We don’t need to look to comic books to find black superheroes

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I saw John Leguizamo’s one-man, Broadway show Latin History for Morons at Studio 54. In Morons, Leguizamao is in search of Latin heroes to share with his son, who is bullied for being the only brown kid at his all white private school. As I watched his 90-minute journey through the history of the Incas, Aztecs and Tainos, I couldn’t help but appreciate that I was getting to witness this half Latinx audience be uplifted at a time when their brothers, sisters and cousins’ amnesty was being held in the balance over man made borders.

It then made me think about African Americans and our search for heroes post Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The angst and disappointment that we share as members of underrepresented groups is palpable, but now there is a glimmer of hope. This week, the Marvel movie Black Panther comes out and is already doing record pre-sale numbers at the box office. Black Twitter has lost its mind in anticipation of the unapologetic blackness on the horizon. In fact, there was a similar reaction in 2017 when Netflix released Luke Cage and murmurs have started as DC Comics’ Black Lightning (which you should be watching) catches on for the CW network.

I must say that I find it ironic/delightful that a movie, which also shares its name with a Black empowerment organization that is considered terroristic by the current administration, is about to make hundreds of millions of dollars– draped in kente cloth. But, I digress.

People are already calling Black Panther revolutionary, the answer to every social ill and a film that will change the landscape of superhero movies. People are buying out theaters to make sure that black and brown children can see this movie, with the promise that seeing themselves on the big screen will help them see the possibilities that their lives hold. I hope that it does all of that, and that everyone who is still apologizing for their blackness stops (please stop). But in the event that the hype dies down, and blackness is no longer trending (and therefore not as easily monetized) in art, fashion and film, I want it to be understood that there were Black superheroes before Black Panther and there will be many after.

Everyone who survived the Middle Passage was a superhero. Everyone who walked with Harriet Tubman the 500+ miles to the north was a superhero. Every person of color who learned to read and write under the threat of death is a superhero. Every soldier who fought in a war for a country that sees them as less than human is a superhero. Every musician who found it within themselves to create jazz, blues, ragtime, rock and rap in bleak circumstances is a superhero. Everyone who walked from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote is a superhero. Everyone who shouted “Hands up don’t shoot” in Ferguson, Missouri is a superhero.

I say this not to discount the impact that this movie will have on our collectively held narrative, after all I agree with South African photographer Zanele Muholi that we must tie images to freedom. Representation in media and art are extremely important–the response to the Obama portraits this week has shown us that. However, the images that come to my mind when I think of heroism and freedom are much closer to home than a comic book strip. I think of my grandmother who worked as a maid for 20 years to raise five children by herself. I think of my cousin who was arrested more than a dozen times before her 21st birthday for protesting. I think of my grandfather who only had a 3rd grade education, but owned a gas station. I think of my great uncle who left his job working at a Coca-Cola factory in Selma, Alabama on the promise of working for Coke in Detroit, only to arrive in the Motor City and be told that they didn’t hire black people. He promptly went to General Motors and learned a new trade.

This is the story of most Black families who have risen from the depths to triumph. To say that we stand on the shoulders of giants is true, but it also something of a misrepresentation. We are giants. There is a superhero inside of every one of us, and we can tap into that power any day. To be Black in America now is to be freer than any Black person has been on this continent ever, which means that doing what your ancestors couldn’t dream of is heroic. So, live your truth, love without expectations, take a leap of faith and the next time you’re in search of a superhero, look in the mirror.

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Black Jesus, Black-ish and black satire that white people can appreciate

SPOILER ALERT

 

Black Jesus: Jesus is in Compton trying to encourage peace and economic empowerment in the hood. The way he plans to do this is by starting a community garden with his few faithful followers. Now, instead of eating fried chicken, brothas in the hood are eating salads and feeling better and more energized. Obstacles to this flourishing garden include a wino, a slumlord, a few cholos, and a community of skeptics who believe that Jesus is just a rabble rouser. In short, Aaron McGruder, the creator of The Boondocks, is testing Jesus’ gangster and your ability to take a joke and recognize the deeper social commentary that he offers to disenfranchised communities of color. What he is also doing is exposing white people to black and brown comedians who have been household names for years. Unfortunately, the latter is almost more critical than the former, because proving the success of black comedians so that we can continue to see their faces on television is more important than the art itself.

Black-ish:

Dre (played by Anthony Anderson), his mixed wife (Traci Ellis Ross), his father (Laurence Fishburne), and their four children are living the American dream. He has just been promoted to the Senior Vice President of the Urban Division at the ad agency where he works, his wife is a pediatric surgeon and they are living in an upscale, majority white area of Los Angeles. Because this is suburbia and not Compton, Dre is questioning whether the progress he has made is removing his kids from their roots. Does their love of Juicy Couture, quinoa, field hockey, Pilates, and baked (instead of fried) chicken make them black-ish, instead of black? This is a parody that pokes fun of people who believe that black families like this can’t exist and at the black families whose lives this show reflects.

My delayed but still relevant reaction to OITNB Season 2

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!

