The White Savior: The Last Hope for POC (According to Hollywood)

Movies need heroes. Whether they’re everyday people or aliens in tights, heroes are the characters in movies that the audience wants to see succeed. They save the day, they help others grow.

Unfortunately, there’s a subgenre of hero movie that is very popular in Hollywood: The White Savior movie.

You’ve seen these movies before, a group of poor, deprived kids of color have potential in something, but that potential can’t be manifested into a realized talent without the main White character showing the kids of color how to focus it. Bonus points if the White savior of the movie spends time trying to participate in the kids’ “weird” culture, much like Kevin Costner does in the trailer for the upcoming “McFarland, USA”, a movie which covers all those bases.

A section of the very telling promotional poster for "McFarland, USA"

A section of the very telling promotional poster for “McFarland, USA”

But that’s not the only type, there’s also the lone White hero in the society of People of Color who seems to be the only person capable enough to save everyone from an impending doom — which in some cases is that White Savior’s own culture, but at times is the implied “backwardness” of the culture he has joined into. Films such as “The Last Samurai” (2003) or “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) are examples.

Crop of "The Last Samurai" promotional poster.

Crop of “The Last Samurai” promotional poster.

Both of these types of White heroes in movies succeed in doing one thing; making the People of Color involved look inadequate. It’s an old and racist trope that can be found in what a lot of people consider classic literature. The People of Color, whether they are schoolkids or townspeople, are treated as more props than people. Their main purpose in the story is to better the main character or be saved by the main character.

Hollywood knowingly continues this trope. Many movies have been rewritten and even have had production blocked because of a lack of a White main character, like Danny Glover’s “Toussaint” (which I have mentioned on Arsenal for Democracy before). Their reasoning behind this is that having People of Color leads in movies doesn’t sell, and that White main characters are universal and everyone can relate to them.

But they’re not. What Hollywood has failed to realize is that the People of Color in these movies are people, not props, and the cultures that these White characters are navigating or destroying so easily in these movies are more important — and deserve to be more — than a plot device.

This style of movie is one that hopefully fades out as more and more People of Color are using the internet to create alternatives or even express distaste for how we and our cultures are being mistreated in media. Movies like “Dear White People”, which talks about the experiences of Black students at a majority White school, are able to be crowd-funded and go from being a short YouTube trailer to being a theatrically released, full length movie.

Twitter has had several hashtagged calls for more diverse media — and not just movies, but books, video games (full article➚), and television shows as well — that include well thought out characters of color and are created by People of Color.

Hopefully someday in the near future, the next time The Last [Person of Color] won’t always be a White Savior, and if we’re lucky there will be no Last [Person of Color] at all.

“The Interview” and selective outrage on cultural censorship

Art as much as anything else is important to society. Art has always been a way for human beings to mark achievements, express emotions, or capture their culture in a single moment for future generations to see. When that expression is stifled it should be considered detrimental to all of us. But for some reason artistic expression only seems to become an issue when certain voices are silenced.

When the news came out earlier this month that “The Interview” wasn’t going to be screened in the US (which was later changed to limited screenings) many people were upset. That news, combined with the news that the Steve Carell vehicle “Pyongyang”, a movie he was doing with Gore Verbinski would not even be filmed, a few celebrities took to Twitter to announce that it was a “sad day for creative expression.” A thousand thinkpieces were launched.

“The Interview” is a Seth Rogen comedy starring himself and James Franco and is about a tabloid reporter and his producer who are hired by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un during an interview they’d managed to arrange with him. Anyone who is familiar with Seth Rogen’s movies already knows to expect the same silly, slapstick movie with babbling and incompetent protagonists à la “Pineapple Express” and “The Green Hornet.” However the added elements of a movie set in Korea that has a cast list of primarily White main characters — and depicts the graphic assassination of a living dictator — should make anyone cringe.

The fact that this movie exists shouldn’t really garner any attention. There are plenty of stupid comedies that come out every year, a lot of them by Seth Rogen. So what exactly made this movie go from being just another comedy to a political statement seemingly overnight? The mysterious hack of Sony, which released sensitive emails and personal information of Sony employees and other celebrities, has been deemed a cyber attack from North Korea, by the US Government. (The North Korea link’s truth is still being widely debated in tech media.) In the emails there is a back and forth between the producers, Seth Rogen, and the CEO of Sony about how the fictionalized Kim Jong Un is assassinated in the movie. This exchange coupled with the cancellation of movie screenings caused many to state that this stifling of creativity means that the “terrorists have won.”

What’s glossed over about the emails is the culture of sexism and racism. In the emails, actresses and female producers are called names and have their sanity questioned for being even the slightest bit demanding. This is a big contrast to the way Rogen is treated about his intended ending for “The Interview,” where he was allowed to re-shoot and work on the until all parties were satisfied. In another email, a producer explains how she doesn’t think African-American actors in lead roles — including giants like Denzel Washington — can garner enough box office success because they believe that “the international motion picture audience is racist.”

