Monthly Archives: September 2013

Facts Are for Chumps, Amirite?

Race in casting is an issue I care deeply about. I’ve written about it, more than once. I’ve assigned Racebending to my university students. I discuss issues of race in screenwriting, casting, and directing with my film students over and over. This issue is close to my heart.

So when I saw this, I was excited:

It’s part of a website entitled “Me + You,” which serves as both a promotional site for the film and a fundraising site for the production. I clicked on the video with high expectations.

In it, actor Iyin Landre discusses how difficult it is for Asian actors to get roles that aren’t stereotypical, minimizing, or marginalizing. Amen, sister. Then she goes on to make three statements that are so obviously wrong that I started to re-evaluate my entire experience of the video. Was this satire? Is this a Sarah Silverman-style joke? Is this bait– see how many people fall for it and then reveal that we’ve all been punked? In under five minutes I went from “I’m trumpeting this from the hilltops” to “I better not in case this is some kind of Joaquin Phoenix project.”

If you haven’t already watched the video, here’s what made me start to question it:

1. Playing a lab tech: “The results are back. He’s a B plus. He’s not a match.”

2. “1935 was when Teddy Roosevelt was president.”

3. “1935 was when we still had black and white TVs.”

Imagine this is me. But with more hair. And female. And with, like, seven more question marks.

Imagine this is me. But with more hair. And female. And with, like, seven more question marks.

It’s impossible to believe that no one working on that video knows that a blood type is “B positive,” not “B plus.” Isn’t she complaining, AND RIGHTLY SO, about having to play lab technicians over and over? But she doesn’t know how you say a blood type? That can’t be right. And not one single person working on the project knew that in 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, Teddy Roosevelt was dead, and that almost no one in the US had a television until after WW2?

T.R., October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919. One of the most interesting presidents we've ever had.

T.R., October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919. One of the most interesting presidents we’ve ever had.

Yes, technically there were a handful of black and white televisions in existence in 1935, but it was well before the average American family included television as part of its life. This was still firmly the era of radio.

Families gathered around radios to listen to FDR's fireside chats. FDR was president 1933 - 1945.

Families gathered around radios to listen to FDR’s fireside chats. FDR was president 1933 – 1945.

Even giving her that one on a technicality (I am the soul of generosity) the level of inaccuracy put the whole video into question for me. Once I satisfied myself that it’s not some kind of poor taste satire, I had to conclude these are real, and really glaringly obvious, errors. If you can’t be arsed to factcheck your own money beg, why would anyone expect you to be able to successfully produce a film? Film production requires the ability to manage an enormous amount of detail with both speed and accuracy.

And yet her film is fully funded. While I applaud the concept of funding a film (or an ANYTHING) with an Asian American protagonist, I had to wonder: Why did no one seem to care about those glaring inaccuracies? I’d love to say that it’s because a film starring a person of color trumps other considerations.  I’m still holding out the hope that donors said to themselves, “OK, her work is clearly going to be a little sloppy based on her disinterest in factchecking, and maybe she’s not the smartest person in the world, but FUCK IT. I’m sick of Asian actors being marginalized in Hollywood and I’m going to do something about it.”

BTW, There are a ton of projects on indiegogo and kickstarter starring people of color, and/or produced by people of color that have not met their funding goals. I found these in just a few minutes: My Manz, But Not for MeInnaI Just Wanna BallIn the Mind of a Man-WomanMad Black MenFor a Dark Skin Girl, Roxe15. There are plenty more.

Whether a filmmaker knows anything about blood types or the history of her own nation, or whether she has any attention to detail, are minor issues, and exceptionally so in comparison to the larger goal of Asian representation in visual narrative art. But these painfully glaring errors nagged at me for DAYS. I spent hours and hours trying to sort out why it bothered me so much. And then I figured it out.

Factual accuracy is dead. No one has even a single, tiny, trembling and lonely fuck to give about factual accuracy. The fact that Iyin Landre had no interest in making sure the words that came out of her mouth were accurate (checking who was president in 1935 takes less than four seconds on google) is not important to most people, not because of the massively MORE important issue of Asian representation but because NO ONE CARES.

No_one_cares

Why is that? When did we decide, as a culture, that facts mattered so little that we don’t need to bother factchecking? When did we decide that facts are just decorative?

The result is devastating: Deniers. The pure anti-science nonsense that is the anti-vaccine movement is causing real damage to real people, many of them children (see also this), but deniers who have little respect for rigorous factchecking see a random website quoting unqualified sources as equivalent to the entirety of the scientific community. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s obvious lies were discussed so often that Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse publicly stated, “We will not let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Deniers consider a few fringe opinions about climate change to be equivalent, again, to the bulk of the entire scientific community. There are people who deny the moon landing, the Holocaust, and President Obama’s American citizenship regardless of the avalanche of factual information proving them all. Deniers are the footsoldiers of the aggressively ignorant.

