind Africans, thank you.
“With that, Maggie took Frank’s arm, and together, they strolled down the broad avenue without talking. That was one thing Frank liked about Maggie—she didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with gabbing. He wasn’t even sure if she enjoyed his company or not—and frankly, he could say the same of hers—but they could at least coexist in the same space well enough. There were worse things.”
– Michael J. Martinez: MJ-12: Inception
Maggie and Frank belong to a team of superpowered U.S. operatives in a 1940s Cold War speculative world. Even though Maggie is the token female character, it’s really very refreshing that the author doesn’t try to shove in that bane of Smurfette stories, the inevitable romantic subplot.
Martinez, Michael J.: MJ-12: Inception: A Majestic-12 Thriller. New York, NY: Night Shade Books, 2016, p. 247.
Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.
On his blog, author Jason Sanford talks about story submission and publication data, specifically with SFF genre in mind. He refers to an essay, an interview, and his experience as editor, and talks about how men tend to submit many more stories than women, even when their stories were “totally inappropriate” (in Jason’s words). His conclusion?
“In the case of why male authors are far more likely to not read a magazine or their guidelines before submitting, and are more likely to submit multiple stories in a short time frame, I think it ties in with them not seeing the motivations of others and believing all that matters is what they want.
“But if you’re submitting your stories to an editor, what you want isn’t what lands the acceptance. It’s what the editor wants. Otherwise, an author is merely wasting everyone’s time.”
– Jason Sanford
I’ve no comment on the data and survey side of the post, being a not-numbers person. What struck me was that this is the strongest-worded remark I’ve seen—and note that it really isn’t—saying a number of male authors behave in a blatantly self-centered manner and suggesting they change.
I mentioned that we re-watched Warcraft: The Beginning, the movie based on the MMORPG World of Warcraft. I had forgotten that in a council scene in Stormwind, there’s a short glimpse of a woman who looks like she might be a Dwarf. Here’s a screencap:
She’s at the right hand of the screen, walking towards Anduin Lothar (the prominent man in the middle). And with a DVD, you can of course stop and check out details you miss at the theater. Who knows, I thought, it might lead to cosplay in real life or a transmog in game!
I was pretty excited, because female Dwarves are my absolute favorite race / gender combo to play in WoW. (I love female Dwarf cosplay and fanart, too!)
Anyway, the WTB DVD has a few extras including deleted and extended scenes, among them this council scene. The woman in question even has a few lines. Hooray! Here’s a screencap from the extended scene:
Alas, I was triply disappointed. As it turns out, not only is she unnamed, she’s a human woman, not a Dwarf. Adding injury to insult, they had to go and cut her speech.
While it was great to see additional female faces (because the, shall we say politely, scant amount of women in the movie is frustrating), it’s getting really, really tiresome to witness women’s performances end up on the cutting room floor in favor of another 30 seconds of impersonal, wood-faced clones of tin soldiers whacking at each other en masse.
“Okay, so should I do an anthology of NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED, what female authors would be interested in contributing? What awesome female authors (especially POC and LGBTQ, ESPECIALLY immigrant and trans authors) should I be reaching out to?
“And why only female authors?
“Because this is a project about the struggles that women face from the moment their gender is announced, and the courage and tenacity that helps them rise above that deep and unending opposition.
“It is a book about the experience of women, told in their voices. It is not a book about how others imagine it to be, but one deeply and personally influenced by their own fights and victories.
“And sure, I’ll do an anthology as a stretch goal, titled I’M WITH HER. Men are welcome to submit to that one. But men are over-represented in the SF and political world as it is, and I want more women to be heard.
“Yes, it’s fucking political. This project will be incredibly political. Intentionally. It will have middle fingers everywhere, between the lines and sometimes in them. I’m not going to be shy about this being a female-oriented project. I am also going to ensure that it is not cis-centered, that anyone who identifies as female is welcome. At least 2/3 of the authors will need to be women of color, immigrants, or queer. That’s going to be really tricky.
“But nevertheless, we persist in making more women’s voices heard.”
While there were solid choices on the list, what struck me was that out of 15 named creators only 2 were women. That’s 13%. Since women make up half of the world’s population, an eighth is an unacceptably low proportion in my eyes, so I made a list of my own.
Notes on my list: 1) it’s novels only (no anthologies), 2) in a random order, 3) with no double entries (otherwise I’d include also Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy), 4) and I include not only a variety of flavors within the fantasy genre but also historical fiction. Moreover, 5) I’ve included old and newer favorites as well as new-to-me authors whose works sound intriguing. Finally, 6) the common denominator is (like in the Game of Thrones) the presence of power struggles of various sorts, negotiation of identities, and survival.
