The Real Definition of Real Cinema. Hint: It’s More Gatekeeping.

When I first saw the after-credit scene of Iron Man way back in 2008, where Samuel L Jackson talks to Robert Downey Jr about ‘the Avengers initiative’, my eyes widened. After all, Marvel Studios was a new face on the scene, not yet owned and supported by Disney, and going up against what seemed like the unstoppable Juggernaut that was DC Comics and Warner Bros, having just finished the Nolan- directed Batman trilogy to high acclaim.

“This is a huge gamble,” I thought, because Marvel Studios did not have, and wouldn’t have for many years, the rights to their more successful characters of Spider-Man and the X-Men from the comics. And arguably, it hasn’t been Captain America, Thor and Iron Man that were Marvel Comics’ flagship, but Spider-Man and X-Men.

11 years and many, MANY films later, the MCU is a thing that now exists, a huge, financially successful franchise with its penultimate film, Endgame, having knocked James Cameron’s Avatar from its place of largest blockbuster ever. Needless to say, the genre of superhero films is very much no longer a niche thing anymore, but a viable, powerfully successful film genre in and of itself.

But that’s not to stop certain detractors from rearing their heads, turning up their noses, and sniffing as though they smelled something bad their dog did.

I know I raised an eyebrow when I saw a clip of Comedian Marc Maron saying that superhero movies were for grown men who live in their mother’s basements. Now, to be honest, as someone who’d been bullied and picked on for liking superhero comics in the 90s, I felt a bit defensive over this. And to this day, I still feel a bit defensive, because some of that stuff from high school sure as hell sticks with you for years.

However, I found Marc Maron’s comments dismissive because it ignores the scores of people from across the gender spectrum that enjoy superhero movies and contribute to the fandom in terms of cosplay, fanart, fanfiction, creating panels at conventions, and even being critical of the media. After all, as Feminist Frequency puts it, we should be critical of the media we enjoy.

What I didn’t know, and only found out prior to writing this article when I went looking for the clip in question, was that Marc Maron continued to open his mouth, aim his foot carefully, and then wedge it firmly between his teeth. Much of his commentary about how the Joker is a REAL film minus all the capes and tights runs parallel to what Joker director Todd Phillips and, more recently, Martin Scorcese have said, denigrating the genre as something not to be taken seriously, or at least as seriously as other ‘real’ cinema.

Of course, Todd Phillip’s comments on the matter (as per my last article), as well as his personal opinion on how SJWs are ruining comedy these days, are well known at this point, but it’s been Academy Award Winner Martin Scorsese’s added commentary about how they’re also not real cinema that’s pushed this sentiment from just a couple grumpy old dudes into gatekeeping, in my opinion.

Why? Well, it comes from the very fact that they are straight, white old men who have enjoyed success over the years and are now poo-pooing over something relatively new that’s become incredibly successful. It’s also amazingly dismissive of the acting and hard work that’s gone into the films, starting with an actor who had all but ruined his career due to a terrible bout of addiction to drugs and alcohol, who then went on to push for his fellow Avenger actors in receiving higher pay.

It’s also a telling sign of gatekeeping when a member of the old order starts to wag his finger and dictate what is and is not a ‘real’ part of whatever entertainment industry they’re a part of. Martin Scorsese saying that superhero films are more theme parks than cinema carries with it an edge of discrimination when one considers the successes of Black Panther and Captain Marvel, as well as being wholly ignorant of the themes that they explore.

Black Panther? Colonialism.

Captain Marvel? Sexism.

Captain America – Winter Soldier? Security vs freedom in an ever increasing police state.

Avengers Endgame? How people cope and deal with loss (even if it fudged up pretty bad in its treatment of Thor).

I also couldn’t help but agree whole-heartedly with this thread on Twitter:

And it’s not like something that women love has been dismissed as not being real before. If women enjoy it, and enjoy it a lot, then it’s ripe for dismissal by men. Example? The romance genre of fiction, or even young adult novels for that matter.

What Marc Maron, Martin Scorsese, and Todd Phillips all share in their digs against superhero movies is a hatred, or at least a dislike, against something they see as frivolous and shallow. Now, that’s their opinion and they’re more than welcome to it, but dictating what is and isn’t a real film?

You can bet they’re going to be called out on it, and rightly so.

