Predominately White TV Writers Rooms: You Are Profoundly Ill-Equipped to “Tackle Black Lives Matter.”

2016 was the year that I rage quit Orange is the New Black and Unreal.

It was a difficult break. I had reserved special corners of my heart for both dramas, and to lose them within such a short span left vacancies that echoed every time I turned on my television. Worst of all, both failed me the same exact way.

The two critically acclaimed favorites decided that they absolutely had to weigh in on the subject of Black Lives Matter. With the death of Poussey Washington and the ill-fated decision to center the brutalization of Black men around the white guilt of their female lead, OITNB and Unreal, respectively, missed the mark entirely, enraging a sizable portion of their Black fan base in the process. Unreal, to its credit, had at least two Black writers in the room at the time of the arc’s development which, according to show co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, resulted in “two full weeks” of discussion (!) about race. OITNB, however, had zero Black writers on staff when they decided to not only murder one of its most beloved characters, but to also humanize the brutal system that led to both her death and the protection of her killer.

Both decided to use the pain of Black bodies to render a lesson that they were wholly unfit to administer, and the instances should have served as teachable moments for other writer’s rooms who lack the perspectives necessary to take on such a heavy, ambitious subject.

Oh, but wait! Now the CW’s Arrow – which, like OITNB, does not currently staff any Black writers – would like their chance to do what no predominately white writers room has been able to accomplish: successfully tell a story that simply is not theirs to tell. Showrunner/Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim tells Collider, “I really want to tackle Black Lives Matter, and I have a story idea for that, but where exactly that gets slotted — we just have a range, because we like to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility.”

This, of course, sparked some concern, especially among Black viewers. When asked via Twitter if there were now Black writers on staff to help examine the topic, Guggenheim responded: “We’ll be bringing someone in.”

Oh, goody!

So instead of actually staffing Black writers on a more permanent basis, Guggenheim will be “bringing someone in” to serve as the token perspective to shed light on a topic that is clearly out of their realm of understanding beyond a basic level. This one person will be responsible for injecting all the required nuance, context, and insight within 42-44 minutes (no pressure) and then once their job is deemed acceptable, they will move on and leave that astonishingly white writers room to their own devices.

When Clarkisha Kent, a Black writer, expressed that this would not be enough, Marc responded rather sarcastically, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” This, mind you, was after he replied to another Twitter user’s concern over their lack of qualified full time writers with “we do have people of color on the Arrow writing staff,” which is like the Tinseltown equivalent of “I have three whole Black friends.”

So to review: a white showrunner says he wants to pursue a Black Lives Matter storyline with no permanently staffed Black writers, then proceeds to either talk over or ignore actual Black people who outline how bad of an idea this is. This, unfortunately, is a heavily revisited sequence of events that is so pervasive throughout all of entertainment. And to think: Guggenheim’s willingness to bring in a Black writer – this barest of minimums – is still a step above what other creators charged with the same misstep have been willing to do.

There is a level of anti-Blackness that comes with believing that a staff devoid of Black writers has an innate right to co-opt the Black experience without having to burden themselves with working alongside Black people for too long. Furthermore, it’s entirely foolish to think that a non-Black creator can properly take on the subject of sustained, intricately implemented systemic racism without addressing thier own internalized racial bias. This doesn’t mean that white creators – or creators of any race – should only write for characters that look like themselves. But there are certain subjects that require a level of responsibility. If the person in question won’t even entertain the critique of the people whose experience they want to – ahem – borrow for their programming, how can we honestly expect them to do Black Lives Matter, or any racial topic, any sort of justice (you’re free to answer the question, too, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss)?

Please, Guggenheim and company, help me understand.

If your plan here is to offer a “both sides of the coin” take – one that gives a platform to those who oppose the movement – ask yourself this: when have white people ever been truly silenced on the matter of maintaining the status quo? If they ever successfully have, what would be the purpose of any civil rights group fighting for some semblance of equality? There are literal nazis marching against our humanity in broad daylight. Do they honestly need an additional platform, or the benefit of the doubt?