1. Ursula K. Le Guin. The Earthsea cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea; The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore; Tehanu; Tales from Earthsea; The Other Wind)
Aspects of identity examined in an island-based early medievalesque world with magic and lots of sailing.
2. Kai Ashante Wilson. Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Sword and sorcery, gods and mortals, with a band of mercenaries working as caravan guard in focus. (Linguist’s note: Fascinating mix of vernacular and more formal language.)
3. N.K. Jemisin: The Dreamblood duology (The Killing Moon; The Shadowed Sun)
Ancient-Egyptian-flavored fantasy on a moon orbiting a Jupiter-like gas giant.
4. Samuel R. Delany. Nevèrÿon series (Tales of Nevèrÿon; Neveryóna; Flight from Nevèrÿon;The Return to Nevèrÿon)
Sword and sorcery in a world before the dawn of history, with strong elements of power, economic development and breaking barriers.
A blend of a coming-of-age story with high-stakes intrigue and danger on an island with water-based tech.
Enjoy! I know I will get back to this list after finishing my current reading project.
Image: Monteleone chariot with Thetis and Achilles, detail of image by Peter Roan on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 (Etruscan, currently Greek and Roman galleries, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2nd quarter of the 6th century BCE; bronze inlaid with ivory)
“Because it’s those things we celebrate as ‘other’ that make us truly human. It’s what we label ‘soft’ or ‘feminine’ that makes civilization possible. It’s our empathy, our ability to care and nurture and connect. It’s our ability to come together. To build. To remake. Asking men to cut away their ‘feminine’ traits asks them to cut away half their humanity, just as asking women to suppress their ‘masculine’ traits asks them to deny their full autonomy.
“What makes us human is not one or the other–the fist or the open palm–it’s our ability to embrace both, and choose the appropriate action for the suitable situation we’re in. Because to deny one half […] is to deny our humanity and become something less than human.”
– Kameron Hurley: The Geek Feminist Revolution
Because people are not stereotypes. Stereotypes aren’t just lazy, they’re outright dangerous if carelessly applied.
Hurley, Kameron. The Geek Feminist Revolution. New York, NY: Tor, 2016. Chapter “Women and Gentlemen: On Unmasking the Sobering Reality of Hyper-Masculine Characters.”
Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.
There are just five days to go in the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth, the anthology of speculative fiction about marginalized young people in history. As I posted before, my story, “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters,” is one of the stories in this awesome collection. I wanted to post again to thank everyone who has contributed to making Hidden Youth happen and also to say something about why this collection is so important to me, and would be even if I didn’t have a story in it.
I teach ancient Mediterranean history at a state university. Ancient Mediterranean history is the dead-white-guy-est of all dead-white-guy history. It’s filled with the sorts of dead white guys that people make white marble statues of and that living white guys like to point to as the pinnacles of western literary, artistic, and philosophical achievement. We’ve basically had two thousand years of white guys burnishing their white-guy cred by laying exclusive claim to the legacy of the great dead white guys of the ancient Mediterranean. So successfully have they done this that a lot of people have a hard time imagining an ancient Mediterranean world that isn’t all white guys.
Now, I’m a white guy. I’ve always had the comfort of seeing myself in history. Even as a professional historian, doing my best to be objective and fully conscious of how complicated, contingent, and constructed such identities are, I can never really know what it is like to look at history and not see people who look like me. That’s a barrier I can’t cross, but I have a lot of friends who live on the other side, especially my students.
Half my students are women and a lot of them are black, Hispanic, and southeast Asian kids from working-class towns. They’ve lived their lives in the shadow of other people’s histories. They have been shown the dead-white-guy-marble-statue version of history and told—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly—“This is ours. You don’t belong here.” I consider it my job to say: “Yes, you do. You were always part of this history.”
The ancient Mediterranean world was multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and full of connections both within itself and to the larger world beyond. Like in my story, there were Egyptians in late classical Athens with their own Isis temple. A Sri Lankan king sent ambassadors to open diplomatic relations with Rome. And it wasn’t all a bunch of men, either. The queen of Halicarnassus was a military adviser to the Persian king. A wealthy woman of African ancestry was buried in style in late Roman York. The evidence is everywhere once you start to look for it.
The power of dead-white-guy-marble-statue history is strong and it needs to be challenged. I confront it in the classroom and my scholarly work, but we also need books like Hidden Youth out there to send the message: history is for everyone, not just people who look like me.
If you’ve already supported Hidden Youth, thank you so much. If you haven’t, please consider it. You can give as little as a dollar, and if you can’t do that, please spread the word.
On a less serious note, let me offer an added incentive to give: if Hidden Youth meets its funding goal, in honor of the collection’s theme I promise to translate and post my picks for The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.