Almost Adults: I Like It, But…

Almost Adults follows two best friends, Mackenzie and Cassidy, during their last years of college as they grow up and grow apart. Mackenzie comes out as a lesbian while Cassidy navigates her way to independence after ending a serious relationship with her boyfriend. Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman of Carmilla fame star as the main characters, so naturally I had to watch it as soon as it came on Netflix.

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I did like this movie. I thought it was funny and I enjoyed the story of two friends accepting that their lives are taking different paths because that’s real–that’s what happens in your last years of college. It’s nice to see Negovanlis’s humorous side since Carmilla is such a broody gay vampire, and her acting chemistry with Bauman is worth the watch in and of itself. Since they played lovers in Carmilla, it’s great to see them pull off best friends in this film.

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But given that Almost Adults is about two college kids who are still immature in many ways, there are some aspects of the writing that miffed me or made me roll my eyes.

The film often uses people with disabilities as the butt of a joke, particularly those with mental disabilities. While it shows how ignorant, dense, and selfish the main characters are (especially Mackenzie), it comes across as crass whereas the intention seems to be humor. The same can be said for the possible transphobia in the story Mackenzie tells about her ex-boyfriend. On the surface, it’s intended to be a roast of his genitalia and nothing more (though it again points to Mackenzie’s childishness and is fitting for a character in a film called Almost Adults), but some of her language is easily coded as transphobic, particularly the whole “it was totally an innie; it was practically a vagina” thing.

There’s also the dig Mackenzie makes at herself for being pathetic because she’s a 22-year-old “virgin,” not only discounting the experiences she had with her ex, but also perpetuating the harmful notion that it’s pathetic to not be sexually experienced by your 20s. This attitude is rampant in queer media and in some queer communities, but I don’t think it does anyone any good. It only feeds people’s insecurities and makes sex a bigger deal than it has to be.

Levi, the stereotypical gay best friend, pressures Mackenzie to come out to Cassidy. Pressuring someone to come out is inappropriate as is shaming them for not coming out. There’s no timeline for this and no one says you have to come out to everyone all at once, which is what Levi seems to want for Mackenzie. At least Mackenzie later stands up to Cassidy for giving her the same bull.

Speaking of coming out, Mackenzie’s disappointment that her parents didn’t make a fuss over her being gay is a bit strange. Sometimes, it seems like she’s being sarcastic, but other times she seems genuinely disappointed that her parents are supportive, like she was mentally gearing up for a big a fight or a dramatic rejection. At least the audience gets cathartic relief from Levi rolling his eyes in the background. Mackenzie’s reaction is perhaps the most revealing of her character: she thrives on some level of tension or drama in her life, and perhaps she believes that her coming out isn’t legit unless she faces rejection from her parents, which is a pretty messed-up way to think, but it again points to her immaturity.

All of these moments of selfishness and immaturity, though, do fit with the point that Mackenzie and Cassidy are almost adults. Of course they’re still childish, selfish, and petty. They have to grow up and get used to their changing relationship.

This film holds up The L Word as its basis for what it “should” be like to be a queer woman given the numerous references to the show (many of which I thought were funny) to the actual plotting and characterization. Even though I enjoyed The L Word (a lot back when I watched it), I wish we could stop using it as the pinnacle on which all other wlw media is based. I get it–it’s a classic and it has its place in LGBTQ media history, but as a result it tends to become definitive for the way real queer women live their lives and what they can expect from relationships. One of the reasons why I enjoyed Carmilla so much was that it doesn’t have this air of “this is how you’re supposed to be a lesbian and this is what your relationships will be like.”

Speaking of Carmilla, the fact that I like Negovanlis and Bauman so much as actresses is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this movie as much as I did. They do have great acting chemistry and I’ll probably watch anything they’re cast for in the future because I’m interested in seeing the different roles they can play. While their characters in Almost Adults aren’t carbon copies of Laura and Carmilla, Mackenzie and Cassidy are pretty similar. Both Mackenzie and Laura have a dorky naivety to them, while Cassidy and Carmilla have this tendency to run away from things (Cass breaking up with Matthew because he proposed, Carmilla for centuries trying not to get attached to the girls her mother has her take). I really hope these ladies don’t get typecast.