And let’s for a brief moment pretend that you, with all of your best intentions, did have an adequate number of Black folks on your writing staff at all times (which, sadly, is something that has to be specified). Let’s pretend, in this alternate universe, that your show had a cast full of people actually deserving of partaking in such an important narrative instead of a man who thought we should prioritize the feelings of Texans over a young Muslim boy who was arrested for building a clock, or a woman who trivialized cultural appropriation. Imagine that the world around us wasn’t literally and figuratively crumbling at our feet. Even with all of the perfect conditions in place for you to tell this particular story…why must you? What fresh take do you actually plan on contributing to the conversation of police brutality that has been taking place for decades? How do you cultivate the spaces around in you in your daily, nonprofessional life in a manner that is unequivocally safe for Black people to exist, wholly? Do you even say “Black Lives Matter” to your white friends and family who dare challenge the notion, or uplift platforms built by Black people? In short, what gives you the damn right?

If you, as a white creator, cannot be honest with yourself about your position within white supremacy, then you are certainly underqualified to take on this subject matter. If Black lives actually matter at all to you, you’ll leave this to the experts.

Shannon

Patreon and the Dream

As you may have already heard, we’ve officially launched our Patreon campaign! Yes, it may come seven months after our premiere, but trust us…this has been a looooong time coming. Once we felt confident enough that we were providing a voice and presence that people truly wanted, we made the leap to announce our next step in growing the Nerds of Prey name. Since announcing the Patreon a mere hours ago, the response has been so incredibly positive. We cannot express how much we appreciate our supporters (and we mean in EVERY fashion – donating, listening, commenting, or just encouraging our petty)! We just…dig you. Yes, YOU.

I was unprepared for how weirdly emotional this was going to be for me. The simple press of the “Launch” button ushered in a renewed realization for how far I want to see Nerds of Prey go. When we started this show, we just wanted to create a space where we could freely express the things we like, didn’t like, and felt needed to improve in the world of comics, gaming, and entertainment. In the short time that we’ve been around, we’ve come to realize that there is a portion of fandom/nerd culture that doesn’t feel as heard as they’d like to be, that understands that sometimes the thoughts that we deem petty are actually a product of something much deeper. We like to think that we’ve created something that makes our listeners feel like they have four additional friends. Conversely, we wanted to make a show that challenges the status quo, that (bluntly) encourages those, in their infinite privilege, to just DO BETTER. I wondered if people were going to tune in. I worried that people simply wouldn’t care. I’ve never been happier to been proven wrong in my life.

It’s a little daunting to realize that you have a much bigger, unexpectedly broader dream than you prepared for. We want to foster a community where nerdy women of color can feel safe, heard, and unabashedly genuine. We’d love to drown out the voice that tends to whisper from time to time that a better, more inclusive fandom culture is impossible. We want to spark change while finding the time to laugh and joke, and we want that spark to ignite something far more global than we ever thought was possible. This helps us reach that.

I hope you consider donating. And I prey (I did a thing!) that you continue to be such amazing listeners/friends! In addition, here are some other Patreon campaigns that you should absolutely follow and support!

Tanya DePass/#INeedDiverseGames

Tanya is doing some seriously amazing work within the gaming community. With her podcast, Fresh Out of Tokens, and #INeedDiverseGames, she is using her super necessary, knowledgeable voice to highlight the need for more inclusion in gaming development, marketing, and consumerism.

No, Totally!

It started as a movie podcast and has evolved into such an important beacon of cultural analysis. Shaun Lau is such a strong, stellar presence, championing representation in media for the Asian-American community as well as so many other marginalized voices.

Black Girl Nerds

Jamie Broadnax has built a truly special online community (a community, fun fact, through which we actually met!) and has grown her blog into such an impressive reputable brand. She works so hard to bring her audience fresh views, astonishing guests, and a major, inclusive platform.

And there are so many other artists just working towards their purpose. We hope that we can begin fulfilling just a little bit of ours.

Shannon

Escapism. It Helps.

