Seriously Geeky Sundays – Representation

Welcome back to Seriously Geeky Sundays, the best damned writing prompt challenge on the internet, bar none! Created by Heather, the undisputed overlord (overlady?) of Just Geeking By, the internet’s finest questionsmith, bar none!

Today we look at a hot, hot topic in the world of geekdom, representation! It’s a heavy one, hopefully my usual levity will shine through though. Needless to say, if I get anything wrong, or accidentally cause disrespect, then please let me know! Now, onto the briefing…

But first, an addendum to this piece! In one of my answers, I prasied The Witches remake for adding more representation, but I totally forgot about the controversy surrounding the depiction of the witches themselves, so that got yeeted the heck out of there!

All welcome at Winst0lf Portal!

During February LGBT History Month is recognised in the UK, and in the US Black History Month is recognised. There are also several other awareness days throughout the month. With this in mind, I felt that this was the right time to approach the topic of representation in pop culture.

Question 1 – Let’s start with a broad question; what do you consider representation in pop culture to mean?

An interesting question, that!

Without going too much into the past (that’s the next question), let’s try to get our heads around what this means in the present. Representation is not only a welcome addition in modern culture, it’s something that is absolutely essential in the modern era.

I’ve just finished playing through Mafia 3, which is set in the late 1960’s in the Deep South of America. I’d heard stories throughout history of the Black Rights movement, obviously the big names like Martin Luther King and Malcolm are known, as well as the endeavors of black women like Katherine Johnson thanks to (excellent) movies like Hidden Figures and The Help. But playing Mafia 3, in the role of African American ‘Nam veteran Lincoln Clay, I was really immersed in the world of 1968 New Bordeaux (New Orleans, then) and got to experience most of the characters in the game being horrendously racist, hardly ever calling Clay by his name, even.

Now I get it’s only a game, but it paints a picture of a real past, where millions of black and other BAME people were treated that way, and worse.

The media and the entertainment industry can do so much to bridge these gaps. When I was a kid in the 1990s, living in a rural village in northwest England, there was very little diversity. As an adult, I find myself friends with many different kinds of people, all across the spectrum of race, gender, sexuality, and people who face all manner of struggles in their lives. All it takes is to change your thought process from “I don’t understand, it’s weird” to “I don’t understand, but I’m going to educate myself about this subject.”

Question 2 – What representation existed in fandoms when you were young?

Honestly, not a lot really.

When I was a kid, most characters in movies, video games and TV were white as sour cream, straight as a ruler and athletic as a Spartan warrior! There were non-white folk, sure, some of them were even women (shock, horror) but they were always the “token” black guy, or the “token” Native American girl. Folk of different sexuality or gender, forget about it!

These guys did alright though!

It makes me so happy these days to see that movies like Black Panther do so well, and inspire people who were used to seeing other people like them reduced to “token” roles in decades past not only take the lead, but take the industry by storm.

Now all we need is more representation for the LGBTQ+ community!

Question 3 – Do you feel that representation has improved since then?

So, to follow on from that last bit: yes, things are improving over time, albeit slowly.

As I mentioned, movies like Wonder Woman and Black Panther have done a world of good in the realm of blockbuster movies, and there are more and more video games prominently starring people who traditionally haven’t been represented that much in the industry before, even video game women are being designed with armour/clothing that actually covers their bodies properly, which is definitely progress!

So keep it up, geekdom, let’s cover characters from all walks of life!

Question 4 – Tell us about some of your favourite diverse characters.

Well I already mentioned Lincoln Clay from Mafia 3, who is a brilliant African-American character portrayed by actor Alex Hernandez. Driven by cold hard revenge, Clay was easy to empathize with, often had some brilliant dialogue and had a really interesting backstory, being an orphaned child who was raised by a priest before being drafted to the Vietnam war.

When it comes to the ladies of geekdom, well there’s been a lot over the years, and they constantly get better and better. Be it Wanda Maximoff, Sadie Adler, Katniss Everdeen, the list goes on!

All we need now is more characters representing different sexualities and more trans characters and we’ll be on our way to a glorious new future!

Question 5 – What fandoms do you recommend for diversity?

Well, I suppose the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a decent one these days, lots of diversity in all of the heroes and villains so definitely worth a shoutout! It’s also nice to see recent movies, such as the remakes of Lady and the Tramp, leaning into the spirit of representation a little more too. The former even changed up that Siamese cat sequence to make it less… horrendously racist for a modern audience!

Netflix also seems to be tackling diversity head-on, series like Atypical do great work, with that one in particular exploring life with autism from the point of view of a young man and his family.

Question 6 – When did you first feel represented in a character?

So I’m a cis, heterosexual white male who’s into movies, gaming and books… that’s a lot of commonly explored groups for me to identify with! I really just wish that other people could say the same for themselves. Let’s have more black, Asian and Polynesian characters, more gay or bisexual or asexual heroes, more trans stories making their way into pop culture. There are so many fascinating stories out there, let’s get every person to the point where they too can say what I said above, “that’s a lot to identify with”…

And there we go, mission accomplished! I hope I didn’t get too serious this week, but this is something I have been thinking about a lot recently! If I explained anything wrong, or if you feel I missed something important, please let me know in the comments, I live to learn! (unless you’re some far right wacko, then bugger off!)