So while Almost Adults does, in some senses, depart from typical queer narratives of dramatic coming out stories and equally dramatic relationships, focusing instead on a friendship story, it doesn’t do much to dispel some of the harmful rhetoric of the wider world. Even though I liked the movie and genuinely laughed out loud at many scenes, I think it perpetuates some notions that many wish would just go away.

Carmilla: A Glimmer of Hope in a Sea of “Bury Your Gays”

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Last month, the YouTube series Carmilla ended and neither member of the main lesbian couple died (permanently). In fact, Carmilla lived and I have some theological feelings about that.

Carmilla is loosely based on the 1872 novella of the same name. It follows Laura Hollis, a student at potently supernatural school called Silas University, as she investigates the sudden disappearance of her roommate. What begins as a beefed-up journalism project turns into a mission to save the student body from an evil dean (who turns out to be an ancient god) and blossoms into a better love story than Twilight. By season 3, the gates of hell are all but unleashed and it could’ve been so easy for this story to end in darkness and tragedy. I was fairly confident that it wouldn’t, largely because the cast and crew of Carmilla are so cozy with the fandom. Even before season 1 ended, people flocked to Carmilla, especially queer people. Since then, the Carmilla team has been quite responsive to the fandom, adopting the term “creampuff” in its advertising and social media presence much like the Orphan Black team adopted “clone club.”

So, given Carmilla‘s awareness of its audience and more importantly, everything this audience is tired of, I wasn’t all that worried about a sad ending. Still, I prepared myself for it and thankfully got a cheesy, nicely-wrapped-in-a-bowtie ending, complete with heroic self-sacrifice saving the day and transcending death.

Carmilla actually reverses the “bury your gays” trope for its main couple and says, “resurrect your gays.” Carmilla, being a vampire, is dead from the start and Laura dies in the antechamber of the seventh gate.Yet Carmilla is given a beating heart (despite her protests) and Laura regains her life. Both were dead and then alive, and as an amateur hipster theologian, I’m totally cool with that.

So many stories in Western pop culture about queer women portray toxic relationships or one of the two partners in a couple dies tragically and often violently. Carmilla does not tell either of these stories. Laura and Carmilla aren’t perfect, but their relationship is complex without the drama of cheating and without the drama of violent death.

In light of all the ridiculous supernatural occurrences in Carmilla, queerness is just a matter of fact, neither dramatized nor relegated to subtext. It’s also not sexualized and it’s basically impossible to come away with the impression or suspicion that Carmilla is really made for straight men.

In short Carmilla does a lot of things right in terms of representation. It’s become a fictional sanctuary of sorts for many of its fans looking for a queer story that doesn’t make them cringe.

Being an independent YouTube show, I’m not sure how much Carmilla will influence mainstream pop culture. Still, between its refreshing queer representation and how it’s shot as a video blog (therefore leaving many of the exciting events to the viewer’s imagination), Carmilla is worth watching and worth talking about.

Some Love for The Get Down

In this era of Netflix, stories that wouldn’t have had much of a chance on TV 15 years ago now get their own spotlight and can spawn fandoms overnight. We’ve seen this with Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Sense8, and Stranger Things. My question is: where’s the love for The Get Down?

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The Get Down takes place in the late ’70s during one of the worst periods for those living in the Bronx. Featuring a cast that is almost entirely black and/or latinx, The Get Down tells the story of the birth of hip-hop and rap in the age of disco despite the depraved conditions of neglected neighborhoods and the unsavory business people get into just to make enough money to pay for rent and food. It has a cheesy love story, a fantastic soundtrack, and hints of upturning the homophobia it has to portray given the time period.