I’m 41 years old, and been online for just over half that time, so I’ve come to see and recognize what gatekeeping is, both in and outside various fandoms. So it comes across as telling that these three have said, so far as I can see, nothing about superhero movies in all the time that they’ve starred and been directed by white dudes, but suddenly have something to say once the people making and starring in them have started to diversify, if only a little.

Trust me, guys, you’re not looking the best right now.

Why Yes, Your Art Can Have More Than One Meaning

 

So, about that Joker movie, eh?

Oh, I should say, about the director of the Joker movie, Todd Phillips who has recently been expressing distress, even anger, and not a little bit of snobbishness, that people would dare, DARE criticize his movie.

There was also this blatant misdirection Todd attempted, most likely while his publicist screamed at him from afar to just shut the hell up.

Just a reminder to Mr Phillips, Keanu Reeves isn’t white, he’s biracial, his first name means Ocean Breeze Over A Mountain, so please stop erasing his Asian heritage, as he was born in Lebanon.

That being said, I find the actions of this director vehemently opposing any idea that his film could be held up as the endorsement of white male violence upon the world as astoundingly childish and also a sign of white privilege in and of itself. Movies, aside from being a medium of entertainment, are an art form, much like books, video games, and graphic novels.

And as a form of art, there can be more than just the creator’s intended message that people can take away from it. The history of cinema has shown this time and time again.

For example, Alien is not just a scary, claustrophobic movie about a dangerous creature hunting a bunch of truckers in space, it’s also a commentary on capitalism that seeks to gain profit even at the danger of destroying humanity. Aliens continues along this thread but was also seen as a metaphor for the Vietnam war, where a technologically superior invading force is wiped out by the native life there.

The original Blob movie? A metaphor for the encroaching communist spread across the world during the McCarthy Era as well as a movie about a faceless ooze that devours people.

And those are just but a few examples, and different takes can be taken from art according to one’s own life experiences.

Take me, for example: I’m a cis, white, abled bodied male, so the views and critiques I could take away from a movie would be vastly different than someone who is black, trans, and female.

This is why there’s been discussions of cop shows as copoganda, from CSI and Law & Order to Brooklyn-99. I’ve read critques from a feminist POV about the lack of leading women with their own movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ones that question that further, looking at the diversity of women and the lack of women of colour in the MCU on a whole.

(And before anyone comes in and says it, no, Gamora and Nebula do not count. Green and Blue people aren’t real, even if one of them is played by Zoe Soldana.)

And of course, there’s discussion of the diversity of people behind the scenes, such as was April Reign’s coining of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite when looking at the line up of winners at the Academy Awards back in 2015.

I say all of this to add further context to the importance that we critique the media we watch, especially in this darkest timeline in which we live where there’s a domestic terrorist attack in the US just about every other week. The premise of the Joker movie, about a nice guy who has a bad day and simply snaps, is disturbing to say the least, because of the real world parallels we see weekly, if not daily, in the news.

Parallels such as the self-proclaimed Incel who drove his van into a crowd in Toronto, killing 10 people, who was in turn inspired by another ‘Nice Guy’ who had a bad day, Elliot Rodgers. Incel culture in and of itself reeks of white male privilege and the rage over being unable to lay claim to women and the coveted prize of sex. If you’ve the stomach for it, I’d recommend the website We Hunted The Mammoth and click through the Incel tag for more on the disturbing behaviour of these men.

Those of us who are critical of the message of the Joker movie, which points very strongly to the Nice Guy Who Has A Bad Day take, worry about how many men will take heart to this, and then enact on it.

As the US Military did recently with this warning to their troops who might be seeing the movie.

And if you don’t think people don’t act on racist, sexist, messages in our media, look no further than the screening of “Birth of the Nation”, a movie made BY the KKK to inspire more recruitment into the KKK, at the White House itself. The KKK received a boom in size after that, which continued on until another piece of media, the Superman Radio Drama, tore apart its veil of secrecy and metaphorically pantsed the organization.

And these are just the examples I can think off the top of my head while casually writing this. Others have put significantly more time and effort into looking at the messages in our media and across more than just movies that enforce terrible racist stereotypes as well as outmoded and harmful standards of beauty.

Don’t even get me started on the genre of films I consider to be Transgender Pain Porn.