This was originally posted on the blog, Televised Lady Bits.

Hi. My name is Shannon and I own a blog that analyzes and critiques the media I consume from a multi-marginalized lens. You may not know that based on my unintentionally long absence from posting here and to THAT, I say: okay, fair.

During my time away I have been co-hosting a podcast called Nerds of Prey, a show that simultaneously celebrates and critiques aspects of nerd culture from the perspectives of four Black women. Now, that might be news to some – and we’re still a bit new so, again, fair – but I’m hoping that’ll change as we continue share our voices with anyone who will listen.

I say all that to remind those who may not know me well that I have never been one to shy away from thinking critically about the media I love (or, in a few cases this television season, used to love…but that’s for another post). It’s a crucial element of consumerism and fandom. Our support pilots these endeavors, so we as an audience need to be vocal not just when we’re thoroughly enjoying something, but also when media falls short.

It’s also important to remember that we are people. And as a person – a Black woman, to be more specific – I am fucking hurting. Deeply.

I’m angry. I’m in consistent and sustained mourning. My mental health is nowhere near its best. I’m constantly fearful that police overreach will strip me of my husband, my mother, my father, my brother or anyone that I hold dear. I worry that my friends won’t be able to have a drink or just exist in an LGBTQIA space in peace without constantly looking over their shoulder. I worry that, despite our cries and demands for change, the world I live in simply doesn’t want me here. I’d love to say that all that ends when I rest at night, but I’m writing this on a solid three hours of sleep, which is becoming increasingly more common. I can’t sleep. I’m enraged and I’m tired and my eating patterns fluctuate by the hour and I have openly sobbed, in private and in public, more in the past month than I have my entire life. To the Publix employee who recently had to witness that: I ain’t sorry.

In moments like these I am so, so grateful for any acts of escapism. I’m thankful for the art I love, even that which is problematic (except for you, Orange is the New Black. Oh no, my rage against you has only been bolstered). I’m even comforted by the shows I’ve broken up with this year. When my family is sleeping and the night is still, I’m glad that I can find some escape in a glowing television screen and pretty images. Is there a tiny voice in the back of my mind that still reminds me that what I’m watching could do better by me and the characters I care about? Absolutely. Thankfully, she’s never silent.

Still, it’s a blessing to be able to shut my brain off and just watch, to suspend belief and reality long enough to just be entertained, if only for a little while.

And believe me, I’m not saying you can’t do both. A lot of us tend to forget that we as humans can process multiple happenings at once, which allows us to speak on and be angry/concerned about a few things simultaneously. It’s not strange to be upset about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile while expressing concerns over the absence of Black female writers at Marvel Comics. Honestly, I wonder if the people who say “how can you talk about this thing over here when other, MORE IMPORTANT things are occurring” possess the ability to blink and chew gum at the same time.

But when you feel depleted and have nothing more to say aside from “everything is trash,” it’s okay to just…opt out for a bit. So that’s what I’m doing. And I support anyone else who needs to do the same. Self care is a very unique and personal thing and this falls in line with mine. I’ll definitely return to the days of calling creators to the carpet for shitty, systemic behavior. Soon.

For right now, though, please pass me the wine and sit with me for a while. I’ll get back to work right after this next episode.

Shannon

All Is Fair in Bro Love and #CivilWar: A Haiku Collection [SPOILERS]

It’s a Civil War!
Someone please remind them that
they used to be friends!

Tony feels guilty,
after meeting Queen Alfre.
Can you blame the guy?

Scarlet Witch can’t help
that sometimes her powers buck.
She deserves better.

Steve, oh my goodness.
That’s not the Bucky you knew.
Please think this over.

T’CHALLA’S OUT HERE
SNATCHING ALL OF OUR SCALPS BALD.
WAKANDA FOR LIFE.

Who called on Hawkeye?
Who just DOES that, willingly?
He is just the worst.

Dora Milaje,
if y’all don’t get your own film,
I’ll goddamn riot.

This film almost made
me forget that I can’t stand
Anthony Mackie.

