Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie. For many prospective viewers, that announcement will raise the question that any announcement of a Michael B. Jordan movie raises: Will he be shirtless, and for how much screen time? Other superhero fans, though, are distracted by less wholesome concerns. Johnny Storm, they have noticed, is white. Michael B. Jordan is black. How, they wonder, can this be?
The outcry over interracial casting here appears to be much more muted than the stir over Idris Elba’s role as Heimdall in the Thor franchise, which provoked boycott threats. Still, I’ve seen people on Twitter talking about how the casting will “ruin” the franchise. I’m not going to link because I’m leery of shaming people that way on a mainstream site, but if you look around you can find them without too much trouble. (Niki Cruz has rounded up some of the response, with names redacted, here.) This echoes earlier controversies in which a campaign to get Donald Glover cast as Spider-Man met with racially fraught backlash, while the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games provoked angry social media whining.
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While researching a fictional trilogy about the Civil War, Kim Murphy kept coming across the assertion that it was a “low-rape” war. At first she didn’t question the idea, she says, but after finding official records that mentioned rape in the same sentence as pillaging and burning—crimes generally accepted to have happened—she started to suspect there was a hole in the history that needed filling. She did more digging, and what she uncovered became her new, nonfiction book, I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War.Historians, Murphy says, largely had the idea that the Victorian era was characterized by restraint, and therefore there was little rape.
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But some are given more days than others, and I think of dying at 17, in my loudness, in my vanity, which is to say in my human youth, and I tremble. I was barely anything. I understood barely anything. When Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis, he obliterated a time-stream, devastated an open range of changes. And somewhere on that American jury, someone thought this was justice, someone believed in the voodoo of shotguns and teleportation. Michael Dunn killed a boy, and too robbed a man of his chance to be.
And this will happen again, must happen again, because our policy is color-blind, but our heritage isn’t. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind denies its rightful inheritance. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind is a drug addict claiming he can walk away after just one more hit. Law and legacy are at war. Legacy is winning. Legacy will always win. And our legacy is to die in this land where time is unequal, and deeded days are unequal, and blessed is the black man who lives to learn other ways, who lives to see other worlds, who lives to bear witness before the changes."
Heroes like Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks feel like characters in a novel—a world away from the clicking locks and nervous glances that plague millions of ordinary people.
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In a literal sense, Barack Obama’s presidency was made possible by the tradition of black politics—he could not have won in 2008 without the proportional allocation that came out of Jesse Jackson’s campaign 20 years before. Considering this history, and considering the valence of African-American culture and heritage in our collective lives, in the very founding of this country, in our politics, I am not sure how much comparisons with European countries can tell us.
Barack Obama was not prophecy. Whatever had been laid before him, it takes gifted hands to operate, repeatedly, on a country scarred by white supremacy. The significance of the moment comes across, not simply in policy, by in the power of symbolism."
2013 was a great year for television. So great, in fact, that many critics’ best-of-the-year lists offered some especially enthusiastic and superlative praise. "One of the best years for TV in a long time," Time magazine noted. "One of the best years in TV history," the A.V. Club echoed a few weeks later.
But 2013’s stellar offerings didn’t come without their share of problems. Conversations about TV from the past calendar year raised questions about the character diversity and representations of minority groups. Why does Mindy Kaling only date white guys in The Mindy Project? Will Girls get over its race problem? Can Doctor Who overcome its disappointing whiteness and maleness? Given the success of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, why don’t more showrunners take cues from Shonda Rhimes and make diversity a priority? How can portrayals of bisexual people improve if television doesn’t even get female friendships right? Why is Orange Is the New Black the gold standard for TV diversity when even it could do so much better?
I came up in a time when white intellectuals were forever making breathless pronouncements about their world, about my world, and about the world itself. My life was delineated lists like “Geniuses of Western Music” written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues. Dylan Byers knows nothing of your work, and therefore your work must not exist.
Here is the machinery of racism—the privilege of being oblivious to questions, of never having to grapple with the everywhere; the right of false naming; the right to claim that the lakes, trees, and mountains of our world do not exist; the right to insult our intelligence with your ignorance. The machinery of racism requires no bigotry from Dylan Byers. It merely requires that Dylan Byers sit still."