A response to Avatar and other Messiah-complex stories (or, come on, LaShawn, it’s been several weeks since you wrote on your blog. Post something already!)

I had the pleasure of watching Avatar a couple of weeks ago. You don’t need to know the details on how I got there (it did involve sneaking into an Enterprise cargo van, but that’s beside the point).  But suffice it to say, I went in knowing full well that the storyline would be utter crap and to turn my brain off and enjoy the eye candy. And it would’ve worked, too, except we had snuck away from a conference, and I was bone tired, which made my eyes watery, which mucked up the 3-D glasses I wore, which made me take my glasses off, which made me not see the gorgeous visuals, which made me wonder why the heck Jake Sully was the only one to figure out to jump on the big bird dragon beastie by flying above it. I mean really. He was the only one? Really? Was the Na’Vi that dumb they couldn’t figure something as simple as that on their own—? And even if they were that dumb, if Jake wanted to get on their good side, why not tell the Na’Vi girl’s rival and let him do it instead, and in doing so save face, gain the ally the right way–

No, no. I told myself I was not going to write a review. See, there are tons of reviews out there describing all the problems of Avatar. There are also lots of websites that mock the movie, and deservedly so. In fact, I’m finding all the dialogue about Avatar to be more intriguing than the movie itself.

And it got me to thinking. Sure, I can whine and moan along with everyone else about the white-man-as-savior themes in Avatar. But that’s just all talk. What can I do, as a black woman, to actively respond to stories like Avatar?

1. Don’t see the movie

Obviously, I failed this one, but it’s okay. When I first heard about Avatar’s plot, I didn’t really care to see it. Then I heard all the different takes on it and thought, well, maybe it would be worth seeing. And I don’t regret it…even though I had my watering eyes shut and predicting the story 15 scenes out, the scenery was pretty…at least, what I saw of it. And in all honesty, I would go see it again so I can look at it with a sufficiently shut-down mind. And Zoe Saldana is also in it. I didn’t know that the first time.

But I can say with all honesty that I won’t see The Blind Side. Whereas I knew Avatar and looked forward to its science fiction-ness, I have seen the Blind Side in so many other plots and movies that, well, I’m pretty sick of it. I really don’t have the desire to see another poor black athlete get ‘adopted’ by a white family. It’s also because I’m mainly turned off by "poor athlete gets a leg up in life" in general. It’s okay. No big deal. If I don’t want to watch a movie, I don’t watch it. Unless my hubby’s watching it on cable…but then again all we got is basic channels, so that’s all right too…

2. Make an effort to go outside the box

I’m currently reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. It’s an awesome book in that it’s probably the first ever epic fantasy I’ve ever read that’s done by a black woman. And it is good. Real good. So good I’ve been shilling it out to whoever I meet.

That what rocks about the state the fantasy genre is in now. There are tons, literally tons, of stories out there that are being published by black writers like Jemisin and Nisi Shawl and Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor (and one day, yours truly 😉 ) And it’s not just black writers, but also Latino, Asian, Indian, Filipino. Now has never been a more awesome time to read and see culturally diverse stories. They are out there, waiting to be heard, to be read, to shown their own point of view. Check out these writers, or places like Verb Noire, who aim to put out culturally diverse stories.

3. Make up your own story

Okay, true story. When I started reading the Narnia books, when I got to The Silver Chair, I read the book fantasizing that Jill was black. No lie. Her description was vague enough that I was able see her as black. Then they started doing the movies, and that pretty much depressed me. I don’t know if they will ever get to the Silver Chair part, but if they do, I’m guessing that a black girl won’t get cast in Jill’s role, and a little part of me will die a sad little death.

(And that’s my excuse for not watching the Narnia movies. Absolutely truth.)

But the thing is, the hunger to see fantasy stories with girls with skin and hair as brown as my own drove me to start writing. It wasn’t a response to all those people who say, "Oh, if you didn’t like it, go write your own." But you know what, it does need to be a response. Because all that is being put out there now isn’t really representing the diversity of our country. Writers can fix that by planting their butts into chairs and writing.