All being said, for Todd Phillips to plug his fingers into his ears and yell “Lah lah lah, I can’t hear you, you’re all wrong!” speaks to his ability to accept any kind of criticism, which is as flimsy as wet tissue paper. It also says volumes about his lack of understanding of the messages art can have.

Quite frankly, I’ve never heard of the man up until now, and I honestly have no intentions of watching or supporting any of his work. If I wanted to watch a tone deaf, whiny, self-entitled dude who can’t stand that no one wants to appreciate his genius and understanding, I’d dive head first into the Rick and Morty fandom.

Tripping Over The Low Bar – ScarJo’s Learned Nothing

We all make mistakes.

It’s all part of growing up, living, learning, and just being a human being in general. We make mistakes, we learn from them, and sometimes we don’t make them again.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that Scarlet Johanson, in a recent interview with As If magazine, she made yet another mistake, in which she said that as an actor, she “should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.”

Considering her past mistakes, this line, and others in the interview, is really telling of her ignorance of her own privilege as a straight, white, cisgender woman.

One also can’t help but think about how that line in particular pretty much equates playing trees and animals to playing transgender people and people of other ethnicity. It’s very insulting, to say the least, especially with the demonization of transgender people that transphobes regularly engage in.

For a quick reminder, ScarJo took on the role, then backed out and apologized, of Dante Tex Gill, a transgender male mob boss in 1970s Chicago, as well as taking on the role of Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese woman, in Ghost in the Shell.

She’s since apologized for what she said in the As If magazine, claiming they had been taken out of context.

They weren’t.

Personally, I prefer this explanation for her apology from one of my favourite people on Twitter, Clarkisha Kent:

At this rate, I feel like the main question to be asked is when does she stop getting chances to screw up, because she’s been doing a darn good job of that, at least once a year for the past 3 years on some very important discussions of representation and diversity in our media. Yes, we’re allowed to make more than one mistake a year, and to expect perfection of people is downright impossible and inconsiderate.

However, we’re not asking for perfection, just some basic empathy and for ScarJo to stop making the same mistakes over and over. Whenever something like this comes out, it feels as though any forward momentum we’re making is slowed, even stalled, to explain, once again, why this is a bad thing.

At times like this, I’m reminiscent of when I first learned about her, in her role as Black Widow in Iron Man 2. By Avengers, I know a lot of MCU fans were eager for a Black Widow movie, something to break up the monotony of straight, white, male-centric movies that continues to be much of what Marvel Studios puts out. When Winter Soldier came out, we were certain that a Black Widow movie was coming out. Under the direction of the Russo Bros and that incredible script, we got a really nuanced, intriguing character in Black Widow.

Now though? She’s pretty much killed off any and all enthusiasm I’ve had for the Black Widow movie that is finally coming out, after Captain Marvel and the end of what’s been basically the Infinity Gauntlet Saga in Endgame.

(On a side note, part of the delay in seeing any kind of female-lead movie from Marvel Studios feels like they were waiting to see if DC’s Wonder Woman would sink or swim instead of simply having faith… but that’s a topic for another day.)

This is in total opposition to what Brie Larson has done in the PR work for Captain Marvel, where she actively worked to include more diverse voices in the discussion of the movie, as well as push for more diversity onscreen. This isn’t an attempt to pit one woman against another, but to highlight how one recognizes her power and privilege and use it to push for diversity, and the other remains ignorant.

And another thing that makes me frustrated?

As I and others have expressed our desire not to see the Black Widow movie, it means that if it under performs (and the goal posts for the success of any movie lead by anyone who’s not a straight, white male are easily moved by people who think only straight white dudes can sell a movie), then some people will take it as evidence that women can’t sell movies.

A lot of those people are still in charge in Hollywood, either as casting directors, heads of studios, etc, and will believe only that despite the success of movies like Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, the Resident Evil series, and others. It feels a bit like a Catch-22, where people continue to push a self-fulfilling prophecy in spite of reality, and then assume that is the reality. This has resulted in movies like Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra, to name a few.

They weren’t bad films because they starred women, they were bad films because they had bad writing and directing, and I sure as heck don’t recall them being advertised as much as their male superhero counterparts.

At the very least, ScarJo only appears to make this kind of mistake once a year, and as it’s happened in July, we won’t get any others for the rest of the year.

I hope.