Marvel finally
figured out how to portray
Lil’ Peter Parker.

It would be so great
if the Avengers would add
women of color.

T’challa is rich.
My God. He is super rich.
That’s phenomenal.

“What’s your suit made of?”
“Your friend might have killed my dad.
Now is not the time.”

Ain’t no explosion
in this world will ever muss
up Natasha’s hair.

“Oh, wow! Hey, you guys!
I’m just happy to be here!”
Paul Rudd’s all of us.

Steve sent Tony Stark,
the tech king, a damn flip phone.
That’s shade. Don’t @ me.

Black Widow makes all
hand-to-hand combat look like
a walk in the park.

I sincerely hope,
Bucky is able to find
some semblance of peace.

Here’s a great story,
Of how sometimes there’s no win.
Just consequences.

Now it’s time for an
A-Force film directed by
Ava DuVernay.

Rhodes has brand new legs!
Now I just want him to have
a much bigger part.

#TeamIronMan and
#TeamCap ain’t got nothin’ on
#TeamBlackPanther, bitch.

Shannon

You are terrifying and strange and beautiful…Magic.

Much has been said about Lemonade over the past week. Even more has been written, both on social media and almost every major media outlet. I have my feelings about Lemonade, most of which vacillate between the barely coherent ramblings of a person in full stan-mode and the deeply personal, but this isn’t going to be a think piece. The movie, with its haunting words and gorgeous visuals, is art – the kind that sneaks through the cracks in your walls and makes a storm of your emotions. The kind of art that almost breaks you with its truth, only to heal you in the end. And as so often happens with art like this, it inspires more art. I want to share some of the amazing pieces I’ve seen this week.


Prints, stickers, clothing, bags, etc. can be purchased here.

And the mashup we didn’t know we wanted:

Jenn Tran has been killing it this week.


You can find more work by Jenn Tran at the following:
www.jenntranart.com and jenntranart.tumblr.com


You can find more awesome work by Jen Bartel at the following: jenbartel.com / jenbartel.tumblr.com

http://arieslilithart.tumblr.com/post/143371869732/lemonade-is-incredible-and-i-painted-queen-bey

http://lunaaltare.tumblr.com/post/143340178164/helpmegrowmyedgesback2k16-tla

http://kenzed.tumblr.com/post/143468036711/my-daddy-said-shoot-part-1

http://kenzed.tumblr.com/post/143409234736/are-you-cheating-on-me-part-2

Mel

Mel’s Top 5: Sometimes it Snows in April

I struggled to find something to write about this week. My personal and professional lives have been especially difficult these past two weeks. I found myself retreating into comfort shows instead of trying something new. I still haven’t seen the new Orphan Black. Rather than pass on the entire entry, I want to tell a couple of stories.

Liu Heung Shing/AP
Liu Heung Shing/AP

In college, I belonged to a LARP group. After the release of Pirates of the Caribbean, we all flirted with a pirate obsession that culminated in us attending a pirate festival in Key West in the middle of December. The festival itself was a great time, but one of my favorite memories was of visiting an old used bookstore. The kind with dusty boxes, little light, and questionable organization. I grew up in places like this. While my friends fought off their hangovers in the shade of palm trees, I combed through boxes. I found a couple of books, but it was the boxes of records in the back that drew me. The owner was an old hippie, amused by my pirate garb. I haggled over prices and he ended up giving me a deal- 2 books and 4 records for $25, $5 of which I had to borrow from a friend.

Not having much of a social life in high school, I spent a lot of Saturday nights lying on my bedroom floor listening to the 80s mix on a local radio station. CDs were expensive at the time and most of my small allowance went to books. Later, when I had a job, it went to my expensive Anime habit. Instead, I had boxes of mix tapes, carefully labeled, representing hours spent with my brother’s stereo waiting for specific songs to come on. I knew a lot of singles but not many deeper cuts from albums. Two of the records I bought that day were The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Purple Rain. The album covers were tattered or falling apart completely; Ziggy Stardust was held together by tape yellowed with age. Scratches were everywhere and I had to skip over entire sections because of them. I loved them both anyway and once I bought a cheap, barely functioning player from a Goodwill, I played them all the time.