Fans of Hamilton should find plenty to like in this series. Revolution and hip-hop and possibly bisexual characters? You’ve got that here. Supporters of diversity in fiction will find representation that is varied and dynamic. The show touches on racism, on finding a way out of poverty while still trying to maintain a sense of your roots, and on the blossoming of new art despite all the surrounding destruction. In their own respective ways, two of the main characters, Mylene and Zeke, turn to music to make something of themselves. For Mylene, it’s disco and she’s often chastised for all that “white singing.” For Zeke, it’s the emerging underground hip-hop scene, which conflicts with opportunities he receives to succeed in the white world.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the series for me is how Mylene ends up adding a disco flair to a worship song and that single goes from the sanctuary of a church to the sanctuary of a gay club, becoming an anthem for the gay community and solidifying Mylene’s single as a hit. And yes, gay clubs were and still are sanctuaries for many people. They had to be, especially when the church did not allow gay people in their own sanctuaries. Rare was the gay person who heard a message of liberation and freedom for them in a church sanctuary in the 1970s, yet The Get Down has that message reach them anyway. Although gayness only starts to come to the forefront near the end of the first season, I see and hope that the series will explore it more in depth. 1977 is not even ten years after Stonewall. If Dizzee and Thor get a story line that’s just as campy as Zeke and Mylene’s, while also confronting the realities of trying to exist as queer people in the 1970s, then that’ll be yet another untold story brought to life.

I also hope, but won’t necessarily hold my breath, that religion will get a more dynamic portrayal. Yes, the ultra-fundamentalist Christian pastor father narrative creates a lot of drama and tension, but I’m quite tired of that being the only type of Christianity I ever see in media (which is why I use progressive Christianity in my own writing). The show’s creators have some alternative religious narratives to choose from, such as the United Church of Christ’s growing acceptance of and compassion toward LGBT people in the 70s. Of course, as I’ve expressed several times in the past, the comfortable narrative to go with is the conservative one.

Even so, The Get Down is just a fantastic story. It’s a bit over-the-top at times, which is fine by me as an anime fan, but it totally deserves just as much love and fandom as so many other series have right now. Part of it is that the show was only released a month ago, but I do hope the love picks up some steam.

Queer Life and Death in Cartoons and TV Shows

The Internet has been abuzz lately regarding the “Bury Your Gays” trope, escalated by several popular TV shows killing off queer characters, particularly women, and adding to this larger idea that relationships between queer women are unstable at best and tragic at worst.

A lot of people are currently criticizing The 100 and Orphan Black for killing off major queer characters and making their partners suffer. I know nothing about The 100 except for what I’ve read about that one character’s death and how it’s angered many viewers. However, I will say that I was previously a bit interested in watching the show. Now, I probably won’t because I’m quite tired of queer female relationships–when they’re shown at all–being tragic, petty, or unstable. I’m not keen on getting into a show already knowing that that’s what’ll happen. I’m sure The 100 is phenomenal in many other ways, but this turn of events makes me hesitant. Orphan Black is a different story for me because I’ve been a fan of the show from the very beginning, so I didn’t know going into it that there would be queer representation at all nor did I know what would happen to Delphine at the end of season 3 (however, I don’t think she’s really dead). I’m invested in the story for many other reasons besides Cosima and Delphine, but I can completely understand why some people have dropped the show and others who maybe hadn’t seen it yet might not be interested anymore.

When I reflect on queer representation that I’ve come across, I find that there are more positive examples in cartoons (and maybe anime) than in live action TV shows or movies, especially mainstream ones. Part of this is certainly differences in the type of audience. Cartoons in the West are generally aimed at younger audiences and along with that comes particular ideas of what’s appropriate and not appropriate for kids. Queerness for a long time has been deemed “not appropriate,” hence why there are only a handful of recent cartoons that make queer relationships more explicit. On the flip side, tragic death, drugs, and excessive blood and violence are also generally deemed not appropriate for children’s media.