But I’m not gonna hold my breath or anything…

The Superhero Issue That Taught Me Compassion

So, it started off with a tweet I saw from Tess Fowler, an amazing artist whose work I’ve enjoyed, asking a simple question about the comics medium:

And I replied with the following, speaking purely from the heart:

Marvel_Two-In-One_Vol_1_86

Ben and Flint enjoying a brew instead of throwing fists.

This issue in particular has always stayed with me, even if I forgot some of the details when I first got it. Unlike a lot of my friends who are fellow comic lovers, I never had much of a mind for detail in who drew and wrote what and when, so some research was in order.

Written by Tom Defalco and drawn by Ron Wilson, Issue # 86 of Marvel Two In One was a comic I had picked up as part of a four issue reprint Marvel had done in the 90s, even though the original had first been printed in April of 1982, during the reign of Jim Shooter as Editor in Chief. Back in the 90s, and this is only my hypothesis for I’ve not found any proof about it, Marvel was reprinting a lot of classic Marvel titles, from the origin stories that brought us Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and others, to wholesale series such as Classic X-Men and Classic Spider-Man, possibly because Marvel was getting close to going bankrupt.

At any rate, I picked up the The Thing mini-series because I liked Ben Grimm and how un-superheroic he looked. Maybe it was something I was picking up on, being a fat kid in high school who didn’t look like any of the six pack, beefed up, superheroes I admired but unable to articulate why.  I was more drawn to the characters who were, for lack of a better word, ugly.

Like Ben Grimm, rendered into a rock like golem by cosmic rays, or Bruce Banner, transformed into the Hulk from absorbing gamma radiation.

I could understand Ben Grimm’s frustration at being mocked for his appearance, as I’d been mocked, bullied, and picked on for being fat. He was someone I wanted to see happy and loved and cherished, because it meant I could be too.

And it was Ben Grimm who taught me kindness and compassion, although it took me a few more years after high school, and a couple courses in Feminism, to better and more thoroughly apply such a profound lesson.

The basic plot is that Ben Grimm is angry and frustrated, and, upon hearing of The Sandman being at large once more,  finds him at a bar, and challenges him to a fight!

And Sand Man surrenders.

This shocks Ben, so much that he buys a round of drinks and simply… listens to Sandman, who tells him his name is Flint Marko, talk about his life and the choices he made and the mistakes befallen him that lead him up to that moment.

Just having a superhero comic where the team up is of two men talking about their problems instead of fighting or joking or brushing it aside really opened up my eyes not just to how much more a superhero comic could be, but in how men could do things differently. It was, in a way, one of the first instances of positive masculinity that didn’t deal in the language of violence.

That’s always stuck with me over the years, that sometimes if we just listen to people who might appear to be bad, we find decent human beings who make mistakes and, finding themselves in a deep hole, are unable to climb out without a helping hand.

And I’m not talking about truly ugly-hearted people whose minds are coloured with bigotry, ignorance, and racism, as the Friends of Humanity and the Red Skull’s are, but people who simply struggle to survive.

The issue ends with Ben giving Flint twenty bucks and wishing him well, hoping that he stays on the straight and narrow, and thus began the start of Flint’s heroic journey, all because someone decided to listen.

Superhero comics have taught me a lot over the years, such as with great power comes great responsibility, how bigotry and racism should have no place in our society, as well as how far a little kindness and compassion can go. I like to think it’s part of what’s shaped me into (I hope) a good person.

Pearl Says Happy Pride!

Hey everyone, I do art as well! And here is my contribution to Pride Month.

This doodle took me roughly 30 minutes to draw after I got hit with a bout of inspiration. I hope that people enjoy it.

A big thanks too to Rebecca Sugar who created Steven Universe and the many amazing people who brought it to life.

 

Fatphobia & Trauma – An Avengers Endgame Problem

Avengers Endgame is the culmination of 21 films spread out over 10 years and a TV series, and acts as a swan song for some characters, their final bow as Phase 3 of this grand experiment comes to an end.

Endgame did many things right, but also stumbled on others, and it came to mind when I saw the following tweet from pop culture commentator Clarkisha Kent:

Warning, from here on out, there be spoilers, as well as trigger warning for fat shaming jokes, and discussion of depression.

Spoilers Sweetie...

Continue reading “Fatphobia & Trauma – An Avengers Endgame Problem”