'Purple Rain' album cover Warner Bros. Records
‘Purple Rain’ album cover Warner Bros. Records

Prince was beautiful and brilliant. There never was and will never be anyone quite like him. A quick Google search will provide you with multiple GIFs and pictures that show how he was a master of shade. More importantly, he was unapologetic for who he was and uncompromising with his art. You couldn’t tell him what he should sound like, look like, or sing like. Prince was who he wanted to be. I think we forget how incredibly hard and brave that is. We work so hard to show the best part of ourselves and hide the parts that might be weird or outside of societal norms.

blue alien

I wanted to be free like Prince. I wanted to be cool like him when I wore my white blouse with the fake pearl buttons and purple skirt in grade school, my hair perfectly curled by my mother. I wanted to be sure of myself and my worth like him when I listened to When Doves Cry on repeat in high school. I wanted to cosplay his Joker/Batman hybrid.

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No comic books or shows this week; these are my top 5 Prince songs, in no particular order.

  1. Purple Rain

    Picking one song from this album is incredibly difficult. It’s my desert island album. I listen to it at least once a week, especially when things are bad. Out of all of them, the titular song has a special place in my heart. Whenever I felt like life is getting too much, I sing Purple Rain in the car – my voice cracking as I cry. I yell out the lyrics, butchering the high notes until I can’t help but laugh. It’s instant catharsis.

  2. If I Was Your Girlfriend

    This is quintessential Prince. This is No Fucks Given Prince. This is the Prince who refuses to be put in box of what society thinks he should be. This is gender fluid, boundary-pushing Prince.

  3. I Wanna Be Lover

    I can’t sing. I never could. That doesn’t stop me from singing Prince with all of my heart. I’ve been butchering this song since before I knew what the lyrics really meant.

  4. 1999

    After living through that year, it’s a wonder how much I still love this song. If the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight of 1999, we were all going to go out blasting this song, in style.

  5. The Beautiful Ones and How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore

    I’m cheating and doing a tie for my last one. Both are gorgeous songs about love and yearning and heartbreak. Prince had a wonderful gift of infusing emotion into every word and chord. And who didn’t want to be Apollonia in that scene?

The first honorable mention goes to the rest of Purple Rain. Every song is wonderful. To me, it’s a perfect album. I’m going to leave you with my second honorable mention, which I think is apt for this moment in time: Sometimes it Snows in April.

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last
All good things that say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past

Mel

Mel’s Top 5: No one man should have that much power

This has been a great week to be a nerd. I have been relishing it like a pig in the mud or a collector in the dusty long box section of the dealer who’s offering a 50% off discount (by the way, this is me at every con).

    1. Black Panther #1“No one man should have that much power”

      p2

      After what seems like years of anticipation and speculation, Black Panther #1 was released. I went in with an open mind and few expectations other than the hope that Ta-Nehisi Coates would breathe new life into a character that is desperately needed. There is a hunger for this character and his world. Just look at all the reactions to the Captain America: Civil War trailer. Judging by my timeline, you would think Black Panther is the lead in the movie. This book doesn’t disappoint. Wakanda is on the brink of war as the people, influenced by outside forces, rebel against their king. They call him the Orphan King, severing the strong tie generations of Panthers had with their kingdom. This is a political drama, a family drama, and a drama about an identity crisis – who is T’challa without his kingdom. Brian Stelfreeze’s strong art is the perfect accompaniment to Coastes’ words. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I recommend that you get it soon.

      Bonus, we got this beautiful interaction on Twitter. Let’s hope we see a collaboration between these two in the future.

      p8

    2. Poe Dameron #1

      “Okay, okay…We can do this! Probably!”

      p1.png

      Poe Dameron was one of the unintended breakout stars of The Force Awakens. This week we get to see what he was up to before the movie with the release of Poe Dameron #1, written by Charles Soule with amazing art by Phil Noto. Not only do we get to see more of Poe, you also get more BB-8, Black Squadron, and Leia. There’s a short story at the end of the issue that has BB-8 playing the Cupid of the Rebellion. It’s adorable.

