Neo Yokio doesn’t add diversity to the world of anime, it creates a perfect picture of tokenism.Neo Yokio, the Netflix original anime, was a mess. It took itself too seriously to be a parody and included too many disjointed factors to really work very well as a true parody of anime tropes. By now, I’m going to assume that everyone has seen it. Despite its failures in the genre, one thing really stuck out: The main character and his buddies are people of color but this world is very, very white. Neo Yokio doesn’t add diversity to the world of anime, it creates a perfect picture of tokenism. The creator of the show is Ezra Koenig, who is known most for his work with his band Vampire Weekend. However, much of the hype around the show was created by the attachment of Jaden Smith and his portrayal of the Black lead, Kaz Khan. Although Kaz is featured in nearly every shot -- he is the main character after all -- all other characters of color, of which there are few, or side and background characters. Kaz is part of an order of mages in the city and is considered nouveau riche by the other high-class families who made their money in normal non-magical ways. Of course, this concept plays into the real life set up of Black people gaining wealth in single generations due to music, acting, and sports. Their gains in society are deemed “less” because it was earned not by “hard work” or inherited on the basis of a prestigious name, but by “getting lucky.” This is made even more apparent as throughout the series Kaz is shown working whereas his arch nemesis, Arcangelo, seems to have endless time on his hands to harass Kaz.
In spite of this being a terrifying monster story and a cautionary tale about messing with the very fabric of our time and space, Stranger Things 2 was far more life-affirming and by the end worlds less bleak than its predecessor.When Stranger Things was the breakout Netflix hit of 2016 it was with a great deal of criticism over its treatment of women as well as lack of diversity. A pointed Saturday Night Live sketch poked fun at the fact that somehow the showrunners “forgot” to include scenes from the one young black character’s family. And many viewers pointed out the troubling male gaze that drove the show as well as its sexist treatment of its few female characters. This was not a production that even remotely passed the Bechdel test. #JusticeForBarb Color me surprised when Stranger Things 2 came straight out the gate, immediately addressing all the critiques that had been leveled against it and doing the work to improve on their past flubs. From superpowered Kali/Eight (Linnea Berthelsen), skateboarding gamer and new girl Max (Sadie Sink), to Lucas’s little sister Erika (Priah Ferguson) and his awesome mom (Karen Seesay), the new women of Stranger Things are each exercises in badassery and self-efficacy. All of a sudden, whole episodes begin passing the Bechdel test, and the town of Hawkins feels more real than ever with so many new faces of color who play significant roles in the story throughout its telling. The effect is marvelous and a perfect example of how more diversity and inclusion only makes a narrative better. This is only the second time I’ve seen an 80s-inspired narrative with a South Asian woman, and my heart was so full watching Kali be amazing on-screen. I can’t wait to see all the Halloween costumes and cosplays inspired by this new queen, and I’ve never looked forward to news of a third season so much. [caption id="attachment_48390" align="alignnone" width="920"] Linnea Berthelsen as Kali.[/caption] But the Duffer Brothers didn’t stop there. Where Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) was the only black character in season 1 and was often marginalized by his nastiness towards Eleven (Milllie Bobby Brown) and grating personality which had no context since we never met his family, Stranger Things 2 not only fleshes Lucas out better through his parents and amazing little sister, but the story shifts in an organic way to him being the romantic interest. In a narrative that is still dominated by white people and their stories, Lucas’s role this time around felt like a creative coup. I think the Duffers might have also taken cues from Issa Rae’s Insecure cinematographer on lighting darker skin tones because Lucas wasn’t blending into the nightscapes like he was in season one. Thank you. Proper representation and inclusion matters. So much.
Black trauma should not be mocked or used for distorted conceptions of art.
By Rachael EdwardsLast weekend, I decided to watch the latest season of Orange is the New Black. Admittedly, I felt guilty for succumbing to boredom and pledging my allegiance to a whole weekend of Netflixing with no chill, but why not? Before season four, I was a devoted fan. However, after watching Black trauma being dangled over our heads and paraded around for good ratings and the sake of staying relevant, I made the premature assumption that I was not going to watch the next season. But I foolishly decided to continue watching. If you watched season four, you know that it ended on a cliffhanger with Daya (Dascha Polanco) pointing a gun at the prison guard, Humps (Michael Torpey). This scene followed the eruption in the cafeteria where Poussey (Samira Wiley) is suffocated to death under the knee of the white, irresponsible, poorly-trained prison guard. I’m still not sure if the scene of Daya pointing a gun at a prison guard was a way to pacify Black viewers after watching Poussey’s limp body on that cold prison floor, but still – fuck ya’ll for that. Season five opens up with Daya still holding the gun and eventually shooting Humps in the leg and as a result, a days-long prison resistance ensues. Taystee (Yvonne Parker) takes on the responsibility of trying to avenge her best friend’s death through negotiations. Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) is cuddling up to her rapist. Red (Kate Mulgrew) is trying to make sure that Piscatella (Brad William Henke) gets due justice after hurting her and her ducklings.