I don’t know if we’ve ever cared about facts, to be honest. The mendacity of the current GOP and its media lapdogs is part of a grand tradition in the US of yellow journalism, not some new occurrence, and we have no lock as a culture or as an era on ignorance by any means. But it bothers me. It’s truly upsetting that people just do not care. It’s troubling that people cannot (or will not) evaluate sources, or understand that they’re believing an unqualified source over a qualified one simply because the bullshit source is telling them what they want to hear. I tell my students all the time: Being educated means asking yourself every day, “Why do I believe what I believe?”

See? Question your beliefs about EVERYTHING.

See? Question your beliefs about EVERYTHING.

Listen, I want to be right as much as the next nerd. I want to be right so much that I’m willing to be wrong now in order to be right later. If I find out that something I believe to be true is incorrect, I will kick it to the curb with gleeful alacrity. I’m wrong all the time, and I want to be right. So I *try* to be right. I try really fucking hard. I factcheck. I listen to people who know more than I do. I worry about fucking up. And I don’t understand why everyone isn’t filled with anxiety about this issue. But they’re not, and I’m endlessly fascinated and disturbed by it.

Another person who wasn't president in 1935.

Another person who wasn’t president in 1935.

I have no idea whether Iyin Landre’s film will be “good” (whatever that means) or not. For all I know, it’ll be the greatest film ever created. And one thing I know with rock-solid certainty is that opportunities for Asian actors in the film industry, while marginally better than they once were, are still alarmingly bleak, and any project with an Asian woman at the center who isn’t wearing a lab coat or working as a prostitute is a fucking breath of fresh air. So overall, I’m glad her film got funded, and I wish the projects above could meet their funding goals as well. (BTW, check out Hero Mars as well.)

But this idea that factual accuracy isn’t important, and its corollary idea– that the only sources that can be trusted are the ones that confirm your own prejudices– need to be questioned EVERY TIME WE SEE THEM. We need to start teaching the importance of factual accuracy, separating fact from opinion, and understanding the difference between a reputable source (all of science) and a disreputable source (Jenny McCarthy).

Just-the-Facts1

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Racism for Breakfast

Because my cosplay article has been kinda going crazy the past few days, people are tagging me all over the book of faces in discussions of various cosplay and cosplayers. I’ve been ignoring most of them (because I can’t spend all day commenting on facebook, despite evidence to the contrary), but I’ve commented on a few, usually because they were posted by a personal friend or professional connection.

One of these happened this morning. Someone tagged me in a post about some rando cosplaying as Hitler at Dragon*Con, asking what I thought. I responded that, although I’d love to tell him to eat a platter of dick tacos because he’s cosplaying a symbol of real-life violent racism against me and my family, I don’t agree with the calls to ban his costume from future cons. I don’t think costume censorship leads anywhere useful.

And then all hell broke loose.

I can boil “all hell” down to a few sentences: I was evacuating all credibility I had in my stance against shaming cosplayers for race, size, age, or gender identity because I was “shaming” cosplay Hitler. My call for acceptance of cosplayers of all races and body types should naturally extend to an acceptance of someone’s choice to cosplay Hitler. Expressing my discomfort with cosplay Hitler is bullying and victimizing him.

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Now, first of all, this is probably an academic distinction, but I did not actually tell cosplay Hitler to eat a platter of dick tacos. I speculated that I might do such a thing were I to ever see him in person. The chances, however, of me actually having the nards for such a face-to-face confrontation are precisely equal to the chances of me being elected the next Mormon prophet. That said, I do admit that I said in writing that I would like to invite him to such a dining experience. So the distinction is academic. But it exists.

But here’s my point (and I know you’re all relieved that I actually have one): Expressing discomfort at a costume that embodies real-life violent racism against me and my family– and I have living Holocaust survivors in my family– does not make me the bully.

Those of us who fight racism and speak out against the symbols of racism are used to being told that we’re the problem. “Toughen up,” we’re told. “Freedom of speech,” “You’re too sensitive,” “Get over it,” “Stop taking everything so seriously.” But the worst, by far the worst, is being told that we’re the ones oppressing and victimizing by speaking out against racism, its symbols, and its tools. I think it’s very difficult for people who have never personally experienced bigotry to understand what it means for people who have been violently oppressed to be confronted with symbols of that oppression. It’s flabbergasting, though, when they refuse to even attempt understanding and instead blame the victim for speaking out.

This isn’t about the principle of “accepting all cosplay no matter what.” Only the inexperienced think all principles should be taken to their furthest extreme and still hold. There’s always a line. And being able to see that line is almost always about experience and always about understanding. Sometimes it’s the experience of age, sometimes it’s the experience of bigotry and marginalization, sometimes it’s education. There’s no freedom that isn’t curtailed at some extreme expression of it. Freedom of speech, for example, ends at libel, slander, and copyright violation. Generally a given freedom is curtailed when the exercising of that freedom harms someone else, and surely the freedom to wear whatever costume you want without being told by someone, “What the actual fuck are you doing? This is not OK” ends at the moment you choose a costume that is aggressively racist.