      Side note: A few nights ago, I had a dream about Oscar Issac. Get your mind out of the gutter, it was definitely not that kind of dream. In the dream, we were in a coffee shop and I talked to him about costume design for 30 MINUTES, specifically about the importance of Kylo Ren’s costume in relation to the development of his character. Then I dashed off to take a calc final. This was it, the entire dream.

    3. Image Expo

      In the days leading up to Emerald City Comic Con, Image held their annual Expo. It’s like a mini-con for all things Image. It’s also the platform they use to announce their upcoming titles. A few of these titles have peaked my interest.

      p3
      Afar. Story by Leila del Duca and Art by Kit Seaton. This is the story of a young girl who discovers the power to astral project herself into bodies across the universe.

      p5
      Motor Crush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, & Babs Tarr. You have the team behind Batgirl on a book about a woman who races bikes in a global racing league by day but once the sun sets, she competes in gladiatorial biker battles. It’s like they made this book for me.

      p7
      Glitterbomb by Jim Zub, Djibril Morissette-Phan, K. Michael Russell & Marshall Dillon. An aging actress, who attacks the very industry that rejects her, takes center stage in this horror comic. The tagline perfectly sums it up: “The entertainment industry feeds on our insecurities, desires, and fears. You can’t toy with those kinds of primal emotions without them biting back.”

      p4
      Prima by Jen Van Meter and Rick Burchett, is set in the 1950s. A ballet company, previously a front for a resistence cell during WWII, now uses their skills to become thieves.

    4. Star Wars: Rogue One trailer

      “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.”

      The teaser trailer dropped on GMA and it was as if a million angry fanboy voices cried out and were silenced by the horror of yet another Star Wars property helmed by a woman. I’m usually the worst judge on all things Star Wars. This trailer could have been 2 minutes of soundtrack and the Lucasfilm logo and I still would have been excited. That being said, I think the trailer looks amazing. I can’t wait to see this and gush about it on the podcast. Look to my co-hosts for a more impartial point of view.

      The Force Awakens Blu-Rey also happened this week. I’m more of a content person than a packaging one so I’m going to recommend the Target exclusive version if you want extra bonus features.

    5. Black Girls Rock

      “My blackness does not inhibit me from being beautiful and intelligent, in fact it is the reason I am beautiful and intelligent”

      This show needs to be packaged in self-care boxes and sent to Black girls everywhere. It’s instant affirmation and inspiration. It’s a celebration of the beauty, strength, success of black girls and their ability to change the world for the better. It feels like a party and we’re all on the guest list.

Honorable mentions go to the season finale of the Walking Dead, there has been an emotional rollercoaster of anger, sadness, betrayel, and fear all over social media in the days since so no need to rehash, and to the 5 part mini-series on Princess Leia by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson. This series takes places immediately after A New Hope. Still reeling from the destruction of her planet, Leia is searching for a purpose. She finds one in gathering the remaining survivors of Alderaan before the Empire gets the chance to wipe them out. Mark Waid gives us a Leia who is the embodiment of her parents – brave with that devil may care attitude and a leader who would die for her people

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Check back in 2 weeks to see what else I’m reading and watching!

Mel

When Love Looks Like Me: How Gina Prince-Bythewood Brought Real Love to the Big Screen

The following post was originally posted on Bitch Flicks.

Growing up, I used to stare at my mother’s seemingly impressive VHS collection, which she maintains to this day. What fascinated me most was its eclectic range. Friday, for instance, was often nestled between Steel Magnolias and Selena. What’s Love Got to Do with It sat to the right of our small Disney collection and just before Speed. Sister Act, if not still warm in the VCR, had its place next the original Parent Trap. Scattered throughout the assortment was a weirdly appropriate representation of the romantic film landscape at the time: Pretty Woman, While You Were Sleeping, She’s the One, Hope Floats, Ghost, One Fine Day, My Best Friend’s Wedding. These are stories of women exploring their version of love in ways ranging from entirely relatable to, quite literally, paranormal.