As always, check out all of the other writers pumping out top drawer content under the #SeriouslyGeekySundays hashtag, they create absolute gold in word form! This is also true of the mighty Heather herself, so check out her site too!

See you all next week!

17 thoughts on “Seriously Geeky Sundays – Representation

Add yours

  1. Some great answers there, I’m glad you liked the questions this week 🙂 My answer for number took looks mighty similar!

    One thing though, I wouldn’t consider The Witches a good example of diversity. It’s actually a really bad one because of how they chose to depict the witches hands. Disabled people with deformed hands have been called witches for centuries, even as recently as the last 20-30 years. As a result of this film, a whole new generation started using the slur again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh god-damn, I forgot about that yeah! For all the steps forward they took with having the main characters be black this time around, that was indeed a mighty step back! I even remember thinking “ooh not a good decision that!” Whilst watching…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a very intriguing post. I’m glad that you were honest about your background, wanting to learn about others, and acknowledging that positive representation is important. It’s interesting that you talked about learning of the African-American experience and even then there’s still so much to learn that wasn’t taught in schools even here in America. For example, I was shocked that the Watchmen sequel actually had the balls to mention the Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma as a plot point which had never been done before in a mainstream work. That was one tragedy that they NEVER teach in history. While you said you came from a rural Northern English background, I do have respect for you going out of your comfort zone, educating yourself, and having friendships of different colors, creeds, and orientations to name a few.

    I wanted to read this post because it’s a concept that I’m very passionate about. Some of that is on principle given my heritage. While I wasn’t aware about certain things when I was a kid or teenager, I’ve noticed way more aspects I didn’t realize at first. In hindsight, I didn’t have that many heroes who looked like me as far as fictional characters are concerned. There were some exceptions like Bishop from the X-Men (the first Black male superhero I’ve seen in my life) and Blade in the Spider-Man cartoon, but so many others were just the token ethnic best friend or some lame comic relief. You do have the Power Rangers, but having the original 5 with Zach as the Black Ranger and Trini as the Yellow Ranger might not have been the best decision even though they have improved with other members later on. As an adult, I’ve wanted to make my own characters which is why I’ve been writing fiction as well.

    While there was more overt racism in the times before I was born, I was still subjected to it by some classmates, employees, or other people. There were a couple of times I was profiled at shops like people following me around thinking I was going to steal something when I was about to buy a few items or straight up called the N-word by some racist idiots.

    Very good point about the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. I’m not even Asian and even I thought they were offensive in the original movie. It’s like whenever movies don’t want humans to have racist qualities, they give them to animals, aliens, or robots. Some other examples of problematic characters that play up racist stereotypes I can think of would be Skidz and Mudflap from one of the Transformers movies, the crows from Dumbo (the lead crow’s name is Jim which is all kind of insulting), Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels, Tito from Oliver & Company, and to be brutally honest the hyenas in The Lion King. Some people freaked out at me for calling that stuff out which was frustrating.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this important issue.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, for all of black history that isn’t taught (and should be) in the USA, we get even less of it here. I’ve only learned just how awful it all was and entirely what happened from movies over the years, not to mention a big chunk of knowledge from Mafia 3, which told a very honest, warts and all story set in that era. And wow yeah you’re right about the OG Power Ranger’s colours, I didn’t even consider that!

      The world needs more people to educate themselves about others and overcome prejudice, everyone should have that responsibility. The fact that you still experience it in this day and age yourself is pretty awful!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are aspects of Black history (US and/or worldwide) that I’ve learned more about in books and documentaries than all the years I’ve been in school from elementary to university which is just sad. Sorry to hear that about the UK having less of that. If I can have some levity in this situation, at least the UK has their Black History Month in October which has more days than February. I didn’t even know that until a couple of years ago thanks to a Black British indie pro wrestler named “Big Wavy” Roy Johnson when he promoted the Everything Patterned show October in 2019.

        Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know at first. There were things I didn’t know about until a few years ago whether it was a tragic event like the Congolese Genocide or something positive like Jerry Lawson who invented the video game cartridge for example. I haven’t played the Mafia games, but good on them for the honest portrayal of the times. Yeah, as a kid I and others didn’t notice it, but when I got older I did cringe in hindsight. This may or may not be the reason why they had Adam played by an Korean/German-American mixed actor and Ayesha as an African-American woman as some kind of reversal where the colors wouldn’t be an issue. Even that remake movie did some ethnic swapping from what I know.

        Exactly! That’s really important for society to improve. Yeah, it is infuriating when all of that happened and don’t even get me started about the dog whistles that were said to my face.

        On my review blog, I’m doing a Black History Month project with different films and one of them I posted recently was The Black Mozart in Cuba which is about Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges who was a general, virtuoso violinist, composer, and champion fencer. He was from Guadeloupe and was the son of a French nobleman and a Senegalese slave. I had never heard of this composer before and I thought it was awesome someone like him existed. He even influenced Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself!