I know it’s hard to have compassion for people who have experienced bigotry when you haven’t experienced that bigotry yourself. My son and I are confronted with anti-Semitism in real life all the time. There are people who absolutely believe we don’t deserve to live because of who we are. And Hitler is one of their main symbols. Making a choice to dress as Hitler is making a choice to bully, to victimize, to hurt. People at Dragon*Con posed with that person while making the Heil Hitler salute. This is aggressive, deliberate racism.

Cosplay Hitler is the BULLY, not the VICTIM. It does not undermine my stance against bullying to express that I am personally uncomfortable with a costume that bullies ME DIRECTLY, and the implication that HE is somehow the victim of MY bullying is nonsense-flavored nonsense, especially considering that I am defending his right to wear that costume despite everything wrong with it.

It’s super-common for people who fight against bigotry to be told they’re the ones being the oppressors, that it’s somehow violating someone’s constitutionally-protected freedom of speech to say, “Hey, that’s racist,” as if freedom of speech protected them from the consequences of that speech. So I should have known better. I should have been able to predict what would happen, because it happens all the damn time. But frequency doesn’t lessen the pain.

I went back into that discussion and deleted all of my comments. I’ve been trying to shake the hurt, anger, and deep, deep disappointment all day. My husband came home and I cried all over again just telling him the story. Racism fucking hurts. Being told that you’ve lost credibility and that you’re the bully because you expressed personal discomfort with a racist act FUCKING HURTS.

Part of the pain and disappointment is being ashamed of myself. I should have stood my ground, but I wasn’t strong enough this time, and for that, I’m ashamed.

So this is what I ask, from the center of my pain and my shame: The next time you see someone say “That’s racist and hurtful to me,” don’t tell them they’re wrong. Don’t tell them it undermines their opinions or their credibility. Don’t tell them that their outcry victimizes the racist. Ask them why it hurts. Stand with them. Apologize. Try to understand. You do not get to decide whether or not bigotry, its symbols, or its tools are hurtful to their targets, or how hurtful they are. Listen, learn, and comfort rather than accuse, blame, or belittle.

We all fuck up, all the time. We all make stupid, bigoted remarks out of ignorance or carelessness, or sit by in silence while others make them. But we have to KEEP TRYING. We have to stop ourselves from saying stupid, hurtful shit like, “toughen up,” or “You’re the bully for shaming the racist.” We have to keep asking ourselves the difficult questions. We have to try hard to understand the bigotry others face. It’s a choice we have to consciously make.

It CAN get better if we CHOOSE to make it better, and that has to be a conscious choice we all make as individuals.

I stand by my opinion that cosplay Hitler should be allowed to wear his costume to whatever con he likes, because I can’t side with costume censorship. And I stand by my opinion that it’s an aggressively racist act to costume yourself as a real-life violent racist murderer and torturer whose victims are still living. And I stand by my opinion that he deserves whatever blowback he gets for his public display of racism. And I stand by my opinion that people who shame cosplayers for their race or size are being colossal jerks. I stand by all of it.

But most of all, I stand by my pledge to try my best to understand the experiences of others and to have compassion for those experiences.

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Don’t You Want Me, Baby?

This is just here to amuse me.

This is just here to amuse me.

I’ve written before about playwrights and rejection. I think it’s difficult, though, to understand just HOW MUCH rejection we’re talking about here, and how insanely resilient writers have to be.

monica.byrne

Monica Byrne. I stole this picture shamelessly from her blog. I have more official pictures of her, but I just really, really love this one.

Monica Byrne is a writer whose work I believe in. My company is a few days away from opening her fantastic What Every Girl Should Know Between unsolicited submissions and the plays we request, Impact Theatre receives as many as 450 plays a year to fill the 3 slots we have available (the 4th goes to the annual classic and the 5th goes to a local solo performer). Those odds are just nuts, so you know we must really believe in Monica and her work– and we do. But What Every Girl Should Know wasn’t the first play Monica sent us. The first play she sent us was Nightwork. It was a really interesting play that wasn’t right for us. It made it pretty far up the chain before we sent the rejection. I was intrigued and asked her to please continue submitting. She sent us What Every Girl Should Know. 

We’re the first theatre in the San Francisco Bay Area to produce Monica Byrne’s work, and we won’t be the last. My company has introduced dozens of playwrights to the Bay Area early in their careers, including Steve Yockey, Sheila Callaghan, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Enrique Urueta. We’ve done world premiere plays by writers like Lauren Gunderson, Lauren Yee, Prince Gomolvilas, and Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. We know how to pick ’em.

The salient fact here, however, is that WE REJECTED HER FIRST. And when I asked her to please keep sending me her work, SHE DID.

Then she wrote THIS. She calls it her “anti-resume.” It’s a blog post that contains a link to a spreadsheet of all her rejections. It starts in 2007. It is impressive. Apart from the obvious bravery, it shows just how much rejection a writer– even a gifted writer who is on the verge of nationally-recognized success in two fields (take a gander at this)– can go through.

So read Monica’s anti-resume. Take it to heart. And keep submitting.

DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'.

DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’.

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