This could be why queerness, when it’s clearly presented in cartoons, is much more positive than it is in live action shows, including those that explore queerness in depth.

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I’m going to pick on The L Word, which for the longest time was touted as the quintessential lesbian show. Just about every queer woman under 40 has seen it or at least knows what it is. I watched the entire series several years ago and I enjoyed it, but all of the characters are so terrible to each other in their relationships. All of them. Every single one. They cheat on each other, they lie, they break promises, and some eventually set out to ruin others’ lives. All of this is the stuff of great drama, so The L Word is really just doing what its genre does best, but subsequent TV shows haven’t seemed to step away from this. Orange is the New Black is also pretty gay, but Alex and Piper, as cute as they are together, basically exhibit the same selfish toxicity that’s evident in The L Word. I had similar frustrations with the first season of Transparent. I generally liked the show, but hated every character except Ali and Maura. They’re all selfish, terrible people, including the token lesbian couple that comes into being through breaking up marriages.

I see almost the opposite in cartoons. I’ve discussed Korrasami at length on this blog and noted many ways in which they have a stable, supportive relationship. Marceline and Bubblegum from Adventure Time are also getting back to that level (though they have a lot to work through and Marceline is also the Angst Queen). Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe are a great example of a committed couple that works through their problems. Sure, they have conflict, but they would never cheat on each other or hurt each other in ways that I’ve seen queer women do in live action TV shows.

Of course, presenting cartoons as full of entirely positive queer representation and live action shows as full of entirely negative ones reduces the issue too much and is inaccurate. Carmilla mostly shows Hollstein as happy together, but even when they’re not, it’s not because Laura or Carmilla cheat or hurt each other on purpose. Their conflicts typically come from Laura’s hero complex and Carmilla’s survivalist instincts. On the other hand, most queerness I’ve seen in anime is subtle, stated but not explored much, or tragic (Kill la Kill and Revolutionary Girl Utena come to mind).

Why is any of this a problem? Isn’t drama and death just part of good storytelling? Of course it is, but we have to remember how influential media is. Someone who’s never met queer women before can watch all of these shows and come away with an ill-informed notion about how these relationships work in real life. I know so many people who live and love nothing like the women in The L Word or other shows (at the same time, I know people who relish in that exact sort of drama, which gets into a different issue of how much queer media affects our actual behavior).

Fiction is powerful. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a writer. Therefore, it’s always a good exercise to examine these sorts of tropes and trends and ask if the story must always play out this way. I don’t believe it does. I think there are so many other ways to tell stories about queer relationships, but it’s easy to get stuck in the same patterns.

The Passion’s Surface-Level Treatment of Holy Week

 

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Over the past few months, NBC and Fox have experimented with airing live theater performances. First came The Wiz Live, then Grease, and now The Passion, a copy-paste of the Holy Week story into the 21st century.

The Passion narratives in the gospels recount Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem through all the well-known scenes of his last days–the Last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the trial by Pilate, Jesus’ death, and the Resurrection. It has all the elements of great drama and has been put to stage and film for almost as long as those mediums have existed.

The last Passion adaptation to gain widespread cultural attention was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, so I was intrigued when I first saw the commercials for a new adaptation in this “live” format. Unfortunately, The Passion is a disjointed mess. There’s more MCing and interviewing than actual story. I found it difficult to be fully engrossed in the story when we kept cutting in and out of the narrative to Tyler Perry on stage and the person-on-the-street interviews. Both aspects, for me, disrupted the flow and suspension of disbelief. Sure, you can make the argument that the story is Holy Week in today’s world, meaning the news media would be all over it, but that aspect would’ve been more effective if these interviews actually expounded on what’s going on with Jesus and the disciples.

For example, they could’ve set it up so that the interviewer asked questions of the “multitudes” gathered in the city about the things that Jesus preached. You’d have some interviewees who heard the Sermon on the Mount and give their accounts of that. Obviously, it would have to be scripted and worked into the larger story, but such an approach could’ve made that interview part work better with the rest of the show.