        Out of curiosity, how are race relations around where you’re from in England? I’ve heard a few things from people of different races from London, Birmingham, and even Preston of all places.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Preston ain’t too far from me, less than an hour’s drive! Race relations can be pretty unpleasant here too, though most of the average British racist’s time goes to people from Pakistan, India, that part of the world. People are very xenophobic towards Islam especially in the UK sadly.

        It’s important that movie companies etc continue to learn and portray people of varied backgrounds etc, they’re in the ideal place to spread a message, even if they have racist cats and crows in the cupboard

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I was wondering about that since I know Preston is in Lancashire and how you said it’s not far from where you’re from. Nice! This Prestonian I talked to was of Nigerian descent. One thing he mentioned was how people questioned his academic and professional acumen despite having both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree which was bogus let alone asking if he was born in England which he was.

        Sorry to hear that about race relations in England and the UK. I’ve heard some similar things from a good friend of mine from Scotland, but there’s some other issues like how it’s not as diverse as England. America certainly has it’s own issues with Islamophobia and despite not being a part of that religion, I just facepalm when people hear call “Muslim” a race or ethnicity which is beyond stupid. It’s a religion and irrelevant to one’s ethnicity as there are even two Caucasian-majority countries where Islam is the majority religion (Albania and Bosnia for those scoring at home). Pakistan, India, and the Indian subcontinent at large? Is it because England’s 2nd largest ethnic group stems from ancestry from that part of the world? That’s just sad. No one should be bigoted towards anyone!

        Yes, and they should do research as well as respecting the cultures that are portrayed. I also think there should be more creators telling their own stories in different media. The thing is images and optics do affect people’s perception of others in subconscious ways. Disney has been very wishy-washy in that regard like with the cats and crows in the cupboard as you say, but they’ve portrayed the Polynesian cultures with dignity with Lilo & Stitch and Moana. That company should be WAY more consistent across the board and not be so reliant on Marvel to do the heavy lifting if that makes sense.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Your last point is certainly very true, Disney needs to deliver this across all of its products, not just the MCU stuff. And yeah, the islamophobia is insanely embedded in England. An Asian family has moved in next door to my nan (in a very old white people village) and,cto be fsir

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thanks, Winst0lf. That company in particular needs to be more consistent and not just rely on a subsidiary let alone use token gestures in their own mainline movies like making casting choices as a form of lip service. That really is a bummer with that form of prejudice being embedded in England. Another separate example would be the Windrush situation which I didn’t know about until a couple of years ago when I saw some Black British people (many of Caribbean descent) talk about it on YouTube. How is the Asian family doing? I think part of your comment was cut off.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Haha it was, someone hit send by accident! They’re a lovely family, he’s a doctor and he has his wife, kids and mother living with him. My nan likes them, so that’s great! Her little tiny village has never had a non-white family til now, which is nuts considering its 2021!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I was wondering about that. It’s okay, mistakes happen. I’m glad they’re doing well in your nan’s hometown. That does blow my mind that their hometown never had a non-white family until now. Even as an American, I find that to be a huge surprise. I’ve lived in towns and suburbs where there was a low non-white population, but at least I knew a few people around. Being the only family like that in a town can be surreal to say the least. It’s really cool that your nan really likes them and is a kind neighbor to that family.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Yeah it’s soooo strange, like the village is stuck in time! And yeah, she’s a kind soul, just the type to say stupid things without thinking! I think they know that though and take it on board, which is very good of them!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Sure sounds like it! I’m also glad the new neighbors are understanding as your nan learns about their culture. This is a great conversation and it’s something that needs to be spoken about more often. Even I do my best to learn about other cultures. It’s really important that I do research when I come up with different characters of various ethnic groups. I’ve also been researching things on my own when it comes to the ethnic samples I got in my DNA test regardless if it’s my Congolese, Cameroonian, English, or Welsh parts of my heritage (that’s not even counting the smaller samples I got).

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Quite true even though I didn’t know which specific African ethnic groups from my maternal side of the family until just a few years ago. When I shared my results with my parents, they were intrigued and my dad was very surprised that his side of the family was more Welsh and English than Scottish of all things. Hahaha! Sure, a portion of his side came from Northern England, but he would’ve never guessed about being that much Welsh of all things.

        My mom thought she might have been Nigerian as a random guess since that country was hit along with other West African nations during the slave trade, but she was very surprised of having more Central African than West African roots. However, the former Kingdom of Kongo (DRC, ROC, Angola, Gabon, and parts of Central African Republic) was also affected as well if you look at the history with not just America, but several nations in Central and South America. There are actually words in the English language that stem from different Congolese languages such as “Tango” (time or moment in Lingala and Kikongo), “Goober” (nguba=peanut in Kikongo), “Mambo” (conversation with the gods in Kikongo) among other words.

        Yeah, you should see where your ancestors came from.

        THANK YOU! Even though I’ve never been to England much less the UK, I know there are different groups there. For example, you have Cornish people, Roma, Manx, Ulster-Scots, and other different ethnicities in that part of Europe.

        Like

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