I recognized my mother’s attempt to support films that featured actors and actresses that looked like us, even going as far as to purchase movies that she hadn’t seen yet, which now seems like a major (and costly) leap of faith. I also knew, and eventually mirrored, her genuine love of romance and beautiful endings, happy or not. Looking at our collection, I came away with a deep seated understanding that, as Black people, we could be funny, dramatic, troubled, and many versions of “strong.” Romance, however, was a white woman’s game. There was a noticeable shift in Black cinematic storytelling in the late 1990’s, but it wasn’t until 2000’s Love & Basketball that I began to find an honest connection with something that felt familiar. The story of Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me in romantic storytelling. I was too young to know that I had writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood to thank for that.

Gina_Prince-Bythewood

Love & Basketball tells a number of tales. It tells the story of a young woman asserting her identity against narrow definitions of femininity. At times it follows a young man having to learn the hard way that sometimes your heroes can stumble to the point to failing you. You can even come away from the film with a hearty discussion about the long, winding trajectory of success for women in sports versus the plentiful, immediate options available for men. The beauty of this particular film, however, is how each of these stories are bound together by the singular, accessible idea of two best friends falling in love and trying to simultaneously navigate their friendship as well as their individual destinies. Like many solid coming-of-age stories, we get to witness the complexities of aging out of adolescent friendship.

Once they enter college, Monica and Quincy begin to learn what genuine support entails and what it means to require something more from each other than a shared loved and mutual kindness. That’s what the evolution of relationships is all about: adjusting to the changing parameters of certain bonds as you grow and learn. For many, the pang of disappointment that Quincy feels as he chastises Monica for not being available to him at his lowest moment feels familiar. In contrast, it’s easy to connect with Monica’s need for Quincy to celebrate her long-fought, hard-earned victories. This leads to a disconnect that so many young couples have experienced at one point or another.

Love and Basketball, Beyond the Lights

These experiences aren’t exclusive ones; they exist as the universal marks of youth for so many. Prince-Bythewood’s choice to center these themes around a young Black couple shouldn’t feel as revolutionary as it does. But when you consider that “universal” is too often conflated with “white,” Love & Basketball feels like such a turning point in the romance genre. It was certainly a turning point for me because, for a moment, Black love and romance, as told by Hollywood, weren’t mutually exclusive. Not long after that, however, there seemed to be another dearth in quality romance narratives featuring Black people as the Nicholas Sparks aesthetic – blonde-haired, fair-skinned women paired with young, Zac Efron-esque hunks — reigned. Once again, mainstream romance was excluding people of color.

Then 2014 and Gina Prince-Bythewood brought us Beyond the Lights. With that, I felt like I once again had a place in the genre that I cared about so deeply.

On the surface, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Kaz’s (Nate Parker) story – a tortured pop starlet falling for her tender, down-to-earth guard – may not appear as relatable as that of Monica and Quincy. There is, however, a common struggle that bonds these two: the torment of not having the freedom to live as our most authentic selves. As a highly publicized pop star Noni’s every move, word, and look is manufactured by her mother/manager Macy Jean (Minnie Driver) and management team. As an aspiring local politician, Kaz’s relationship with Noni is scrutinized heavily by his father (Danny Glover). As they grow closer, they’re both given an opportunity to relax their personas and escape the criticisms that make their lives uniquely difficult. Their story, above all else, is about their desire to be truly seen as fully realized beings and not just the Troubled Pop Star and the Heroic Guard Turned Politician.

Beyond the Lights

While l praise Love & Basketball for depicting Black love in a way that was relevant to all audiences, what I happened to love most about the romance between Noni and Kaz were the aspects that were specifically poignant to me as a Black woman. On an impromptu trip to Mexico, Noni finds herself standing in front of the mirror in their shared bungalow, contemplating her distinctive purple extensions. In a moment of genuine vulnerability, she decides to shed her famous tresses and reveal her natural hair to her partner. Standing before him in her gorgeous curls, I recognized the glint of apprehension in her eyes as she awaits his reaction to seeing her truly authentic self for the first time.