And on the same vein…

4. Students of color, stay in school!

We writers can only do so much. It is those within the publishing and the entertainment industry who give us the means to get our stories out into the public. But as long as the entertainment industry remains homogenous, they’ll keep putting out what they think is the stories the public will like.

The entertainment industry needs to be diversified.

We need more cultural diverse people in the entertainment industry. In film industry and in publishing. And not just on the lower levels. We need them in the higher levels as well, where decisions are made. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the Racefail happening at Zondervan.  One of the blogs I mention, The Suburban Christian, wrote this on his post:

We need Asian Americans (and people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds!) as authors, editors, marketers, designers, journalists, bloggers, publishing executives. It’s likely that this Deadly Viper incident would not have happened if Zondervan had had more Asian Americans on staff. So Asian American community, as Paul Tokunaga says in Invitation to Lead,it’s time to step up. Write books. Apply for jobs at Zondervan (and other Christian publishers). Get in the game.

Amen!

And finally:

5. For writers and anyone involved in making a story—WRITE THE BEST STORY YOU CAN

Do you know why I disliked Avatar? It wasn’t so much the white-Messiah trope. I accepted that part. No, what really bothered me was that the whole entire movie felt like Cameron wrote a first draft and said, eh, that’ll do. I mean, come on, Unobtainium. Seriously?! You couldn’t think of anything else? If it wasn’t a movie with aspirations, then yeah, okay, that would, in fact, be hilarious. But it didn’t work with the awe-inspiring graphics.  Either put a decent plotline with the great graphics or go all out and make the crassest, stupidest movie you can. YOU CAN’T BE A PIMP AND A PROSTITUTE TOO!!!

(Right. White Stripe Raving. That means it’s time to wind down.)

Look, if we as writers of color are meant to be taken seriously, that means our work needs to be good too. And that means being hard on ourselves, looking at our stories and thinking, is this clichéd? Does it work? Are there any plot holes? Is this a tired story or does it mean anything? Anyone can put out lame-ass work–Cameron sure as hell did. But that work reflects right back on us. And even when people comment and say that was a pretty bad story you wrote, you take your knocks, move on, and write a better story. Then, when you do get rich and famous, you can still put out lame-ass work, but if you wow them with graphics, dude, they’re sold.

Umm…okay…don’t know how this turned into a writing post, but that’s the magic of blogging past your bedtime. All sorts of rambling things come out of my head. There is one more thing I want to say. At some point, I’ll probably go to see Precious. I’ve heard really good reviews of it. Some say it’s the antithesis of The Blind Side, though I’m also guessing it’s the antithesis of Juno as well.

And the real nitpicking part of me is saying, Yeah, that’s great, another story about a fat black girl who lives in projects and gets abused…

Yeah, but Mo’Nique’s in it. Mo’Nique being evil even. I’d pay to see that.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi. I’m Marivone and I’m from Brazil. My writing is not that good anymore (Sorry. Years of not practicing), but I think you’ll be able to get what i’ll say.

    The thing is: I have no idea how I’ve ended up here but I love it and im really thankful for you having this blog. I’m a black girl as well and i’ve always wanted to write my own stories for the simple reason that I knew, from early age, that no stories where “about me” = there was never room for girls like us out there.

    Instead of been a writer (almost impossible to be here in Brazil as been black and poor and not wanting to suffer so much and all), I’ve decided to be a Journalist. I thought I had more chances. I was so wrong… and so devasteded.

    The thing is: i’ve been researching to become what I’ve always wanted to be. Yes, a writer! And I found you here… Like telling me it is possible!

    Now, I still work as a journalist but I’m studying to become a lawyer (another passion) and a writer.

    I’ll always stop by.

    Thank you again and keep going. You are great.

    P.S: I still can read well in English. The problem is to write it! ;(

  2. Wow…thanks Marivone! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! We definitely need more black journalists out there…and *definitely* more black lawyers! You go girl! Keep on writing!

  3. I just wished to comment that “Unobtainium” is an acceptable scientific term. You can google it and search in science journals

  4. Re: Fantasy epics by black women. Have you read Octavia Butler? I recommend _The Parable of the Sower_.

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