It seems that yes, it is a sad day for artistic expression, but not in the way that many would think. Many female and/or POC filmmakers and actors have a hard time getting the backing they need to get their projects done — for example, the Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic that Danny Glover has been working on since 2008, or the Cleopatra movie for which Angelina Jolie was called a brat in the leaked emails — and it seems as if Sony, and possibly other companies, are ok with it.

“The Interview” gaining so much attention for being cancelled after the Sony hack shows exactly who Hollywood thinks has the right to artistic expression and who doesn’t. Sadly when it comes to major motion pictures, it looks as if that sad day is every day.

Promotional poster for "The Interview" movie (via Wikipedia)

Promotional poster for “The Interview” movie (via Wikipedia)

Egypt censors fret over accuracy of Ridley Scott’s “Exodus”

There are many reasons one might consider banning “Exodus: Gods & Kings” from your country. Excessive use of mediocre CGI for hours on end, for example! Or blasé anti-Arab racism by Ridley Scott!

But then there’s the reason given by the Egyptian state cultural censors:

Egypt has banned a Hollywood film based on the Biblical book of Exodus because of what censors described as “historical inaccuracies”. The head of the censorship board said these included the film’s depiction of Jews as having built the Pyramids, and that an earthquake, not a miracle by Moses, caused the Red Sea to part.

Still, I suppose as questionable factual editing by government officials goes, it’s still no state media claiming the military cured AIDS. At least nobody gets hurt by not being able to go see a terrible Ridley Scott movie in cinemas.

The Pyramids at Giza. (Credit: Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia)

Above: The Pyramids at Giza, which definitely weren’t built by the Hebrews, so good job at least on catching that, Egyptian censors. (Credit: Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia)

December 17, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 111


Topics: Torture Report, CRomnibus spending package, video game review – This War of Mine. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: December 15th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Torture Report: Why US actions after 9/11 are symptomatic of a wider unresolved White Supremacy in American policymaking and society — and why torture and drones are the logical extension of daily police brutality and accidental shootings.
– CRomnibus Spending Package: Should Democrats and President Obama have stood more firmly on principle against the new funding measure even at the cost of a shutdown?
– Political Pop Culture: Nate reviews “This War of Mine,” a survival game set in the Siege of Sarajevo

Episode 111 (53 min)
AFD 111

Related links
Segment 1

Boston Globe: 20 key findings of Senate’s CIA torture report
Arsenal For Democracy coverage of the 2014 Torture Report
Arsenal For Democracy archive coverage of the 2009 Torture Memos

Segment 2

AFD: The Terrible CRomnibus
NYT Dealbook: Wall Street Seeks to Tuck Dodd-Frank Changes in Budget Bill
Huffington Post:The Levee Breaks: Democrats Rage Against Obama Over Wall Street Giveaway
AFD: US prepares to give sacred Native land to Australian mining firm
AP: Federal budget would raise limits on big donors in campaign finance

Segment 3

AFD Review by Nate: My War
Steam: “This War of Mine”


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

My War

New video game review: “This War of Mine”

Scavenging in the ruins of a bombed-out school, Pavle was able to locate wood, water, scrap parts, tobacco and vital medicine for his compatriots. Icy temperatures had led to an outbreak of sickness in the ruined building that Pavle and three other survivors were squatting in to avoid snipers. I had neglected to build a vital furnace in the early days of the game. Pavle’s nighttime excursions, which often meant dodging armed patrols and hostile civilians, were critical for gathering the food and supplies necessary for the daily struggle for survival in “This War of Mine.”

An image from one of the trailer videos for "This War of Mine."

An image from one of the trailer videos for “This War of Mine.”

Released last month on Steam for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux by the Polish company 11-Bit studios, “This War of Mine” is a gritty, haunting simulation of life during the Siege of Sarajevo in the war in Bosnia. By day, you race to construct everything from armchairs to moonshine stills. By night, you must risk everything to find the supplies vital to survival. The game is reminiscent of Minecraft in both its addictiveness and the depth of its crafting system. I played for hours straight, angrily restarting when I felt I had done a poor job of gathering resources (or when my characters started starving). Before long, you are anxiously cooking food and carefully apportioning supplies, lest any of the characters you’ve become invested in die from wounds, sickness, starvation, or suicide.

The game forces you to make complex moral decisions that could potentially affect your group’s morale. If you aid the various neighbors who come calling for your assistance, you will lose a player for the night but increase the happiness of your group. Steal from from a family and, despite the necessities of survival, your group might get angry. Sometimes it pays to do both — I once traded medicine to a sick old man and then cleaned out his basement of rare supplies and weapons, darting out the back exit when the old man’s son came to check on the noise downstairs. In another incident, Zlata raided a supply crate with a neighbor and I was later offered food and cigarettes by soldiers if we ratted out our neighbors as supply crate thieves (I refused). Cigarettes and books can also increase the group’s happiness.

