Mikki Kendall

Fiction, Research, Reality, More Research

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So I’ve been ranting a bit about diversity in Wonder Woman (okay a lot) & I could pretend that this was the only time. But I did the same with Agent Carter. Because canon in comics is actually more diverse than what makes it to the screen. And when it comes to comics (or any other media) with a historic setting (think Regency, Victorian, either World War or of antiquity) there is an unfortunate tendency to ignore the reality of those times. People will believe in Wonder Woman’s magic lasso or the Red Skull, but balk at major characters being darker than a paper bag. And then they will insist it isn’t racism it is about historical accuracy.

Fun fact, the #HistoricPOC & #DiversifyAgentCarter tags were me calling out Marvel’s fuckery years ago. I would have called out DC’s failures in Batman & Man of Steel but I didn’t like either and well…that pitiful Green Lantern movie happened & I am still not sure DC can be trusted with their own live action. Not after the way they squandered major characters in Suicide Squad & erased so much Wonder Woman canon. We’ll see what happens with Aquaman.

And listen this doesn’t mean Marvel is good. It’s just that Marvel had the good sense to finally stop eating its own foot at every single turn. Small steps. Small. I was so excited for Wonder Woman because I know the canon and Wonder Woman literally had the chance to show us an interracial lesbian couple in power (Hippolyta and Philippus), to give us Diana and her sister Nubia, to hint at the Bana-Mighdall. Hell Wonder Woman had the chance to make Diana’s origin story about her and the conflicts faced between Amazons on Themiscrya and off it. No need for the TV box of Chris Pine’s head or a focus on her interaction with “man’s world”. At least not for the bulk of her movie. So much amazing canon squandered to repeat the story already told in the iconic TV series. with Lynda Carter. With the added shoehorn of a WWI setting for a WWII character.

(Yes this Tyra moment is problematic as hell, it also totally applies to this moment)

Anyway, whether it is comics or YA or prose, there’s this tendency to think diversity is an almost all white cast with one or two POC who get to speak. Often the POC get to play tropes like Mammy. Magical Negro. Or Wise Indian. Or Sassy Latina. Something you can find on a list like this one. They might teach a white lead or die for them. But they don’t really have lives of their own. Because the white leads are the people who matter. Tropes are easy, tropes can be comfortable (when you’re not the target) because those tropes are familiar. They feel “right” because you’ve seen them a dozen times. Of course you’ve seen them so much on screen because they were standard fare during Jim Crow. In movies, on TV & in comics.

They have nothing to do with reality or creativity and everything to do with racism. The Comics Code Authority, and The Hays Code, have a lot to answer for in terms of visual media. Book bans…oh so many book bans and…creativehistory out of Texas also have a lot to answer for in terms of what we think of as a realistic setting for stories. Fun fact, the history you think you know is probably wrong. Seriously, there’re little or no chance you learned about Jim Crow etiquette or “Medieval” POC, or Regency POC, or rich African women in Roman society, so don’t expect to see them. But as even Doctor Who pointed out recently? History is a whitewash. British history, American history, yes even German history.

I can hear the “Yes Mikki, we get it, Black people everywhere. You tell us that a lot” And yes my examples are largely Black people because that tends to be my focus. But you can look for general terms like Asians in Britain, or specify Chinese in Limehouse, and find examples. The books are there, the websites are there and really all you have to do is spend some time with Google. Writers in those decades wrote about the people around them, hence Shakespeare’s Othello. He made up the setting and the drama but he routinely saw people who were of color because Elizabethan England was diverse.

This is where we get into my biggest pet peeve about fiction. You don’t have a good reason for an all white setting. You don’t have a good reason for erasing the people who were there. Not now. Not post Jim Crow. Not in the era of Google and easy access to information if you just plug in some terms. I’m a historian by training, I had to do all my research in undergrad in the special collections wearing gloves or peering at microfiche or tiny text in books that I had to dig for the hard way. Now? You can find anything at the tip of your fingers. You don’t have to even leave your house. So why not look at a setting, at an established character, at something in what you’re working on and weave the most complete picture, the most inclusive picture possible?

“Okay Mikki so more WOC, more POC and LGBTQIA folks, but like…what could they have done? They couldn’t fight.” So about women warriors, even in The Burnt City aka Shahr-e Sukhteh, & you can find WOC from all over the world studying medicine in America during the late 1800’s? They can do anything. Also please note that if you’re going to argue against disability representation? I’m going to point out the millions of disabled people the world over who go about their lives in all sorts of situations. Literally do some research, ask yourself why you think the past or future was white, cis, straight, able bodied, and slim. The past wasn’t that way, the present isn’t that way and despite the best work of bigots, the future is browner, rounder, and more complicated than anything you’ve been trained to expect.

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