What we do get of the story–scenes of Jesus with his apostles or the apostles alone–are little more than music videos of great singers doing great covers of popular songs. I laughed when Judas started singing “Bring Me to Life,” if only because Internet jokes about MySpace and the 2000s are never far from my mind. Other than that, the characters weren’t well-developed at all and I feel like if I didn’t already know the gospels, I wouldn’t have understood the characters. We never see Jesus preach before a crowd or do any of the things that pissed off the police enough to arrest him.

The musical selection is among many creative choices that I disagree with. I understand wanting to make a Christian story as appealing as possible to a mass audience, but I think making the soundtrack covers of songs, some with vaguely religious language, obscures the message more than amplifies it. It also adds more fuel to the whole “Jesus is my boyfriend” criticism of contemporary-styled Christianity given that many of the songs covered are love songs. The Imagine Dragons number between Judas and Jesus is one exception. I thought that was fitting because the song has lots of relevant imagery and making it a duet added a new meaning to it.

Just because I love me my hymns and organs doesn’t mean my issue with the music is a mere traditional vs. contemporary criticism. I just don’t think most of the songs the production team chose help to expound on what’s going on theologically or interpersonally. Sure, some numbers definitely flip the usual meaning of the song, especially when Peter covers Hoobastank (which certainly creates space for “Jesus is my boyfriend” headcannons). However, most of the time I thought the songs were a stretch or a distraction. Jesus “calling all angels” in the garden doesn’t make much sense to me because the garden scene is so focused on Jesus crying out to God, specifically, not angels. That song would’ve fit better coming from one of the disciples, probably after Jesus’ death.

In all honesty, I think the show would’ve been much, much better if they just did original music. Hymns done in the style of contemporary music also could’ve presented some theological ideas or reactions, but they could’ve been more alienating to an unchurched mass audience.

My other large criticism is the social commentary or lack thereof. Again, without the narrative context of why and how Jesus pissed off the authorities, viewers of The Passion entirely miss the political subversion that Jesus enacted. For example, Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey through a back gate was a direct affront to the Roman state and that level of understanding just isn’t present in this modern rendition of the story. The message of the Gospel is radical, both personally and systemically. The Passion seemed to play it safe, sticking to a very surface-level presentation focused on the personal aspect of Jesus, sin, and everything that happened during Holy Week.

Despite all my criticisms, The Passion obviously reached and blessed thousands of people. God speaks in many ways and just because this particular way didn’t jive with me doesn’t mean that it’s terrible from a presenting-the-basic-tenets-of-Christianity perspective. There are certainly people out there who can’t even begin to hear anything religious unless they perceive it as non-threatening. For such people, the musical decisions may make perfect sense and the lack of political overtones may have made the story easier to grasp. They’re a way to connect “safe” pop culture or individual experiences to something they see as unsafe, exclusive, or even abusive. So if this prompts people to contemplate God, then it’s done its job as an icon. And like every icon, its effectiveness is up for interpretation.

Her Story Explores Intersectionality in LGBTQ Communities

HerStory_Logo.gifThe beautiful thing about web series is that they’re short and easy to watch in one sitting. They’re also increasingly marking themselves as spaces where underrepresented stories are told. Such is the case with Her Story, which you can watch in about an hour.

Her Story is about trans women with actual trans actresses playing the parts. Violet and Paige navigate the complications of relationships old and new. Violet struggles with viewing herself as a real woman, especially since she also likes women. Paige struggles with finally meeting a man who seems to like her for everything that she is, something she hasn’t experienced in years.