Smart players will find ways to survive through the barter system. Moonshine and homemade cigarettes can be traded for food and medicine with a traveling salesman, soldiers or friendly civilians. Trade for and cook with vegetables to double food yield.

Although not an impossibly difficult or complex game, “This War of Mine” is appropriately unforgiving for beginners — only after several runs though were my citizens comfortable after a week. My really only complaint is the limited space in some characters backpacks — only a few characters had anything beyond 10 spaces. While frustrating, this really forces the player to make tough choices about supplies. Perhaps the controls for guns could be a bit better, as my scavenger is often killed by bandits before I can fire. That’s probably on me, however, and not my civilians.

While not one of the flashy, cinematic shooters that dominate game shelves these days, “This War of Mine” is a more compelling and realistic war game than any “Call of Duty” released recently. Highly addictive and challenging, “This War of Mine” is a must-own on Steam.

Thailand: The Mockingjay Lives!

BBC Asia, today from Thailand:

Five Thai students who flashed a salute inspired by Hollywood film series The Hunger Games at Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha have been detained.
Gen Prayuth led the coup, which came after months of political deadlock and unrest, and became PM in August.

On Wednesday, he was speaking at an event in the north-eastern province of Khon Kaen when five students from a local university sitting near the podium stood up. They removed their shirts to reveal T-shirts underneath with a Thai slogan reading “No Coup”, and flashed the three-fingered salute.

Police officers and soldiers immediately took the five away. […] Army officials later confirmed that the students were taken to a military camp and were detained for “attitude adjustment”, reported The Nation.

Previously from Arsenal For Democracy – June 3, 2014: “Life imitates art: Thai anti-coup rallies adopt Hunger Games Salute”

“Catching Fire,” the second movie in the franchise and perhaps the one most prominently featuring the salute, was released in November 2013 in Thailand, and became the country’s eighth highest grossing movie of last year. The first movie, released in March 2012, was in the top 20 that year.

This protest occurs just in time for tomorrow’s release in Thailand of the third movie in the series — “Mockingjay,” Part 1 — which is likely to trigger a fresh resurgence of the salute.


Why #INeedDiverseGames Is Vital To The Future Of Gaming

An interview with Tanya D, the creator of the hashtag, by the 8-Bit Animal.

It’s no secret that modern gaming has been littered with games starring the same White male protagonist. Sure, they have different names, faces and voices, but they are typically the exact same character.

Gamers who aren’t White men have long voiced annoyance at the lack of diversity in gaming going back years, but it took Ubisoft’s seemingly gleeful omission of a female protagonist in the latest Assassin’s Creed title to bring this discussion to the forefront.

Recently, the hashtag #INeedDiverseGames created by Twitter user @cypheroftyr (Tanya D.) with the intent of shedding light on the lack on the lack of diversity surrounding in game characters.

As a longtime gamer myself, I can’t think of very many major games released over the last console generation that aren’t starring a White male protagonist, so this discussion is long overdue. Clearly, a lot of other people on Twitter shared the same opinion.

Tanya, a gamer for some 20 years, has seen the same general lack of diversity in gaming over the years that a lot of us have, but she spoke out about it.

“It happened because I was up and angry at video games at like 6 in the morning,” she said. “Being frustrated with the fact that game companies can make a game with a WOC [woman of color] protagonist, then turn around and say that women are too hard to animate in the same breath. That I often see the same retread, of the same man-pain-fueled, frigid girlfriend, or wife, or child, for the sake of the PLOT, and the same blonde/brown haired scruffy White dude protagonists in most of the titles out there. Then when you do have a female lead, it’s rare, and there is still misogynistic crap I have to wade through to enjoy the storyline.”

She also added that she’s “Sick of being the thug, the ho, or the disposable, uninteresting stereotype in games.”

The hashtag gained steam and continues to generate traffic, as it has been a seemingly perfect foil to the disjointed hatespeak disguised as a rally for ethics reforms in gaming journalism that was sparked by #GamerGate. Unlike the hostility coming from #GamerGate supporters, those involved in #INeedDiverseGames have been relatively civil, even when expressing dissatisfaction towards the industry.

Has Tanya seen much negativity directed towards her or the hashtag?

“Luckily no,” she answers. “I’ve avoided harassment from GG’ers [GamerGate “activists”] and the reaction has been mostly positive. That said; there’s a lot I’ve missed thanks to Blockbot and Blocktogether tools on Twitter. Some of it still slips through because Twitter’s mute and block functions aren’t worth anything. The only real backlash that I’ve given much attention to is the usual ‘MAKE YOUR OWN THEN’ rejoinder, which makes me see red. It’s never that simple.”

In most instances, titles developed by people of color aren’t often funded or distributed by major publishers. An example of this is Never Alone, a game developed and financed by a Native American community in Alaska.

Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto V had a development and marketing budget of $265 million to create and advertise the title, and Destiny’s budget topped out at around $500 million. Many indie games are made for what many would consider less than a fraction of the typical big budget AAA title. Read more