Hasan Minhaj's eloquence and ability to reflect on micro and macro levels is so inspiring. I feel transformed for the better after spending an hour and change with him and his epic storytelling abilities.If you had told me even 10 years ago that there would be so much amazing Desi representation in visual media in the year 2017 I would have laughed and said, “Yeah, in an alternate universe.” But here we are, with Mindy Kaling trailblazing for South Asian American women and headlining her own show after a hugely successful writing and comedy career; Aziz Ansari starring as the romantic lead in his own show after fantastic supporting roles on shows like Parks and Recreation; Hannah Simone repping for all us biracial South Asians on The New Girl and Priyanka Chopra kicking so much butt leading Quantico. And adding to this glorious Desi-American masala we have Hasan Minhaj who is a Daily Show correspondent and also featuring in his new Netflix comedy show Homecoming King. Minhaj’s Homecoming King is a bittersweet love letter to his experience growing up Indian and American in Southern California. Equal parts hilarious, vulnerable, and real, Minhaj details his childhood as the only brown kid in a mostly-white Davis, as well as his journey to become the Daily Show funnyman we know and love so much. Using his charismatic stage presence and electric writing, the first thing he tackles is his heritage. His parents had an arranged marriage, and their first big experiences as a couple were moving to America and having Hasan; but Hasan’s mom had to finish her medical degree in India, so she didn’t live with Hasan and his dad for the first eight years of their life in California. With buckets of empathy, Minhaj details life with his Indian dad as they navigated America together as well as their many cultural clashes. Hasan, after all, is American in a way his dad will never be and their relationship was encapsulated by that push-pull dynamic of many immigrant families. Some of Minhaj’s most raw moments in Homecoming King are when he talks about his complicated relationship with his dad and reflects on the difficult experiences that become so meaningful in retrospect. And never is the generation gap of first gen immigrants and their parents ever so clear as in how Hasan and his dad responded to the racist attacks on their family in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Minhaj put his head down and took the abuse — Hasan interpreting this as a kind of immigrant tax the older generations feel they have to pay for living in this country and being non-white. On the other hand, Hasan was filled with a new rage that he and his American family would and could be scapegoated in this violent way with impunity. Minhaj’s comments about the “audacity of equality,” that he as an American-born citizen would not stand for this abuse when the older generation see it almost as a rite of passage, are incredible and illuminating. We can sum up the Trump regime’s entire ethos in response to the “audacity of equality” that today women, black and brown Americans, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, disabled, and other minorities have the nerve to believe that they are equal and deserve equal human rights. Minhaj is a phenomenal wordsmith indeed. What’s so remarkable about Minhaj’s show is that in spite of an overwhelming theme of racism and the Indian American and Muslim immigrant experience, Minhaj somehow manages to find the points of comedy in each of the situations he and his family survived. I found myself belly laughing through tears at so much beautiful resonance in his experience and my own, even though our backgrounds are nothing at all alike. And Minhaj’s marvelous ability to shift from physical comedy to tearful emotional vulnerability smashes so many stereotypes not just about South Asian men and Muslims, but about masculinity in general. These are unicorn qualities, for real. One of the most important and my favorite aspect of Homecoming King — like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None — is that Minhaj’s writing does not rely on cheap comedic tricks that tear other people down in order to elicit a laugh or two at the expense of another marginalized group. I mean, there isn’t even one joke about him going out, getting wasted, and pulling jackass stunts for quick laughs either. The show is just so real, and so human. There is nothing so refreshing in this era of orange-tinged horror to be able to laugh with someone on a pure level that taps into our shared humanity, compassion, and empathy. This is dignified comedy, and I hope it prompts a whole new generation of comedians to follow in its footsteps. And while he does poke fun at family quirks in the most good-natured of ways, and details the foibles of being a Third Culture Desi Kid in America, the overwhelming theme of his show surprisingly ended up being one of forgiveness. For so many of us Others in America, our experience begins to be defined by the shitty things that (often white) people say or do to us that remind us just how much we don’t belong here.