In its short six episodes, Her Story explicitly addresses the problem of transphobia within queer communities. Lisa, a friend of Violet’s love interest Ali, is the straw TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) who deliberately misgenders trans people and encourages outdated notions of queer womanhood among her group of friends with her comments (e.g. the idea of “gold star lesbian”). Ali comes to both Violet’s and Paige’s defense multiple times throughout the series, but her ignorance about trans issues is rooted in lack of exposure rather than hostility. And it’s perhaps that lack of exposure that’s easier for audiences to relate to. Lisa is rude and brash and clearly doesn’t care about fundamental respect and protection of other queer people (like not outing someone). She’s obviously the person you don’t want to be.

But Ali’s lack of exposure–or her unawareness of trans people’s existence at other points in her life–is a quieter issue, but an issue nonetheless. She assumes that she hasn’t known any trans people and therefore she didn’t need to know much about them. Meeting Violet, and then falling in love with her, teaches her (and the audience) a lot.

Race, though not at the forefront of the series, does come up toward the end of the season when Paige confronts Lisa. There are also hints of her struggles in dating life as both a black woman and a trans woman, which would explain why she’s been so closed off and is worried about revealing too much of herself to James. Thankfully for her, James doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Her Story has a lot of potential as it both addresses some trans 101 questions while showing how to taper transphobia. It’s certainly worth checking out.

Reflections on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m new to Star Wars.

I didn’t grow up watching the original trilogy, nor did I spend my early teen years watching the prequel trilogy or any of the numerous spinoff cartoons that aired on TV. I had one of those sound books for kids of A New Hope, knew the basic spoilers of the original trilogy (and the basic pop culture references), and saw some clips here and there of all six movies.

 

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There are plenty of reasons why I never got into the story–minimal exposure, greater interest in cartoons, my almost exclusive interest in anime throughout much of my teens. And with all that, one thing that certainly didn’t help was all the marketing that sent a clear message that Star Wars was for boys. I didn’t feel excluded; I just didn’t want to participate in the first place and I found much better stories about girls in things that I already liked.

So, I ready to pass over The Force Awakens. Given that Star Wars particularly is a pillar of a culture that writhes at “fake geek girls” and has been a ready example of many interesting albeit critical feminist analyses I’ve come across, it didn’t occur to me that the new film would depart from that norm. It really wasn’t on my radar until it premiered and the Internet exploded.

Then, I heard about the diversity–female and black central protagonists. I heard that it was a good film with a good story. Friends left and right were telling me that I’d like it.

So, I gave Star Wars a chance. I watched the original trilogy all the way through for the first time, knowing most of the spoilers, not expecting much from Leia, and anticipating heterosexuality. I mostly got what I thought I would and still enjoyed every minute of those films. Okay, the first part of The Empire Strikes Back was kind of slow, Han Solo came across as more of a creep than a charming bad boy, and slave Leia was awkward but shown as more empowering than I expected it to be (it also didn’t last as long as I thought it would). The original trilogy is a solid, tightly-written story and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s used as a model for a good execution of the Hero’s Journey. From a nuts-and-bolts of writing standpoint, it’s a great learning tool (and blogs that have used it as such served as my other primary exposure to the series).

I went into The Force Awakens with the original trilogy fresh in my memory, minimal knowledge of the new film, and none of the nostalgic attachments to the franchise to severely heighten or lower my expectations.

The Force Awakens is great and the deviation from casting all white men as the central protagonists frankly feels like an invitation for more types of people to come play in this universe and be a part of the story, so to speak. This is what good representation does. I felt neutral about Star Wars before,  but with Rey as an access point in this reboot of the franchise, I feel like I can participate more in genuinely enjoying other parts of the whole story (should they be decently written, and I’ve read that many are not). In other words, I wasn’t interested in Star Wars–so representation issues didn’t particularly bother me–until I got invited to the party and that’s why Rey is important. For girls unlike me who grew up loving Star Wars anyway and faced exclusion from both a marketing and cultural standpoint, Rey is even more important. She’s a long-awaited affirmation of their love for the franchise. Don’t get me wrong–Leia is a great character and certainly ended up doing more than I thought she would in a set of films made in the 70s and 80s, but Rey is the one taking the Jedi journey here. Leia doesn’t take that journey in the original trilogy, even though the Force is apparently just as strong in her as it is in Luke.

