Reasonable Doubt: Racebending, Media Representation, and Pushback

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#BoycottStarWarsVII is straight up ridiculous and embarrassing. It’s also a trending hashtag right now. Trending in response to a female lead and a Black male holding a lightsaber (we don’t even know if he’s a Jedi) in the upcoming The Force Awakens. Like Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Natalie Portman, or Samuel L. Jackson’s characters never existed in the Star Wars universe.

“Racebending” refers to situations where a media content creator (movie studio, publisher, etc.) has changed the race or ethnicity of a character. This is a longstanding Hollywood practice that has been historically used to discriminate against people of color.

Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Michael B. Jordan as Human Torch, Idris Elba as Heimdal. These are obvious cases where men of color have portrayed characters conceived originally to be white men. This kind of casting has been dubbed ‘racebending’ after M. Night Shymalan’s slow motion train wreck, The Last Airbender.

Nicola Peltz as Katara, Jake Gyllenhall as The Prince of Persia, Al Jolson as The Jazz Singer, Mena Suvari in Stuck. Cases where white actors portray characters originally conceived (or born in Suvari’s situation (no chill) as people of color. Also cases defined as racebending. It’s a two way street, really.

Websters’ defines Whitewash as ‘a deliberate concealment of someone’s mistakes or faults in order to clear their name’.

Urban Dictionary defines it as “the entertainment industry’s attempt at making ethnic characters more appealing to the white, money-spending masses by making exotic characters less ethnic and more ‘white’.”

I’ll be utilizing the second definition.

When a cast is whitewashed (like most movies) there is the obligatory blog that speaks back to the issue, a few editorials shared on Facebook. That backlash rarely translates into any real resistance (the exception to the rule being Exodus, nobody went to see that).

Media Representation: the ways in which media portrays particular groups, communities, experiences, ideas, or topics from a particular ideological or value perspective

This phenomena defies category, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road forced audiences to redefine ableism, female-bodied protagonists, and feminism in one fell swoop. Let’s keep it a buck, most films are whitewashed and cis male, so what does it mean to have positive media representation of any kind?

Representation becomes a verb when folks are purposely excluded from the landscape of a narrative tapestry, and have to be CONSCIOUSLY placed back in. In reality, we see that all types of folks are in all types of places, but few reflections of that truth make it to mediums like film.

These things happen when you have a history like the one the U.S. has. The really annoying aspect of this is when an act of positive media representation becomes the rallying cry for bigots to claim there is an agenda to marginalize them.

For racist fanboys to make a case for reverse racism (which doesn’t exist) requires them to first make the case that racism existed prior, and that they benefitted from it. Justifying the need for representation (*cough * affirmative action).

I loved Star Wars growing up because it gave me hope that far, far away racism didn’t make any damn sense. I love the sci-fi/fantasy genre because it redefines and envisions the future. However, when #BoycottStarWarsVII rises to prominence in a country that puts #AmericanSniper on a pedestal, there needs to be a clear understanding of how media effects the political landscape down to the personal experience.

That said, The Force Awakens doesn’t even engage in racebending, just diverse casting; but you can’t argue with folks whose logic equates to this:

*​Need to cite/shout out Racebendin​g.com for their definition/creation of the phrase ‘racebending’ verbatim. Also need to to cite/shout out Feminist Mad Max Tumblr for their Furiosa meme.

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  • Poet, MC, Nerd, All-Around Problem. Lover of words, verse, and geek media from The Bronx, NYC.

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  • fubarofpittsburgh

    #BoycottStarWarsVII was a prank pulled off by 4chan trolls to screw with the Twitter community. Sadly, it looks like the prank worked.

  • twelvedaysold

    *SLOW CLAP* Also Idris Elba as Heimdal is, like, one of my favorite casts ever. Actually now that I say that I love him in everything so more Idris Elba in everything kthx.

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