So social media blew up a few weeks ago when season 2 of Orange is the New Black was released on Netflix. And now with it’s recent Emmy nominations (shout out to Laverne Cox!) people who never considered watching the series will tune in to see what the hype is about. I personally was late to the OITNB hype. I had mixed feelings about the show after watching season 1, because I liked a lot of the characters, but wished that there could be a popular show full of strong women who are not in prison. So here’s my shortlist of what I liked and did not like about season 2. Based on the way it ended with Nickels and Boo hiding that heroine, season 3 should be interesting…

 

What I liked…

  • We finally got to see the full complexity of Red’s character. I enjoyed learning about her history with Vee, the tragic closing of her family’s store, how she was able to get contraband into the prison, etc. Her gang of old ladies in the greenhouse provided comic relief — even when they shanked the wrong black woman.
  • Pennsytucky. I have been hosting my own personal Twitter rally to get Taryn Manning nominated for an Emmy and you should join me. Her character is so damn crazy and I enjoy every second of it. I can’t wait until we learn her back story.
  • Can I just say that the Latinas on OITNB are the bomb?! This season we learned more about Maritza through the visits with her chulo fiance and infant daughter. Based on her boyfriend’s appearance I assume that Maritza is in there for something gang related, but we don’t know this for sure. What I will say is that chulo fiance (who does not speak ever) is bringing a new face to fatherhood and commitment.
  • Finding out that Morello is a bat shit crazy stalker changed my life. I never saw that twist coming, but I am so glad that it did.
  • Nickels is everyone’s first prison friend and seems like a generally cool chick. I want to be her friend in real life.
  • Poussey always wins. Samira Wiley, who portrays Poussey, has given this character so much integrity and intelligence, and she’s pretty with no make-up on. She breaks up all of the stereotypes about black women, lesbians, military brats, drug dealers, world education, and is just generally wonderful. I’m glad that her friendship with Taystee is back on track.
  • Prior to learning more about Piper’s mom this season it was very easy to assume that this suburban, rich girl was so different than the women around her. However, this season showed us that Piper came from a messed up family and the reason she allows toxic people to remain in her life and continues to be a perfectly good waste of white privilege is because her mother modeled that for her.
  • The best part about OITNB Season 2 was really being able to see the moment when inmates go from repentance and remorse to survival mode. We keep people in prison entirely too long, and the PTSD that they come out with prevents them from living full lives and having a chance at rehabilitation. Season 2 dug deeper and has started to use this comedy about a women’s prison as a means to shed light on women’s issues. Kudos!

What I disliked…

  • Piper. She is such a despicable protagonist. Frank Underwood in House of Cards has killed so many people that I’ve lost count, and yet I am rooting for him and all of his elitist, entitled machismo more than I can root for Piper Chapman.
  • Vee. Though I was fascinated by seeing Lorraine Toussaint (who normally plays very upwardly mobile characters) do something different, Vee had to go. I was so happy when she got hit by that car I didn’t know what to do. How dare you manipulate everybody and ruin everything, then walk away like nothing happened?!
  • I didn’t like seeing the tension that developed between Poussey and Tastee. Every friendship has its hurdles (and being in prison is a big one), but I thought that shower scene was the end of their friendship. Forgiveness in unforgivable circumstances is hard.
  • I was looking forward to finding out why everyone’s favorite cooking Nuyorican Gloria ended up in prison, and then I found out it was for selling food stamps. We send people to prison for the stupidest things in this country. Garnish her wages or tarnish her credit, but don’t send her to prison.
  • Piper allowing Alex to play her time-and-time again has gotten old. She must have a magical tongue, because I don’t understand.
  • The weird contextualization of homosexuality and the vague separation of being a lesbian and being straight in prison is something that stumps most of us, but now that it’s on TV I’m even more stumped. At what point does your sexual preference overrule your sexual desire and vice versa. The reason this is on the dislike list is because I don’t want this to send the wrong message about what being gay or straight really entails.
  • This sick relationship between Dalia and the guard is not as toxic as Olivia and Fitz on Scandal, but it’s trying to go there. When the bottom falls out on this foolery it will be good TV, but in the meantime it’s on my nerves. I wish she would just have this baby.
  • I realize that we needed more Asian representation on OITNB, but why Brooke SoSo? This character perpetuates so many stereotypes about Asians, and yet is in prison for a crime that we do not associate with Asians! It’s frustrating. She needs to go. Try again writers. There are two Asians on OITNB and both are strange as hell.
  • What I disliked the most about Season 2 was the lack of humor. Season 1 was hilarious. This season was a bummer. I guess with great ratings comes great social responsibility to actually offer insight into prison life, but I miss some of those quick one-liners.

I’m watching Season 1 of “The Newsroom…”

…and I am incredibly underwhelmed by the way the women characters have been written. In such a typically WASP-y way, all of the men are intelligent and reasonable, and all of the women can’t use their brains on account of being too emotional. All of the women on this show are educated and in positions of power at the network for which they work. We have anchors, writers, bookers, researchers, associate producers, executive producers, and board members. However, all of them are so emotionally driven that they can’t move up in their careers, be happy in love, or hold their liquor. And how do they cope with a rough day at work? Ice cream, white wine, and crying of course. I am so surprised/upset by the portrayal of women on The Newsroom because HBO normally writes such complex women characters. And not only are these women simple, they are stuck in a script where nothing happens and everyone is a narcissist. I’m going to try to stick with watching the show. Hopefully it gets better…