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Rey is a solid character who I hope becomes more dynamic in the next two movies. She’s an expert pilot, technician, and fighter, and her affinity for the Force combined with her sharp thinking get her out of tough situations. Her one catch is her naivety in waiting for family that won’t come back and running away from that truth. I hope that in the next film, she’ll open up more as a character because right now, we only have a little bit of her backstory–or the why that informs her cunning and skill. Otherwise, she might stay too similar to Katniss Everdeen and Merida and other recent strong female protagonists we’ve had in movies and TV shows. Then again, the fact that I’m interested in finding out more about Rey means that the writers did their job in crafting her well. I want to see her become a Jedi. I want to see how she’ll struggle and triumph in her training with Luke–and I want to see how Luke training Rey will help him overcome his guilt about Kylo Ren.

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Finn is important for similar reasons. He’s one of very few well-rounded black protagonists that I’ve seen in mainstream pop culture stories. He humanizes the Storm Troopers, who in the original trilogy are presented as disposable soldiers and nothing more. He’s awkward and good-hearted and the fact that he’s a developed, complex character helps to counter the negative stereotypes and limited typecasts that black men are often limited to, both in fictional worlds and the real world. His comedic awkwardness doesn’t limit him to a comic relief role, nor does his past as a Storm Trooper confine him as an evil or dangerous character who can’t be trusted. Of course, I expect that he’ll struggle with that past trying to pull him back over the next two films, but it’s clear that he has a strong sense of morality.

In a time when young black men are conceived of as just one thing and are killed or injured for it, Finn provides a much-needed counter to those perceptions. Fictional characters and stories have power. They help shape our opinions and inspire us to take action in the real world. With Star Wars being as mainstream as it is, millions of people will see Finn and that just might begin to change the way that so, so many of us subconsciously internalize perceptions of black men specifically and black people in general. Does Finn’s existence solve the urgent problem of police brutality? Does it do anything for Tamir Rice and Michael Brown and Freddie Gray? No, but Finn can start to change minds and Star Wars as a whole can once again be a formative story for our youngest generations, some of whom are black and some of whom will grow up to become police officers.

I could say more on this, but this article in The Guardian provides a much better and more interesting analysis of blackness in Star Wars than I could’ve come up with.

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And finally, there’s Poe. Admittedly, I didn’t realize he’s Latino until I read some articles about it, which just goes to show that Latinx isn’t something you can tell only by looking at someone. It’s an ethnicity that comes in all races. Poe is set up as the attractive action hero–you think he’s going to be the main protagonist. Then, you think it’ll be him and Finn as a team. The special thing about Poe is that he’s exactly the type of male lead we’re used to in so many other stories. He’s confident, good-looking, skilled, light-skinned–he has all the makings of main character, but he doesn’t actually become the focus of the movie. Although he does survive and therefore becomes part of the story, it’s not ultimately about him. Instead, the primary narrative is the one about Rey and Finn. And the best part about Poe? He comes across as a character who doesn’t need to take center stage and be the hero. He gets satisfaction from giving agency to Finn and working with others. There’s also lots of talk going around about Poe and Finn having some chemistry, which would be very exciting to see fully developed in the narrative (meanwhile, Rey would either be ace or fall in love with a cute lady pilot. Or both).

While all of this newness is refreshing, The Force Awakens doesn’t throw away its foundations for the sake of this new direction. Sometimes, it feels a little too close to A New Hope, but with Han, Leia, Chewy, and Luke all making appearances, the new movie sets a precedent that this trilogy will work with its base material as opposed to doing away with it or topping it. That said, I can see why some die-hard fans would be disappointed or even angry at certain events in The Force Awakens.

But overall, the new movie got me interested in Star Wars. I’m not claiming superfan status, but I do like the story. It’s fun, engaging, and solidly written.