The significance of Noni showing Kaz her natural hair – hair that is so often scrutinized by the public from youth to adulthood – and him responding with a kiss and reverently running his fingers through her curls is something so simple, yet so extraordinary and rare in romantic cinema. Just like crossover relatability is important, so are the moments that are specifically experienced by marginalized audiences. We need the assurance that our stories are worth telling.

During a Twitter chat that included Gina Prince-Bythewood last May, seven months after the release of Beyond the Lights, I took the opportunity to ask her what she wished to see more of in terms of on-screen romance. “More real love,” she replied. “Not surface, cliché, joke, but the kind that really wrecks you.” Here’s hoping that this phenomenal woman is allowed more opportunities to not only wreck us emotionally, but to obliterate the notion that different shades of romance don’t exist.

Shannon

The Perks of Being a Cosplayer

As a kid, I wanted to be a fashion designer. It wasn’t about the fame – my name on thousands of garments and stars in my contact list. It was always about the clothes. My obsession with science fiction and fantasy morphed my love of fashion into one of costume design. So what does this have to do with cosplay? For me, cosplay has always been more about the ‘cos’ part. I love what costumes tell about a character. I love the mix of interesting fabrics and non-traditional materials. If you have an hour or, most likely, an afternoon free, I can talk your ear off about this.

My first time cosplaying was at Anime Weekend Atlanta. I would post a picture but this was back before digital cameras were everywhere and I don’t know where any of the physical copies are. I dressed as Sakura in her school uniform from Cardcaptor Sakura on Friday and Zechs Merquise, complete with helmet, from Gundam Wing on Saturday. This marked one of the few times that I practiced action poses and phrases. I went in with that wide-eyed optimism that comes from naively expecting nerd culture to be an accepting one. That’s not to say the entire weekend was a wash. Though I did find out that people are going to have a problem with a Black, fat girl cosplaying a ‘white’, skinny man or pretty much any non-black character, I also found that most of them were too cowardly to say something to my face. It’s easier to be an asshole when you’re hiding behind computer screens.

Unfortunately, having what fandom considers a non-traditional body, whether you’re a person of color, plus-sized, and/or have a disability, means that trolls are going to feel like it’s their right to point out how much you don’t fit the role. This is what makes it that much more amazing when you see us cosplaying. To use a phrase from Bitch Planet, we’re being non-compliant. We’re ignoring all of those comments that boil down to ’no, this isn’t for you. You don’t belong here’. We’re looking good and having a great time while doing it. So when those comments get you down, remember you’re awesome. Going through #29DaysofBlackCosplay, a hashtag created by Chaka Cumberbatch, or seeing a group of plus-sized Sailor Scouts or a kid who turned his wheelchair into a TIE fighter are all the inspiration I need to silence the jerks who are determined to kill someone else’s fun. I cosplay for me, because I love the character and because I love the costume.

cosplay cosplay8 cosplay3
I had a thankfully brief obsession with using duct tape as material.

Now that you’ve heard all about my first experience and why I like it, some of our listeners were nice enough to share pictures and talk about why they like doing it.

For more inspiration, check out PrettyBrown&Nerdy‘s 29 Black Characters to Cosplay video featuring the amazing Chaka:

Just had to add one more thing to this already long post. Recently, Wizard World was held in Portland. This has got to be my favorite cosplay from the con. The rest of the 2016 cons are going to have to work pretty hard to surpass this.

Mel

ATTENTION ALL COMIC CREATORS/GAME DEVELOPERS!

Do you have a Kickstarter campaign for your diverse book/game? Nerds of Prey would like to help you reach your fundraising goal!

We’re offering FREE 15-second ad spots for Kickstarter campaigns for all INCLUSIVE works.

Send all ad inquiries to nerdsofpreypodcast@gmail.com from now until 2/22/16 @ midnight.

Act now and best of luck!

Shannon